A Claus encounter
Super-busy Santa might be rushed off his feet, but you can still meet him at a visitor attraction near you, writes Tanya Sweeney
There are only a few weeks to go before the Big Man makes his yearly round-the-world trip, but some of us simply can't stand the wait. For many people, a visit to Santa's grotto marks the official beginning of Christmas, and those who want a head start on the festive fun will find no shortage of places to spot the man himself. From farms and mine shafts to air towers and even the zoo, plenty of Ireland's most popular attractions are getting in on the seasonal action.
You too can be away in a manger if you head to Causey Farm in Co Meath (each weekend from December 1, and December 18 to 23).
There you'll find Santa's house and workshop (and, more importantly, his present-filled parlour). Little ones can also help pack Santa's sacks and visit his reindeer as they relax before the big night.
No farm visit would be complete without a Christmas stable with cows, donkeys, sheep and lambs.
Tickets for children (ages 2-12) are €20,
toddlers (12-23 months) €6 and adults €12. See causey.ie or call 046 943 4135.
Down in Wexford, Kia Ora Mini Farm in Gorey is also getting in on the seasonal action (daily from December 1).
Offering visitors a chance to get a letter from Santa (to be arranged in advance), this winter wonderland has a fire engine, maze, animated light show, illuminated crib, live stable and real diggers for children to try out. For adults, mulled wine and minced pies should keep body and mind together.
Tickets for children are €16, adults €7. See kiaoraminifarm.com or call 053 942 1166.
Children in Limerick should make haste to Stonehall Farm in Curraghchase, Kilcornan, (December 1 to 31).
In this beautiful rural setting you'll find Santa's grotto and Santa, who'll be making lists and checking them twice. Mulled wine and Christmas cake are available for those too big for Santa's knee
Tickets for children are €20, adults and infants €7. See stonehallvisitorfarm.com or call 061 393 940.
Athlone's GLENDEER PET FARM is a family favourite throughout the year, but during December (daily until December 23) this popular pet farm is transformed into Lapland.
Visit Santa's reindeer, see the elves working hard to meet their deadlines and reflect at the crib (complete with a live cow and donkey).
Tickets for children are €16, adults €8 and children under 18 months free. Log on to glendeerpetfarm.ie or call 090 643 7147.
In Kilcoole, Co Wicklow, the Glenroe Farm -- yes, home to Biddy, Dinny and Miley in the 1980s -- is host to similarly twinkly scenes each weekend (November 30 to December 22, and Monday, December 23).
At Santa's cottage, children can pick up a gift before visiting a Nativity stable. TV fans, meanwhile, can busy themselves looking for Dinny's Cottage inside the main grounds.
Tickets for children are €15 (one adult goes free with each paying child). See glenroefarm.com or call 01 287 2288.
In the 18th Century marvel that is Westport House in Co Mayo, Santa and Mrs Claus will be living it up in grand style (from today until December 24).
The Man in Red will be holding court in his grotto, while children can enjoy an afternoon of fireside storytelling with Mrs Claus.
With mulled wine for the adults, and face painting, a ride on Westport House Express train and a Little Drummer Boy workshop for the little ones, there's nearly enough excitement to rival the big day itself.
Tickets for children are €20, adults and infants €10. See westporthouse.ie or call 098 27766.
If you happen to be staying in Westport on December 14 to 16, be sure to swing by Spraoi na Nollaig, a Christmas market packed with locally produced food and crafts. If you're lucky, Santa might even make an appearance at the harbour by boat.
See westportmarket.ie or call Westport Chamber on 098 27375.
The Aillwee Cave in Co Clare might not be the first place you'd think to find Santa, but it makes a fitting backdrop for his subterranean workshop (until December 22).
Murky secret passages were transformed into a sparkly underworld in the run-up to Christmas -- children can get in on the face-painting, puppet show and carnival action too.
Tickets for children are €16.50. See aillweecave.ie or call 1890 245 593 to make a booking.
At Crag Caves in Castleisland, Co Kerry, visitors get something of an inside track as they get to see what Santa's bedroom looks like before hitting the cave's play centre (Thursday to Sunday every week from December 1 and Monday, December 23). Add snow scenes, reindeer, polar bears and an animated ride and a good time is guaranteed.
Tickets for children are €20, adults €6. See cragcave.com or call 066 714 1244.
In Roscommon, Santa can be found down a real mine shaft. Make your way to the Arigna Mines for their Christmas Experience (every weekend in December), where you'll find Santa working overtime to get ready for his round-the-world trip.
Tickets for children are €15, adults free (advance booking strongly advised). Call 071 964 6466 or see arignaminingexperience.ie
It's safe to assume Santa knows a thing or two about air travel, which is why you'll find him waiting on the flight deck at Atlantic Airventure in Shannon (each weekend from December 14 to December 22).
You'll get to see the switches and dials in the cockpit used to help navigate Santa on Christmas Eve. And the adventurous can try a simulated flight to Lapland.
See atlanticairventure.com or call 061 363 687 for information and ticket prices.
At Bunratty Folk Park in Co Clare, you'll find Santa, Mrs Claus and the elves busying themselves ahead of the Christmas rush (today until December 23).
The park's famously old-fashioned village will be put to splendid use throughout December, with holly, festive lights and a beautiful Christmas tree.
See shannonheritage.com or call 061 360 788.
A festive train ride might be just the ticket. The Waterford & Suir Valley Railway steam train ride takes passengers on a journey along the banks of the River Suir (weekends, starting today).
When you get back to the station, Santa will be waiting in his railway cottage (with gifts, naturally).
Tickets for children are €15, adults €6. See wsvrailway.ie or call 051 384 058.
In Carlow, the Santa Train at Rathwood (until December 23) takes visitors on a winter wonderland ride. At the end of the journey is storytelling, reindeer, a lesson in elf school and the all-important meeting with Santa.
Tickets for children are €15, adults €10. See santatrain.ie or call 059 91 56285.
Children in Kildare can take a carriage ride through Rudolph's secret tunnel on Santa's Magical Trail at the Clanard Court Hotel in Athy (weekends and dates in December).
Taking inspiration from popular books, there's a Mad Hatter's tea party and a trip to Willy Wonka's chocolate factory before hitting Santa's workshop.
If that's not enough, you can also issue a snowball fight challenge in the snow room.
Tickets are €8. See santasmagicaltrail.ie or call 059 864 0666.
At Dublin Zoo, Christmas is celebrated in traditionally grand style (until December 24). On the green outside Santa's grotto, there will be plenty to keep little ones occupied, including Christmas arts and crafts, face-painting and warming treats.
Tickets for children start from €11.50. See dublinzoo.ie or call 01-474 8900.