Ireland's best Santa experiences!
He's coming to town.
He's making a list and checking it twice - so now's the time to pay a friendly visit to Mr Claus. Tanya Sweeney has our essential guide on where to visit Santa this December…
Dublin Zoo has been one of the country's biggest attractions in 2014, and it'll be celebrating the end of a bumper year in grand style (December 6-7, 13-14, 20-24). On the green outside Santa's grotto, there will be plenty happening to keep little ones occupied. Job done with the festive arts and crafts, be sure to visit the animals who are celebrating their very first Christmas there, too.
Tickets for Santa's grotto start from €9 for children (for non-annual pass holders): See www.dublinzoo.ie for info, or call (01) 474 8900.
Santa is no stranger to department stores, but at Arnotts on Henry Street (pictured below), Santa's yearly descent is, by now, an institution. Santa's lush beard has been enough to convince even the most cynical that this is the main man himself. See www.arnotts.ie or call (01) 805 0400.
Down at the Mansion House on Dawson Street, the traditional Nativity scene comes to life thanks to actual animals and a life-sized stable (December 10-24).
In case you're wondering, the animals are merely having a daytrip, and are returned to their South Dublin farm every evening. On the launch day (December 10), the city will celebrate this age-old tradition with choral performances, face painting and street entertainment - perfect light relief from the drudgery of shopping. Admission is free; call (01) 222 6200 for information.
It stands to reason that Santa might make an appearance at one of the country's biggest and best-known toy shops, and sure enough, Santa is hosting breakfasts, lunches and tea at Hamley's in the Dundrum Town Centre. At the Hamley's party room, guests can have a word with himself, and get the insider track on what really goes down up north. Tickets are €25, and the events run until December 24.
Call Hamley's on (01) 292 4901 for information.
The People's Republic is pushing the boat out in suitably spectacular style with Glow: A Cork Christmas Celebration, which runs each Friday to Sunday until December 21. Grand Parade is the atmospheric backdrop to the festival, which will host 3D storybook sessions in Bishop Lucey Park, a 30m Ferris wheel and carols by candlelight at St Augustine's Church on Washington Street.
Given that the famous English Market is nearby, there's also prime opportunity to pick up stocking fillers, too. See www.glowcork.ie for the lowdown.
At The Farm Grenagh in Ballymorisheen, meanwhile, you'll find a glittering wonderland (until December 23); Santa will drop by, check up on his elves and find out just who has been naughty and nice. Over at the Haystack, grown-ups can revive themselves with hot chocolate and mince pies. Tickets are €15 for children, €10 for adults; infants under two are free. To book, call (021) 462 9816 or see www.visitthefarm.ie.
The Santa Experience at the Jetland Shopping Centre runs until December 23 in Limerick City (and also in Dublin and Cork, see www.thesantaexperience.com for details). Kids can pick up not only reindeer food for Christmas Eve, but a personalised letter from the man himself. Tickets are €10 per child and €2 per adult.
Alternatively, head out of the city and to the tranquil and very beautiful Stonehall Farm in Curraghchase, Kilcornan, Co. Limerick (December 6-22).
In this laid-back setting, you'll find a magical Santa's grotto among the resident wildlife, where Santa will set up shop, making lists and checking them twice. Mulled wine, coffee and Christmas cake are available for those adults who are too big for Santa's knee. Tickets are €20 for children and €7 for adults and infants, pre-booking essential. Call (061) 393 940 or see www.stonehallvisitorfarm.com.
Over in the City of the Tribes, Santa rocks up to the Slieve Aughty Riding & Activity Centre's cosy fireside (December 5-23) to meet with children. There's plenty else to do besides talk with the big man; there's a live Nativity, storytelling, arts and crafts and pony reindeer rides happening to make sure the wait to see Santa isn't too arduous. Tickets are €27.50 for children, €7 for adults and €3 for infants under 23 months. Call (090) 974 5246 or see www.riding-centre.com for more details.
Christmas at Loughwell Farm Park has been a must-do for Galwegian families for years; and no wonder, given that the Barnyard theatre gets transformed into the North Pole (Tomorrow, December 6-7, 12-14, 17-21). Aside from meeting Santa and his gang of pals (including his magic balloon clown), kids can also avail of the park's year-round amenities, including mini-golf and go-karting.
Tickets are €20 for children, free for infants under two and €8 for adults. Call (091) 868 631 or see www.loughwellfarmpark.ie.
Waterford & Wexford
Kia Ora farm in Gorey is a popular family destination in the South East, and with Santa setting up shop there, it really comes into its own as a winter wonderland. Offering little ones a chance to get a special letter from the man of the moment (to be arranged in advance), there's a whole host of amenities on offer in Santa's village: an animated light show, illuminated crib, live stable, mystery maze and a fire engine. In case you ever wondered what the elves' quarters are like, you need wonder no more.
Not-so-little ones, meanwhile, can avail of mulled wine and mince pies. Tickets are €16 for children, €10 and €7 for adults. See www.kiaoraminifarm.com or call (053) 94 21166 for more information.
Meanwhile, the Waterford & Suir Valley Railway's steam train ride takes festive passengers on a journey along the banks of the River Suir, (December 6-8, 13-14, 20-23). At the station, Santa will be waiting in his Railway Cottage (with gifts galore, naturally). Tickets cost €15 for children/€6 for adults. Advance booking is essential. Call 051 384 058 or log on to www.wsvrailway.ie for information.
You too can be away (with) a manger if you head to Causey Farm in Co. Meath this Christmas (December 5-23). There you will find Santa's house, his workshop (and more importantly, his present-filled parlour), and little ones can help pack Santa's sacks for him and visit his reindeer as they relax before their round-the-world jaunt. And no farm visit would be complete without a Christmas stable replete with cows, donkeys, sheep and lambs. Tickets for children (ages 2-12) are €20, toddlers (12-23 months) are €6, and adults are €12. Call (046) 9434 135 or visit www.causey.ie.
In Ashbourne, Santa has taken up residence at Tayto Park where he's transformed the Lodge into a grotto (until December 23). Tickets include full-day entry to the Park and are priced €12 for under-threes, €22 for over threes and €8 for adults. Booking is essential. Call (01) 835 1999 or www.taytocrisps.ie.
Best of the Rest
Ever thought you’d get to find Saint Nick hanging out down a real-life mine shaft? Well, over at the Arigna Mines in Roscommon, that’s precisely where you’ll find Santa getting his hands dirty. In fact, Santa will be right at home at their Christmas Experience (December 6-7, 13-14, 20-22), where he’ll be working overtime getting ready for the big day. Kids can learn a thing or two from the guides, who are real-life miners. Tickets are €15 for children (adults go free) and advance booking is strongly advised. Call (071) 964 6466 or see www.arignaminingexperience.ie
Westport House will be brimful of festive cheer as Santa and Mrs Claus throw open the doors to their grotto (until December 24). Enjoy fireside storytelling, gingerbread decorating and face-painting… and brave types can try their hand at “Elves Factor” karaoke too. Add a ride on the Westport House Express train and a Little Drummer Boy workshop, and it’s enough excitement to rival the big day itself. Tickets are €20 for children, and €10 for infants/adults (Westport Train is extra). Call (098) 277 66 or see www.westporthouse.ie for the lowdown.
Athlone’s Glendeer Farm has transformed into Ireland’s Lapland (until December 23). Where better to visit Santa’s reindeer and catch the elves at close range working hard to meet their deadlines? Add an indoor skywalk play area and a fully-loaded coffee shop, and it’s a top day out for all involved. Tickets are €16 for children, €8 for adults, while children under 18 months are admitted free of charge. Contact (090) 643 7147 or see www.glendeerpetfarm.ie
In Carlow, the Santa Train at Rathwood, (until December 23), has been a highly popular option for families for over two decades. Meet with Mrs Claus and Trixie the Elf, and take the magical train where you’ll find storytelling, reindeer, a lesson in Elf School and the all-important meeting with Santa at the end of your whistlestop tour. Tickets are €15 for children/€10 for adults. Call (059) 915 6285 or log onto www.santatrain.ie.
If you’ve ever been curious as to what Glenroe Farm might be like — yes, that one from RTÉ in the 1980s — now’s a good time to go. At Santa’s cottage, a full Nativity stable awaits visitors, while Santa will also be in residence (November 30, December 6-7, 13-14, 18-23). He’s also be joined by friends including Mrs Claus and the Snow Queen. They’ve thought of everything at Glenroe — far from having to queue, kids can enjoy the farm and puppet show before the elves call them for their visit to the big man. 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). Call (01) 287 2288 or visit www.glenroefarm.com.
The Clanard Court Hotel in Athy is a hop, skip and jump from Dublin… and well worth the trek. There, kids can take a carriage ride through Rudolph’s Secret Tunnel on Santa’s Magical Trail (weekends and selected dates in December). The amenities on offer will make your head spin — there’s a sleepover party with the elves, a chocolate workshop and a tour where some well-known characters like the Mad Hatter and Snow White show up. Tickets for the trail are €15 for children, €9 for adults and €9 for babies under one year (but the chocolate workshop and other add-ons are extra).Call (059) 864 0666 or visit www.santasmagicaltrail.ie.
The Ailwee Caves in Clare might seem a bit spooky for Christmas, but sure enough, they make a fitting and very festive backdrop for a subterranean workshop (Today, December 5-7, 12-14, 18-22). Murky passages are being transformed into a sparkly underworld in the run-up to Christmas — kids can get in on the face painting/puppet show and carnival action, too. Tickets are €15 for adults, €33 for children and €6 for babies under one year. To book, call 1890 245 593 or log onto www.ailweecave.ie
Elsewhere in Clare, Bunratty Folk Park has a delightfully old-fashioned feel, and this will come into its own throughout December. Santa and Mrs Claus will also be present and correct, presiding over the elves, as well as a host of storytelling, puppet show and other activities. Tickets are €14 for adults, and €25 for children, and booking in advance is strongly recommended. Call (061) 360 788 or by log on to www.shannonheritage.com.
The Ailwee Caves are not the only caves to get in on the Christmassy action, either: at Crag Cave in Castleisland, Co. Kerry, visitors get to see what Santa’s bedroom looks like before hitting the cave’s special play centre (December 1-23). Factor in snow scenes, reindeer, polar bears (!) and an animated moving ride, and Crag Caves are the perfect primer for the day itself. The Garden Restaurant, meanwhile, serves up hot meals, home baking, mulled wine and some much needed R&R. Tickets are €20 for children and €6 for adults. Call (066) 714 1244 or see www.cragcave.com
If anyone knows about air travel, it’ll be the Man in Red… he’ll be taking to the flight deck at the Atlantic Airventure aero-museum in Shannon (December 1-31). Visitors will get to see the switches and dials in the cockpit — used to help Santa navigate on Christmas Eve. And, for the truly adventurous, try a simulated flight to Lapland while you’re there. Tickets are €15 for children, €5 for adults. A flying Santa visit costs €25 for children and €5 for adults. Call (061) 363 687 or visit www.atlanticairventure.com.
For more Christmas activities, visit www.discoverireland.ie.