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The cosy delights of Dublin in winter

Ireland in the winter is dark with unpredictable weather – and this makes it an even more perfect time to enjoy the cosmopolitan delights of Dublin city, where the short, chilly days are just a welcome excuse to slip off to the pub, pop into a gallery, or dive into one of the city’s growing number of seasonal events.

Phoienix Park Dublin in winterWith a sprinkling of snow, Phoenix Park becomes an even more beautiful place for a winter’s stroll in Dublin © Karl Browne / Getty Images

Back to basics

Time to reacquaint yourself with the simple joy of Dublin pubs. Forget fancy cocktail bars, winter is the time to enjoy a hot whiskey and some quality time talking about everything and nothing with your nearest and dearest. Any decent boozer fits the bill but for something particularly seasonal, get to the Hole in the Wall after a brisk walk in Phoenix Park. You’ll step into an incredible, slightly surreal, winter wonderland that seems to have materialised from your childhood fantasies – except they serve beer. Each room has a different theme with one constant: every scrap of surface is covered in decorations.

Hole in the Wall pub, DublinA perfect option for a post-stroll pint, the Hole in the Wall pub brightens up the winter season with some cheery decor © AnneMarie McCarthy / Lonely Planet

To get back to some prehistoric pagan winter basics, consider marking the solstice at Newgrange on 21 December. A few lucky lottery winners get to go inside the ancient tomb and witness the sun rising directly in line with the building’s entrance. Public tours of the Newgrange tomb start again after the lottery winners leave, around 9am. A similar but smaller gathering takes place at the nearby Hill of Tara, the ancient seat of Irish kings.


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Sparkling lights and even sparklier jewellery

A winter walk around Phoenix Park’s Dublin Zoo may not seem like the best idea, but each evening through the darkest months the zoo comes alive courtesy of the spectacular Wild Lights display. Running until 6 January, the zoo will be filled with giant silk lanterns in the shape of animals and illuminated in bright colours. This year’s theme celebrates the life aquatic and there will also be Chinese performances, Asian food stalls and a craft market to enjoy. Book early as last year’s event sold out quickly.

Back in the city centre, twelve notable buildings will be illuminated and animated with projections from sunset to 2am for 30 nights between early December and early January. Places like City Hall, Liberty Hall and Mansion House are all getting a festive makeover and they won’t just be free to view, they also promise to be eco-friendly and energy-efficient.

Dublin's City Hall at nightDublin’s City Hall looks good at any time of year, but makes a special effort around Christmas © Olivier Cirendini / Lonely Planet

Naturally December is the biggest shopping period of the year but you can avoid the crush of the high street by seeking out Dublin’s locally made crafts. The most fun of all the festive markets has to be the massive Dublin Flea Christmas Market at Point Square. Lose yourself in retro and antique stalls and peruse the funky, unique gifts from creative Irish start-ups and small businesses. Held over two weekends, there’ll be 140 stalls to explore and oodles of local food, too.

For the more high-end scale of craftsmanship, pencil in a visit to the Contemporary Craft & Design Fair at the RDS from 5-9 December. Handmade toys, intricate jewellery, designer fashion and crafted furniture will all be on display, as well as a selection of Irish food and even kits to try your hand at making your own cheese or gin.

What’s on in Dublin galleries?

Discover the history of one of Ireland’s most interesting women, Countess Constance Markievicz. This winter marks 100 years since she became the first woman to be elected to the UK’s House of Commons (a seat she chose not to take due to her commitment to Irish republicanism) and Markievicz: Portraits & Propagandacommemorates this extraordinary figure at the National Gallery of Ireland until 10 February 2019. It explores her fascinating life as a revolutionary, socialist, suffragette and soldier.

National Gallery of Ireland, DublinKeep warm and get some culture at the National Gallery of Ireland © Olivier Cirendini / Lonely Planet

If you prefer to learn a bit more practical information about the world around you, the Science Gallery is hosting a particularly intriguing exhibit called Intimacy until late February 2019, examining what brings humans together to forge real connections. The Irish Museum of Modern Art will also be launching two new exhibitions in February.

Start 2019 with festivals for every taste

Dublin is a hugely popular destination to ring in the New Year, with official celebrations happening at Custom House Quay. If you’re travelling with kids and don’t want to keep them awake until midnight, there is a ‘matinee’ event at 6pm where you can count down to 2019 early and still get to see the light show. The official Countdown Concert kicks off at 8pm, while the Liffey Lights Midnight Moments promises a spectacular show from 11.30pm onwards. The concert is the only paid event out of the three but they all require tickets. Secure your place on the New Year’s Festival Dublin website.

Once the clock has struck and the calendar has ticked over to the new year, there’s a bustling social calendar of festivals planned to get you through the most depressing months.

First Fortnight kicks off the year from 2-26 January with a creative programme for any lover of the arts. Each event is designed to raise awareness of mental health, challenging the stigmas and prejudices surrounding it. This year it will be Europe’s Mental Health Art & Culture Festival and you can expect theatre, comedy, graffiti, film screenings and panel discussions.

From 7-13 January, the city will be ground control for all Major Tom fans with the fourth annual David Bowie Festival. This year marks the 50th anniversary of Space Oddity and there will be musical tributes in the National Concert Hall and the Olympia. The Bowie Ball returns to the Grand Social with a space theme, so pack your favourite Bowie-inspired costume for the trip.

St Patrick's Cathedral, DublinSt. Patrick’s Cathedral is one of the venerable venues for January’s TradFest © RSchatz / Budget Travel

For something entirely different, Dublin will host the country’s largest festival of traditional Irish music 23-27 January at TradFest. It gives concert-goers a chance to experience trad, folk and even the occasional bit of rock ‘n’ roll in unique locations like St Michan’s Church, Rathfarnham Castle and St Patrick’s Cathedral.

Finally, ring in the new year all over again with the Dublin Chinese New Year Festival. Welcoming the Year of the Pig over a two-week period between 1-16 February, the festival offers a plethora of art and cultural events to delight in, including Chinese opera, dance, talks and visual art.

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