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 winter. Two people walk across the park which is covered in snow towards a pink horizon and a lone stone tower.
With a sprinkling of snow, Phoenix Park becomes an even more beautiful place for a winter's stroll in Dublin © Karl Browne / Getty Images

Dublin's best winter pub

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.

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Newgrange, a prehistoric monument with a passage grave in Meath, Ireland. It is a clear day with a few fluffy clouds dotted in the blue sky.
Mysterious and impressive at anytime of year, there's something extra magical about Newgrange in winter © LucileB / Shutterstock

Newgrange at winter

To get back to some prehistoric pagan winter basics, consider marking the solstice at Newgrange on 22 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 more sparkly jewellery

A winter walk around 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 5 January 2020, the zoo will be filled with giant silk lanterns in the shape of animals and illuminated in bright colours. This year’s theme celebrates stories, myths and legends and there will also be Chinese performances, Asian food stalls and a craft market to enjoy. Book early as this event sells out fast!

Dublin's City Hall at night
Dublin's City Hall makes a special effort around Christmas © Olivier Cirendini / Lonely Planet

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.

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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 best independent shops. For the more high-end scale of craftsmanship, pencil in a visit to the Gifted Fair at the RDS from 4-8 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.

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

Dublin's galleries in winter

Discover the history of Ireland through photograph's of the country from ages gone by at the View of Ireland: Collecting Photography exhibition at the National Gallery of Ireland until 2 February 2020. It's the first ever photography exhibition to be held at the gallery including work from Erich Hartmann, Amelia Stein, Nevill Johnson, Eamonn Doyle, Inge Morath and Jane Bown.

If you're in the mood for something more practical, the Science Gallery always has a range of engaging exhibits exploring the challenges facing Ireland, and the world, today and in the future. The Irish Museum of Modern Art will also be launching PROTEST! in November, until late February 2020. This exhibition is a retrospective of British artist and filmmaker, Derek Jarman.

Custom House, Dublin at New Years. The renaissance-style building is illuminated by a light projection that reads 'LOVE DUBLIN' in a large heart.
If you're ringing in the New Year in Dublin, head for Custom House Quay © Adda83 / Shutterstock

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 2020 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.

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First Fortnight kicks off the year in early 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. You can expect a range of events including theatre, comedy, graffiti, film screenings and panel discussions.

From 8-12 January, the city will be ground control for all Major Tom fans with the fourth annual Dublin Bowie Festival. 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, Dublin
St. 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 22-26 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 Rat over a two-week period in 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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This article was first published November 2018, last updated September 2019.

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Three performers with grey robes and hair and blue wings hold lanterns during the night time parade.


25 of Ireland's best festivals

May 7, 2019 • 7 min read