Home Uncategorized Festive Things to do for Christmas in Dublin in 2021 (after latest government restrictions)

Festive Things to do for Christmas in Dublin in 2021 (after latest government restrictions)

by Roberto
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While Dublin might not be the first city that comes to mind for a Christmas break it is not without its merits. It has been working year by year to become a more magical place come yuletide. While 2020 causing a step back to be taken (for everything not just Christmas celebrations), the outlook for 2021 looks a lot better. 2021 will be more. More Christmas markets. More light shows. More extravagance.

For travellers, what more do you need on a city break? For locals, it’s the perfect reason to hang about at home, and enjoy Dublin at Christmas, instead of heading to Germany for a markets break. Of course Dublin is an excellent city for shopping and those long winter nights lend well to exploring Dublin’s pubs, whose atmosphere really comes into it’s own at this time of year.

New Restrictions

So the ghost of Covid Christmas past has struck again and a heap of new restrictions have been imposed. Thanks Omicron. So I’ve updated the post to what actually is happening in 2021. Bbq

Things to do at Christmas in Dublin in 2021

See the Christmas lights – Dublin at Christmas

Any city at Christmas is only as good as the lights on it’s streets and Dublin gives it a damn good go. Nothing else quite gets you in the Christmas spirit. On Grafton Street alone you’ll find 300,000 bulbs. Or certainly it’s claimed so, and I’m not going to try and disprove it. The Nollaig Shona Duit (Happy Christmas in Irish) welcomes people on to Dublin’s premier shopping. Away from Grafton lights can be going on 30 other streets, most of those found adjacent to Grafton. Crossing the Liffey, O’Connell street and Henry Street give their own challenge to be regarded as Dublin’s best lit street. The big switch on of the lights took place on November 10th with a ceremony in Bewley’s Café to celebrate it.

Dublin’s main tourist buildings are also imaginatively lit up as part of Winter Lights. In 2020 17 locations in the city were transformed by lasers into beautiful displays. One can assume 2021’s offering will be even better. Xmas lights deserve their own post in themselves, and I obliged by writing one last year. Follow the link and read on for the full lowdown on the lights.  

Dublin at Christmas
Christmas lights in Dublin
Christmas in Dublin

Wild lights at Dublin Zoo – Dublin at Christmas

Wild lights has been running in Dublin Zoo for several years now (except surprise, surprise 2020) , and returns in 2021 with a new theme “Around the World”. Wild Lights is a walk through the zoo with illuminations adding an extra angle to the usual features of the zoo.  

Last time out the feature was on Stories, Myths and Legends which put a lot of emphasis on educating about endangered and extinct animals before moving on to Irish mythology and famous children’s tales. So you can guarantee that the exhibitions are as educational as they are entertaining.  

This years around the world goes eh around the world with installations inspired by the most iconic landmarks of the world such as the Eiffel Tower, Pyramids of Giza, and more. Sounds like the perfect year for me to visit, and I’m delighted to have my tickets booked. On that subject, they are already very scarce so get booking now.  

Wonder lights at Malahide castle – a new event in 2021 for Christmas in Dublin

A new attraction for 2021 descends on Malahide Castle. Malahide castle is one of the best Dublin day trips any time of year but with Wonder Lights coming this year from 18th November to 23rd December, then maybe Christmas might be the best of all. Light walks are all the rage now it seems, and after last years grand total of none we now have two. Going by the name “Castle of Light” it will have strong links to the castles history and adding enchantment along the way.

We aren’t really sure how this will be, but I’ll be there on the 18th November and will happily oblige by adding my thoughts, impressions and a ton of photos shortly after. Tickets aren’t as scarce as for Wild Lights, but I imagine that will change closer to the opening date. Book here. As promised here’s an update with photos.

Shopping in Dublin City Centre – Christmas in Dublin

I’m surprised I got this far into a post on Dublin at Christmas time without delving into the shopping. Commercial Dublin won’t be happy with me. Dublin’s city centre is perfect for Christmas shopping; compact, with every gift you could possibly imagine found within reach of it’s main shopping streets. That said it’s hard to deny that online shopping is quickly taking a lot of attention away from the high street.

But there’s something to be said for spending time in the city centre at Christmas. Nothing online compares to the elaborate windows of Arnott’s and Brown Thomas, Dublin’s top department stores. Nor looking across the giant baubles hanging from Stephen’s Green Shopping Centre, a centre that looks more magical than any other time of year.

There’s also no substitute for stumbling upon that perfect present on a stroll through Westbury Mall or Georges Street Arcade. Dublin’s shopping is on a par with with any capital city, full of all the popular high street names along with a ton of local boutiques with their own individual identity.

Stephens Green Shopping Centre
Stephen’s Green shopping centre
Brown Thomas windows are synonymous with Christmas in Dublin
Brown Thomas new windows for 2021- Brown Thomas windows are synonymous with Christmas in Dublin
Arnotts Circus Window

Warm up in a Dublin coffee shop – Dublin at Christmas

After shopping your legs off, the perfect place to unwind and warm up are Dublin’s coffee shops. Bewley’s Café was opened in 1927, and its interior is lavishly decorated with stained glass windows, and art. A hot chocolate and some of their decadent cakes come highly recomended. For those looking for something different Butlers Chocolates have been around Dublin for just as long. They just launched their new range of winter drinks, with Gingerbread Latte’s headlining. You get a free chocolate or truffle with each hot drink too. Their gift boxes make the perfect gifts too, and their chocolate really is out of this world good.

Bewley's café is an unmissable place in Dublin at Christmas
Bewley’s – The perfect pit stop during Christmas in Dublin

Take a horse and carriage ride through the city  – Christmas in Dublin

Perhaps the most romantic way to see Dublin during the season is by a horse and carriage ride. You’ll find the Jarveys with their horses on the north side of Stephen’s Green, where they operate a first come first served queue. Tours are priced at €25 for a short trip, €40 for a half hour or €70 for an hour. If you want to see the Xmas lights in Dublin’s Southside then a half hour tour should more than suffice. The Jarvey’s will go wherever you ask them, even up Grafton Street for an otherwise unseen view of the lights and Ireland’s premier street.  

Christmas Lights in Dublin
Christmas in Dublin

Christmas Eve Busking – Dublin at Christmas

Update: I know I say below it’s hard to see this happening. More so now.

It’s hard to know if Dublin’s Christmas Eve busking will return this year. The last time we were treated to it was in 2019, with 2020 seeing an outright ban on busking. While busking is a year round activity on Grafton Street the session which happens on Christmas Eve is anything but. Organised annually by Glen Hansard it has become one of the most eagerly anticipated Dublin December events, with thousands attending.

All proceeds go to charity and Glen is often joined by stars such as Bono, The Edge, Imelda May, Hozier, The Script, Kodaline, The Coronas among others. No one really knows who will show up, and that’s the beauty of the event.  

Want to still help out a local charity even if the busking is cancelled. Then tune into Christmas FM, Ireland’s Christmas radio station and donate. Their charity partner this year is Barnardos, who help vulnerable children in disadvantaged communities. You can donate here.  

2020’s busk didn’t make it to the streets

Xmas markets in Dublin 

Dublin has had a love hate affair with Christmas markets for many years (they love, the public hates), and has never quite gotten them right. The Dublin Docklands Xmas Market deteriorated until it disappeared. Any attempt to have one around St Stephens Green faded away. A few have kept going such as the Terenure Christmas Market, but it only happens on one day of the year. But perhaps there’s some hope in 2021.

Dun Laoghaire Christmas Market – Christmas markets in Dublin

Update: this won’t take place in 2021.

A favourite that is returning is the Dun Laoghaire Christmas Market which has now been confirmed from November 27th to December 23rd. The harbour and town of Dun Laoghaire have always been a great setting, away from the city but full of its own unique hustle, bustle and atmosphere. Packed with all you could hope from a market and it’s stalls, it also has some unique features.

Santa’s arrival is always marked by a night of carol singing so a great night out for family. Not so unique of course. But the 55ft Ferris wheel that was used in the movie Grease is. The market has a full carnival on site too. Personally I enjoy the unique food offerings. It’s about the only place I know where some Hungarian Langos can be picked up in Ireland. Worth the trip out alone.  

Dun Laoghaire is easily reached by Dart from the city, meaning you can enjoy all the fine winter beverages without the worry of driving home.

Mistletown – Christmas markets in Dublin

**Tragic News. This years Mistletown Christmas Market has now also been cancelled.

Mistletown will take place under cover in an old Dublin fruit market, a perfect arrangement considering the volatile Irish weather. On offer will be 80 stalls selling seasonal merchandise, 20 selling food and drinks, and a Victorian fairground experience. It finally seems to be the Christmas market that Dublin has been crying out for. As this is a new attraction (it was planned for 2020 till covid-19 had its say) we can only speculate as to how good the stalls are going to be, but my hopes are high. It will run from December 4th until December 23rd 2021.

Dublin Castle Xmas markets – Christmas markets in Dublin

Returning again in 2021 is the Dublin Castle Christmas Market. Well received by all in 2019 it will take place in the grounds of the castle, and run from the 8th December to 21st December. Housed in traditional wooden huts the focus is on Irish arts, crafts and food that are in keeping with its majestic surroundings. Also thrown in to the offering is a crib, regular carol singing, a carousel and evening visits to the state apartments of Dublin castle. No Christmas market in Dublin can promise better surroundings than this one, and that brings it closer to what you might be used to in the great cities of Europe.

12 Pubs of Christmas – Christmas in Dublin

Update: so there’s nothing to say you can’t do this, but with only sitting allowed in pubs, where’s the craic.

Visiting a pub in Dublin at Christmas is surely top of everyone’s list. But don’t just visit a pub, why not make a night of it by doing the 12 pubs of Christmas. A tradition which started in Dublin in 1991, sees a group of friends embarking on a pub crawl. The Christmas slant, is that everyone must don their Christmas jumpers, and each pub has a separate rule which must be followed, such as no swearing pub, shots pub, wrong hand pub or don’t touch your own glass pub.

You can follow the rules from this set here, or make up your own. Of course by pub 7 or 8 everything starts to fall apart as the drink takes its toll. Pub 12 is usually only reached by the most battle hardy of drinkers.

For those looking to plan the 12 pubs of Christmas it’s a good idea to pick pubs that are close together. Long walks aren’t the best. It’s worth finding out too if bars will allow groups in that are doing the 12 pubs. They sometimes have policies to refuse them. It’s ok for bar one, but as an owner you wouldn’t want to be bar ten.   

Of course you can enjoy Dublin’s pubs without drinking 12 drinks (and to be socially responsible I suggest you should). The city is full of great pubs that will have a twinkle of Christmas in their eye. Unmissable is the bright shiny façade of the Temple Bar pub. Whatever you need Dublin’s pubs will have it, be it atmosphere, traditional Irish music, excellent food, a good pint of Guinness, or a fancy cocktail.

Temple Bar Pub Dublin
Dublin’s iconic Temple Bar pub

Ice Skating in Blanchardstown – Dublin at Christmas

Ice skating is synonyms with winter and Christmas for a lot of people. For me it’s synonymous with the time I nearly broke my leg. Anyway. For those who fall into the first group, Ireland’s largest rink Ice Skating Blanchardstown will reopen on 19th November, right on time for silly season. The rink is located next to McDonalds in the Blanchardstown Centre, so would be perfect to team up with your pressie shopping.

Sadly Dundrum on Ice (another favourite of those who aren’t challenged to stay vertical on ice), the rink at Dundrum town centre has been cancelled for 2021. It will return in time for Christmas in Dublin in 2022.

Theatre and Music at Christmas- Christmas in Dublin

Update: Theatres have been badly hit by a reduction in capacity to 50% so this is really hitting the Christmas schedule.

Dublin’s main theatre’s and musical halls also switch into seasonal mode and there’s a wide variety of shows to appease all. The biggest show of the season is the Christmas Panto, and there are none bigger than that at the Gaiety theatre. This year The Little Mermaid is up. It’s as much fun for adults as kids, as some of the jokes are cleverly spun to work on adult ears only.

At the higher brow end are a couple of performances of Holy Night on December 8th and 9th at Christchurch- carols sung by the Cathedrals choir. The very popular carols by candlelight returns to St Patrick’s Cathedral on December 12th. This years performance is by London Concertante for a concert of Christmas Viennese Waltzes. It’s a very popular event too on previous years. The National Concert Hall presents its own Christmas programme, headlined by This Way To Christmas! featuring The Snowman, where the score of the movie and other Christmas favourites will be performed by orchestra from December 21st.

Moving crib – Dublin at Christmas

For 50 years the moving crib in Dublin has been evoking the Christmas spirit. The moving crib was created by Fr Louis Coffey in 1956, and at the time it was really advanced with it’s mechanical moving figures. Even though it’s aged a bit, it’s a part of Christmas history in Dublin. It was refurbished in 2015. It’s not just a crib, there are several bible scenes that are depicted including Noah’s ark, with over 70 mechanical figures. Entry is free and it’s certainly worth dropping in to for the novelty factor.

Moving Crib Dublin
The moving crib- an institution for Christmas in Dublin

Live crib at the mansion house – Christmas in Dublin

A nativity scene of a different kind takes pride of place in front of the Mansion House. A yearly live crib is set up here, featuring donkeys and goats. Thankfully no babies are used. It’s definitely one to take the little ones to, to learn the other story of Christmas and see the animals. Donations are welcome on site to help the Mansion House Fuel Fund.

Christmas at Farmleigh – Dublin at Christmas

Farmleigh in Dublin’s Phoenix Park puts on its own programme to celebrate Christmas. The house at Farmleigh is a fine estate, used to house dignitaries when they visit the Irish state. Running on weekends only in 2021, the festivities include storytelling, magic and puppet shows for the kids. Add horse and carriage rides, a live crib, and carol singers providing a festive atmosphere to the weekend food market, and you just might have one of the best locations in Dublin at Christmas. This years live act is the Mellow Chords, providing barber shop melodies. Farmleigh is one of the harder places to reach in Dublin, so a car is recommended to get there.

Farmleigh Estate Dublin
Farmleigh transforms each year at Christmas time

Airfield estate at Christmas – Christmas in Dublin

The Christmas Experience at Airfield in Dundrum is so popular that it’s already fully booked for 2021. Aimed specifically at little ones, it’s highlight is a visit to Santa. However, there is tons more, as a walk through the grounds follow three characters in their quest to get home for Christmas. Along the way they visit workshops to teach origami, some great photo opportunities in Santa’s workshop and sleigh.

For adults mulled wine is served to warm up, and add a little excitement to their own visit. The Airfield Estate works on a sustainable ethos so all gifts and costumes are from natural materials and mostly free from plastic. While there’s no chance to visit there year, it’s one to plan ahead for Christmas in Dublin in 2022.

Christmas Racing at Leopardstown- Dublin at Christmas

Stuck for something to do other than spending Christmas eating turkey sandwiches and watching reruns of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang? Then a trip to the Christmas racing meeting at Leopardstown might be just the outing you need. The four day meeting has been happening for nearly 130 years. It begins on St Stephens Day and runs until the 29th of December. The biggest race of the whole festival is the Paddy Power Chase on the 27th. The 28th is Ladies Day, so get those hats out. The final day is a more family-centric day with under 18’s going for free. The race meetings are ever popular and tickets go quick, so book at Leopardstown.com.

Funderland – Christmas in Dublin

Update: it doesn’t look good for Funderland this year.

Another event that is a long running Dublin Christmas event is Funderland. It also begins after the Christmas celebrations. After cancelling in 2020 due to restrictions, it should return to the RDS for this season. Funderland usually runs daily from 26th December until the second week of January. Touted as the largest travelling amusement park in Europe, it’s one for those with a more iron stomach than me. Let me at the 12 pubs instead any day. It features rollercoasters and a heap of other rides that will keep thrill seekers happy, and challenge Christmas leftovers to stay down.

Funderland is a “fun” after Christmas Dublin event

Staying in Dublin

Dublin has a broad selection of accommodation catering for all budgets. Many of its city centre hotels are 4 or 5 stars, and the standards are high. The Dublin 2 area has the highest rates, followed by Dublin 1. For a more economical option, the hotels in the affluent Dublin 4 and 6 areas offer good quality at a lower rate, with excellent transport links to the city.

Disclosure; This post contains affiliate links, which means I may receive a commission if you click a link such as the Booking.com one below, and purchase something that I have recommended. While clicking these links won’t cost you any money, it will help keep this site going and me travelling. Thank you for your continuing support.


Looking for more things to do in Ireland and Northern Ireland? Visit my Ireland in Focus page for a great list of itineraries and tips.

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