I’m dreaming of a green Christmas

Costing north of €500, daytrips to Lapland aren’t exactly a holiday for the masses. Not to worry, writes Pól Ó Conghaile, there are lots of winter wonderlands right here at home

A Corker of a Christmas

Not many parents can afford to take their children to Lapland. What they can do, however, is bring a little Lapland to their children. And there’s no shortage of ways to do that in Cork.

If your little elves fancy getting their skates on, check out Cork on Ice, a huge 600m² rink at the Mahon Point shopping centre. Skating begins on Saturday, November 19, and runs right through to January 16, with state-of-the-art lighting and sound, an on-site farmers’ market and skating penguins to help the little ones keep their balance on a separate beginners’ rink.

A week later, Cork’s Grand Parade metamorphoses into Grand Central Station for stocking-fillers, with the annual Christmas markets running every weekend from November 25.

From swirly lollipops to Scandinavian hats and handmade crafts, 45 stalls will have festive treats galore, but that’s only the start of it. Some 150,000 visitors are expected this year at a free festival that will also see Bishop Lucey Park transformed into a Van Gogh-themed wonderland.

If you are ‘out west’, then check out the Winter Wonderland from December 1st in Skibbereen. Tickets are €15 per child and €5 per adult with discounts for families and a 15% price reduction midweek (Mon-Thurs) up to December 15th. This year’s Wonderland will feature many new elements including an Interactive Naughty & Nice Machine, Elves Tattoo Parlour, a Candy Land and much more.

Details: cometocork.ie/Christmas; corkonice.com (from €12/€11 per session) and www.winterwonderlandskibb.com

Jingle Bells at Bunratty, Co Clare

The whole cast of Christmas will be milling around the medieval castle at Bunratty this year, including Mrs Claus, a troupe of elves, Scrooge, and of course, Santa Claus himself.

The village setting is the unique attraction here, with the folk park’s close-knit streets and cottages festooned with holly and fairy lights, and a complimentary glass of mulled wine and mince pies awaiting adults in Corry’s Pub. It’s a popular one, so pre-booking is advised.

Details: 061-360788; shannonheritage.com; €13/€25; December 2-23.

A little bit of Lapland in Limerick

Santa is coming early to Limerick this year, with Christmas markets taking place every weekend at the city’s Milk Market from November 25, and daily in the run up to Christmas Eve.

No prizes for guessing the highlights here — the Milk Market has a fab foodie reputation, and shoppers kicking back under the white canopy can tuck into a beef ciabatta from Country Choice, savour mince pies from Sallymills Artisan Cakes, or a chocolate crepe from Bon Appétit.

Christmas in the Shannonside city has been further spiced up by the announcement of gigs by The Coronas (Nov 25), Bell X1 (Dec 2), and Imelda May (Dec 23).

Details: milkmarketlimerick.ie (Nov 25 — Dec 24).

Festive Fun in Dun Laoghaire

Dublin’s Docklands hog the seasonal spotlight at Christmas time, but this year, there’s an alternative out in Dun Laoghaire. Santa arrives by Harley Davidson on December 10, followed by a fireworks display, kicking off a full month of festivities. Highlights include a traditional Christmas market with foodie treats ranging from gourmet crepes to barbecued bratwursts, a carousel and climbing wall at the Metals, an ice rink at Moran Park House, and a live crib beside the church.

Details: dlrevents.ie; (Dec. 9 — Jan. 8)

A Kerry Merry Christmas in Killarney

Nowhere does Narnia quite like Killarney National Park. Even at the height of the snow-induced gridlock of recent winters, it was impossible not to gaze over the lakes and mountains of Kerry, cloaked in a slumberdown of pristine powder, and feel a little bit dewy-eyed at the beauty.

Will 2011 see another White Christmas? Killarney isn’t waiting around to find out. Its Christmas market will be up and running from November 19 in Old Market Lane — in a mini Alpine village where you can nibble the sweets and savouries, and shop for handicrafts, whatever the weather.

Another feature is Santa’s Secret Christmas Village, an interactive experience featuring Mrs Claus’s gingerbread kitchen, a vintage helter-skelter, toymakers’ workshop and Santa’s farmyard. Visitors can also visit and confab with the man himself, and even help load his sleigh.

Elsewhere in Killarney, the Dublin Gospel Choir perform in St Mary’s Cathedral on December 11, and the town’s famous jaunting cars will be transformed into jaunting sleighs, where you can wrap up under a blanket and spin away for €10 per family of four (Dec 3-4, 10-11, 17-18).

Details: christmasinkillarney.ie; Santa’s Village costs €15/€10 (Nov. 19-Jan. 8).

Festive Farmyards

You don’t have to travel to the Arctic Circle to see Christmas animals, you know. Rudolph and his reindeers are resting up at Stonehall Visitor Farm in Kilcornan, Co Limerick, before their big adventure on Christmas Eve. Santa’s grotto opens from December 2-22.

Meanwhile, at Leahy’s Open Farm in Dungourney, Co Cork, visitors can meet a talking Christmas tree, view Santa’s holiday home and bake and chat with Mrs Claus. There’s a crib with live animals, hot chocolate at the café, and most importantly, a gift from Santa. It also runs December 2-22.

Finally, squirrelled away in the Arctic tundra just outside Athlone, Glendeer Farm is transforming itself into ‘Ireland’s Lapland’.

Thousands of twinkling lights are promised, you can see Santa arrive by sleigh with Dancer and Prancer, and there are real animals in the nativity crib.

Details: stonehallvisitorfarm.ie, €7/€20; leahysopenfarm.ie, €5/€15, glendeerpetfarm.ie; €7/€15.

Kilkenny’s Christmas Fair

Instead of Dublin or Cork, why not consider Kilkenny for your Christmas shopping this year? The city’s Christmas Fair runs from December 10-12 and 15-23 on Parade Plaza, showcasing the best of artisan food, craft and giftware against the dramatic backdrop of Kilkenny Castle.

New to this year’s set-up is a dedicated performance space with a busy schedule of entertainment and events. There’s also Santa’s grotto for younger visitors, and a Food Court with a seasonal smorgasbord of the county’s most delectable fudges, gingerbreads and other titbits.

Also returning thus year is Kilkenny on Ice, located on Cillín Hill on the Dublin Road (from Dec 3). As well as the rink, look out for Leinster’s first ever ice slide, bungee trampolines and even rodeo reindeers. There’s an Ice Café for hot soups and festive treats too.

Details: visitkilkenny.ie; kilkennyonice.com (early bird tickets from €9).

Kris Kindle in Kinsale

Santa’s Grotto, al fresco markets, variety shows and dodgy Christmas jumper parties — that’s just the start of the Christmas spirit on show in Kinsale over a month-long festival. Watch out for a special farmers’ market on Short Quay, an indoor/outdoor market at the Blue Haven, and daily walking tours led by Dermot Ryan, as much of an asset to the town as any of its restaurants and boutiques — which will be undoubtedly getting into the seasonal swing of things too.

December 8 sees the annual Snow Queen competition at the White Lady, aptly enough, and the winner will join Santa and local kids for a fancy dress parade on December 19.

Details: kinsalechristmas.com (Dec 1-31).

Waterford’s Winter Wonderland

Another city dressing itself up like a Christmas tree for the month of December, with highlights of its festivities including a market at Broad Street and John Roberts Square from December 3 to Christmas Eve. Old-time carousels, dinky lights and the scent of mulled wine mingling with freshly-baked treats are all promised, as are Santa’s grotto and chirping choirs.

Meanwhile, outside of town on the old Dungarvan line, you’ll find a little red Simplex locomotive pulling a Santa Express on the Waterford & Suir Valley Railway. Setting off from Kilmeaden, the 20-minute ride ends with a meeting with Santa in his cottage. Advance booking essential.

Details: christmasinwaterford.ie; wsvrailway.ie; €6/€14.

The 7UP Winter Wonderland

It’s forgivable to feel a little cynical when a global brand appears in front of the words ‘Winter’ and ‘Wonderland’. If the blurb on the Christmas-theme park under construction in Dublin’s Royal Hospital Kilmainham is anything to go by, however, such fears can be put to rest.

For starters, it’s free to enter. Then there are the activities, which range from Ireland’s largest covered ice rink to Fossett’s Christmas Circus, traditional Christmas markets and a Santa Land fairground. Interspersed throughout are a host of cafes and bars.

Based on an event first developed in London’s Hyde Park in 2007, the 7UP Winter Wonderland will also include Le Cirque evening cabaret circus shows at The Spiegel Saloon, an antique-style ballroom (don’t worry, it’s heated) featuring lots of DJs and local musicians.

Details: 7upwinterwonderland.ie; (Dec 1 — Jan 9); free to enter.

NB: For further information on Christmas festivals, events, accommodation offers and restaurants open over the festive season, check out discoverireland.ie/festive.

But if you still want real snow...

IF one place crystallises our notion of Christmas, surely it is Lapland. Straddling the Arctic Circle, spotted with reindeer and huskies, decorated with naff jumpers and pine trees weighed down by fresh dumps of snow, it looks and feels like Santa’s back yard.

The bad news is that a visit will cost you over €500pp. And that’s just for a daytrip. A three-night stay doubles the price (and then some) for every person travelling.

So what do the trips involve? After an early flight from Dublin and Belfast — with carol-singing on the plane — holidaymakers land in Finland’s Rovaniemi (“the official airport of Santa Claus”). They check in, collect their thermal garb, and set off on an exclusive programme of snowmobile safaris, husky and reindeer sleigh rides, souvenir shopping and an Arctic Circle crossing.

Most Lapland packages are all-inclusive, which means activities and a visit to Santa’s ‘Secret Command Centre’ in Joulukka are bundled with meals and accommodation. After meeting the man himself, you can shop for handicrafts — and post a letter in his ‘official’ post office.

Details: Sunway (sunway.ie) has three-night trips on December 15, 17 and 19 from €1,179 per adult and €999 per child. All meals and activities are included in the price. Falcon (falconholidays.ie) has day trips departing Dublin and Belfast from €581pp.

Picture: the Christmas market on Cork’s Grand Parade

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