Last updated on November 9th, 2019
We’ve been house sitting in Ireland for a few years now and have spent the past 3 Christmas seasons in Dublin, Donegal and Belfast. Celebrating Christmas in another country is a wonderful way to immerse yourself in another culture or atmosphere and get stuck into new traditions and experience things that may well be beyond your own normal.
In Ireland, it’s all about the “craic” – being with family, having fun and simply enjoying the energy of the season.
House sitting in Ireland can be difficult. Many sits require transportation of some kind as a lot of Ireland is very rural. In some cases, the homeowner may allow you to use their vehicle, but you must have experience in driving standard (automatic) or stick (manual), as most Irish vehicles are not automatic.
Both Dublin and Belfast are well-connected cities and you won’t need a vehicle in either city, as both are very walkable and with good local transport links.
Ireland is very family orientated, both in the south and in Northern Ireland. People like to take their time and celebrate well. Like most countries on December 24, virtually everything shuts down on Christmas Eve and then starts up again on December 26 when the sales set in. There are varying traditions for folks living in both Belfast and Dublin that help set the Christmas season.
Some of these are very budget friendly (meaning free) and some do have a cost to them. So if you do get a chance to house sit in Ireland here are my 10 highlights for you.
1. The 12 Pubs of Christmas
This “tradition” goes back a few years and is celebrated all over Ireland and the UK for that matter. The 12 Pubs of Christmas. It may appear to be a millennial party but in Ireland, everyone joins in for the “craic”.
Young and old alike you select your ugliest Christmas Jumper (also known as sweater, cardigan or sweatshirt). We are talking jumpers that are simply hideous with lights, velcro Santa’s, real candy canes and the like. The idea is to hike between 12 different pubs in your area and drink a full round in each pub.
There are strict rules to abide by when visiting each pub. You can check out the rules here.
2. The Lights go on in Belfast & Dublin
Christmas lights go on in various places around Dublin. The Grafton Street lights switch on around the middle of November. There is usually a special guest and lots of family based entertainment. The lights themselves are simply gorgeous chandeliers and swags designed by the same team that does the lights at the Eiffel Tower.
The lights go on in Belfast in a gala celebration at the end of November usually around the third weekend. The streets are shut down all around City Hall and the event includes live music, celebrities and a grand throwing of the switch to light up the town as soon as dark begins to settle in.
3. Christmas Markets
Dublin has been growing its Christmas Markets and you can find details of the events at this link.
Belfast is no slouch in the Christmas Market stakes. From the glorious St. George’s market with its Twilight Market early in the month or its extended hours that run up to the big day, Belfast is a haven for great markets at Christmas time.
The Belfast Christmas Market is returning to the grounds of Belfast City Hall and runs until 22nd December. There will be lots to see, do, drink and eat. You can also check out the Inns Market where you will find all manner of locally made treats and produce to grace your Christmas table.
There’s plenty to do all around Belfast with Christmas fare sold in some heritage locations including Castle Ward, an 18th Century house, where you’ll also find a number of Christmas activities including a Christmas Trail.
4. Cathedral Choirs
St Patrick’s Cathedral is a stunning vaulted cathedral in the heart of Dublin. The Cathedral was founded on what was believed to be the site of the well used by St. Patrick himself. The current cathedral dates from around 1220, where it was built on the remains of an old wooden church.
For something truly special at Christmas time, catch a heavenly performance of Christmas carols, held several days before Christmas Eve. Mass of Christmas Night will follow the carols at 10pm, which generally is known as Midnight Mass.
In Belfast, the Belfast Harmonic Choir will be showcasing its talents alongside the Ulster Orchestra at Belfast Waterfront. For families there will also be a special performance of The Snowman Family Concert with the Ulster Orchestra and guest soloists. This truly is a magical evening for both kids and adults alike.
5. Santa Claus is Coming to Town
In both Dublin and Belfast, the Christmas Parades kick off the season towards the end of November. Both cities have phenomenal parades taking place usually around noon with Santa and his reindeer at the end of the parade. Santa goes onto take his place in his Grotto so the children can visit with their Christmas lists.
Later in the early part of the evening, a great Lighting of the Lights takes place with celebrities flicking the switches so the cities are illuminated with gorgeous Christmas lights and sparkles.
6. Taking in a Panto
Pantomime is a long-standing tradition in the British Isles and Ireland is no exception. There are usually a few to choose from and they are definitely a “get stuck in” type of entertainment. The audiences are expected to yell, shout warnings and sing along with the action on stage.
7. Nativity Scenes
An institution in Dublin for over 50 years the Moving Nativity, held at the Apostolate’s premises in Parnell Square is a perfect spot for children and adults. The animatronic figures enliven this nativity play that includes over 100 handcrafted figurines and lovely hand painted backdrops and sets that depict “biblical life.”
8. The Titanic Experience
You can’t visit Belfast and not visit the waterfront and behold the Titanic Experience. With its interactive special effects, rides, full-scale reconstructions you can uncover the true legend of the ship the world didn’t think could sink. The Titanic experience includes a magic step into the Old Curiosity Shop to enter the world of Father Christmas.
9. Santa’s Grotto
Belfast also has the very special Santa & Gruffalo’s Grotto on the edge of the city. If you don’t know who the Gruffalo is then you are too old for this Christmas treat. All the kids know the story of the very clever mouse and the 8ft tall Gruffalo. Join them on their Christmas Journey to the grotto to see Santa. A brilliant way to spend the day in a forest park that features life size statues, a rushing river and beautifully created
10. New Year in Belfast
From fancy dress parties and masquerades in Belfast, to The Heavens and the Deep Blue Sea in Dublin, the cities come alive with theatre, parties, celebrations and brilliant craic.
If you happen to be house sitting in Dublin on New Year’s Eve get yourself down to Grafton Street to see Glen Hansard (he wrote and composed the great Irish film Once) busking with other music greats to raise money for the homeless. You may even get lucky and Bono will show up as he has been known to do.
The busking usually begins around 7pm. Hang around, keep checking Twitter for the location and join the throngs on this special night.
Ireland is a fabulous place to spend Christmas from the jaw dropping scenery to the emphasis on family and fun you couldn’t ask for a better place to spend House Sitting.
BIO – Faith Coates is fulfilling a life-long dream to retire early and travel the world, Faith is now happily traveling to find the perfect place to settle. After spending a year in a tiny fishing village in the Yucatan, itchy feet struck again and Faith is now house-sitting and traveling in Ireland, the UK and Europe. Read more of Faith’s travel articles at her website XYUandBeyond
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- Your favourite Christmas House Sitting Cities
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