Taking kids to visit Santa in the run up to Christmas – a tradition that’s been around since the 19th century in the States, and presumably almost as long here in Ireland. I have gorgeous memories of going to see “Santy” in Switzers in Cork in the 1980s – I can’t remember any of the presents now, but I can still see the dimly lit grotto, the high-backed chair, the tall, white bearded man in a long red coat, and the sack of gifts by his side. He was a quiet Santa – not the rotund, jolly person we see more often today, but he was magical.
As a parent, I carried on the same tradition with my kids – taking them to our local shopping centre Santa for the first few years, and they were just as enthralled as I was three decades ago. But last year, we decided to try something different, and did some research on the many, many Santa “destinations” that have sprung up around the country. We decided on the Santa Train in Rathwood in Co. Carlow, and made a day of it. It was really well done – especially the train ride out into the countryside, followed by a gorgeous forest walk up to Santa’s workshop. The Santa was great, the presents were great, and we treated ourselves to cake and coffee in the café after. All in all, it was a really great day out and the highlight of the lead up to Christmas.
In the spirit of trying new things, we wanted to do something different this year. But when I started to search online, I was surprised that there were no centralised lists showing various Santa destinations all over the country. So much googling later, I put all my new-found information together as an article for eumom: 18 Places to visit Santa in Ireland this Christmas (edit September 2015: all prices in the eumom article are from 2014 when it was written – please do check venue websites in case prices have changed)
The list includes very popular venues like Leahy’s Open Farm in Cork, also Rumley’s Farm, Fota House and Imagine at Fota Island Resort, and there are great Wicklow options such as Kilruddery and Christmas Island . In Wexford, there’s Kia Ora Farm, in Galway, for something less commercial, there’s Brigit’s Garden, plus loads more around the country.
This is just a sample of what’s available; based on online reviews, recommendations from friends, and information I could get by contacting the venues – it’s definitely not a definitive list. Since publishing, I’ve also heard that Causey Farm and Wells House have really good Santa experiences on offer, and in the latter, adults go free which is always good!
This year, we’ve booked Malahide Castle – we’re looking forward to a tour of the Castle along with storytelling and our visit to Santa, and most appealingly, mince pies and mulled wine for the grown-ups. It’s a long way from Santy in Cork way back in the 80’s, but I have a feeling that when my children are grown up; the castle, the tour, the mince pies and the story-telling will all fade to the corners of their memories; what they’ll remember is the moment they saw Santa Claus – so not that different after all.
To read about our lovely experience in Malahide Castle, click here