December is all about Christmas in Ireland, with the bigger towns and cities particularly erupting in festive events, markets and elaborate decorations. The Christmas build-up is special, although the day itself is more a family celebration. Things get going again for New Year, with Dublin throwing the biggest party of all. The bright lights and events compensate for the weather: it is some of the coldest and wettest weather of the entire year, in fact, and no time to be out exploring the countryside.

Weather

Ireland is not a large enough country to have distinct regional weather patterns. Generally, December sees the onset of winter, with temperatures in the single digits and daily hours of sunshine at their lowest of the year. But it is not overall as bitter or bleak as the two winter months which come after it.

Killarney & Southwestern Ireland

Rainfall, though high at 112mm for the month, is down in October and November, but so are the temperatures: it seldom passes 10°C at this time of year. The sun is also much less frequent, with just 3 hours of sunlight daily on average, although it is by far the sunniest and warmest region of the country here in December nevertheless.

Dublin & Eastern Ireland

On the eastern side of Ireland, December is distinguished by single-digit temperatures, with 41-48.4°F/5-8°C the average low-high range. Cold weather is accompanied by a very drab one average hour of sunshine daily, while rainfall increases to its joint-highest of the year (3.14 inches/ 80mm).

Belfast & Northern Ireland

In this region, the weather is getting increasingly bitter. Just an hour of sunshine as a daily average and a distinctly chilly average temperature range of 37.4-44.6°F/3-7°C are the reasons why, although rainfall on average for the month (3.14 inches/ 80mm) is joint second-highest of any month in Belfast.

Crowds & Costs

December is a contradiction in Ireland: both very quiet month in the countryside, with much of the country (especially the countryside) appearing in a long hibernation until the better weather comes around in spring, yet with plenty of revelry taking place in the towns and cities in the build-up to Christmas.

The majority of attractions and many of the places to sleep and eat will be closed outside of the bigger cities, whilst dreary and often downright bleak weather keeps the crowds (and almost everyone) away from the coast, mountains and hiking trails.

At the places that do remain open, you might easily be able to negotiate a discounted rate and you might well be offered one up front: except over Christmas and New Year, which is a popular time. Travel to Ireland at this time of year will see you spending less money on things to do (because many are closed) but perhaps more on eating and drinking in restaurants, pubs and Christmas markets. 

Where to Go

Killarney & Southwestern Ireland

The best places to spend time at this time of the year are bigger towns such as Galway and Cork, where foul weather is not an obstacle to enjoying their attractions and where festive events are most atmospheric. Galway is a vibrant city, known for its year-round program of festivals which climax in December with a fabulous Christmas market that attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors. Meanwhile, Cork's Christmas market and decorations are also highly regarded and, as with Galway, the bars and restaurants are fantastic. 

See here for a 7-day Self-Drive Itinerary from Dublin to the Cliffs of Moher, which is a good option for exploring Southwestern Ireland at this time of year.

Dublin & Eastern Ireland

Dublin is the big city in this region and is probably the best place in Ireland to be in December, full to the brim with a number of atmospheric Christmas markets such as the Ha'penny Christmas Market at the Grand Social. However, almost as appealing at this time of year are Waterford and Wicklow, both of which also look beautiful and lively in the run-up to Christmas. Dublin has a reputation as a party city and this is never more on evidence than at New Year, when lively celebrations happen city-wide. 

See here for more on exploring Dublin and Northern Ireland

Belfast & Northern Ireland

Belfast, capital of Northern Ireland, and a fascinating city full of raw, recent history, sophisticated museums and great restaurants, should be your first port of call in this region in December, particularly because it is further enlivened by some of Ireland's best Christmas markets and events, as well as New Year festivities.

There are blockbuster historic sights like Belfast Castle to check out and the city has three Michelin starred restaurants to dine at. As well as the main Christmas market, the wonderful year-round Victorian covered market, St George's Market, is especially vibrant with chef demonstrations and events, live music and plenty of unusual festive produce.

What to Do

Killarney & Southwestern Ireland

Attending some of the Christmas-themed events, such as the fabulous Christmas markets in Galway and Cork, headlines the activities in this region this month. Or hit Galway or Cork's lively pub and restaurant scene, where traditional live music still plays in pubs on weekend evenings even at this chillier, wetter, darker time of year. One outdoor activity that is at its peak right now is the surfing: head to Donegal or Sligo for some of the best in this region or indeed in Ireland.

Dublin & Eastern Ireland

Attending some of the Christmas-themed events, such as the fabulous Christmas markets in Dublin, Wicklow and Waterford headline the activities in this region this month. Dublin of course also has a lively restaurant and bar scene (in fact, it is probably one of the liveliest nightlife scenes in Western Europe).

Come the last day of December, Dublin is definitely the best place in Ireland to see in the New Year. For some non-Christmassy activities this month, try exploring the famous Jameson's Whiskey Distillery on a guided tour.

Or experience Ireland's history in the most fun and hands-on way possible at Irish National Heritage Park near Wexford, where you can time travel through nine millennia of the country's storied history and cap it off by staying the night in a 1500-year-old ring fort!

Belfast & Northern Ireland

Attending some of the Christmas-themed events, such as the fabulous Christmas markets in Belfast, headlines the activities in this region this month. Try a Black Cab Tour to see the Belfast away from the big attractions, on which you will see moving street murals and the peace line, a series of historically important sites in Ireland's sometimes troubled and violent history. Come evening, cozy up in an impeccably preserved old pub like the Victorian-era Crown Liquor Saloon.

December Events

Christmas The buildup to Christmas, with markets, fairs, decorations, and carol singing, is very atmospheric across the country in Ireland. Belfast, Dublin, Galway, Waterford, Cork, and Wicklow are particularly known for their wonderful Christmas markets.

If you are in the country at this time, check out the common tradition of the Christmas morning swim which takes place along the coastline: yes, hundreds of people take the plunge into the icy seawater. Portstewart Strand in Londonderry and Forty Foot in Sandycove, Co. Dublin are two places where this happens.

The day after Christmas is known as Boxing Day in Northern Ireland and St Stephen's Day in the Republic of Ireland.

Traveling in Ireland in December? Check out this great itinerary. 

Self-Drive Ireland: Dublin to the Cliffs of Moher (7 Days). Explore the magic of Ireland on this week-long self-drive adventure. Start with a pint of Guinness in Dublin, spend two nights in the famous heritage village of Killarney, and journey along the Wild Atlantic Way to tour the Dingle Peninsula.

More Helpful Information

Ireland in November
Ireland in January
Best Time to Visit Ireland
Getting Around Ireland