Hot Whiskey, Spiced Beef and Other Irish Christmas Traditions That Make Ireland the Coziest Place to Spend the Holiday Season

Belfast City Hall decorated for the Christmas holiday
Tourism Ireland

As the winter holidays approach, it’s time to book your getaway, and if you’re looking for a picture-perfect destination, look no further than Ireland. Apart from its alluring coastline, breath-taking landscapes and friendly locals, here are six reasons why Ireland is the coziest place to spend the holiday season.

A person holding a loaf of Irish soda bread

Tourism Ireland

Feast on traditional dishes

The festive season in Ireland has everything a foodie could want on a vacation. Of all the traditional Christmastime dishes, add spiced beef to the top of your list. The unique recipe, which originated in County Cork, dates back centuries to a time when beef was cooked with sugar, allspice, cloves, peppercorns and berries to preserve the meat. Now, it can be found on tables all over the Emerald Isle in December. If your travels through Ireland bring you to County Cork, head to Tom Duncan’s stall in Cork’s English Market to sample their famous spiced beef, or McCarthy’s Bar for their Guinness and Cider Spiced Beef.

On Christmas Day itself, dinner will often begin with a cheese board, featuring some of Ireland’s finest artisanal cheeses – like Cashel Blue, Dubliner Cheddar and Carrigaline – alongside a homemade loaf of Irish soda bread. Smoked salmon is also a popular appetizer and can be found on a plethora of breakfast, lunch and dinner menus. For the main course, dine on roast turkey and honey-glazed ham along with root vegetables and four kinds of potatoes: roast potatoes, potato gratin, mashed potatoes, potato stuffing and an Irish traditional recipe, colcannon.

Want to add a taste of Ireland to your holiday table? Try this scrumptious recipe for Irish Soda Bread as a complement to any meal.

A Christmas market in Galway City Centre, ireland

Tourism Ireland

Enchanting Christmas markets

No trip to Ireland over the holidays is complete without visiting many of the local Christmas markets found all over the island, adorned with twinkling lights and colourful decorations. They’re the perfect place to shop for tantalizing food and unique handcrafted gifts for everyone on your list. Watch carollers and choirs sing traditional and modern holiday selections or take a horse-drawn sleigh ride at Winterval in Waterford. Stop in Galway’s city centre to explore its endearing and colourful wood cabins, take a photo of the towering Christmas tree, and meet Santa Claus himself. Or head to the Glow Festival in Cork to sample sweet treats and artisanal dishes from its many stalls, sample mulled wine or hot whiskey, take a ride on the merry-go-round or ferris wheel and stroll through Santa’s Wonderland.

Winter warmers

After taking in the sights, strolling through the holiday markets, and stopping to watch buskers performing holiday favourites, there’s nothing better than warming up with a hot whiskey. Made with fine Irish whiskeys like Kilbeggan, Bushmills, Tullamore Dew or Jameson, the aromatic winter beverage is flavoured with lemon and cloves, plus a touch of brown sugar for some sweetness. For caffeinated options, go for an Irish coffee or coffee with Baileys. For those who prefer their warmers without a tipple, you can never go wrong with a steamy mug of smooth, rich hot Irish chocolate.

Perfect your hot whiskey recipe before trimming the tree or if you need an extra boost with your holiday preparations, make this indulgent Irish coffee.

A pub exterior and Christmas decorations in Galway, Ireland

Tourism Ireland

A fireside evening at the pub

The holiday season is the best time to visit Ireland, and one of the best ways to celebrate is with an evening of trad music at a cozy Irish pub. Sit by the crackling peat fire with a pint of Guinness while the band plays, or if you’re craving a more interactive experience, find a pub with a sing-along and join in the fun. For authentic traditional music, head to the Cobblestone in Dublin, or for music with a side of history, the House of McDonnell in Ballycastle is renowned for its interior that hasn’t changed since the mid-19th century.

The Christmas Day swim

Much like the Polar Bear Dip on New Year’s Day in Canada, the Irish tradition of the Christmas Day Swim may sound the opposite of cozy, but it will surprisingly give you warm, fuzzy feelings whether you’re an onlooker or take the plunge yourself. The people of Ireland swim in the sea year-round, but the festive swim draws thousands of people out, many of them raising funds for charity. One of the most popular swim spots on Christmas morning is the 40 Foot in Sandycove, County Dublin, where people line up to leap off the rocks into the chilly water below. Other well-known Christmas Day Swim spots include Guillamene Cove in County Waterford, and the natural sea pool of Portnahapple in Portstewart, County Londonderry.

Wooden cabins at a Christmas market in Belfast, Ireland

Tourism Ireland

The sweetest things

Christmas in Ireland isn’t complete without an assortment of sweet treats accompanied by a cup of tea. Mince pies, shortbread, toffee, sherry trifles and plum puddings are some of the other offerings that you’ll find on holiday tables around the island. The traditional Christmas cake, similar to a fruitcake, is often made a couple of months ahead of time. It involves a process called “feeding the cake,” where a small amount of whiskey is poured over it each week until Christmas. When it comes down to it, some of the most prized sweets of the season are the tins of assorted fancy biscuits or chocolates, with families rifling through the tiers to find their favourites.

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