THIS Christmas there are literally hundreds of exciting events and festive things to do taking place all over Northern Ireland in the run up to Christmas Day and the Northern Ireland Tourist Board (NITB) has made a list of some of the highlights.
“Christmas is a magical time when families get together more to celebrate the holidays,” explained Pauline Gormley, NITBs Destination PR Officer. “For those with younger children it is invaluable to know what’s happening around Northern Ireland in the run-up to Christmas as it makes planning an outing, such as a visit to Santa Claus with the kids or a cosy walk around a spice-scented Christmas fair, easy to organise and stress-free.”
Pauline continued: “We want to encourage people to enjoy some quality family time with loved ones and the massive selection of activities close to home and further afield means that even the fussiest of your little elves is guaranteed any number of things to choose from for a joy-filled outing.”
To help you arrange a Christmas family day out, NITB has put together a list of festive highlights;
Join Father Christmas for some traditional festive cheer from November 22 at Titanic Belfast’s Magical Christmas Experience. Children can make their own decorations, listen to colourful classic stories and write a letter to Father Christmas with present wish list. Families can take home a wonderful momentum from their day out as each child will receive an individual printed photo taken with Father Christmas as well as a hand crafted gift, Titanic Belfast Activity Pack and Candy Cane.
Why not spend a day with the family at bustling St George’s Market where you can wile away the hours taking in the many stalls bursting with everything from homemade delights and handmade crafts. A magical Christmas atmosphere will be alive throughout the market and children should keep an eye out on December 19, 20 and 21 as they might be lucky enough to bump into the man of the moment, Santa Claus himself!
Making a return to W5 this year is the Once Upon a Fairytale Exhibition which will run until January 4. This beautiful exhibition is inspired by the worlds of classic children’s stories. The exhibition includes models of Dorothy’s house from the Wizard of Oz, Captain Hook’s from Peter Pan, the Snow Queen’s castle, the Mad Hatter’s tea party from Alice in Wonderland, the Dwarves cottage from Snow White and the Beast’s Castle from Beauty and the Beast designed by acclaimed model maker Mark Maher. The exhibits are designed to resemble old fashioned Christmas windows that will light up the imaginations of both young and old.
At Sheans Horse Farm in Ballycastle you can catch the Santa Express Bus to the Elves Post Office and meet Santa in his grotto where children will get a present. Sheans Horse Farm is full of festive entertainment including a bouncy castle, merry-go-round and ice rink and for Mums and Dads there is a tea room where they can relax with a glass of mulled wine and a mince pie. The Santa at Sheans Experience runs every Friday, Saturday and Sunday from December 5 untilDecember 21.
For a wonderful Christmas day out, families should try the Winter Wonderland at Antrim Lough Shore Park onDecember 4. Children can visit Santa in his grotto after his spectacular arrival by boat and families can sing along to lots of well known Christmas tunes which will be played by a Cool FM DJ. There are lots of free activities to enjoy including arts, crafts, and Christmas themed workshops.
The Nativity Pre-School Digital Theatre Show will retell the story of Mary and Joseph on their way to Bethlehem. The show will take place in the out of this world, Armagh Planetarium, running every Saturday from December 6 – 20 and is the perfect way to introduce little ones to the story of how Christmas began.
Navan Centre and Fort will host Santa’s IceCapades from December 6 – 22 where families can enjoy a mini Christmas Panto, meet Christmas characters, enjoy Christmas crafts and magical displays as well as lots of storytelling and games.
If you want somewhere to browse for unique Christmas presents then the Christmas Craft Fair at the Market House in Middletown is ideal. Families are invited along to the fair on December 7 where they can peruse the beautiful jewellery, clothes, flower arrangements, handbags, scarves and Christmas decorations, all great for last minute gifts and stocking fillers!
The Ards Art Centre is simply jam packed with things for families to do in the run up to Christmas. On December 13, families can enjoy a production of The Snow Queen, Rumpelstilskin and Hansel and Gretel or younger kids can take part in the Children’s Christmas Arts Scheme which will include arts, crafts and storytelling. On December 17, the Wireless Mystery Theatre will present ‘Over by Christmas – In the Trenches’, an entertaining and emotive invocation of the first winter of the First World War.
Soak up the wonderful Christmas atmosphere at the Yuletide Market in Saintfield from December 13 – 14. Festive Christmas trees and hand-crafted wreaths made by the Rowallane gardening team will be on sale and children should look out for Santa who is sure to make a guest appearance!
Seasonal smells, Christmas fayre, brass bands and carol singing will be the order of the day at the Spirit of Christmas Past event at The Ulster Folk and Transport Museum on December 14. Families will be transported back in time and discover how seasonal decorations transformed people’s homes before visiting the Christmas Market to pick up a gift. Children can enjoy the magicians in the Gilford Picture House and Irish Rail Gallery before joining in a sing song around the Christmas tree.
The first ever Carol Ship of Portaferry and Strangford takes place on December 12 and 13 offering tempting market stalls brimming with food and arts and crafts as well as lots for the children to enjoy like face painting and storytelling. Visitors can take advantage of special offers at local hotels, guest houses and restaurants and listen onshore to the choirs and tranquil music played on the colourfully decorated ferry which travels back and forth every 15 minutes, between 6pm and 9.30pm.
The magic of Christmas will truly be brought to life at the Swing Swing Swing Christmas event in the Ardhowen Theatre, Enniskillen on December 18. The 24 piece band will walk you through a Winter Wonderland of seasonal delights such as ‘Santa Baby’ and ‘White Christmas’ so you can really get into the festive spirit and sing along to your heart’s content.
The Upper Lough Erne Christmas Festival and Market will transform Lisnaskea into a winter wonderland full of Christmas spirit and delicious aromas. From December 4 – 6, more than 30 market stalls will offer a range of tempting items from unique handmade gifts to traditional local craft and tasty treats. On December 6 the Christmas lights will be switched on and entertainment for the kids will start at 2pm including live music and a visit from Santa Claus.
Santa Sunday at Orchard Acre Farm, Lisnarick on December 14 is a time for the whole family to come together and celebrate Christmas. Join Santa Claus and Mrs Claus in their barn as they busily prepare for Christmas; activities include decorating cookies and a visit to Santa.
A whole host of events will be available in Lissan House in Cookstown from the beginning of December. On December 5, a musical variety concert will be held to entertain crowds of all ages and a Christmas Fair will take place on December 6 and on December 7 at the Santa’s Trail event, children can enjoy a day of storytelling, craft work and writing letters to Santa.
Days of Christmas Past takes place at the Ulster American Folk Park from December 6 – 21 and is the chance to take the family back in time to experience the magic of a truly traditional Christmas. Visit the toymaker in his workshop, let the Folk Park Mummers entertain and amuse you, get to taste seasonal treats and meet Santa and Mrs. Claus who have a gift prepared for every child! Booking is essential.
Families are invited to come and join in the fun at Santa’s Magical Island at Lough Neagh. For the first time ever, Ram’s Island will be transformed into a winter wonderland, adorned with decorations and illuminated with fairy lights. This unique ‘Santa’ experience will take place for one weekend only on 5th – 7th December, and will include a ride aboard the Elf Quad Train, toasting marshmallows at the camp-fire, kids treats, and a gift from Santa Claus, there might even be a glass of mulled wine for the adults!
Beautiful National Trust house and gardens, The Argory, gets all festive as dozens of local businesses bring their delicious food and drink and gorgeous gifts to the annual Christmas Fair on December 6 and 7 from 11.30am to 5.30pm. Guests can sit back and enjoy afternoon tea in the house with a chance to see Santa and Mrs Claus in their winter wonderland grotto. Additional charge for Santa’s grotto and afternoon tea. Booking for Santa required on arrival.
The Christmas Village at Ebrington Square will have a whole host of entertainment this festive season including live music, a magical Christmas funfair and the LegenDerry On Ice skating rink which is guaranteed to provide hours of family fun. Running until December 21, the Christmas Market has something for everyone from handcrafted gifts to mulled wine, festive foods and delicious hot chocolate for warming up those chilly hands.
Families are invited to enjoy a Christmas Wonderland at The Jungle in Moneymore from December 5 – December 22where they will meet Santa and his Elves, receive a gift and have their photo taken. There is so much for families to explore and enjoy including a woodland petting farm and adventure activities as well as crafts, arts and puppetry.
Booking in advance is essential for many of these events so please call ahead to secure a place. For more information on things to and see in Northern Ireland during the Christmas holidays click on www.discovernorthernireland.com/christmas.