Winter can be quiet in Ireland, but villages and towns come alive during the holidays. It’s a magical time to visit, according to Laura Hoover Lamb, founder of McKinney Shaw Travel.
“Every town of size will have some form of month-long celebration that could include Christmas markets and fairs, live concerts or plays,” Hoover Lamb tells Travel Agent.
Her holiday recommendations to clients include the longest-running market in Ireland, the Galway Christmas Market. It’s held at Eyre Square Centre, and features crafts, foods, choirs, carolers and other entertainment.
Visitors to Dublin can experience Ireland’s inaugural “I Believe” festival.
Inspired by the Rockefeller Center’s tree-lighting celebration, it features food, drink, crafts, and a 50-foot tall Irish Christmas tree.
“Waterford city’s Christmas festival and market, called Winterval, is packed with seasonal events and unique activities. They’re all set in beautiful heritage sites around the city. Visitors can enjoy rides on a vintage Ferris wheel or take a tour aboard a Shire horse-drawn sleigh,” said Hoover Lamb.
The Belfast Continental Christmas Market is the largest in Northern Ireland.
“Towns throughout Northern Ireland host weekend Christmas markets from Enniskillen to Ballycastle. Not to be left out of the celebration, many restaurants and pubs offer special dining and drink menus for the holiday occasion,” said Hoover Lamb.
In England, seasonal events are underway at the Historic Royal Palaces.
Visitors can experience a Victorian Christmas at Kensington Palace through January 6. They’ll find the childhood home of Queen Victoria elaborately decorated with trimmings from the era. A lineup of special events includes carol singing; brass ensemble concerts; holiday food and drink and tours highlighting Victorian Christmas traditions.
For a continental Christmas, Francis Ford Coppola’s Palazzo Margherita is welcoming guests with a special Christmas package. The 19th-century palazzo is located in Bernalda, in southern Italy’s Basilicata region. It’s one of five Coppola Resort properties worldwide. Each of the award-winning properties holds some connection to the acclaimed director’s films and travels. Palazzo Margherita’s location is particularly significant. Coppola’s grandfather was born in Bernalda.
After purchasing the palazzo in 2004, Coppola hired French designer Jacques Grange to transform it into a luxury boutique hotel.
During Christmas week, Palazzo Margherita will showcase the “festive Italian traditions of family, faith, love, peace and of course wonderful food,” general manager Rossella Di Fillipo tells Travel Agent.
Special programming includes cooking lessons, films and a traditional Christmas Eve dinner with local wines.
“Every break at the Palazzo involves the finest Italian cuisine. Guests will learn ancient Christmas recipes, both main courses and desserts, as well as the stories behind them. For a truly magical Christmas Eve, guests have the option to follow dinner with Midnight Mass in a historic local church,” said Di Fillipo.
Palazzo Margherita will also offer guided local tours of the area.
Destinations include the town of Lecce. It’s known as “The Florence of the South” for its churches, squares and picturesque Piazza del Duomo. Also nearby is Matera, a European Capital of Culture for 2019. Highlights of the town include the Contemporary Art Museum, arts and crafts school and historic churches. But the heart of Matera is its ancient Sassi district. The UNESCO World Heritage Site is comprised of dwellings, slopes and underground mazes carved directly into stone rock.
During the holidays, it forms the backdrop for the world’s largest living Nativity scene.