Ireland is not a country of weather extremes. The oceanic effect of the Atlantic helps to regulate the temperature in Ireland in winter, meaning that snow and freezing days are relatively rare. That being said, there does tend to be more rain in winter and colder overall temperatures across the Emerald Isle. Daylight is also at a premium, and the shortest days of the year offer only eight hours of sunlight.
Around the Christmas holidays, both big cities and small towns are decorated in lights, and many festive caroling events take place. The bright Christmas décor and bustle of shoppers, add to the coziness of visiting Ireland in winter. The crowds also tend to be much smaller in winter, but some destinations in the countryside close down for the season.
While it is not the best time for hiking or outdoor activities, there is still plenty to do in places like Dublin, Belfast, and the larger cities and towns.
Ireland's Weather in Winter
Irish weather will vary slightly depending on the exact location, but in general, winter weather offers highs in the 40s F (around 8 C) and lows in the 30s F (approximately 4 C). Snow is not unheard of, but it is also not a regular occurrence, even in the mountains. At the same time, the damp air and rain can sometimes make it feel colder than the thermometer reads.
Some days are crisp and clear, but even sunny winter days offer limited daylight. The winter solstice is the shortest day of the year and falls on Dec. 21 or 22. In December, the average amount of sunlight can be as few as seven hours, with the days gradually lengthening to 10 hours of daylight in February. January is generally one of the rainiest times of the year, and precipitation can occur up to 14 days during the month. The west of Ireland tends to have a slightly more mild winter (and stay cooler in the summer).
What To Pack
There is no wrong time to visit Ireland, just bad clothes to wear while you are out exploring. Even traveling in winter can be a comfortable experience if you pack well.
Snow is rare in Ireland even in the heart of winter, so the elements to prepare for are rain and wind. A good hat is essential to keep away the chill, and waterproof boots are an excellent investment for touring around the Emerald Isle. Bring long pants, thick socks, and long sleeves. Layering is vital because you will likely be going in and out of the warm shops, museums, and pubs during the winter season. A lighter lower layer will help you stay comfortable inside.
If you plan to spend a significant amount of time outside, a wool sweater or thick layer to wear under a real winter coat is recommended. The coat is essential, and if it is not waterproof, an umbrella is also called for. Make sure it is sturdy enough to stand up to a bit of wind.
If you plan on attending Christmas holiday festivities, bring one dressy outfit to wear to parties or to religious events.
Winter Events in Ireland
Winter in Ireland revolves around the Christmas holidays and there are usually many local events that take place in the first weeks of December. This range from holiday fundraising fairs to caroling nights. Major events include:
- Christmas: Dec. 25 is a national holiday in Ireland. Many families attend midnight mass on Dec. 24 and then spend Christmas Day at home. Expect almost all businesses to be closed.
- St. Steven’s Day: Dec. 26 is also a national holiday in the Republic of Ireland known as St. Steven’s Day. In Northern Ireland, the same day is known as Boxing Day.
- St. Brigid’s Day: Feb. 1 was traditionally the start of spring in Ireland, and many communities still uphold the tradition of St. Brigid’s Day, which includes making straw crosses to protect the home.
Winter Travel Tips
- If you plan to travel to Ireland around Christmas day or stay for New Year’s Eve, book your accommodation as far in advance as possible. These are big travel days, particularly in Dublin, and hotel prices tend to skyrocket.
- At the same time, the weeks before the winter holidays can be an excellent time for a day, when many Irish hotels offer specials combining meals and overnight stays.
- Expect Dublin to be particularly busy the first weekend in December, when Irish families traditionally come to the capital for Christmas shopping.
- Most major attractions will be open in winter but may close for the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day.
To learn more about what it is like to travel in Ireland in the winter, check out our guide on the best time to visit.