While Christmas Day is packed with calories, hi-jinks, booze-fuelled bonhomie and goodwill to all men, the day after can often be a bit more sombre.
But if you wake up on St Stephen’s Day feeling as though cabin fever might set in at any minute, you’re not alone.
You could fight through the groggy fug with a helping of trifle for breakfast. You could go toe-to-toe with shoppers in the sales for a toaster you might not really need. Or you could blow the cobwebs away and enjoy some quality family time.
In Ireland, we’re positively spoiled for stunning scenery that’s more than a match for your brand new box-sets. Start as you mean to go on with any one of these bracing activities.
1. The Lough Easkey Loop, Sligo
Really, where better to banish the excesses of the day before than the majestic Ox Mountains? The 6km trail (moderate) traces the shoreline of Lough Easkey and drinks in some delicious scenery on the bog landscape.
You’re likely to see the Greenland White Fronted Goose if you’re lucky.
2. Howth Head, Dublin
Set against the backdrop of Howth village, this clifftop walk has been immortalised in James Joyce’s Ulysses, and rightly so. The Howth Head peninsula is replete with stunning views of Lambay and Ireland’s Eye. If you’re feeling particularly delicate, you can follow the cliff path for about 3km before heading towards the Summit car park. Don’t miss the Baily Lighthouse – the last of Ireland’s lighthouses to become automated. Plus, it’s within striking distance of the Summit pub.
3. Cork On Ice, Mahon Point Shopping Centre, Cork
At this 800sqm ice-rink, more than 500,000 skaters have cut their teeth (not literally, fortunately) on the rink over the last 10 years. Whether you’re a novice, or more comfortable on your blades, everyone is catered for.
There is also a separate rink for kids aged 3-10 years, which is always supervised, while the penguin club will help your little ones find their ice legs. The rink runs until January 27, tickets from €14 (adults) and €13 (children under 12) at peak times. Similar ice-skating events are held in Waterford, Dublin and Mullingar. See iceskating.ie for information.
4. The Inchidrisla Loop at Colligan Wood, Waterford
Set against the salmon-rich River Colligan, this 5km woodland walk is positively teeming with unique trees like the Sitka spruce and Japanese larch (keep an eye out for labels). Even better, the whole wood can be covered in under 90 minutes.
5. Funderland, RDS, Dublin 4
With an outdoor ice rink, a Christmas market and indoor and outdoor attractions, there’s something for everyone in the family at this perennial festive staple. All the old favourites will be there too along with the Funderland Loop, Ireland’s only looping rollercoaster. Admission is €3 for an eight-hour stay, but attractions need to be purchased. Alternatively, buy an all-inclusive POP wristband for €33.50 (or €94 for family of four). Runs until January 4. See funderland.com for information.
6. Collins Bog, Abbeyleix, Laois
If you happen to be near the heritage town of Abbeyleix, you could do worse than take yourself onto the Collins bog walk. Be sure to wear good shoes, as much of the 500-acre Collins bog is soft, springy moss. Part of the walk crosses over some of the old Kilkenny railway line, which closed in 1962.
7. Bullig Bay, Cork
West Cork is the perfect spot to fill your lungs with sea air; start at Dunboy Castle and make your way through forest tracks, wonderfully quiet country roads, as well as ruins of old watchtowers and guardhouses. The trek is more than worth it, not least because of the views of the Ardnakinna Lighthouse on Bere Island.
8. Polly & The Magic Lamp, Olympia Theatre, Dublin
A contemporaneous riff on the childhood classic Aladdin, the Olympia’s annual Christmas panto is a long-held Dublin tradition that rarely fails to disappoint. This year’s all-star line-up includes DWTS alumni Erin McGregor and Jake Carter, James Patrice, Fair City actor Ryan Andrews and West End star Rob Andrews. Runs until January 6, tickets cost from €17-37. See Olympia.ie for booking information.
9. The Molly Loop, Louth
It may be the smallest county, but Louth is big on scenery, specially if you’re by Carlingford Lough and the Cooley Peninsula. The grassy laneways – among them Billy’s Lane and the Molly – are much loved by locals. This gentle 4km walk is great for everyone of all walking abilities.
10. Intimacy at the Science Gallery, Pearse Street, Dublin
Intimacy (not just sex, incidentally) is an unknowable beast, but that hasn’t stopped scientists from trying to understand it all. Neuroscience and psychology are all called into question in this riveting exhibition. If you’ve ever wondered how a new parent’s brain chemistry changes, or whether absence really makes the heart grow fonder, here’s the place to find out. Admission is free, and the gallery is open on St Stephen’s Day from 12-8.
11. Druid’s Loop, Kerry
You could always follow in the footsteps of Fionn Mac Cumhaill himself and trek through the beautiful Bonane Valley, between the towns of Kenmare and Glengarriff. Legend has it that the famed warrior had a hunting lodge there. The valley is also surrounded by the Sheehy and Caha mountains.
12. The Ardra Castle Loop, Kilkenny
20km north of Kilkenny City, you’ll find this 6km walking trail replete with features, from a rocky waterfall, some expansive forestry amid the ruins of Ardra Castle, and fishing lakes galore.
13. Take a drive in the sunny South East
The days may have gotten shorter in the sunny South East, but when it comes to scenic spots, Waterford and Wexford boast an embarrassment of riches. Stay in Dunmore East and explore the secret coves of Waterford’s copper coast, making time to take the hour-long cliff walk from the village to Portally Cove. Over in Wexford, the views on the drive out to the Hook lighthouse – the oldest intact operational lighthouse in the world – take some beating.
14. The Carlow Garden Trail, Carlow
In Carlow, you’ll find one of Ireland’s best-developed garden trails with a delight for every season. On the Carlow Garden Trail (www.carlowgardentrail.com) there are 16 different gardening attractions including the award-winning Arboretum Garden Centre in Leighlinbridge. Elsewhere on the trail, Duckett’s Grove, a 19th-century gothic revival house, has two walled gardens. The Upper Walled Garden, hedged with boxwood, is planted with a great variety of hardy and tender perennials.
15. Take a swim at the Forty Foot
Most of the charity events will be happening on Christmas Day, but the Forty Foot at Sandycove in Dublin will still be buzzing a day later. Enjoy the camaraderie of fellow hardy swimmers, as well as the unbeatable feeling of a winter’s day dip. Swimming spots at Derrynane and Fenit in Kerry, Galway Bay and Greystones in Wicklow are also worth a punt.
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