Winter wonderland

Need Christmas cheer? Look no further than Waterford, where Winterval shines bright. By Denise Smith

Santa greets the crowds

Denise on the Waterford Eye

Sunday World

There are few things more magical than a Christmas market — but when you’re not primed for a trip to one of Europe’s biggest cities, is there much on offer on our shores?

Because I had no desire (or spare cash, let’s be real) to board a flight or beat my winter wardrobe into a 10kg carry-on, I filled up the car and took the 1 hour 45 minute spin to the wonderland of Winterval in Waterford, to answer that very question.

Full disclaimer: I wasn’t entirely sure where two childless thirty-somethings would fit into Ireland’s largest Christmas festival — a meet-and-greet with Santa wasn’t necessarily our scene — but that didn’t mean merriment and make-believe were off the agenda.

Dumping our bags at Dooley’s Hotel in the epicentre of the city — easily one of the most charming family-run hotels I have ever visited — a trail of twinkling lights led us to the bustling markets.

Piping-hot mulled wine in hand, we meandered through rows of snow-capped stalls that housed everything from antique decorations to tasty treats and artisanal goods. I couldn’t resist adding to my Christmas tree collection and picked up the most beautifully detailed trinkets at Breakwater Gift Shop.

Denise on the Waterford Eye

Basking in the warm glow of shimmering Christmas displays, we munched on iced cookies as children were held aloft on their parents’ shoulders to catch a glimpse of the towering, twinkling Christmas tree that stands in the city’s main square.

Embracing that inner child, we donned ice skates and clung to each other as our feet slipped from under us at the Quayside rink. We caught a birdseye view of the entire city as we clambered into the ferris wheel, The Waterford Eye. And perhaps, most impressively, we even hitched a ride to Lapland in Santa’s sleigh — all that was needed for the trip was a little imagination and a VR headset.

With each side street and main thoroughfare boasting another wondrous yuletide offering, what makes this festival so truly special is that so many of the attractions on offer are there to be enjoyed for free.

Ticking off our to-do list, we learned that there are 40 events at the Christmas wonderland and an incredible 25 of those won’t cost you a single cent — it’s a warming thought for families that may be struggling this Christmas.

Highlights include a magical talking postbox, magic mirrors and a host of free children’s workshops, a free shadow-puppet show, plus the magic lights of GLOW in New Street Gardens.

  • Winterval runs to December 23, though some events like Winterval on Ice and the Big Wheel will continue operating in January. For more, see winterval.ie.


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