Considering a trip to Ireland in the winter? Here’s what you need to know, from a local!
Ireland is known for being a lush, green island full of meandering sheep, cliffs that drop into the ocean, and rolling hills that go on for miles. It’s also home to charming, brightly colored towns and cozy pubs. When most people picture Ireland, they conjure up an image of the country in its vibrant, summer glory.
But what if you want to visit during the winter?
I lived in Ireland for several years, in both County Wicklow and Cork City. During that time, I experienced three Irish winters. The winters surprised me because they’re colder than I had expected, but there are also some distinct advantages to a wintery visit.
So, keep reading; I’ll tell you the good, bad, and the ugly of visiting Ireland in the winter in this post.
What is Ireland like in the winter?
Wintertime in Ireland is mostly damp and cold, with only a precious few days of sunlight. The tourist season ends around late September, so most of the people you’ll see are locals who live and work in the country. The sidewalks can feel a little bleak, with fewer street performers and locals out to lighten the mood.
It’s a different story when you step inside of a pub or restaurant, though. It’s hard to tell from the outside, but you can find lively parties and events throughout Ireland. This is absolutely the case in Cork, where spots like the Crane Lane or Bodega tend to look quiet from the street but inside are packed with partygoers.
I don’t want to sugarcoat it, though: winter in Ireland can be famously miserable. The days are short, the weather feels surprisingly cold despite the mild temperatures, and indoor areas aren’t always heated to North American standards.
Winter weather in Ireland
As I mentioned, the winter days in Ireland tend to be very short with limited sunlight. The weather tends to be chilly and rainy, with an average of 24 rainy days in January.
The biggest complaint that I had when living in Ireland, and that I heard from others, is the lack of winter sunshine. In December, Ireland averages only 1.4 hours of sunshine per day, compared with 6.2 hours of average daily sunshine in June. For this reason, I used a SAD lamp for supplementary light therapy when living in Ireland during the winter months.
Around the winter solstice – the shortest day of the year – Ireland averages only about 10 hours of daylight. The sun rises around 7:30 am and sets around 5:30 pm, making for a pretty short day.
Temperatures in Ireland tend to be mild throughout the year, rarely dropping below freezing or surpassing 70°F (21°C).The average winter temperatures tend to be in the 30s and 40s °F (3 to 8 °C) with rain most days of the month.
Compare this with the average high temps of 66°F (19°C) in July and August, Ireland’s hottest months. As you can see, the weather is generally mild – though a little chilly – for most of the year.
Most of Ireland’s precipitation comes in the form of rain, so you probably won’t see much – if any – snow during your visit to Ireland. The low-lying and coastal areas in Ireland typically only see a few days with flurries each year, and it’s unlikely to stick to the ground or accumulate.
The exception is the Wicklow Mountains in Ireland, the area I first landed when I moved to Ireland. Although it’s meager when compared to Colorado, the Wicklow Mountains do experience some accumulation of snow during the winter months.
I wouldn’t consider it enough to need snow gear, but you will definitely want water resistant boots that cover your ankle if hiking in Wicklow.
December in Ireland
December is one of the darkest months in Ireland, with many of the shortest days of the year. There is a bright spot, though: if you visit in December, you get to experience Christmas in Ireland.
December average temperatures range from lows around 41°F (5°C) to highs around 46°F (8°C). On average, there are 1.4 hours of sunshine per day.
As I’ve said in other sections, this weather feels colder than those temperatures might suggest because of the damp conditions and persistent rain. There are about 23 days with at least some rain during December, totaling about 80 mm or just over 3 inches of total rainfall.
Christmas in Ireland
The pubs, for their part, are as busy as ever in December. This is especially true around Christmastime, when everyone is planning holiday parties and getting together. Most of the nice restaurants in town will be fully booked, so you’ll want to make a reservation if you plan to go out for dinner.
Throughout Irish towns and cities, you can expect to see adorned Christmas trees, twinkling lights, and holiday merriment. Just don’t get your hopes up for a white Christmas; the weather is typically pretty rainy and snow is rare in late December.
January in Ireland
December is the bonafide middle of winter in Ireland, with persistently short days, rainy weather, and very little sunshine. Among locals, it’s a popular time to travel to warmer parts of Europe like Spain or Portugal for a little break from the drudgery. Truthfully, it’s not an ideal time to visit, if you can help it.
In January, average lows are around 37°F (3°C), with average highs around 45°F (7°C). On average, there are only about two hours of sunlight per day in January, and the days average about 8 hours and 15 minutes.
You may experience air frost in Ireland, especially in the areas tucked away from the coast. This is a phenomenon where the temperature of the air at least a meter from the ground drops below freezing and the mist becomes very thick and cold. Typically, the ground will frost first, then the air above it if the temperatures stay low enough.
In addition to frost and sporadic snowfall, you’ll also experience a whole lot of rain during January. An average of 77% of days in January in Ireland have at least some rain, for a total of 2.8 inches (70 mm) of precipitation.
February in Ireland
Like December and January, February in Ireland is still marked by cold, wet weather and short, dark days. The average temperatures in February are very similar to January, with lows around 37°F (3°C), with average highs around 45°F (7°C).
Similar to the other winter months, the days are quite short and sunshine is rare. When you do get to enjoy a few hours of sun, stop whatever you’re doing and go stand in it. That’s what I do, anyway. ☀️
Ireland averages 22 days of rainfall each February, 2.6 hours of daily sunshine, and only about 10 hours of total sunlight. Be sure to bring your raincoat and a positive, sunny attitude if you visit Ireland in February.
Tips for Visiting Ireland in Winter
After having visited and lived in Ireland during the winter season, here are my top tips for success. In case you’re wondering, I also take vitamin D, try to eat a healthy diet, and drink lots of water to help keep my spirits up during the winter. I find that movement, getting outside (even if it’s gross out), and enjoying the little moments of sunshine really make a difference.
Bring a warm, waterproof coat
The most important thing you can bring to Ireland when visiting in the winter is a warm, waterproof coat. I was warm enough in a Patagonia down sweater with a heavy duty rain jacket outer layer, along with wool socks and long underwear. But I’m from Colorado and don’t mind dressing like an onion with lots of layers.
If you wanted to choose a single coat to do the job, I’d opt for a waterproof winter jacket. Not only will the waterproofing help with the rain, it’ll offer some protection from the freezing winds you’ll probably experience if you venture towards the coast.
Plan for foggy days
Visibility is often low on winter days, which can make driving and exploring a bit more challenging. In the event of heavy fog while you’re out hiking, try to stay put unless you’re following a very clearly marked path (i.e. wooden planks or handrails, not just a dirt path).
Try not to let the fog get you down. If your plans change because of the weather, just duck into a local pub and strike up a conversation with the barkeep. Basically everyone in Ireland loves to chat about the weather, so you’ll have something to bond over.
Go for a wintery Irish hike
You might be surprised to see hiking on this list, but I have been hiking in the winter in Ireland and had a great time. The key is to choose the right hike; you’ll want a trail that is well marked, ideally with wooden planks so that it’s easy to follow even in foggy conditions.
My absolute favorite hike in Ireland – regardless of the time of year – is the Spinc Trail around Glendalough. You can visit Glendalough on a day trip from Dublin, or post up in a cozy B&B in Wicklow and spend your days exploring the Wicklow Mountains.
Spend some time in the pubs
There’s a reason the pubs are usually packed on a cold, winter day: they’re usually lively and warm. I recommend visiting an Irish pub no matter when you visit, but it’s especially nice in the winter.
You can sip a warm drink like hot toddy (whiskey, sugar, lemon, clove, and hot water), an Irish coffee (whiskey, coffee, and cream), or a hot port (port wine, hot water, sugar).
If possible, visit a pub during a “trad” session for live traditional Irish music.
Try an Irish sauna by the sea
Just hear me out on this one: try sauna bathing by the sea in the winter when you’re in Ireland. It’s honestly one of my favorite things to do in the winter, and it’s an unforgettable experience.
When I first moved in 2020, I remember Googling to try to figure out if there were hot springs in Ireland (spoiler: there aren’t). I used to lament Ireland for not having more hot tubs or saunas around because there’s no way to really warm up during the cold, damp winters. Then, I figured it out: there are saunas, and the most special ones are set up by the ocean.
You can spend an hour alternating between steaming in the hot sauna then running out and taking a dip in the frigid sea. It’s fun, exhilarating, and memorable – all for about €20 an hour. Plus, there are usually locals in the sauna who will chat with you and tell you their favorite spots in the area.
What to Pack for Ireland in Winter
My general advice when planning for a trip to Ireland is to pack for chillier weather than you might be expecting. The same holds true during the winter; don’t let the tropical plants fool you!
Although the temperatures don’t often drop below freezing, the high levels of humidity and chilly weather mean that you’ll definitely want to dress warmly. I also can’t stress enough how much it rains; bring waterproof shoes, pants, coats, whatever you can muster. This is especially true if you’re planning to spend a lot of time outside.
Suggested packing items for visiting Ireland in the winter:
✅ Warm, waterproof winter coat
✅ Water resistant shoes or boots
✅ Warm sweater, either wool or synthetic (not cotton)
✅ Long underwear for outdoor activities
✅ Wool socks
✅ Waterproof backpack or rain cover
✅ Long pants
✅ Gloves, hat, scarf
I covered this topic in more detail in my Irish packing list post.
Where to Stay in Ireland in the Winter
When visiting during the winter, you can still enjoy most of the same sites and attractions you’d find in the summer. Because winter is the off season in Ireland, hotel prices are often significantly reduced from October through April.
The winter is a great time to rent a car because prices are also significantly lower during the off season. It’s not uncommon to find multi-week car rentals for a few hundred euros, compared to the thousands you’d spend for a monthly car rental in June.
With a car, you can more easily reach unique, remote stays like this castle near Galway.
Here are my top picks for a winter stay in Ireland at some of the top tourist destinations throughout the country.
📍 Top pick for Galway: The best B&B in Galway is The Stop, a trendy and art-filled B&B that’s only a short walk from the hustle and bustle of the Latin Quarter.
📍 Top pick for Wicklow: One of the top places to stay in Wicklow is the Forest View Woodland Lodge. Here, you can enjoy top-notch hospitality, homemade scones in the morning, and access to walking and hiking trails in the Wicklow Mountains.
📍 Top pick for Cork: The cozy and vibrantly colored Gabriel House Guesthouse offers warm hospitality, a delicious breakfast each morning, and is only a short walk from the train station. I stayed here in 2021 with my family and absolutely loved it.
📍 Top pick for Dublin: The stylish and conveniently located Gardiner Lodge is a great choice in Dublin. It’s only a 17 minute walk from Bar 1661, my favorite bar in Dublin for grabbing a warm Irish coffee (just make a reservation before you go).
FAQs: Ireland in Winter
Still have questions about visiting Ireland in winter? Here are the answers to a few common queries from travelers.
Is Ireland worth visiting in the winter?
As a general rule, I’d say that Ireland is not worth visiting in the winter. The weather feels very cold, indoor heating can be sparse, and the days are very short. The best time to visit Ireland is from April to September, when the days are longer and the temperatures are warmer.
How cold is winter in Ireland?
The winter temperatures in Ireland rarely drop below 32°F (0°C). However, the weather feels a whole lot chillier than those numbers suggest. Between the damp conditions, persistent rain, and frigid coastal winds, it can be hard to get and stay warm during the Irish winter.
Although the cold isn’t usually severe enough to be dangerous, its persistence can be hard for visitors and locals to manage.
What is the best time to go to Ireland?
The best time to visit Ireland is during the peak season from May to September. During this time, you’ll experience the best weather, longest days, and most sunlight. Within that window, I’d recommend that you travel in May, which is just before the tourist season prices kick in but the weather has already started to warm up.
Does it snow in Ireland in the winter?
Ireland occasionally sees a few days of snow, but it rarely accumulates.
The snowiest part of Ireland is the Wicklow Mountains, which are located about an hour south of Dublin. Unlike other areas in the country, it’s common for small depths of snow to accumulate in Wicklow – enough to crunch under your feet, but nowhere near enough to ski.
Can I see the northern lights in Ireland?
On very rare occasions, locals have seen the northern lights in Ireland! However, you absolutely should not plan a northern lights trip to Ireland – go instead to Alaska, Iceland, or a country above the Arctic Circle. Finland, Sweden, and Norway are all great places to see the northern lights.
Conclusion: Ireland in Winter
After moving to Ireland, I was surprised by how chilly the winters were, especially because the temperatures rarely drop below freezing. Even more shocking, however, was how chilly it is indoors, as the houses and buildings are rarely insulated and heated like I was used to growing up in the US.
Despite the drudgery outside, winter can still be a good time to visit Ireland for the right type of traveler. It’s a much more affordable time to visit, with hotel rooms available for a fraction of the price you’d pay in June. If you have the willpower, you can still explore outside and hike or go for a walk on the beach (or even a hot sauna!) on a cold, rainy day.
All things being equal, I wouldn’t recommend that you visit Ireland in the winter if you have other choices. But, sometimes I visit places during the off season because I found a cheap flight or there’s a wedding or it’s just where I most want to go at that moment – so I get it. You can still have a great trip to Ireland in the winter (just don’t expect to enjoy the weather 😉).