Great family days out over Christmas and New Year

No need to stay cooped up this holiday season – gift yourself some great days out instead

New Year cheer

Head to Dublin for New Year celebrations that last for three days and include ‘Luminosity’, a spectacular 3D light projection with optical illusions, blazing graphics and an immersive fresco of light. Go on New Year’s Eve for an amped-up version, a 4D Sky Dance performance with sound, with shows that are free, but ticketed, starting at 5pm and 7pm.

Make a day of it by taking part in The Great Temple Bar Treasure Hunt first, which takes place on December 30th and 31st at 2.30pm on Meeting House Square. Or sign up for Werewolves by Bram Stoker, an interactive role-playing game designed to test your observational skills, such as they are after six tins of Roses and umpteen eggnogs.

Winter wonderland

Take time out in the run-up to Christmas to experience Waterford's Winterval, which ends on December 23rd. Now so well-established on the family Christmas calendar, it's hard to believe it's only in its fifth year. More than 30 events take place each weekend including Winterval Illuminates – an animated light show – Penguins at the Palace, storytelling at Reginald's Tower, the Winterval Christmas market and the Lions Club Carol Concert, as well as a creative Christmas tree exhibition and regular showings of the Grinch – all free. Or put your hand in your pocket for Santa's Grotto, a ride in a horse-drawn sleigh or the Winterval Express train. There's an elves' workshop, a vintage ferris wheel and a carousel. Check out the Polish Christmas Craft market for arts, crafts and gingerbread man workshops.

Pick a panto

Christmas wouldn't be Christmas without a trip to the panto and this year all the lovely boys and girls have loads to choose from including Aladdin at both The Helix and the Tivoli, The Ugly Sisters and Yer Wan – a 'Dublinese' Cinderella – at the Olympia and Robin Hood and His Merry Men at the Gaiety. Ali Baba and his 40 Thieves are on stage at the Hawks Well in Sligo while Red Riding Hood provides the elder care at the Everyman Palace Theatre in Cork.

For something a bit different check out Noël, a new concert musical by Artemis Fowl writer Eoin Colfer and composer Liam Bates, at The National Opera House, Wexford. Running from December 19th to 23rd, it's the story of a young girl on a journey to find her mother and the motley crew of characters she meets along the way. Featuring a full on-stage orchestra and directed by Ben Barnes, it promises to be both feel-good and festive as well as touching on issues such as homelessness, bullying and materialism. And it's a celebration of local talent with Colfer's old classmate, tenor Michael Londra, bringing a bit of Broadway back home.

Have an ice day

One of the most fun things to do over Christmas is to go ice skating. Not to skate obviously but to stand at the barrier and watch the show. It's the same cast every Christmas, the show-offs practising their double axels in the middle and the chorus of pain shuffling around the barrier at the sides. There's the half of each couple who can glide with ease while the other jerks along beside them fretting about having their fingers chopped off if they fall. Then there are the fallers determined to bring everyone else down with them, including the adults who shamelessly grab on to the coats of passing children, and, the real villain of the show, the grown-up elbowing a kid off a penguin so they can have it. There's always one. Rink-side seats are available this year at Galway Skates at Leisureland in Salthill, Winterval in Waterford and Cork on Ice at Mahon Point shopping centre. In Dublin, you'll find rinks at Blanchardstown, Swords and Dundrum shopping centres.

Get sporty

Swap the sofa for some live action this Christmas break with great rugby matches worth wrapping up well for. St Stephen's Day sees Guinness Pro 12 action in Limerick as Munster take on Leinster at 5.30pm at Thomond Park, while New Year's Eve has Leinster back on home turf taking on Ulster at the RDS, kick-off 3pm.

Alternatively, go racing at the Leopardstown Christmas Festival – the festive four-day National Hunt meet runs from St Stephen's Day to December 29th. A staple on the Christmas calendar since 1888, today it features seven Grade 1 races and a range of ticket packages. Or head to Limerick Racecourse for the Shannon Airport Christmas Festival, running over the same dates.

Combine all of the above with a ‘Racing and Rugby’ package available from Limerick Racecourse on St Stephen’s Day. Horse racing starts at Greenmount Park at 12.25pm, with seven national hunt races on the card. After the last race at 3.40pm a shuttle bus service departs for Thomond Park in time for the match at 5.30pm. Category B tickets to the match and general admission to the races, plus one way bus transfer, costs €60 per person.

Walk this way

It's always a good idea to blow off the Christmas cobwebs, not to mention the cake, with a bracing walk in the 'twixtmas' period. With Father Christmas having done his job, let Mother Nature do hers, providing a restorative recipe of fresh air and exercise that gives your wallet time to catch its breath too. Skip the sales and make the most of Coillte's extensive forests for a healthy hike instead – the State forestry agency has about 180 trails to choose from, with terrain to suit all levels.

Or take the next step up and head to the ninth annual Westport Christmas Walking Festival in Mayo. It runs from Thursday December 29th to Sunday January 1st and you can opt for a complete local hotel stay package or, if you live nearby or have friends in the area, take the walk-only option. Tickets for the latter cost €35 a day, including transport and guiding. Tickets must be booked and paid for in advance, which is probably just as well. Leave it to the day to decide and your inner couch potato will probably tell you to take a hike.,