The best Christmas experiences? Bird shows, helicopter rides, Ferrari drives and more

The best gift I got last year was to take a hawk for a walk in Wicklow, writes Sandra O’Connell

As the maxim has it, nothing beats experience. It’s true of Christmas gifts too. Trinkets and baubles gather dust. Memories of a great experience are only burnished by time. Here are four worth giving.

Take a hawk for a walk

Hands down, or wings up, the best gift I got last year was a chance to take a Harris’s hawk for a walk in a woods with Falconry Ireland in Wicklow. Maybe I need to get out more but I can’t remember anything as exhilarating as watching a large bird of prey swoop down to take a treat from my (heavily protected) hand and perch there majestically until something else caught its eye.

A falconry adventure for two starts with an informal talk about all the birds here, and birds of prey generally, followed by the hawk walk, which is about a kilometre long. You then get a falcon flying display, where the owner sends the bird off and then brings it back by waving a teddy bear in the air. There is nothing remotely cuddly about the bird’s response but the aerial acrobatics are spectacular.

After that you get to meet the other birds in the centre, including owls, a turkey vulture and a black kite, which you’ll be as high as for hours afterwards. A two-hour display for two people costs €165.


High as a helicopter

Here’s a great one that nets you a gift, too. All vouchers bought directly from Eirecopter allow the recipient to bring an extra person with them on their flight, for free. Call it self-gifting. Not only will your buddy get the opportunity to learn how to fly a whirlybird, you’ll get to hitch a ride over some of the most beautiful scenery in Ireland from its base at Newcastle Airfield.

A 60-minute helicopter lesson with Top Gun-style briefing beforehand and an opportunity to take the controls in the sky costs €165, small change for the thrill of a lifetime. (Coincidentally, the East Coast Nature Reserve bird sanctuary is right next door but how much excitement can one person take?)

Formula thrills at Mondello

The speed merchant in your life will love the opportunity to put the pedal to the metal without a volley of abuse from the front passenger seat, because there isn’t one. A Formula Race Thrill gift certificate from Mondello Park gives them a chance to fulfil their Formula 1 dreams in a single-seater racing car.

The day includes including classroom briefings and practice laps in a saloon racing car with a professional instructor, before sliding behind the wheel of a race car in a seat that is just inches from the ground. It is priced at €249-€269, depending perhaps on the price of fuel. When ready to take poll position, they get two safety laps followed by 10 timed laps in a Formula Sheane single-seater, followed by the all-important debrief after to see how they fared. Or they can do the whole thing in a Porsche or Ferrari. You? You get to drive them home.

Give a fab food trail

Forget lunch dates. Real gourmands want to go on tour, which is precisely what Fabulous Food Trails offers, in both Dublin and Cork. Send them off alone or, better still, tag along to see these cities as you’ve never seen them before – from your stomach’s perspective.

Tours are led by terrific local guides who are full of tasty facts and fun. Numbers are kept to about 14, so it’s social too, and even if the recipient is native to either city, they’re almost guaranteed to discover food outlets and surprises they didn’t know existed. They are certainly guaranteed some tasty treats over the course of a leisurely two-to-three-hour tour, which is less marching on your tum than strolling on it. The Cork Tasting Trail costs €75 and gift vouchers are open-ended, so they can book the tour, and time, that suits them.

Sandra O'Connell

Sandra O'Connell

Sandra O'Connell is a contributor to The Irish Times