Taking the kids to visit Santa? Here are the best-value grottoes in Ireland...

He's going to be super generous to the kids come December 25th, of course, but if you want to catch Kris Kringle in a shopping centre near you, it is likely to cost you...

Let's face it, you can't possibly know whether your child will have the thrill of their life or be scared out of their wits when they are met with the sight of a bloke in a red suit and (likely fake) white beard until you reach the front of that queue, but you might as well make sure you're going somewhere with a decent, kindly Father Christmas who preferably won't be looking to shake you down for more cash once you've paid the price of admission.

Here, then, are your best options if you're heading for a major Irish city in the run-up to Christmas with the tykes in tow...

DUBLIN 

Arnott’s, Henry Street, Dublin 1

First up, we have possibly the most popular spot for Irish parents and their charges to meet the big guy (unless you can make it to Lapland. Something of an institution in the capital – probably because it’s free – Arnott’s remains your best bet if you want an authentic-looking Santa.

The visit will cost you nothing, and your child gets a free “I’ve Seen Santa” badge as well. If you want a bit more of a souvenir, however, it’s a case of availing of their professional photographer and paying for the snap.

A virtual queue system has been put in place to help waiting times but this Santa is generally very busy most days of the week with queues of up to six hours at times. About as good as it gets, though – grab his beard if you don't believe us (don't grab his beard).

Dublin Zoo, Phoenix Park

If you’ve got an annual pass for the zoo, entry into Santa’s Grotto (open every weekend) will be €8. Tickets are €9 without – and it’s worth noting that you’ll be paying into the zoo on top of that, so stick around for the penguins. Kids get to indulge in a little arts and crafts while they’re there, and get both a gift and a photo key ring of them with the man himself.

Jervis Street Shopping Centre, Henry Street, Dublin 1

For €7 your child will get the visit, as well as a certificate, gift and magic wand. The price is then bumped up to €19 if you want that (all-important, let’s be honest) picture.

Stephen’s Green Shopping Centre, Dublin 2

Another spot where they get you on the photo, but this bloke in the white beard apparently plays the role very well, so at least it will be a good one. For €9 you get the visit and a present. It’s €12 total if you want a small photo, and €15 for a large one. Booking on the morning of the visit is essential.

Ilac Shopping Centre, Henry Street, Dublin 1

Tickets for this Santa Experience will not only cost €10 per child, but €3 per adult... and there’s a €3 booking fee.

Croke Park, Drumcondra, Dublin 3

This offering will set you back €8 for every adult and €14 for every kid over the age of two. For that, you get a gift, a visit to the toy workshop, interactive game zones as well as access to the GAA Museum.

Hamleys Toy Store, Dundrum Town Centre, Sandyford Road, Dundrum, Dublin 16

We’re into the altogether pricier range now, but for your €19.99 admission your child will get to spend an entire hour with Santa. Suitable for kids between two and eight years.

The North Pole Experience, Royal Liver Retail Park, Naas Road, Dublin 22

Another option that involves more than just your child assuring Santa they’ve been good and swiftly listing their demands, for €20 kids get to meet Santa and receive a gift, a photo and a balloon and can spend half an hour in the Bounceland playzone.

CORK

Dunnes Stores, Patrick's Street, Cork city centre 

Online booking for Limerick's Santa Experience is required and the same prices as the Ilac in Dublin apply (including that booking fee) but the kids seem to come away happy.

Fota House, Fota Island, Carrigtwohill,

That bit more expensive but quite an immersive experience, with Fota properly done up to give the impression that Santa actually lives there. A tour of the historic house (featuring Mrs Claus' kitchen and the elves' workshop) and a present are included. Admission is €15 per child and €7.50 per adult.

Leahy's Open Farm, Dungourney, Midleton

This experience comes well-recommended if you venture outside the city centre. Though admission is €20 for one child and €12 per adult, that does give you full access to the farm, which is a draw in itself if the weather's anyway agreeable. Your child will also get a gift during their visit with Saint Nick.

GALWAY

Milltown Park, Milltown

A much-loved tradition for 15 years now, with a warm atmosphere guaranteed in Santa's thatched cottage. Admission is €10, with an optional photo costing €5. All proceeds go to charity and a gift is included. It runs for three days – December 16th to 18th. 

LIMERICK

Jetland Shopping Centre, Caherdavin, Limerick city
 
The third Santa Experience location, in association with Dunnes Stores. Bookings for all three can be made here.