Originally established as a Viking port in the 9th century, Waterford is the oldest city in Ireland. You can see evidence of its ancient past in the labyrinth of narrow, cobbled streets of the town's compact, historic core.
The city’s three museums, collectively known as the Waterford Museum of Treasures, shed light on its long history, while a visit to the House of Waterford Crystal offers a glimpse of the production process for the prestigious glassware. Beyond the city, you have several medieval castles and formal gardens to visit, as well as the rugged Copper Coast.
UK and Ireland specialist Vic
I think Waterford’s best features are away from the crystal house, which tends to be clogged with groups. When I visit, I explore the town’s long history, especially the recreated Viking longboat.
Things to see and do in Waterford
Once the most prestigious glassworks company in the world, Waterford Crystal dates back to 1783. Although most of the crystal work is now outsourced to Eastern Europe, the most exclusive pieces are still produced on site in Waterford.
As a visitor, you can hear the history of the company and see live demonstrations by master craftspeople at the House of Waterford Crystal, where prestige, custom-order pieces are created. You’ll learn about the manufacturing process as you visit the blowing room and see the cutting, engraving and sculpting of the glassware. The experience ends in the gift shop, where a variety of traditional and contemporary pieces are for sale.
Waterford’s Viking history
Viking traders first established a community in Waterford in 853, and by the 10th century it was a thriving hub and Ireland's first city. Its strategic position on vital trade routes made it more important than Dublin, a fact that attracted the Anglo-Normans who besieged the city in 1170.
Waterford's early history is examined in a virtual reality adventure, the King of the Vikings exhibition, which is set in a recreated Viking house on Baileys New Street. You'll also find a replica Viking longboat on the quay and exhibits on Viking history in Reginald's Tower.
Twelfth-century Reginald's Tower is the oldest civic building in Ireland and has been in continuous use for more than 800 years. It's a sturdy round tower that sits on the waterfront and was once the city's key defensive feature.
Over the years, it has served as a royal mint, munitions store and prison. Legend has it that King James II of England stood on the top of the tower in 1690 after his defeat at the Battle of the Boyne for one final look at his kingdom before setting off for exile in France. Today, it hosts an exhibition on Viking and early medieval history.
Lismore Castle Gardens
A massive 19th-century mansion on the River Blackwater, Lismore Castle is still a private residence but its formal gardens are open to the public. The Millennium Gardens are thought to be the oldest landscaped gardens in Ireland and were first laid out in the 17th century. Magnolias, camellias, rhododendrons and herbaceous borders ensure year-round attraction with the Jacobean upper garden having the most formal planting.
The lower pleasure gardens have open lawns and towering trees. Here, too, is a yew avenue that predates the gardens and is said to have been the place where Edmund Spenser wrote The Faerie Queene in about 1590. Contemporary sculptures by artists such as Antony Gormley and Eilis O’Connell dot the garden, with more contemporary artworks on view in the castle gallery (included in your garden ticket).
Norman Dungarvan Castle dates from 1185 and once guarded the mouth of the River Colligan and entry to Waterford city. The castle was inhabited by King John's Seneschal (Governor) of Leinster in the 13th century and has a polygonal shell keep (a rare feature in Irish castles) and an enclosing curtain wall.
Inside are military barracks dating from the 18th century, which house an exhibition on the castle and its history. You can join a free guided tour of the castle grounds to learn more about Dungarvan’s construction and its importance in medieval times.
Gnarled pink chestnut trees line the avenue that leads to stately Curraghmore House, home of the 9th Marquis of Waterford. The vast estate has been in the family for 800 years, its central medieval tower house now encased in a Victorian mansion and surrounded by Georgian ranges.
Inside, the neoclassical rooms feature intricate plasterwork by James Wyatt and grisaille (monochrome painted) panels by Peter de Gree. The estate with its lavish gardens and dense woodland has a seashell-covered folly, wrought-iron statues of hunting dogs, wolves and boars, and a bridge dating to 1205, thought to be the oldest in Ireland.
Waterford's southern coast has been designated a European Geopark for its unusual geological history. A self-guided walking trail takes you from the Copper Coast Geopark Centre in Bunmahon and offers an insight into the diverse mineral deposits along the cliffs, beaches, bays and coves of the area.
At Tankardstown you can see old mine workings and visible mineral veins, while the coastal cliffs at Knockmahon are formed from polygonal columns of rhyolite. The red cliffs at Ballydwan Bay and the beach at Stradbally Cove are particularly scenic.
Best time to visit Waterford
May to September is a good time to visit Waterford. Lismore Castle Gardens burst into bloom in late spring and the weather is warmer and drier making trips to the coast more pleasant.
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Suggested itineraries featuring Waterford
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Places near Waterford
- County Wexford 28 miles away
- Kilkenny 28 miles away
- Cobh 58 miles away
- Cork 64 miles away
- Limerick 70 miles away
- Kinsale 72 miles away
- Dublin 83 miles away
- The Burren 95 miles away
- Killarney 103 miles away
- Newgrange and the Boyne Valley 103 miles away
- Galway 108 miles away
- Kenmare 109 miles away
- Inis Mór 123 miles away
- Dingle Peninsula 134 miles away
- Enniskillen 147 miles away
- Connemara 149 miles away
- Sligo 150 miles away
- Belfast 169 miles away
- County Donegal 171 miles away
- Northern Ireland 173 miles away
- Derry/Londonderry 190 miles away
- Giant’s Causeway 208 miles away
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Accommodation choices for Waterford
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