I felt like I was entering uncharted territory when I hit County Waterford in the south-east region of Ireland for the first time.
Most people stick to the most popular attractions when they visit Ireland (like the Ring of Kerry and Dublin), but since I was here researching my ancestry, I was fortunate to get a little off the beaten path.
I spent about a week in Waterford bumming around to various towns. It was quiet in March, but that just made it easier to meet new people. If you havenâ€™t been, here are the towns I went to in Waterford, and all the interesting things to do in each one.
Things to do in Waterford City
Waterford City was much quieter than any other city Iâ€™ve visited in Ireland, but also one of the most picturesque: its rainbow of heritage buildings dotting the waterfront makes it ideal for some photo backdrops. I didnâ€™t get any, because it rained most of the time. But you get the point. Here are some of my favourite things to do in Waterford City:
Visit the Waterford Museum of Treasures
Waterford is also Ireland’s oldest city, so history buffs will get their fix at the Waterford Museum of Treasures. This museum is actually three museums located in the Viking Triangle which tells the story of Waterford from 1914 AD, when Viking sea pirates first showed up. You should clear a full afternoon to visit this place — thereâ€™s a LOT to see.
Fun thing to do: try the VR Viking experience. Thereâ€™s even a recreated house in the ruins of a 13th-century Franciscan friary.
Visit the House of Waterford Crystal
Make sure you check out the House of Waterford Crystal, where youâ€™ll see actual crystal production. On a tour, you can step into the blowing room and see artists at work alongside furnaces pumping out heat at 1400 degrees Celsius. If youâ€™re like me you probably canâ€™t actually afford anything here, but hey, itâ€™s a fascinating process. (Seriously — some of the gifts in the gift shop are upwards of 30,000 EUR.)
Find some live music
A huge number of Newfoundlanders (like me) can trace their roots back to Waterford, so I wasnâ€™t surprised to hear Irish music pumping out of some of the bars and restaurants around town. It sounded just like home. Although Waterford City had a mild nightlife in comparison to other towns I visited (even the super small towns), the intimate pub sessions were amazing. Try Katty Barrys, for example.
Take a walking tour
Walking tours are always my favourite way to get to know a city. In Waterford, Jack Burtchaell is your man. Not only does he know the history of the city inside and out, but heâ€™s a gifted storyteller to boot. Be sure to ask him about the first frog in Ireland.
Youâ€™ll get a great overview of the city while also visiting some of Waterfordâ€™s highlights, including some of the gorgeous churches
Blaa is anything but â€œblahâ€! Oh god. Iâ€™m so sorry.
Eat some blaa
Anyway, hereâ€™s a must-try in Waterford: blaa is a type of bread roll that only a handful of Waterford bakeries can bake. The bread is yummy and soft, and the recipe is so closely guarded that the European Commission has even given it Protected Geographical Indication status. The best place to get it? At the Farmerâ€™s Market on Jenkinâ€™s Lane every Saturday.
Otherwise, enjoy a meal at the Three Shippes. Itâ€™s a classic Irish pub (with candlelit tables!) with a cozy atmosphere and lots of pub grub, like burgers as big as your head.
Where to stay in Waterford City
Things to do in Dungarvan
Dungarvan ended up being my favourite town in Waterford. There are a fair number of young people here, so thereâ€™s an upbeat vibe with lots of nightlife. I spent most of my weekend at The Local pub, where thereâ€™s usually a good trad session every Saturday night. The owner of the pub is a famous bodhran player by the name of Donnchadh Gough, whoâ€™s no stranger to Newfoundland and Labrador as it turns out (he has toured there).Â
Dungarvan was where I first encountered Irish Gaelic, including an Irish speaking family from Ring (a mostly Irish Gaelic community).
Basically, itâ€™s the quintessential village of Irish dreams.
Visit Curraghmore House
Dungarvan has a handful of historic estates that you can tour, including the Curraghmore House, which has been a home for the Marquis of Waterford and his ancestors since 1170. The core of the estate is purely medieval, but the surrounding sprawling mansion is one of the most gorgeous examples of Victorian-era architecture youâ€™ll ever see.
You can take a tour, or you can buy a pass to wander the grounds and see the bridge built in 1205 and the unique shell grotto built in 1754.Â
Explore the Cappoquin House and Gardens
Thereâ€™s also the beautiful ivy-covered Cappoquin House and Gardens, a Classical-style late Georgian House that was rebuilt in the early 1900s (but still has lots of its old charm and beauty). Only its garden is open for select times of the year (check the website), but I promise you itâ€™s worth the visit.
If youâ€™re like me youâ€™ll walk away wishing you were some ancestor of a rich Irish nobleman. Any nobleman at all.
Check out the Greenway
One of the coolest things to do here is walk or bike the Waterford Greenway – the 46-kilometer trail from Waterford City to Dungarvan. It used to be the old railway track, so youâ€™ll travel across eleven bridges and three viaducts (and through a tunnel) along the way. The trail is incredibly lush and nearly jungle-like, especially in the full bloom of spring and summer.
If youâ€™re not keen on cycling, you can walk sections of the trail.
Where to stay in Dungarvan
Things to do in Lismore
Lismore is a clean, neat little town located not far from Dungarvan. Honestly, I probably wouldnâ€™t have ended up here if it wasnâ€™t for my research. Itâ€™s that far off the radar. But if you want to slow down for an afternoon (or even overnight), itâ€™s a peaceful place to stop.
Slow down, eat, and drink
Since all I seemed to do on this trip is eat and drink, grab a Panini at The Summerhouse CafÃ©. If you want to impress your travel partner by buying them a sexy three-course meal, opt for the Ballyrafter House Hotel.
Visit the Lismore Castle
If you have a couple thousand to drop (right?), try a stay at Lismore Castle. It was originally built in 1185 by King John, and is owned by the Duke of Devonshire today.
I donâ€™t know what kind of magical luck I have to end up with an overnight stay in a place like this, but holy hell, that was easily one of the best nights of my life. My friend and I actually had no idea what kind of a privilege it was to stay in the Burlington Wing until we realized that hardly anybody else in town had ever done so, and you know, by the fact that its former guests include the likes of Fred Astaire and JFK.
Lismore Castle is a thing of beauty, complete with a grand hall, a drawing room, two sitting rooms, a dining room, a library, a games room, and more.
I wrote a whole post about this experience, because it was easily one of the coolest (and most haunted) of my life.
If you canâ€™t swing the stay, you can tour the immaculate gardens. Itâ€™s well worth it.
Visit the Lismore Experience
The Lismore Experience is a museum display located in the heritage centre, where youâ€™ll learn all about Lismoreâ€™s past and present, including its Celtic origins dating from 636 AD. Alright, that sounds a little dry, but I assure you it isnâ€™t. This audio-visual presentation is narrated by Niall Toibin, and itâ€™s an award winner. The whole thing covers the Vikings, Normans, and even the Lismore Castle.Â
Where to stay in Lismore
The Pilgrimâ€™s Rest (adultâ€™s only retreat)
Things to do in Ardmore
Truthfully, thereâ€™s one good reason to visit Ardmore:
Check out the Ardmore Round Tower
The Ardmore Round Tower is where monks would have hid from the Vikings during their violent raids. In the 5th century, St. Declan came across the village of Ardmore and founded a monastery there. The tower and its surrounding ruins make up the monastic city — itâ€™s a beautiful little piece of Irish history that doesnâ€™t seem to get a lot of attention.
You can check out St. Declanâ€™s oratory, a small church where the saint himself is believed to be buried. There are some incredible Romanesque sculptures inside that depict scenes from the old and new testaments.
Both the tower and cathedral date back to the 12th century.
Thereâ€™s also a great coastal walk that starts around the Cliff House Hotel (just ask someone for directions, itâ€™s a small place).
Check out Curragh Beach
Waterford has a surprising number of beautiful beaches, and Curragh Beach is just one of seven dotted around Ardmore. Itâ€™s not really a place to go swimming, but if youâ€™re in need of some ocean therapy, this is a good place to do it.
Where to stay in Ardmore
Things to do on The Copper Coast
Iâ€™ve already posted a photo essay on this route between Tramore and Dungarvan on Route 675. The coast was some of the prettiest Iâ€™ve seen in Ireland, and it was basically deserted. We stopped at the coppery Kilfarrasy Beach, and had the whole area to ourselves.
Same story with Annestown Beach, although that one was more pebbly rather than soft and sandy. Also, as it turns out, Ireland has palm trees? That was a truly delightful surprise.
Other than just road tripping and enjoying the scenery, there are a handful of worthwhile stops.
See the Tankardstown Copper Mine
True to its name, the Copper Coast was a big mining area for copper and other minerals. Tankardstown is one of the main mining complexes that has been mined in the 19th century for copper ores; while you canâ€™t step inside the site, you can observe the old industrial heritage buildings. Theyâ€™re surprisingly pretty against the coastal backdrop.Â
Stop by Dunhill Castle
On our road trip, we eventually came upon the ruins of Dunhill Castle. Again, not a soul in sightâ€¦so we climbed the steep steps to the top of the hill and wandered around relics from the early 1200s. Just like that. No admission fees, no line-ups. Just a big ass castle sitting in the countryside.
Thereâ€™s not much to see here, but knowing its history beforehand is a treat. The la Poer family (â€œPowerâ€) built this castle overlooking the medieval village of Dunhill. But the la Poerâ€™s were an absolutely infamous, evil lot — they launched many attacks on Waterford City in the 14th century. In 1345 they destroyed the area around the city, but were then counter-attacked, taken prisoner, and hanged. The remaining la Poer family joined with the Oâ€™Driscoll family and together attacked Waterford many times over the next 100 years. Talk about persistence.
Where to stay on the Copper Coast
There you have it, a list of things to do in Waterford Ireland! Although my heart will always be in Sligo, Waterford is a close second for my favourite places to visit in Ireland.
I obviously didnâ€™t have time to do it all, so if you have some other suggestions for me, Iâ€™d love to hear them in the comments!