History has been kind to Waterford. The city boasts the largest collection of medieval walls and towers in the country with Reginald’s tower being the most impressive of the six still standing. The tower stands at the apex of the Viking Triangle, the name given to the area of the city first settled by the Vikings in 914. In recent years a major urban renewal project within the Triangle has seen the regeneration of Waterford’s historic core. Central to this project is the development of three museums chronicling the city’s history.
Reginald’s Tower houses one of the most remarkable Viking exhibitions in Ireland – including the weapons of a Viking warrior as well as the extensive treasures discovered in archaeological excavations in the city (adult/seniors/child €3/2/1; 10am-5pm Easter-May, 10am-6pm Jun-mid Sep, 10am-5pm Wed-Sun mid Sep-Easter). Don’t miss the exquisite gold Kite Brooch – a superb example of the fusion of Gaelic Irish and Viking art forms.
Just a short walk from Reginald’s Tower is the new Medieval Museum (adult/seniors/child (under 14) €5/4/free; 10am-5pm Easter-May, 10am-6pm Jun-mid Sep, 10am-5pm Wed-Sun mid Sep-Easter). Although the facade is new, Ireland’s first and only medieval museum incorporates a thirteenth-century Choristers’ Hall and a fifteenth-century wine vault. Among the priceless objects on display is the lavishly illustrated Great Charter Roll of Waterford (1373). This unique document features among its seventeen illustrations, the earliest view of an Irish city, as well as the only contemporary portraits of Edward III. Also on display are the mid fifteenth century Waterford cloth-of-gold vestments – the only full set of medieval High Mass vestments surviving in Northern Europe.
Waterford city boasts the finest collection of eighteenth century architecture of any city in Ireland outside of Dublin. This period of elegance began in Waterford in 1741 when the Anglo-German architect Richard Castles designed the wonderful Bishop’s Palace (adult/seniors/child €5/4/2; 9am-6pm Mon-Sat, 11am-6pm Sun Jul-Aug, 10am-5pm Mon-Sat, 11am-5pm Sun Sep-May). The Palace is now fully restored as a Georgian townhouse with period furniture and fittings – including the largest display in the world of late eighteenth century Waterford glass. Why not take a Telling Tales tour where costumed characters bring to life Waterford’s fascinating history.
Immediately opposite the Palace is the magnificent 18th century Christ Church Cathedral (admission free; 10am-5pm Mon-Fri, 10am-4pm Sat). Built in 1773 by local architect John Roberts, its classical simplicity and elegance has marked it out as the finest eighteenth century cathedral in Ireland. It often holds concerts, so make sure you check out their website to see what’s on.
Why not take time to explore the medieval Franciscan Friary ruins where King Richard II stayed on his two visits to Waterford in 1394 and 1399. The friary was closed on the orders of King Henry VIII in 1540 and transformed into a charitable institution, the Holy Ghost Hospital. Here residents were obliged to pray every night for the soul of Henry VIII – a practice which continued until the 1900s.
The Viking Triangle is also home to a variety of craft studios, cafés, excellent restaurants, and of course the global brand that is Waterford Crystal (adult/senior/child €12/9/4; 9am-3.15pm Mon-Fri Nov-Feb, 9am-3.15pm Mon-Sat, 9.30-3.15 Sun Mar, 9am-4.15pm Mon-Sat, 9.30-4.15 Sun Apr-Oct). If you want something a bit more small scale, make sure to visit the renowned Kite Design Studios on Henrietta Street. The studios are a unique visitor attraction, with on-site designers and craftspeople working in situ, selling high-end goods, including hand-blown glass.
A step back in time to experience the golden age of the railways is also a must with a visit to the Waterford & Suir Valley Railway at Kilmeaden (adult/senior & student/child €8.50/7/4; 11am-3pm Mon-Sat, 12pm-4pm Sun Apr & Sep, 11am-4pm Mon-Sat, 12pm-5pm Sun May-Aug). This family-friendly railway runs mostly along the picturesque banks of the River Suir offering views of the beautiful Mount Congreve Gardens (admission is free but children are not permitted; 9am-4pm Thurs only Apr 5th-Sep 27th).
Waterford is renowned for its festivals – the most famous being the Spraoi International Street Arts Festival which runs over the August Bank Holiday weekend and Winterval – Ireland’s Christmas Festival from late November to Christmas Eve each year.