Often overlooked by people planning an Irish vacation, Waterford is a easily one of the most fascinating cities in Ireland. Not only is it the oldest city in the country but it was founded in 850 AD by the Vikings.
Waterford’s name comes from the old Norse word ‘Veðrafjǫrðr’ meaning ‘fjord of the castrated ram’! It’s original Irish name was Port Láirge, meaning “Lárag’s port”. The county is colloquially known as ‘The Déise’ (pronounced ‘day-sha’) after a Gaelic tribe known as the Déisi who settled here after they were driven out of north Leinster between the 4th and 8th centuries a.d.
Here are my top tips on how to get the most out of Waterford without spending a fortune:
Early morning is a rare and fleeting time in Waterford when you will nearly have the city to yourself. It gets crowded during the day, most are daytime visitors that leave in the early evening hours. Start your day with a coffee from Carters, if you’re lucky and it’s not raining you can sit outside and admire the view of spectacular Cathedral of the Most Holy Trinity.
Located directly opposite the coffee shop, the Cathedral of the Most Holy Trinity was built in 1793 and is the oldest cathedral of the Roman Catholic Church in Ireland.
From the church take a walk up to John Roberts House, the Waterford Born architect who was responsible for the Bishop’s Palace, City Hall and Christchurch Cathedral.
The Christ Church Cathedral stands at the site of an 11th-century Viking church, where English knight Strongbow and Irish Princess Aoife married in 1170. Later, in the 13th century, the Normans took over Waterford and built a Gothic cathedral, which remained until the community decided to construct Christ Church in 1773.
While walking the streets and getting lost in the web of alleyways won’t cost you a penny. You might even discover a few hidden gems like a replica of a Viking longboat that was modeled on one of the famous Viking ships found at Roskilde, in Denmark; or the 23 meter long (and 14 tonnes heavy) wooden Viking sword carved by John Hayes.
Buy a post card at the oldest Post Office in the city. It might be surprising to find a post office with a red door in Ireland as the red post box has been associated with the UK’s Royal Mail for years. This is the only one in the city that kept the original door and color after Ireland gained independence from Britain.
Check the time at The Clock Tower, originally known as the Fountain Clock (as it had troughs for working horses to drink from), it was built-in 1864 when Waterford was Ireland’s biggest industrial port.
We had lunch at No. 9 Café. Then we popped in for a cup of tea at The Granville Hotel, built-in the 1700’s by The Meagher’s, a well-known merchant and banking family of Dutch origin. Their son, Thomas Francis Meagher (1823-1867) who was born in the house and later created the Irish tricolor and unveiled it on March 7th, 1848 at The Wolfe Tone Confederate Club, now known as Three Thirty Three The Mall (just five minutes from the hotel). He went down in history as Brigadier General of the Union Army during the American Civil War.
The Reginald Tower was built-in 1171 and replaced a Viking tower that was built 168 years earlier in 1003. It was the first building to be constructed with mortar (a mixture of fur, blood, lime and sea mud). It has been used over the years as a fortress, a prison and now it houses Waterford’s Civic Museum.
Shop for souvenirs at the world renowned Waterford Crystal. One of their most famous creations is the New York City Timesquare Ball. The origins of crystal production in Waterford dates back to the 18th century and the glass has become known as the finest in the world. Although Waterford Crystal doesn’t produce their products in Ireland anymore, there center offers guided tours (€12.60 per adult) where guests can learn how to make crystal sculptures or simply visit the retail shop for some shopping.