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Less than a 2-hour drive from Dublin, Waterford, Ireland may be best known for its namesake crystal, but that’s not all the city has going for it. If you’re planning a trip to the Emerald Isle, spending a day in Waterford city will be time well spent.
I dropped the ball when I was researching our first trip to Ireland. Dan and I assumed that the only thing to see in Waterford, Ireland was a crystal factory, so we left Dublin and headed straight to Ireland’s southern coast. We only stopped once on the way, to see the Rock of Cashel (which turned out to be well worth the time).
And then came our second trip to the Emerald Isle for a blogger’s conference. Ireland’s tourist bureau took us around the “sunny southeast” and Waterford was on the itinerary. This surprised us, but who would know Ireland better than the group responsible for promoting the entire country’s tourism? So sure, we’d go check it out. If Failte Ireland thought Waterford was worth showing off, the city must have more to offer than a crystal factory alone.
I’ve written this article to share the best things to do in Waterford, Ireland so you don’t make the same mistake we did the first time around. And for those of you who prefer to make the most of your time by taking a guided tour, here are some to consider:
Best Things to do in Waterford, Ireland
What a treat Waterford turned out to be!
Founded by the Vikings in 850 AD, Waterford is the oldest city in Ireland and was once more important than Dublin. Yet despite its age and history, the best of what to see in Waterford is all conveniently tucked into a snug little Ireland downtown area that is easily walkable.
This downtown area is called the Viking Triangle, and the city’s slogan – a thousand years of history in a thousand paces – is no joke! Within just a few steps of each other are three key visitor attractions, each from a different era.
Think of it: You can see Viking, Medieval and Georgian Ireland without having to traipse all over the country.
So, is it worth spending a day in Waterford Ireland? Absolutely!
How to spend a day in Waterford: our itinerary
Before we begin, I should mention that it takes about two hours to drive from Dublin to Waterford. Therefore, if you want to do this itinerary on a day trip to Waterford from Dublin, plan to get an early start.
ⓘ BUDGET TIP: The Freedom Pass is a great deal. For only €15.00, you get access to the Medieval Museum, Bishop’s Palace, and the brand new Irish Museum of Time and the Irish Silver Museum, plus you avoid ticket lines. BUY IT HERE.
9:00 – Waterford Crystal factory and showroom
Glass making is a fine art, and the world-famous House of Waterford Crystal ranks as one of the best things to do in the city. Because the Visitor Center opens earlier than anything else in the Triangle, it makes sense to begin your day there.
The Waterford Crystal Visitor Center offers a one-hour tour of their factory, where you can watch the finest glass craftsmen create “prestige pieces” for special-order customers. Many of these beautiful pieces are on display in their showroom, so you can see them even if you choose not to take the tour.
Conveniently, it’s only steps from the Viking Triangle, making it easy to include in a one day Waterford itinerary.
Even though Waterford Crystal wasn’t part of the plan, we still managed to squeeze in 10 minutes at the showroom just before closing. Up until then, we had considered Waterford crystal to be little more than a “name brand,” but after seeing the unique creations on display, we came to realize why so many people want to own it.
I even discovered a beautiful chandelier there that I wouldn’t mind owning, for a mere €10,000.
Pocket change, right?
Visit the Waterford Crystal factory:
- Tickets: €13,50 for the general Waterford Crystal guided factory tour, €25 per person for a private tour, prearranged. The showroom is free.
- Hours: Factory Tour: Mon-Sat: 9:00 to 16:15; Sun: 9:30 – 16:15; Retail Store: Mon-Sat: 9:00 to 18:00; Sun: 9:30 – 18:00. These are from Apr-Oct. See website for rest of year.
- Expect to spend an hour on the tour and half an hour at the showroom.
- Purchase Waterford Factory tickets here.
10:30 – Bishop’s Palace: a Waterford must-see
From medieval times up until the early 20th-century, both the Church of Ireland Waterford and Lismore bishops called the Bishop’s Palace home. Hence the name.
The Bishop’s Palace is one of many Waterford buildings that were built by famed architect, John Roberts. Here, costumed actors tell of Waterford in the Georgian era. No need to worry about what to do in Waterford City – they will escort you through the period rooms and tell all about the rare 18th– century Irish furniture, glass, silver and paintings in the building.
The building was designed and built in 1741 by the famous Richard Castle on the site of the original, medieval Bishop’s palace. Now that the bishops no longer live in it, it has been repurposed into a museum with rooms restored in 17th– and 18th-century style.
You will see the largest collection of historic Waterford glass in the world on display, as well as the oldest landscape view of an Irish city. (That would be William Van der Hagens’ “View of Waterford,” which was painted in 1736.)
- Admission: €10
- Open: Mon-Fri. 9:15 – 18:00, Sat. 9:30-18:00, Sun. and Bank Holidays 11:00 – 18:00. See the website for hours Sept-May.
- The tour lasts 45 minutes and you are free to roam the museum after the tour. Expect to spend about 1-2 hours here.
ⓘ TIP: Have lunch at the onsite café, then come back to view the rest of the Palace when you’re ready. The Bishop’s Palace is usually less crowded on weekdays.
13:00 – Waterford Treasures Medieval Museum
A two-minute walk from the Tower, directly behind the Bishop’s Palace, is Ireland’s only medieval museum. This stunning modern building incorporates previous construction they found on site, including a 13th century Choristers’ Hall and a 15th century Wine Vault.
If have limited time at the museum, the best things to see are the 4-meter-long Great Charter Roll of Waterford (dated to 1373) and the 15th century Cloth of Gold Vestments. It is the only full set of medieval vestments to survive in Northern Europe.
Other unique treasures include:
- The Relic of the True Cross
- Pilgrim badges
- Ring Brooch
- Sword of Edward IV
- King Henry VIII’s Cap of Maintenance
- The Great Parchment Book of Waterford
- The Luker Chalice
- Vestment Chest
This museum really explains a lot about the history of Ireland. If you’ve ever wondered why the battles continued between England and Ireland or why there’s a divide between the Catholics and the Protestants, you will better understand after your visit.
- Admission: €10
- Open: Fri. 9:15 – 18:00, Sat. 9:30-18:00, Sun. and Bank Holidays 11:00 – 18:00. Consult the website for Sept-May hours.
16:00 – take a guided Viking Triangle tour: best things to do in Waterford
It’s a shame that this enjoyable 45-minute character-led walking tour is only offered in the afternoon. It gives an easy-to-understand overview of Irish history and would make a wonderful introduction to the city. Still, it helped us to tie all our varied impressions of Waterford together, so it was worth it, even after having seen so much.
Actors in period dress will tell you about the city’s history as they guide you to six national monuments:
- Reginald’s Tower (first mentioned in 1088)
- Greyfriars Medieval Franciscan friary (1240)
- Choristers’ Hall (1270)
- the Mayor’s Wine Vault (1448)
- the Bishop’s Palace (1743)
- and Christ Church Cathedral (1783), but only when no church service is in progress
- Admission: €10
- Open: Epic Tours of the Viking Triangle are run daily from May through September at 12:00, 14:00 and 16:00 (military time).
- The Epic Tour of the Viking Triangle starts at the entrance to the Bishop’s Palace.
Where to stay in Waterford
If you plan to stay overnight, accommodation in Waterford ranges from budget to high end. We stayed at the historic Granville Hotel, just steps from all these activities. For more about the hotel’s history, to see one of its rooms or read about its award-winning restaurant, read our post about our stay at the Granville Hotel, with more photos of this impressive place.
If you don’t care about being in the city center, one of the most luxe places to stay in Waterford is Waterford Castle Hotel & Golf Resort. Dating from the 16th century, it is Ireland’s only Island Castle hotel.
If those don’t fit your taste or budget, here are the best apartment rentals and hotels in Waterford:
Where to eat in Waterford
All this touring is sure to increase your appetite. While there’s a lot of food to be hand in Ireland, Waterford has two things you need to try before you fly home. Irish coffee is known around the world, but the other is a local specialty. Ask for a Waterford blaa in lieu of normal bread.
Fear not, your grumbling tummy will be happy with these convenient places in the Viking Triangle to grab a bite to eat.
The Palace has a reasonably priced restaurant that is ideal for lunch. They offer a good variety of dishes, so those on special diets will likely find something they will like.
This historic hotel was the birthplace of Irish nationalist Thomas Francis Meagher and it’s where the Tricolour (Ireland’s flag) was flown for the first time. It has also been Georgina Campbell Hotel of the Year, a highly coveted award. We loved the atmosphere here.
Pop into a local pub to toast Sláinte with the friendly regulars. Order a Guinness or Kilkenny beer, or enjoy an Irish coffee if the weather is cold There’s nothing quite like enjoying a local drink in a local establishment. If you time it right (after dinner), you might even enjoy some live music. Click here for a list of Viking Triangle pubs.
Plan a day in Waterford
Here are some details to help you plan your own trip to Waterford.
- For additional things to see and do in the area, Visit Waterford is your best resource.
- This website shows how to get to Waterford by plane, train, bus, ferry and car.
- If you prefer escorted tours, you can see a lot of Ireland with this 3-day tour from Dublin.
- For more sightseeing, see our gallery for more photos of Waterford.
- Get a bird’s eye view of the Viking Triangle on Google Maps here. Zoom, scroll around and explore!
With more time, we recommend you add the following to your list:
- Irish Museum of Time
- Irish Silver Museum
- Waterford Castle
- Mount Congreve House and Gardens
- Dunmore East
- Comeragh Mountains
Other articles about Waterford:
- The Waterford Viking Triangle – An Irish Treasure
- Why You Need to See Waterford’s Granville Hotel
- Try the Waterford Blaa – An Irish Specialty
- How to Make Jameson Irish Coffee
We have a whole series of Southeast Ireland articles here, with interesting things to do, delicious foods, luxe places to stay, and more. Enjoy!
- 9 Things to Do in County Wexford
- Visit Dunbrody House, Kevin Dunston’s Wexford Hotel
- 7 Things to Do in Kilkenny, Ireland
- Lyrath Estate: Luxury in Kilkenny
Related books on Amazon:
- DK Eyewitness Travel Guide: Ireland
- The Immortal Irishman: The Irish Revolutionary Who Became an American Hero