Copper Coast Drive In Waterford: One Of Ireland’s Great Drives (Guide With Map)

the copper coast drive
Photos via Shutterstock

The Copper Coast Drive (or cycle!) is one of the most overlooked things to do in Waterford.

Named for the massive mines that operated here in the 19th Century, the Copper Coast Geopark boasts some of the county’s most breath-taking scenery.

It runs for approximately 40km along the stunning coastline between Tramore and Dungarvan and is officially the only European Geopark in the country.

In the guide below, you’ll find a Google Map with the Copper Coast Drive route along with an overview of where to stop along the way.

Some quick need-to-knows before visiting the Copper Coast Geopark

Tankardstown engine house
Photo by JORGE CORCUERA (Shutterstock)

As is the case with the brilliant Waterford Greenway, the Copper Coast Geopark is reasonably easy to navigate, once you know what to see and where to stop.

1. Location

The Copper Coast Geopark stretches 17km from Kilfasarry beach to Stradbally but, for the drive/cycle, you can stretch it out a bit, and start/finish in Tramore or Dungarvan.

2. A UNESCO Global Geopark

Unesco Global Geoparks are sites where landscapes of international geological importance are managed holistically, protecting and sustaining while at the same time educating visitors. The purpose of the parks is to foster a connection between locals and their geographical heritage, providing a sense of identity with, and responsibility for, their natural landscape.

3. Home to endless beauty

A journey along Waterford’s Copper Coast will treat you to charming villages, beautiful beaches and coves, nature untouched by modern civilisation, and a unique rugged coastal beauty. 

What the Copper Coast in Waterford is all about

fenor bog walk
Photo by Pinar_ello (Shutterstock)

The copper mines that once operated along this stretch of the southeast of Ireland has given The Copper Coast trail its name. The region seems to slumber in the absence of industry, a slumber that has resulted in a geological diversity that was rewarded by UNESCO in 2004 when it was named a UNESCO Global Geopark.

Geological significance

The Copper Coast is a remarkable history of the very earth we walk on, linked to social heritage and community involvement. The story is one of volcanos under the ocean, barren deserts and incredible ice-ages, while human history is connected to the landscape since ancient times.

Hidden Beauty

Stretching for 25km between Tramore and Dungarvan, the Copper Coast serves up a magnificent coastline of beaches and inlets protected by rocky headlands. Don’t rush, or you may miss the best bits, like Stradbally Cove, hidden behind a forest.

Walking, learning, eating

Several walking trails, suitable for all ages and fitness levels, are offered with trail cards and audio tours available from the Copper Coast website. The Geopark Visitor Centre is the place to begin your tour of the Geopark. Set in a 19th century restored church, it’s got exhibitions and 3D animations as well as a café and craft shop.

The Copper Coast drive

The map above will help you explore the best the Copper Coast Drive has to offer. Now, we’re going to start the drive/cycle from Tramore Beach, but you can start it from either side.

Below, you’ll find an overview of each of the stops, so you know what to expect as you spin along this glorious road trip route.

Stop 1: Tramore Beach

tramore beach
Photo by JORGE CORCUERA (Shutterstock)

The meaning of the word ‘Tramore’ is Big Strand, and that’s precisely what you have here. Tramore Beach is 3 miles long (5km) and can be the first stop on your Copper Coast journey.

It’s a lovely beach for swimming, and with it being on the Atlantic Coast, surfers flock to the area. If you’re a fisherman or woman, around the mouth of the lagoon is good for bass and flounder.

The town is exactly what you’d expect, lots of amusements to keep the kids entertained and there’s plenty of restaurants in Tramore if you’re in need of a feed.

Stop 2: Newtown Cove

newtown cove
Photo by JORGE CORCUERA (Shutterstock)

Famous for their clear waters, the swimming coves of Newtown and Guillamene are often regarded as two of the best beaches in Waterford. Newtown cove is small and sheltered with a stony beach, and swimmers have easy access via a ladder or slipway.

Guillamene is accessed by several sets of steps. Dive from platforms or swim when the tide is in or out. If you see a sign that says men-only, it’s because Guillamene was only for male swimmers until the 1980s.

Women and children had to swim in Newtown whether they wanted to or not. Thankfully, the sign is the only thing that remains of that time, and everyone can enjoy both coves these days.

WARNING: Please always use caution whenever thinking about entering the water in Ireland. If in doubt, keep your feet on dry land.

Stop 3: The Metal Man

metal man tramore
Photo by Irish Drone Photography (Shutterstock)

Close to Newtown Cove stand three pillars, maritime beacons constructed after the HMS Seahorse tragedy in 1816 when 360 people lost their lives. On one of these pillars stands The Metal Man, dressed in the blue, red and white of a British sailor.

The cast-iron statue towers over Tramore Bay protecting seafarers from the beautiful yet sometimes treacherous waters.

Many legends are told about The Metal Man, but perhaps the strangest is the one about hopping barefoot three times around the pillar to encourage matrimony within a year. Holding forth for 180 years, The Metal Man in Tramore is a must-see.

Stop 4: Kilfarrasy Beach

Kilfarrasy Beach
Photo by JORGE CORCUERA (Shutterstock)

Kilfarrasy Beach is loved by photographers, both amateur and professional, and for good reason. The incredible cliffs which shelter this beach are approximately 460 million years old, but it’s the rock formations and islands on both sides of the beach that draw the most attention.

The beach is a popular spot for swimming, snorkeling and kayaking, so long as you remain on the main beach. If you go further, you can quickly become isolated by the tide, even at low levels, so please take care. 

Stop 5: The Fenor Bog Walk

fenor bog walk
Photo by Pinar_ello (Shutterstock)

Fens are wetland systems with constantly high water level at or just below the surface. The Fenor Bog is a regenerating fen and in 2004 was designated as a National Nature Reserve, Waterford’s first.

This fen occupies a hollow created during the last Ice Age and is approx. 1km long and 200m wide. There are more than 225 plants and animals, with some not being found in any other part of the county; it’s said it’s the best place to see dragonflies in Waterford.

A 500m boardwalk offers visitors a great way to view the various habitats on the fen and discover the wildlife. This is one of several walks in Waterford worth heading off on.

Stop 6: Dunhill Castle

dunhill castle
Photos via Shutterstock

Dunhill Castle was built by the la Poer family in the 1200s on the site of an earlier Celtic fort, and its ruined remains tower above the River Anne, near Dunhill village.

The castle might have been ravaged by time, but it’s still mighty interesting. The La Poer (Power) family were ferocious in the 14th Century, but in 1345 they tried to take Waterford City, and many of their elders were captured and hanged.

The remaining family members fought for another 100 years until they, too, were defeated. A period of peace lasted for a couple of centuries until Cromwell arrived in 1649. Discover what happened next here.

Stop 7: Annestown Beach

 Annestown beach
Photo by Paul Briden (Shutterstock)

About 10km from Tramore is Annestown Beach – a safe and pretty beach and very popular with swimmers, surfers and kite flyers! Its seclusion makes the beach popular with families and people looking for a quieter place to relax.

As with much of the Copper Coast, cliffs and rocks add an element of rugged beauty. The sea arch and islands offer lots of opportunities for photos. During the summer, a small shop run by the local scout group and parking is at Annestown Strand car park, only a short walk from the beach.

Stop 8: Dunabrattin Head / Boatstrand Harbour

Dunabrattin head
Photo by Andrzej Bartyzel (Shutterstock)

The tiny village of Boastrand has a fishing cove from which their fishing fleet and leisure craft launch. The 19th-century dock is particularly popular during the summer, with many sea swimmers finishing their swim from Kilmurrin Cove there.

You’ll also find one of the best fishing spots in the county here–Dunbrattin Head. The rocks at the end of the Head attract the likes of mackerel because of the warmer temperatures here. The Harbour doesn’t get much protection from Dunbrattin and is open to swells rushing through its entrance at High Tide.

Stop 9: Tankardstown Engine House

Tankardstown engine house
Photo by JORGE CORCUERA (Shutterstock)

The Tankardstown Engine House is one of the most exciting attractions on The Copper Coast. Located just 2km from Bunmahaon village, which was a hub of activity during the copper-mining years, the Engine House ruins are a stark reminder of the industry that flared here briefly in the 1800s.

1,200 men worked the mines at one time, but the owners’ greed and the resulting strikes and lockouts signaled the end of the mines after barely 50 years. The mining area is accessible, and you can even see mineral veins winding across the ground.

Stop 10: Bunmahon Beach

Bunmahon cliffs
Photo by a.barrett (Shutterstock)

The unspoiled Bunmahon Beach is a sheltered sandy beach backed by sand dunes and magnificent cliffs at each end, offering protection.

The sand dunes have lots of fascinating and uncommon flora and fauna which befits a stage on The Copper Coast. There’s an outdoor play area and basketball court behind the beach, of course, The Amusements, the mainstay of the Irish seaside village.

Go for a walk along the cliff tops if you can; the views are amazing. This is one of a handful of beaches in Waterford where swimming is not advised, so take note!

Stop 11: Ballyvooney Cove

Ballyvooney cove
Photo via Google Maps

It may be small, but Ballyvooney Cove punches well above its weight in terms of beauty, and it’s well worth stopping off at.

Perhaps the best thing about this little stony cove is that it’s pretty much a secret, being on the smaller road between Bunmahon and Stradbally. The shingle does make it difficult to walk on at times, but it’s only about 200m across. A pretty little place with character.

Stop 12: Stradbally

Stradbally cove
Photo by Sasapee (Shutterstock)

Nestled in a cove and protected by high cliffs on both sides with a river running alongside to the sea, this is a treasure of a beach. It’s quite a deep beach, so you have a good walk down to the shoreline when the tide is out.

It’s so shallow that it’s very safe for children to play in. Low tide is also when it’s best to explore the cliffs’ caves and inlets. You can access the cliff top from the beach, and it’s well worth a walk.

The pretty village of Stradbally is close by, and although the area’s geography might make it challenging to find parking, it’s worth the search.

Stop 13: The Greenway (If you like)

Kilmacthomas Viaduct
Photo by Elizabeth O’Sullivan (Shutterstock)

The Waterford Greenway is a stunningly beautiful 46km cycling off-road or walking a trail beside a disused railway line between Dungarvan and Waterford.

Leaving the Comeragh Mountains and Dungarvan Bay behind you, crossing over 3 viaducts, 11 bridges, then, through Kilmacthomas and the Mount Congreve Gardens and on into Waterford alongside the River Suir.

The route is pretty easy going, and you can stop for a break at Killmeadon and/or Kilmacthomas. Here’s a full guide to the Greenway.

Stop 14: Clonea Strand

Clonea strand
Photo by Lucy M Ryan (Shutterstock)

Only about a 10-minute drive from Dungarvan is Clonea Strand, with loads of water sports available on the beach and Lifeguards to ensure your safety. This a clean, spacious beach where you can go for a walk or simply relax in peace. It doesn’t often feel crowded here. A plus, too, is the ability to buy snacks just off the strand.

People love coming here for the sports aspect, whether it’s to fly a kite or take out a kayak. Swimming, snorkeling, or simply exploring the rock pools dotted around the beach all add up to an excellent place for people of all ages.

Stop 15: Dungarvan

dungarvan waterford
Photos via Shutterstock

We’re going to finish off our road trip along the Copper Coast Geopark in Dungarvan – a town divided into two parts by the Colligan River. These two parts are the parishes of Dungarvan and Abbeyside and are connected by causeways and bridges.

Walk along the waterfront, taking in the history and the sea air before exploring the town’s quaint streets. You’re only a few minutes from Clonee Strand, one of the South East’s most popular beaches, or you can rent a bike and cycle along the Waterford Greenway.

There’s plenty of things to do in Dungarvan while you’re there or, if you’re feeling peckish, you’ll find several excellent restaurants in Dungarvan to drop into.

FAQs about the Copper Coast Geopark

We’ve had a lot of questions over the years asking about everything from the Glenveagh Castle Gardens to the tour.

In the section below, we’ve popped in the most FAQs that we’ve received. If you have a question that we haven’t tackled, ask away in the comments section below.

Where does the Copper Coast Drive start?

You can start the Copper Coast Geopark Drive in either Tramore or Dungarvan (see Google Map above for the route).

How long does it take to drive the Copper Coast in Waterford?

Although you could technically drive it in 1 to 1.5 hours, more time is needed, as you’ll want to stop numerous times along the way. A half-day minimum is a good shout.

What is there to see on the Copper Coast?

Beautiful beaches, glorious coastline, numerous hidden gems, towns, villages, cliffs, castles and so much more.

Norah is a writer and self-publisher of fiction and non-fiction. She adores the excitement of unknown places and together with several locations in Ireland, has, over 21 years, made her home in London, The Hague and New Zealand, returning to Ireland with her Kiwi rescue dog Barney, in tow.

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