The mighty Waterford City is teeming with unique attractions, great food, old-world bars and 1,100+ years of history.
Home to a plethora of historical sites, museums, tours and much, much more, the city is a great, lively base to explore the county from.
In the guide below, you’ll discover everything from things to do in Waterford City to where to eat, sleep and grab a post-adventure pint.
Some quick need-to-knows before visiting Waterford City
Although a visit to Waterford City is fairly straightforward, there’s a few quick chunks of information worth knowing in advance of your trip.
You’ll find Waterford City located on the southeast coast of Ireland in the province of Munster. It’s a 20-minute drive from Dunmore East, a 15-minute drive to Tramore and a 45-minute drive to Dungarvan.
2. Ireland’s Oldest City
Waterford City was founded by the Vikings back in 914AD. This makes it the oldest city in Ireland. It was the ideal base for the Vikings to settle with a sheltered harbour for trade, river access inland and direct access to the Atlantic Ocean for raids. More on this below.
3. A fine base for exploring
Most people visit Waterford to see the Waterford Crystal Visitor Centre and to enjoy the unique museums, waterfront restaurants and bars. However, there’s lots more to discover on the doorstep of this fascinating city. It’s close to the UNESCO Copper Coast with scenic hiking trails and a Geological and Mining Heritage Centre. You’ll discover loads of things to do in Waterford City below.
About Waterford City
Ireland’s oldest city boasts a long and colourful history. You’re never far from the River Suir waterfront, which attracted Viking settlers back in 914AD.
Enter the Vikings
The great Viking adventurer known as Regnall, established a base at Waterford and a settlement 5km upriver at Woodstown.
Later abandoned, Woodstown has been a rich source of Viking relics from an archaeological dig in 2003. Colourful Viking history is told through a range of museums, sights and attractions in a compact area known as the Viking Triangle.
Historical sites still standing
See Reginald’s Tower, a replica Viking Sword and Longboat and visit the underground halls beneath the Medieval Museum. Descend the staircase with your guide and admire the 13th century Choristers’ Hall and the 15th century Mayor’s Wine Vault.
They tell their own atmospheric tale of Waterford’s illustrious past. Next to Christ Church Cathedral (where Strongbow married Aoife in 1170) is the recently restored Bishop’s Palace. The elegant rooms house more fine local treasures, paintings and the oldest surviving piece of Waterford crystal in the world.
Today, Waterford is a vibrant well-kept city with a modern shopping area complementing its rich heritage and history. Local cafés, bars and award-winning restaurants provide a balance of local dishes (try the Waterford blaa buns) and international cuisine.
The city has two theaters, art galleries and craft studios along with many boutiques and chain stores. Those who venture further out of town will discover scenic hikes along the Greenway and the hidden delights of the UNESCO Copper Coast.
Things to do in Waterford City and nearby
There are plenty of things to do in Waterford City. Many of the city’s attractions are indoor, which makes them perfect for those dreaded rainy days.
Below, you’ll find everything from Reginald’s Tower and The Medieval Museum to places to eat, sleep and drink.
1. The Viking Triangle
The Viking Triangle is on the south bank of the River Suir in the heart of Waterford City. This historic area was surrounded by defensive walls and was originally a triangle of land between a branch of the St John’s River (now drained) and the River Suir.
It’s here that you can see many of the places we mention below (Reginald’s Tower, Bishop’s Palace, etc), but it’s also home to Christ Church Cathedral, the Viking House and much much more. Read more in this guide.
2. Reginald’s Tower
Reginald’s Tower is a landmark round tower in Waterford’s Viking Triangle. As well as being the city’s oldest civic building, this 16m high tower is the only monument in Ireland to retain a Viking name. The current tower was constructed around 1253AD, replacing an earlier tower.
Formerly a mint, prison, munitions store, royal castle and air raid shelter it is now a dedicated Viking museum. It holds many interesting exhibits uncovered during an archaeological dig at the 10th century Viking settlement at nearby Woodstown.
2. The Medieval Museum
The Medieval Museum in Waterford hides a secret – two underground medieval halls! Guided tours take visitors beneath the city to the 13th century Choristers’ Hall and the 15th century Mayor’s Wine Vault.
Discover their interesting past history and see many unique treasures including the Great Charter Roll of Waterford, the Sword of Edward IV, the Luker Chalice and Henry VIII’s Hat.
The highlight is the sumptuous cloth-of-gold vestments. There’s a display commemorating 650 mayors of Waterford since the 12th century and a collection of lavish gifts.
3. Bishop’s Palace
Completing the trio of museums in the Viking Triangle, Bishop’s Palace tells a fascinating tale of Waterford City history. It has an eclectic array of exhibits from the oldest surviving Waterford Crystal decanter to 1960s Hucklebuck shoes.
See the Dead Man’s Penny, given to a local family in memory of their son, the youngest to die at the Battle of Ypres. Admire Napoleon’s Mourning Cross and discover the connection with the city and admire the ceremonial US sword given to local boy, Thomas Francis Meagher.
4. Waterford Crystal
Arguably Waterford’s most famous export, Waterford Crystal brought prosperity to this historic port city from the 18th century. Learn about the ups and downs of this international company on a guided factory tour.
The new Visitor Centre is in the heart of the Viking Triangle and the onsite factory produces 750 tonnes of quality crystal every year. See the skilled craftsmen demonstrating the ancient art of glass-blowing, cutting, sculpting, etching and engraving by hand. The fascinating tour ends in an amazing museum with the largest collection of Waterford crystal in the world.
5. Day trips from Waterford City
One of the beauties of staying in Waterford City is that you’re a stone’s throw from many of the best places to visit in Waterford.
If you fancy a cycle, you can start the Waterford Greenway from the city. There’s also plenty of great beaches in Waterford to head for a saunter along.
Waterford City accommodation
There’s no end to the number of places to stay in Waterford City, as you’ll discover if you hop into our Waterford City Hotels guide.
From swanky stays to more pocket friendly nights away in some of the City’s guesthouses, you’ll find plenty of accommodation options here. Here are two of our favourites (affiliate links).
1. Waterford Marina Hotel
When it comes to location, it’s hard to beat the beautiful Waterford Marina Hotel. It’s right on the banks of the River Suir with superb views from many guest rooms. Park your car (free parking for guests) and explore on foot. Enjoy a delicious a la carte meal at The Waterfront Restaurant which also serves full Irish breakfast, cooked to order each morning.
2. The Fitzwilton Hotel
The 4-star Fitzwilton Hotel is in a great location, just a short walk from the train/bus station, shops, pubs and attractions. Floor-to-ceiling windows offer stunning river views. Enjoy the ambience of this sleek boutique hotel with its stylish decor, modern artworks and quirky lighting features in every room. If that’s not enough, the hotel’s Chez K’s restaurant is one of the best in Waterford.
Places to eat in Waterford City
As was the case with pubs, there’s a lot of fine places for a feed in Waterford City, ranging from relaxed and casual to some fancy fine dining.
In our guide to the best restaurants in Waterford City, you’ll find several great places to eat that’ll make your belly happy!
1. McLeary’s Restaurant
McLeary’s Restaurant on Parade Quay is a lovely place to enjoy a fine meal with stunning views of the river from the terrace if the weather’s good. The a la carte menu has a host of tasty seafood starters, steaks, seafood, duck and curries all cooked to perfection. The Seafood Pie is recommended – layers of salmon, cod and smoked haddock in a creamy sauce. They also serve the ultimate surf and turf!
2. Momo Restaurant
From lunch to dinner, the award-winning Momo Restaurant in Waterford is a top choice. It’s one of the best restaurants in Ireland, according to the revered McKennas’ Guide and manages to turn humble locally sourced ingredients into sensational meals. You must try the Dungarvan Ale Brined Chicken Supreme with Sausage Stuffing or the mouthwatering Catalan Fish Stew.
Pubs in Waterford City
There’s some excellent pubs in Waterford City in Kerry, the best of which, in our opinion, is the brilliant J. & K. Walsh Victorian Spirit Grocer.
During the summer months, you’ll find live music and mischief taking place in many of Waterford City’s public houses. Below, you’ll find three of our favourite spots for a pint.
1. J. & K. Walsh Victorian Spirit Grocer
J&K Walsh Victorian Pub and Grocers is a must-see on O’Connell Street. Steeped in history it has an authentic old world atmosphere so appropriate to Ireland’s oldest city. Sip a pint pulled from original 1960s beer taps in the former “Men’s Only” Bar or order coffee through the hatch in the tea/coffee room . Sit back and take in the Victorian features, brass scales and spice drawers, unchanged since 1899 when the place opened.
2. An Uisce Beatha
Located in Waterford on Merchant’s Quay, the An Uisce Beatha is a welcoming Coffee Lounge and Bar. The name in Irish aptly means “Water of Life” aka Irish Whiskey! There’s a Main Bar, Snug and Pool Room and all the tables are named after musicians. Relax at the Bob Marley table, rest your elbows on Etta James or chat with friends around the Hendrix table. By day, it’s a great place for fresh coffee and sticky buns. Later it’s a top place for drinks, food and live music.
FAQs about visiting Waterford City
Since publishing a guide to the Waterford Greenway several years back, we’ve had hundreds of emails asking various things about Waterford City.
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.
What are the best things to do in Waterford City?
There are plenty of attractions in Waterford City. Your best bet is to start at the Viking Triangle, as you’ll find many of the city’s historical sites here.
Where are the best places to eat in Waterford City?
Although we’re partial to Momo’s and McLeary’s Restaurant, there are an almost endless number of great restaurants in Waterford (see guide above).
What are the best places to stay in Waterford City?
You’ve a mix of B&Bs, guesthouses and hotels in Waterford City, depending on how much cash you have to splash. See our Waterford City hotel guide for more.
Gillian Birch is a travel writer and published author. She has travelled the world and uses her personal journals and memories to write about her many travel experiences, particularly those that involved adventures in Ireland.