Vikings to Victorians: Waterford offers a broad breadth of history

Considered Ireland’s oldest city and located in what is termed the nation’s ‘sunny south-east,’ Waterford offers visitors a wealth of attractions, ranging from the ancient to the ultra-modern.

As David Rogers, sales executive for Waterford Treasures, comprising three museums in the city’s Viking Triangle, put it, “We not only offer the best climate in Ireland but also a tour-de-force of Irish history spanning many centuries.”

Here are some of the city’s highlights and a cozy, getaway restaurant along the coast to savor local cuisine and discuss the city’s rich historical legacy.

Waterford Museum of Treasures

The following three museums collectively known as the Waterford Museum of Treasures in the ‘Viking Triangle’ district are all within easy walking distance of each other in the downtown area.

Viking Museum

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Parts of the city’s ancient walls still remain and within it is Reginald’s Tower, a 10th century Viking-era landmark. Ireland’s oldest civic building, it has been in continuous use for over 800 years. Re-built by the Anglo Normans in the 12th century, it now houses a special exhibition on the Vikings in Waterford.

Medieval Museum

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The only building in Ireland to incorporate two medieval chambers, the 13th century Choristers’ Hall and the 15th century Mayor’s Wine Vault, this museum houses a diverse array of artefacts, from pottery and wine-jugs to armory and jewellery.

Here you’ll see sumptuous 15th century cloth-of-gold vestments known as ‘Heavens’ Embroidered Cloths,’ hidden from raiders for many years beneath floorboards; exquisite 12th century gold ring brooches used as love tokens; an impressive sword and maces sent to the Mayor by King Edward IV in 1462; a 4-metre-long illustrated Great Charter Roll of Waterford dating from 1373; and a collection of ‘pilgrims’ badges,’ worn to help protect people on pilgrimages from thieves. Look out for the elegant 22-carot gold, 13th century jewellery including rings with sapphires.

Bishop’s Palace

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An elegant neo-classical palace built in 1743, this is a multi-floor repository of paintings, crystal, porcelain and furniture spanning the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries. Among the collection’s diverse highlights viewed after climbing a gleaming wooden staircase are gilded wood-framed mirrors featuring dragons from an era when Chinese-related furnishings were in fashion and a pair of ‘hucklebuck’ dancing shoes reflecting the successful Irish showband craze of the 1960s that featured top Waterford groups.

A ‘Dead Man’s Penny’ is a bronze memorial plaque presented to the family of John Condon, the youngest known battle casualty of the First World War while a collapsible 18th century dining table made of Cuban mahogany facilitated popular pastimes such as dancing and card-playing.

King of the Vikings

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(l to r) David Rogers, sales executive for Waterford Treasures, Sean Hillen and Aaron Jay, Co-founder and CEO of Emagine, outside the Viking Experience.

For an exciting, nerve-tingling and highly-entertaining insight into the Viking invasions of what they termed Vadrafjord (Waterford), pop along to one of Ireland’s most modern tourism attractions, this virtual reality based Viking Experience. Housed in a handcrafted replica Viking house in the ruins of a 13th century Franciscan friary, this 15-minute technological presentation created by Aaron Jay and his colleagues at Emagine, explains what happened when this seafaring Norse people from southern Scandinavia landed on Ireland’s shores.

Irish Museum of the Science and Story of Time

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A first for the nation is this museum at the old art gallery at Greyfriars Church, which will explore the science of time and the 5,000-year story of how the passage of time was marked and recorded in Ireland. Artefacts include grandfather clocks and pocket watches dating back to the 16th century. The exhibition will also explore the traditions, rituals and superstitions associated with the ‘Irish Wake,’ which takes place after people die.

Museum of Irish Silver

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Under the watchful eye of Eamonn McEneaney, director of Waterford Treasures, this attraction in the Deanery building at Cathedral Square will house a comprehensive collection Irish silver, from the Viking era to the present day, from urns and rings to candlesticks. Adding spice to the occasion, two gold and silversmiths, Paul and Laura Sullivan, will set up a workshop in the museum, selling bespoke wedding rings like that used in the ancient marriage of Anglo-Norman nobleman Strongbow and Irish princess, Aoife MacMurrough. 

Waterford Crystal

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One product Waterford is renowned for worldwide is its quality crystal and while the factory has undergone changes of ownership down through the centuries, visitors can still enjoy a guided tour to see its skilled artisans at work. Here you can watch as crystal powder is transformed into liquid at 1,400 degrees Celsius and admire finished works ranging from golf trophies created for celebrities such as Justin Timberlake, Bob Hope and Bing Crosby, as well as sculptured artwork including Viking helmets, harps, eagles, gramophones, pianos and violins.

After so much history hunting and souvenir collecting, you’ll be pretty hungry (and thirsty), so head to the Azzurro Restaurant.

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Opened 12-years ago by brothers Adriano Cavaliere and Dario Cavaliere, this charming ‘getaway’ two-floor restaurant occupies a picturesque seaside location in Dunmore East, a 20-minute drive from Waterford. Choose an upstairs window table overlooking the cove and cliffs and watch waves lapping upon the beach and seagulls gliding majestically overhead.

Gleaming wood floors, artwork lining the walls, hanging chandeliers and candles on some shelves create a warm, welcoming ambience.

As Dunmore East is believed to be the second biggest harbor in Ireland, the Azzurro specialises in seafood, including its special catch of the day. My companion enjoyed pan roasted cod with broccoli, pea shoots, celeriac, mushed peas and roasted potatoes with an Italian chardonnay while I opted for prawns with tomatoes and ruccola, lemon and garlic focaccia, washed down with a glass of Spanish Albariño.

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The restaurant is also known for its homemade pizzas, as well as Mediterranean pasta dishes including my companion’s choice, pasta tagliatelle with courgettes and lemon peel and fresh salmon. It also serves tasty meat dishes such as grilled chicken and chorizo with sautéed onion, black olive and garlic salsa, or Angus sirloin steak.

Don’t leave without trying the owners’ refreshing Italian gelato. If with a friend or partner, why not indulge in some heavy sinning as we did, with Malvasia wine and tiramisu. You might be lucky and also see vanilla profiteroles or chocolate toffee and walnut cheesecake on the menu.

Such is the cosy family atmosphere permeating the Azzurro, you may even see twin sisters, Martha and Bevin, as bartender and server. The restaurant also offers dining alfresco, with an open terrace facing the sea, and will host the restaurant at Bishops Palace. 


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