In 1171, King Henry II came sailing up the River Suir seeking out the Norman lord Strongbow in Waterford. While ploughing through the river, Henry passed the rugged Hook Peninsula to his right, and the small village of Crook to his left, nestled against the coast. As he went between the two, the king vowed to reach Waterford “by hook or by crook”. Out of such offhand quips, legendary phrases are born.
Waterford is a county that, to this day, keeps its proud history alive. Crook still exists, sitting beside the ocean, and the Hook Peninsula is considered one of Ireland’s most stunning stretches of coast. Here you'll find the striking Hook Lighthouse, striped in black and white. There's also the large mansion of Loftus Hall – thought to be the most haunted house in Ireland – and the monument that inspired William Wordsworth’s poetry, Tintern Abbey.
Waterford is Ireland’s oldest city – it was founded in the 9th century by the Vikings. In 1170, the city entered an important period of its history, when it was claimed by Strongbow for the Normans. Some of the most fascinating treasures from these two periods are on display at the Waterford Treasures, a trio of museums in the city centre. These include the Great Charter Roll of 1373, depicting the city as it appeared in the 14th century, and the magnificent Waterford Kite Brooch, crafted from gold and silver.
Of course, it's not just history that makes Waterford such a compelling destination. The city is also known for its craft beers, such as Metalman Irish Craft Beer; blaas – delicious white floury bread rolls, unique to Waterford; and Waterford Crystal, one of the world's most prestigious cut-glass brands.
It retains vestiges of its Viking and Norman past in the narrow streets and town walls of the so-called Viking Triangle, where three excellent museums tell the story of Ireland's Middle Ages better than in any other city in the country.
Beyond the city limits, though, Waterford has lots to offer. The Copper Coast is Waterford's own UNESCO Global Geopark, with 25km (15 miles) of shoreline comprising of cliffs, coves and sea stacks.
Getting its name from the ancient copper mines that once covered the area, the Copper Coast is full of fascinating history and hidden coves. And as you explore, keep an eye out for the Metal Man at Newtown Head, where a huge sailor perches on a pillar to let sailors know that they're entering Tramore Bay.
Beyond the City
To the north, the rocky Comeragh Mountains dominate the sky. Nearby, the Mahon Falls cast twinkling water down in to the valley, and the Coumshingaun glacial lake sits high above the land – it's said to be bottomless, and black as night.
Finally, to the west of Waterford, Ardmore Round Tower and Cathedral is Ireland’s oldest Christian site – established by St Declan in the 5th century. It features a striking round tower, with a hidden hermitage perched on the cliffs nearby, making it Ireland’s only coastal monastery still in existence.