Stand on edge of the River Suir looking over to Merchants Quay, and Waterford’s lowrise skyline presents an impressive façade of the city’s past. Tall, brightly coloured 19th-century buildings front the quays. A church spire peaks its head up, and the hulk of the early 13th-century Reginald’s Tower – Ireland’s oldest civic urban monument – reminds you that this is a city with a strong sense of history.
Waterford is often referred to as “Ireland’s oldest city”, and it’s a place that can trace its beginnings all the way back to the arrival of the Vikings. Even today, locals keep their Viking past very close to their heart.
A fascinating and walkable Viking Triangle takes in historic sites with the tag: “More than 1,000 years in 1,000 steps.” While on the streets, you might be lucky enough to spot the Vadrefjord Vikings, a local re-enactment group who stalk the city in traditional Viking dress.
Of course it’s not just the architecture that speaks of the past, the Waterford “blaa” – a bread roll peculiar to the city – is believed to have been introduced by the Hugenots in the 17th century. All around Waterford, breakfast tables, builders’ lunches and picnic baskets are bulging with blaas. And rightly so. Pop into the Grange Café or Lucia’s for a taste of the city’s finest, or hit the Saturday morning Farmers’ Markets and munch one while exploring.
In the footsteps of history
Embedded within the warren of alleyways at the heart of the city are rich tales and ancient characters. “You have to imagine,” says Jack Burtchaell, who runs walking tours of the city, “that the people who lived here nearly a 1,000 years ago walked these same streets. Like you, they would have seen Reginald’s Tower hovering above the River Suir.”
Step into Waterford’s Museum of Treasures, and you’re back to what it was really like in medieval times, tapestries and all.
If the name Waterford seems familiar, the reason is probably crystal clear: Waterford Crystal, one of the finest crystal companies in the world, resides in this historic city. Waterford Crystal has made chandeliers for Westminster Abbey, Windsor Castle and the Kennedy Center in Washington DC.
No trip would be complete with out a recce of the Waterford Crystal Visitor Centre to marvel at the elegant craftsmanship that goes into each piece. From moulding to blowing, to cutting and engraving, the experience is an exposé of crystal art. Skill with glass is overflowing in the city, with The Irish Handmade Glass Company showcasing their skill with crystal daily . Pop into the workshop on Henrietta Street to see them in action and pick a piece for yourself.
With a Viking history, beautiful blaas and world-renowned crystal, Waterford has all the cutting edge it needs.