A stalwart of the Waterford artistic family, Waterford Crystal is world-famous – and for good reason. The final product looks gorgeous in the showroom, but if you want to get a unique insight into how this crystal is made, you need to see it being crafted. At the House of Waterford Crystal Visitor Centre, gifted glassworkers transform amber-hued blobs of molten glass into works of art, carrying on the master craftsmanship that has enchanted the world for centuries.
Want to know Waterford’s secrets? Then seek out Jack Burtchaell of Waterford Walking Tours. An award-winning guide, he will regale you with amusing, informative and sometimes shocking tales as he points out some of the city’s top sights. One of the most curious is the story of the first frog in Ireland, brought into Waterford by the Franciscan friars. “They had very strict rules in those days,” says Jack, “so they introduced frogs as a food to augment the Lenten diet of the Middle Ages and prohibition of meat on Fridays.” The tour passes some of Waterford’s top spots, from the Bishop’s Palace to the city' stunning churches.
The Vikings left a considerable mark on Waterford – and nowhere more spectacularly than Reginald’s Tower. Named in honour of a Viking, Ragnall, who ruled here in the 10th century, Reginald's Tower is the only monument in Ireland named after such an invader and remains as impressive as it was all those generations ago. Make your way up the narrow spiral staircase to the second floor and try to imagine this 13th century tower defending the city against attacks.
The Tower leaves room for some treasure hunting, too. Keep an eye out for the delicately designed Ring Pin: decorated on each side, it dates from around 950AD and is just one part of the superb collection on display here.
Spraoi is the Irish word for fun – and this hugely entertaining festival is certainly fun by name and fun by nature! One of Ireland’s biggest street carnivals, Sparoi envelops Waterford in a riot of colour and "craic". Think live music, street performers and fireworks – and it's all free. Spraoi sees big-time bands, street art and theatre take over the city for three days of magic, culminating in a spectacular parade through the heart of Waterford. It’s the kind of carnival that's tailor-made for families and the young at heart. If you’re here in August, you can’t miss it.
What’s a blaa, you may ask? Well, it may look like one, but don’t call it a bap or a bun, whatever you do! The blaa is a bread roll that is made in one of Waterford’s four old-style bakeries. We're not quite sure how they manage to make it so floury and soft as the recipe is closely-guarded. It is so much a part of Waterford that the European Commission awarded the blaa Protected Geographical Indication status! Potter down to the farmers' market on Jenkin’s Lane, held each Saturday, and you’ll leave with a few freshly baked examples of Waterford's most famous food.
Beyond the city, County Waterford is home to a number of particularly pretty beaches, but for real seaside magic, the Copper Coast is a must-visit. Named for the metal-mining industry that flourished here over 200 years ago, this stretch of coastline is home to some stunning cliffs as well as sandy beach trails. Declared a UNESCO Global Geopark in 2004, the Copper Coast traces its roots back to the Ice Age – it formed after not one, but two volcanoes exploded from the ocean over 360 million years ago. Nowadays, however, it’s a wonderful place to while away an afternoon – with a picnic of blaas, of course.
Did you know that the only piece of King Henry VIII’s wardrobe to survive from his 15th century reign is in Waterford? It’s the Cap of Maintenance – an embroidered red velvet hat. Presented as a gift from Henry to the then-mayor of Waterford, the cap can be found in Waterford’s Medieval Museum today. Also at the museum are the stunning Cloth of Gold Vestments. These priceless silk panels date from the 1400s and depict various scenes from the Bible. Buried under the city for 123 years, the incredible, rare artefacts were finally discovered during the demolition of a medieval cathedral – talk about a lucky find!
Waterford city is full of unusual treasures, including Ireland’s only horological museum and a museum dedicated exclusively to Irish silver! Housed within the Gothic style Greyfriars Church, the Irish Museum of Time allows you to rewind the clock as you discover the oldest Irish-made grandfather clocks and watches, as well as clocks from all around the world – some even dating back to the 16th century. Nearby, at the Irish Silver Museum, you can learn about the art of silversmithing, discover some of the few female silversmiths who left their mark on the trade, and hear how even the smallest teacup could be a symbol of your wealth and status back in the day!
A strange artefact is on display in Waterford at the Bishop’s Palace: a lock of Napoleon Bonaparte’s hair. It was brought to Ireland by Napoleon’s niece Letitia who married Sir Thomas Wyse of Waterford and came to live in the city. Wyse, himself a mayor of Waterford and an Irish diplomat, must have liked Napoleon himself – he named his first-born child after him! Napoleon’s hair isn’t the only treasure in this beautiful museum: see paintings of Waterford that date back 300 years, ornately carved Dragon Mirrors and a pair of shoes that sparked a dancing craze.