Ireland’s oldest city, Waterford, is often overlooked in the mad rush west to the Wild Atlantic Way. Yet, although the economic slump of 2008 hit hard and the subsequent recovery has been anemic, this is a place of history and culture that definitely deserves a detour. Whereas Dublin may be hip and happening, Waterford has its own brand of down to earth charm. Notwithstanding the occasional drop of rain that falls even in ‘Ireland’s sunny South East’, you will find plenty of interest here.
And the most important thing of all:
If you know where to go, you can find great coffee…
Any trip to Waterford should start at the cornerstone of Waterford’s Viking Triangle, Reginald’s Tower, Ireland’s oldest building and witness to some key moments in the nation’s history.
Located in a strategic position with its own natural harbour and surrounded by hills, Waterford was founded by the Vikings and it was here that they established Ireland’s first town. They constructed a tower at this point in 914 and the structure that survives today was later rebuilt by the Normans in the 12th Century. Imbued with history (this is the place where the Norman Strongbow’s marriage with local lass, Aoife McMurrough, sparked an interesting and sometimes complex eight century relationship with neighbouring England), you will find dioramas of the old city as well as informative panels explaining the history of the building and the surrounding city.
Tickets for adults cost 4 euro, children 2 euro, seniors 3 euro and family tickets 10 euro. The tower is open from 9:30 to 17:30.
Continuing your trip through Irish history, make your way down the Mall to Waterford’s Medieval Museum. Informative guided tours are included in the ticket price. The medieval wine vaults date back to 1440 and are the oldest on the island. Apparently, the wine business in Waterford made a few fortunes back in those days… But this is not all, the religious vestments upstairs are the only full set surviving in northern Europe and the ‘Cap of Maintenance’ is the only item of clothing left from King Henry VIII’s personal wardrobe. Like the city itself, it might be described as discreetly flamboyant.
Tickets for adults cost 7 euro, students & seniors 6 euro, under 14 free when accompanied by a paying adult and combined tickets with the Bishop’s Palace can be purchased for 10 euro.
However, the history tour does not have to end at the Medieval Museum because just around the corner you will find another intriguing building, The Bishop’s Palace. With lavish furnishings, a shell cabinet, displays of Waterford Crystal and lots of local memorabilia, this is a jump ahead in history, but a worthwhile place to visit nonetheless.
Tickets for adults cost 7 euro, students & seniors 6 euro, under 14 free when accompanied by a paying adult and combined tickets with the Medieval Museum can be purchased for 10 euro.
House of Crystal
Needless to say, no visit to the Crystal City would be complete without a visit to Waterford Crystal. Despite the relocation of much of the production overseas during the so-called ‘great recession’, Waterford Crystal House of Crystal showcases exquisite pieces of the finest glass and they also offer guided factory tours that demonstrate each step in the art of crystal manufacture. Tours start at 9:30 in the morning and run roughly every 40 minutes until 15:30.
Access to the showroom is free of charge, but tours cost 12.15 euro for an adult, 11 euro for a senior, 10 euro for a student, 4 euro for a child from 5 to 18 and children under the age of 5 enter for free. Family tickets cost 30 euro for two adults and two children.
Find the best coffee
Although not exactly the home of the hipster like, let’s say, parts of central Dublin, Waterford offers enough interesting options that coffee lovers certainly no longer need despair or dream of that upcoming trip to Italy…Waterford, like the country in general, has come a long way in a short time.
Located just down the street from the George’s Court Shopping Arcade, Arch was set up in late 2014 and sells 3fe coffees along with all the accessories beloved of coffee connoisseurs such as Chemex, Aeropress and hand grinders. Being 3fe, the coffee is needless to say, of the highest quality and is sourced from individual coffee estates in South America, Central America and Africa. Although the use of paper cups gives the place a rough and ready feel, the staff is both helpful and knowledgeable about coffee, and they will be more than ready to recommend other independent coffee outlets throughout Ireland. On my recent visit, they recommended me to check out Suas in Ennis, Co. Clare and I have every intention of following up on their advice in the future. However, their model is American takeaway and the small space and consequent limited seating in poor weather mean that this is perhaps a better option for solo travellers and couples rather than families. According to their blog (see web address below in the ‘Useful References’ section), they have recently organized a ‘coffee at home’ workshop and they have tea tasting sessions in the pipeline, so this is a true diamond in the rough for coffee and even tea lovers come rain or shine.
Cash only! No cards accepted!
Directly opposite the City Square Shopping Centre at 1 Peter Street, you will find another little gem for coffee lovers- Portico. Whereas Arch retails Dublin-based 3fe coffees, Portico sells single estate coffees from Badger and Dodo who are based in Fermoy, Co. Cork (their website is a great source of information on coffee and brewing techniques for those with an interest). With two small wooden tables and a wooden counter, Portico has a sense of intimacy that makes customers feel comfortable with each other. This is a place where strangers chat, a refreshing change for those used to life in larger cities. A postcard collection of photo snaps of Portico coffee cups from around the world features places such as the US, South Africa and even Antarctica. This adds an extra dash of quirkiness into the mix, making it an alluring spot to stop for a quick cup of coffee or tea on a rainy day.
Cash only! No cards accepted!
Last but certainly not least, Kaffeine was the forerunner of both Arch and Portico and along with them, it provides a high-quality independent alternative to chains such as Costa. With less emphasis on the provenance of its coffees than Arch or Portico, Kaffeine is more of a traditional coffee shop with excellent flat whites (a double shot of espresso topped off with steamed milk) and their cupcakes look truly luscious. Fika-loving Swedish friends and enemies, this is the place for you! The low lighting and easy listening soundtrack combine to create a sense of cozy comfort that is best expressed in the Danish word ‘hygge’, so perhaps something of the original Viking spirit lives on here today…This is a great place to come to relax and have a chat with the friendly and helpful owner. Also, in addition to having better seating options than either Arch or Portico, this coffee shop is attached to the pub next door, so customers have access to toilet facilities (an important consideration for coffee drinkers travelling with children).
Cash only! No cards accepted!
Getting there and away
Irish Rail operate services from Dublin Heuston to Waterford and it is possible to book one day return tickets online. All information is available on the website.
Travellers on a budget might be interested in the highly recommended Portree Hostel on Mary Street that offers dormitory accommodation, double, twin and triple rooms at reasonable prices.
Mid-range travellers should check out Waterford Marina Hotel while those who like to travel in style could consider either the centrally located Dooley’s Hotel or the more regal option, Waterford Castle, situated on its own private island with a golf course.
Foodies will love the Athenaeum, Waterford, which combines moderately priced rooms with a reputable restaurant that offers afternoon tea if you tire of all the good coffee…Follow the link above to get the best deals online.
Reginald’s Tower: www.waterfordtreasures.com/reginalds-tower
Medieval Museum: www.waterfordtreasures.com/medieval-museum
The Bishop’s Palace: www.waterfordtreasures.com/bishops-palace
The House of Crystal: www.waterfordvisitorcentre.com
Kaffeine: Facebook Page
If you want to find out about cool places in the nation’s capital, read about Rainy Day Dublin. Unlatinoverde also features information on coffee education in Dublin as well as the hipster coffee scene in Paris.
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