Irish Castles, Lush Greenways and Stunning Hikes: A Weekend in Waterford

Many travellers coming to Ireland haven’t heard of Waterford. Often overlooked, Waterford is, in my opinion, one of the best places to visit in Ireland.

Known as the Deise, pronounced “Day-sha”, Waterford is named after the ancient Celtic tribe who settled in the area years ago. Dating back to the start of the 10th century, the city itself is Ireland’s oldest.

What makes Waterford so wonderful?

It’d be an understatement to say there’s an endless array of things to do and see.

Vibrant street art, and tiny towns with ace coffee shops.
A greenway stretching miles and miles with soaring viaducts and fairy homes.
Ancient castles and ruins hidden in forests.
Tucked away beaches with damp seaside caves.
Morning walks in the mist, surrounded by rolling mountains and bleating sheep.

Driving from Kinsale to Waterford, we passed through one of Ireland’s remaining Gaeltacht regions, where Irish is considered to be the primary language.

On our visit, we arrived from the south of Ireland and returned to Dublin, renting a car for the entire trip. From Dublin, it’s a quick trip (under two hours) from city centre, and easy enough a jaunt to tack on to any trip that includes a stop in Kilkenny, Cobh or even Cork and Kinsale.

What to Do

Bike or walk the greenway: Hello, stunning aqueducts, gorgeous views, and sweeping coastal vistas.

Greenways are popping up all over Ireland, old railway lines are being paved over to make way for cycling and walking. The Waterford Greenway is 46 km (29 miles) of beautiful, flat road that takes you through eerie tunnels, over the top of stone viaducts, past rolling pastures, and in and out of towering trees.

As it currently stands, the greenway stretches from Dungarven to Kilmacthomas to Waterford City. If you’re hoping to stop somewhere for a refreshment along the way, Kilmacthomas has an array of cafes and coffee shops. Personal favorite from our stay: Couch House Coffee, with loads of indoor and outdoor seating.

We didn’t walk the entire greenway, but strolled parts of it for a few miles. My favorite part?

The fairy doors at either side of the path in the lead up to the Ballyvoile tunnel. Get close to see the details on them, but be careful not to stir the littles living inside. 😉

Go castle hopping: Once, Ireland had 30,000 castles, but after the invasion of Oliver Cromwell in the 1600s, most castles were destroyed. Even with most destroyed, there are still plenty of castles around the emerald isle, and visiting them on any road trip is one of my favorite ways to take a driving break and walk around a bit.

Our first stop in Waterford was Lismore Castle, a well preserved castle visible from the bridge (adjacent to a parking lot). The castle itself isn’t tour-able, but at times throughout the year, I’ve heard the gardens are open.

Nearby Lismore Castle, you’ll find Ballysaggartmore Towers, surrounded by woodlands. There are two different structures- both a short hike and amazing to see.

From the parking lot, it’s about a five minute walk to the first structure. From there, walk through the tower toward the path at the back. Then you’ll walk about ten minutes to the next set of tower remains. Both sets of gothic style buildings look like something straight out of a fairytale.

One other castle in the area you may enjoy if you’re nearby, Dunhill. The old ruins are what remains of a once proud castle int he Irish countryside. From the parking lot, it’s only a few minutes hike up to the ruins, making it a quick stop if you’re touring around.

Spend a morning in Dungarvan, an absolutely idyllic Irish village on the sea: We loved wandering Dungarvan, for its farmers market with lovely hydrangeas, the great assortment of lovely cafes (Cass & Co and Ormond’s were two favorites), and its general, small town, peaceful vibes.

We also received recommendations from friends to visit The Old Bank for good cocktails, in particular a lavender one.

Visit Waterford City: As evidenced by the Viking Triangle in the city centre, the city holds a ton of history.

We visited Waterford en route back to Dublin for a coffee break, and enjoyed strolling around the city, taking in the street art. In recent years, Waterford’s artistic flair has created some vibrant wall murals. We didn’t see them concentrated in any particular area, so we’d recommend walking around a bit. If you have time in Waterford, you could also consider taking a street art walking tour.

A few cafes we enjoyed popping in:

  • No. 9: Great breakfast stop
  • Blackfriars: Good coffee + good music
  • Arch Coffee: Fantastic flat whites

And, if you’re visiting during COVID times, where many restaurants and pubs may not be open or at limited operating capacity, the public bathrooms in the mall are clean and spacious.

Go for a morning hike at Mahon Falls: We’d planned to hik Counshingaun Lake, but the fog was too thick on the morning we wanted to go. Instead, we walked to Mahon Falls, an easy, short hike surrounded by rolling mountains to beautiful falls.

In total, it’s about 15-20 minutes to walk each way, and the track is relatively flat- there are a few inclines, but nothing I’d deem challenging.

Walking to the falls, we couldn’t see much- the fog was too thick. Although, we could hear dozens of sheep hiding in the morning mist, and that experience, of hearing before seeing was magical.

As we reached the falls, the fog began to break up and lift. Although we didn’t have a fully clear view, what we could see was absolutely breathtaking. And while some may say the fog wasn’t ideal weather, we’d argue that the fog enhanced the experience. Because visibility was so low, we felt like we were discovering things as we came upon them, since we couldn’t see them from approaching.

Coming back from the falls, stop at Crough Coffee for breakfast, or a cuppa to warm up from your morning walk in the mist. There’s plenty of outdoor seating, it’s the epitome of countryside coffee shop perfection.

Visit one of Ireland’s best secret beaches in Ardmore: Known as a holiday village, Ardmore’s cliff walk with views of the craggy hillside and rolling waves is reason enough to visit. Say nothing for the colorful, thatched homes and perfect round tower ruins also making the town an interesting spot to stop.

A short drive from Ardmore town, you’ll find Goats Island, a hidden beach where it’s likely you’ll only find locals. The beach itself is secluded by cliffs, which makes it feel like a true hidden gem. My favorite part though, are the caves you’ll find beachside. Wandering inside them, and looking out at the ocean expanse, it’s easy to feel transported to the warm, salty beaches of Nusa Penida in Indonesia, or the Philippines.

A few other stops to consider making in Waterford, depending how much time you’ve got in the area: 

  • Head to Jaybee’s Petrol station for a 99: It’s run and owned by a group of Amist-Mennonites, who have lived outside Tramore since 1992. The 99’s (soft serve ice cream) here are fantastic
  • Visit quaint seaside towns: Tramore and Dunmore East were two of our favorites. The summer carnival in Tramore would be lovely with kiddos, or for kids at heart
  • Drive along the Copper Coast: Beautiful scenes for a coastal drive, just as you’d expect. If you want to stop for a photo, park next to the Tankardstown Copper Mines
  • Stroll through Fenor Bog: Ideal for a sunset walk, the boardwalk leads through the bog and provides upfront access for bird watching, if that’s your thing

Where to Eat

Whenever we’re road tripping, we tend to eat a bit differently- stocking up on non-perishable groceries so we can have most meals and snacks in the car or at places we stop. We do this both so we don’t lose time driving around, and because sometimes it’s lovely having a sandwich while admiring gushing waterfalls or a beautiful seaside view.

That said, on this trip, we didn’t eat out anywhere because of COVID. In Dungarvan and Waterford, we popped into the places I’ve mentioned for coffee, breakfast, and snacks. But, we did spot plenty of pubs throughout the countryside in Waterford, say nothing for the dozens of restaurants you’ll find in towns and cities.

Where to Stay

In Waterford, I spent two nights at the Hallmark Bungalow, which sadly no longer exists. Location wise, it was right along the greenway, only a two minute drive from Kilmacthomas Viaduct, and easy to zip around the rest of Waterford.

As part of a B&B, it was fantastic value for money- we paid €40 for a huge bedroom and ensuite. Although Hallmark isn’t in operation anymore, I’d recommend using booking.com to find other B&Bs in the area. Instead of staying in Waterford city or another nearby town, I’d go for a B&B in the countryside. More peaceful, and with the kind of things you’ll likely be doing in Waterford, you’ll be driving or biking from thing to thing, so a central location in a city or town won’t matter too much.

Have you ever been to Waterford, Ireland? Would you visit one day?

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2 thoughts on “Irish Castles, Lush Greenways and Stunning Hikes: A Weekend in Waterford

  1. Is it just my imagination, or are those sheep slightly tinted in blue? In any case, the castles in Waterford look fantastic, and the dark, foggy weather makes for a mysterious, brooding atmosphere– perfect for postcard photos! I’d only ever visited one Irish castle– the famous Blarney Castle– while I was in Ireland years back, and I’ll have to return to check out more!

    • No, you’re right- I believe the herders spray their sheep to help distinguish which ones belong to whom. On the west coast, we routinely saw ones that were purple, green, pink, red and blue. And, Waterford is incredible, definitely recommend if you visit Ireland again and have a bit of time to explore some ‘off the beaten path’ (popular, but not overly popular) parts.

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