The county that surrounds Ireland’s oldest city has everything you could want from an Irish holiday. Seaside resorts – both brash and bashful – line the coastline, while away from the sea are mountains and valleys that are ideal for a spot of wilderness walking. And because this corner of the island has been prized by invaders for more than a millennium, there’s plenty of heritage to explore. Oh, and the food isn’t bad either.
Waterford city celebrated its 1,100th birthday in 2014, and while it's changed a bit over the past millennium, its Norse vestiges are still in evidence, especially around the Viking Triangle which is where you'll find a handful of the best heritage museums in the country.
They're all grouped under Waterford Treasures (waterfordtreasures.com) and include the Medieval Museum, whose gorgeous modern building cleverly incorporates a couple of medieval structures as well as an exemplary collection of 14th- and 15th-century artefacts (the cloth-of-gold vestments, woven in Florentine silk and the original Great Parchment Book of Waterford, are notable highlights); Reginald's Tower, Ireland's oldest complete building and the first built using mortar; and the Georgian Bishop's Palace, which covers the city's history from 1700 to 1970 – and has the oldest piece of Waterford Crystal in the world.
Two new museums are opening this month: the Irish Silver Museum and the Irish Museum of Time, which will house an unparalleled collection of Irish timepieces. And to mark the new openings, the collection of museums has introduced a brand-new Freedom of Waterford Tour (€15; book online) that covers the city's 1,000-year history in 1,000 paces.
Beachcombers have their choice of resorts. There's the candyfloss and carnival vibe of Tramore, but even Ireland's best-known seaside town has moved with the times: you can get great fish and chips at Dooly's on Main Street, while the retro-style Pier Cafe on Newtown Road has a fab menu and terrific views from its outdoor seating. If you like a swim, there's the big beach but take the 2km-long Doneraile Walk to beautiful Guillamene Cove. (And if you want a picnic for the beach, Unbeetable Food, at the Pickardstown service station on the Waterford road, does scrummy vegan and veggie grub in biodegradable containers.)
If you prefer a slightly more sedate ambience, there's Dunmore East, a favourite getaway for folks from the city, which is only 17km away. In the Lower Village, clustered in a hollow behind Lawlors Strand, is the Strand Inn (thestrandinn.com), which has one of the best outdoor terraces you'll find anywhere in the country; just south of here is Azzurro (azzurro.ie) which does tasty pastas and pizzas, which you can also enjoy on a terrace with lovely views of the harbour. And when you fancy a pint, Power's, aka the Butchers, is the spot – expect trad music on Tuesday nights when restrictions lift.
In the far west of the county, Ardmore is another favourite, although its sleepy seaside appearance belies its key role in the development of Christianity in Ireland. On Tower Hill are the ruins of St Declan's Monastery, Ireland's oldest Christian settlement, including one of the best-preserved round towers in the country; near the much-lauded Cliff House Hotel is St Declan's Well, which is the start of a gorgeous 5km loop walk around Ardmore Head (Ardmore is also the start point of the recently launched St Declan's Way, a 56-mile (90km) pilgrim route to Cashel that follows the route St Declan took when he went to meet St Patrick in the fifth century).
The Cliff House Hotel (cliffhousehotel.ie) not only has a Michelin-starred restaurant (and a fabulous outdoor terrace overlooking Ardmore Bay), but it also operates the Pantry, an Airstream parked nearby that does sandwiches, coffees and delicious buns; opening in mid-June on Main Street is the Urchin, a gastropub that is also part of the Cliff House family. It'll be a fine rival to the White Horses (Main Street), which has a beautiful outdoor garden under canopies and romantically lit by candles. And if you're looking for something for the kids to do, Ardmore Adventures (ardmoreadventures.ie) has all kinds of outdoor activities, from kayaking to cliff climbing. But if you want a quiet swim, head to Goat Island beach, about 5km out of town.
If Waterford has a food capital, it's probably Dungarvan, home to the West Waterford Festival of Food and Paul and Máire Flynn's Tannery mini-empire that includes a restaurant, a townhouse B&B and a cooking school. They just reopened the restaurant (Wednesday-Sunday), but are limiting access to the townhouse to guests only. The town is also home to one of Munster's best farmer's markets, which runs every Thursday from 9am to 2pm in Grattan Square.
Dungarvan’s popularity has been hugely boosted by the Waterford Greenway, a 46km cycle trail that follows a disused railway line to Waterford city; you can rent bikes at Waterford Greenway Bike Hire (1 Davitt’s Quay) and head off – cycling from east to west is easier as it’s that little bit more downhill.
And if you're keen on the great outdoors – there's the Copper Coast Geopark (coppercoastgeopark.com) which covers 25km of coastline from Kilfarrasy in the east to Stradbally in the west; there's the beautiful Ring Peninsula, just south of Dungarvan, but for something a little more remote travel to the scenic north of the county, especially around Ballymacarbry: the 10km-long Nire Valley Drive brings you deep into the Comeragh and Monavullagh Mountains, where there are some fabulous walks. Highly recommended is the two-hour loop that starts at the Kilclooney Wood car park just off the R676 between Dungarvan and Carrick-on-Suir; it brings you to the majestic Coumshingaun Horseshoe, which looks down on one of the country's most beautiful corrie lakes.