The largest town in the Southeast and Ireland's oldest city, Waterford was founded by the Vikings in the 9th century and was taken over by Strongbow, the Norman invader, with much bloodshed in 1170. The city resisted Cromwell's 1649 attacks, but fell the following year. It did not prosper again until 1783, when George and William Penrose set out to create "plain and cut flint glass, useful and ornamental," and thereby set in motion a glass-manufacturing industry long without equal. The famed glassworks closed after the 2008 financial crisis, but Waterford Crystal has triumphantly risen again from the flames in a smaller, leaner version, opened in 2010 and now relocated to the Mall.
City Square Shopping Centre
With more than 40 shops ranging from small Irish boutiques to international department stores, City Square Shopping Centre presents fashion shows and other forms of entertainment on its stage area.
This is a fine source for excellent souvenirs, including traditional musical instruments, dolls, linen, jewelry, and even Waterford crystal.
Check out the quality goods at the town's handmade crystal manufactory. With a little notice, Penrose can have a personally engraved piece waiting for you when you arrive.
A good place to begin a tour of Waterford City, the City Quays stretch for nearly 2 km (1 mile) along the River Suir and were described in the 18th century as the best in Europe.
Waterford City Hall
One of Waterford's finest Georgian buildings, Waterford City Hall dates from 1783 and was designed by native son John Roberts. The arms of Waterford hang over the entrance, which leads into a spacious foyer that originally served as a town meeting place and merchants' exchange. The building contains an enormous 1802 Waterford glass chandelier, which hangs in the Council Chamber (a copy hangs in Independence Hall in Philadelphia). The Victorian horseshoe-shaped Theatre Royal is the venue for the annual Festival of Light Opera in September.
Christ Church Cathedral
Lovers of Georgian decorative arts will want to visit this late-18th-century Church of Ireland cathedral—the only Neoclassical Georgian cathedral in Ireland—designed by local architect John Roberts. Inside, all is elegance—yellow walls, white-stucco florets and laurels, grand Corinthian columns—and you can see why architectural historian Mark Girouard called this "the finest 18th-century ecclesiastical building in Ireland." It stands on the site of a great Norman Gothic cathedral, which a bishop authorized knocking down after rubble fell in his path a few times (with a little help from potential builders). Medievalists will be sad, but those who prize Age of Enlightenment high style will rejoice. Try to catch one of the regular choral concerts to get the full atmospheric reward.
Among the most imposing of the city's remaining Georgian town houses, the Bishop's Palace is the home to the Georgian part of the Waterford Treasures exhibition, mapping the history of what was Ireland's second city from 1700 to 1790. The most impressive part of the collection is the elegant silverware and, of course, fine glassmaking, including the oldest piece of Waterford crystal on the planet—a decanter from the 1780s.
Holy Trinity Cathedral
This Roman Catholic cathedral has a simple facade and a richly (some would say garishly) decorated interior with high, vaulted ceilings and ornate Corinthian pillars. It was designed in Neoclassical style by John Roberts, who also planned Christ Church Cathedral and Waterford City Hall. Surprisingly, it was built in the late 18th century—when Catholicism was barely tolerated—on land granted by the Protestant city fathers.
St. Olaf's Church
Built, as the name implies, by the Vikings in the mid-11th century, this church has one sole extant remnant: its original door, which has been incorporated into the wall of a meeting hall.
Restored to its original medieval appearance, Reginald's Tower—a circular structure on the east end of Waterford's quays—is a striking setting for a museum on Waterford's Viking history. Built by the Vikings for the city's defense in 1003, it has 80-foot-high, 10-foot-thick walls; an interior stairway leads to the top. The tower served in turn as the residence for a succession of Anglo-Norman kings (including Henry II, John, and Richard II), a mint for silver coins, a prison, and an arsenal. It's said that Strongbow's marriage to Eva, the daughter of Dermot MacMurrough, took place here in the late 12th century, thus uniting the Norman invaders with the native Irish. The impressive exhibits include the full weapon kit of a local Viking leader. On the top floor there's an audiovisual display and objects to represent every century since the tower was built.