The country's oldest city will fascinate anyone interested in Norman history
The sunny south east has always been a gateway to Ireland, but this sunny and welcoming region is a destination in itself.
From the invasions by the Vikings, and later the Normans, to the modern day tourists who flock in their hundreds and thousands, the counties of Waterford and Kilkenny have inspired generations to explore the country.
The sunny shoreline of Waterford with its charming fishing villages and the medieval ramparts of Kilkenny will give you lasting first impressions of the region.
There's so much to see here in Ireland's Ancient East, that you'll be tempted to save further counties of Ireland for future holidays. There's enough to keep you busy here for several lifetimes.
Waterford is Ireland's oldest city, having first been settled by the Vikings in the early years of the 10th century. Situated at the mouth of the Suir, one of the Three Sisters along with the Barrow and the Nore, it's a premier destination for anglers and fishing enthusiasts.
Image Above: River Suir Waterford
Spectacular art exhibitions
Here on the narrow cobbled streets of the 'Crystal City', not only will you find the aclaimed Waterford Crystal visitor experience , but also a host of welcoming pubs and restaurants and curious shops and boutiques, filled with authentic Irish treats and souvenirs.
During July and August the streets are filled with outdoor festival Waterford's Spraoi (Irish for 'fun'), which sees all sorts of colourful monsters and magical creatures take over the town.
Or try going to Kilkenny in early August for that city's marvellous arts festival, a feast for music lovers and culture seekers which features some of the best theatre productions and concerts from Ireland and overseas. Add to the menu some spectacular visual art exhibitions and you'll remember the Marble City as the hub for cultural celebrations.
Back in Waterford there's a great deal to see from the top of Reginald's Tower, built in honour of the first invading Viking leader, Ragnall. This Irish city is famous for showing its visitors hospitality...
Outside the city you'll find the popular seaside resort of Tramore, a traditional holiday destination for generations of Irish families, and the delightful fishing village of Dunmore East, home of a very busy sailing school and the place to find Ireland's freshest fish and chips.
Image Above: Waterford Quays
Your tastebuds will thank you
For the ecologically minded, the Copper Coast ECO park between Tramore and Dungarvan is an unmissable day out. The park gets its name from the copper mines dotted along the coastal route from the tiny harbour at Dunabrattin to Stradbally.
Particularly worth a visit is the Geological Garden in Bunmahon, where you can explore the Time Path to find out more about the fascinating strata under your feet. Along the quays in Waterford you will find the Granville Hotel, an old world oasis of comfort and relaxation in the heart of the busy city. The tastefully decorated and well appointed rooms ensure your stay will be luxurious, with a bar fully stocked with Ireland's finest range of whiskeys and a restaurant with excellent cuisine – including award-winning jam, and the famous Granville Hotel Organic Porridge Experience
A medieval fortress with a history
Image Above: Kilkenny Castle
Across the River Suir is Waterford's fiercest hurling rival, Kilkenny, a county and city which boasts a fascinating history and the home of Smithwicks, the country's oldest and most popular ale. During a tour around the Smithwicks brewery and visitor centre you will be entertained and intrigued by its engrossing story, an aperitif for further exploration in the Marble City.
A visit to Kilkenny Castle, the ancestral home of the Butler family, one of Ireland's oldest and most venerable dynasties, is essential. By the banks of the Nore, this magnificent castle is a relic of the city's Norman heritage. The Statutes of Kilkenny were enacted in this fortress in 1367 to preserve the English colony in Ireland. Attempting to ban the use of the Irish language, they tried in vain to stop Norman settlers becoming more Irish than the Irish themselves.
While in Kilkenny you're spoiled for choice in terms of characterful bars and restaurants. However, the outstanding choice for your accommodation is the Pembroke Hotel, right in the city centre.
Here you can relax in the comfortable and spacious bedrooms, indulge yourself in the Mint Beauty Centre or, if you really must catch up with work, there's a well equipped business centre. From the bedrooms you will see the turrets and towers of Kilkenny Castle, a vista which will help you imagine what life was like for the inhabitants of this medieval city.
Ireland's emigrant heritage
The Discovery Park in Castlecomer is a fascinating family place to visit, boasting a museum which brings to life the old days of the coal mine. Now a park, it has plenty to of walks, zip lines and surprising attractions to explore. The courtyard boasts a range of craft shops for souvenir hunting.
On your way out of Kilkenny heading towards Wexford, you'll find the Kennedy Homestead at Dunganstown near New Ross, where you'll meet one of JFK's Irish cousins.
He'll be glad to tell you the story of how the Kennedys left their native home for a prosperous future in the USA. This experience was shared by many emigrant Irish families - though not all of them ended up in the White House! A hot tip before you leave Ireland's south east: make your way to Wexford and treat yourself to Ireland's best pizza in Crust, the town centre restaurant. Just a taste of what there is to see and taste in Ireland's most welcoming region.
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