Ireland's warmest and driest region is also one of its most popular vacation destinations. Visitors to Kilkenny and the South East enjoy the quaint and picturesque seaside towns and fishing villages which typify this corner of the Emerald Isle. As with Wicklow to the north, Ireland's ancient history is strongly felt here, and the ruins of castles, churches and abbeys are likely to feature on most local tour itineraries. Use this page to find the South East most popular tourist destinations, as well as delving deeper into its hidden treasures.
The main attraction of the South East, for Irish people at least, is the more stable weather of the region. During the summer months, you'll find the beaches of Waterford and Wexford to be hives of activity.
History plays a large part in the formation of the other, non-seasonal, attractions of the South East. Ancient Christian settlements, medieval castles & towns are dotted throughout. The jewel in the crown here though, if you'll pardon the pun, is the House of Waterford Crystal—a tour through the world's most famous Crystal makers.
Ireland has more than its fair share of outstanding archaeological sites, but the Rock of Cashel is arguably the most impressive. The 'rock' from which it takes its name is, in fact, a limestone hill, covered in luscious green, rising from the plain which characterises the surrounding area. The word 'cashel', by contrast, is derived from the Irish Gaelic word caiseal, meaning stone fortress.
In both respects, the Rock of Cashel lives up to its title. The rock itself is vast and imposing, and one can only imagine the difficulties it would have posed for attackers throughout the ages who had designs on the stone fortress above. The masonry of the fort itself is no less spectacular and is remarkably well preserved almost a full millennium after its original construction.
The history of the site itself is long and varied. First used as a base for Welsh invaders, the Eóghanachta clan, who would become kings of this region of Ireland. The clan, and hence the rock, have been closely associated with St. Patrick (considered by many historians to be a Welshman), earning Cashel's pseudonym, St. Patrick's Rock.
Although under Eóghanachta rule, Cashel would rival Tara as Ireland's centre of power, it was wrested from their control in the Tenth Century before being presented to the Church in 1101. The site would change hands many times again in the centuries to follow, giving rise to the various buildings whose remains now occupy it.
The Rock of Cashel is just a five-minute walk from Cashel town.
Waterford Crystal is known the world over for its quality and, throughout a history which dates back to its establishment in the South-East of Ireland in 1783, it has been a landmark of its own in this part of Ireland. Today, Waterford Crystal is no less recognisable than its sister-brands, Wedgewood and Royal Doulton.
The visitor centre is a modern building on The Mall, a tour of which teaches visitors how crystal is made. Undoubtedly the most popular part of the tour is the blowing room, where the crystal glasses, vases, etc. are 'blown' into shape.
The visitor centre has a nice little cafe and is fully wheelchair accessible.
A picture-postcard Irish destination, Kilkenny has all the charm and all the history you could ask for. An ancient setting, with its castle and cathedral, it is home to many equally ancient pubs, where good craic and good live music are assured. Kilkenny also has lots of good restaurants to choose from. The city is a real hidden gem: although many first-time visitors don't put it at the top of their list, almost everyone who travels here is glad they made the journey.
Head for Market Cross carpark. Turn write at the main exit and walk straight down Parliament Street, then continue straight onto High Street. In three minutes, you will reach Kilkenny Tourist Office.
Like the Rock of Cashel, Tintern Abbey owes its heritage to Wales, founded as it was by the Earl of Pembroke in the Thirteenth Century for the benefit of its Welsh monk inhabitants. Today, there remains a Welsh counterpart with the same name.
Much of the original building still stands, including the cloister walls and crossing tower, as well as the chancel and transept chapels. But visitors will enjoy the surroundings at least as much as the abbey itself, with lakes, streams, woods and ruins providing distractions for all age groups. Perhaps most alluring of all is the Colclough Walled Garden, built over 200 years ago and restored since 2010.
Break up the beautiful walks around the walled gardens with a visit to the tea rooms for coffee and waffles.
One of Europe's oldest cities with a rich Viking heritage, today's Waterford retains its charming old-world feel, with intersecting narrow streets and alleyways leading visitors on mini journeys of discovery as they explore. As well as the well-known House of Waterford Crystal, visitors should look out for the Waterford Treasures museums: the Medieval Museum, Reginald's Tower and Bishop's Palace.
Head for the long Waterford quay and find a nice spot for lunch with a view over the harbour.
The Glen of Aherlow is a valley found in the western part of County Tipperary, between the Slievenamuck and Galtee Mountains. The main village of the valley is Lisvarrinane. The Irish poet and Catholic priest Geoffrey Keating took refuge in the caves of the valley while on the run and writing his masterpiece 'Foundation of Knowledge on Ireland'.
Keen walkers and occasional strollers will be equally glad they looked up the eight looped walking trails that are marked here. Five of these start at the Christ the King Trail Head. The rest all begin at Lisvarinane Village Trail Head. Distances range from one mile to four miles.
The car park at the popular 'Christ the King' statue can get quite busy during the summer, but it is from here that the best views of the glen and valley can be enjoyed.
The Swiss Cottage is located near the town of Cahir in County Tipperary. It was built around 1810 and was a part of the estate of Lord and Lady Cahir. The Irish Georgian Society restored the cottage in 1985 and was opened to the public in 1989 as a historic house museum.
If you have a little more time, Cahir Castle is a pleasant 45-minutes walk away. There, you can book a guided tour or simply soak in the scenic sense of history.
Dunmore East is a fishing village in County Waterford. It is located in the area which saw a huge influx of Norman and Viking invaders and eventually settlers (circa 795-1170 B.C). Dunmore East has subsequently become home to a fishing port and a harbour, constructed by Royal Mail, for the purpose of transferring mail between England and Ireland.
Today, Dunmore East is a thriving village, buoyed mainly by tourism in the summer and fishing throughout the year.
Arrive with an empty stomach: Dunmore East is known for its fabulous food and drink. If you like seafood, you won't find much better or much fresher than this.
The Eighteenth Century is perhaps one of the most formative times in the history of Western democracy. It is also one of the bloodiest. The American and French revolutions would have a significant effect on the Irish sense of identity, not to mention the revolutionary spirit which ran through it.
The 1798 Rebellion Centre charts the history of the attempted revolution of that year, thwarted by British military superiority and the ruthless deployment of spies, informants and torture tactics. After a bruising campaign, the Irish rebels regrouped on Vinegar Hill in Enniscorthy, County Wexford, where they would make their final stand against the British. The result was a crushing defeat for the Irish, whose superior numbers could not make up for the firepower of the redcoats below. Armed mostly with pikes, the Irish dead would number high in the thousands.
A good percentage of information in the exhibition is text-based and, even for the people with 20-20 vision, can be difficult to read from a distance. If you are short-sighted be sure to bring your glasses.
With its monumental round tower, St Canice's Cathedral rises majestically above the north of Kilkenny's city centre. Perhaps understandably so: ranking just behind St Patrick's in Dublin, it is Ireland's second-largest medieval cathedral. Gothic in style, it is characterized by its iconic round tower which affords commanding views of the surrounding area. The history of the building itself, long and varied, began - at least according to legend - in the Sixth Century with the establishment of a monastery there by St Canice, Kilkenny's patron saint.
The top of the tower is reachable only by a series of steep staircases. But the view that awaits is worth the effort and the price of admission combined.
Founded in the second half of the Twelfth Century and recently partially restored, Jerpoint Abbey is one of Ireland's finest Cistercian ruins. The main church, with its Romanesque flourishes, dates from these earliest days in the abbey's long history, but visitors will also find additions from the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, Fifteenth and Sixteenth Centuries. Look out for figures carved into the cloister pillars, some of them quite entertaining.
Drivers should note that the free-to-use car park entrance/exit is on a blind bend. Take care when leaving!
A secluded seaside village in Waterford, Ardmore attracts summer visitors to its long, sandy beach, as well as its cliff walks, shops and early Christian monuments. Visitors should add to their to-do list any and all of the following depending on your interests and group make-up: St Declan's Church, Ballyquin Beach and Ardmore Pottery which will leave you well placed to finish the day with a cliff-top stroll before dinner.
Ardmore's clifftop hotels offer unbeatable views to anyone looking to spend the night in this charming village retreat.
Dungarvan is a harbour town located at the heart of County Waterford. A must-see destination for all foodies visiting Ireland, it is home to the regular farmers' market, the Waterford Festival of Food, and the Tannery Restaurant & Cooking School
If you're feeling active, Dungarvan is the starting point for the popular Waterford Greenway cycle route. In addition to the great food, a day of rest here offers a wealth of good horticulture, art and retail therapy.
This stunning region of south-east Ireland was declared a European Geopark in 2001 and a UNESCO Global Geopark in 2004. It earned its name following generations of metal-mining industry, the legacies of which now make the region such a tourist attraction. Today, it retains all of its geological diversity, with various marked walking trails offering unique access to this most charming face of Ireland.
This iconic setting is unspoiled by retail, so bring everything you need including cash for a quick stop at Tom Hayes Pub.
With its close proximity to Ireland's southeast, Dublin Airport is the ideal first stop on your visit. There is a great road network connecting the southeast to Dublin city. You can rent a car from the numerous companies in Dublin Airport and travel to Waterford City on the M9 motorway (2 hours), Rosslare in County Wexford on the M11 (2 hours) and Kilkenny City via the M9 (1 hour 30 minutes).
To get the train from Dublin Airport to the southeast would involve making your way into Dublin City. There are multiple bus services to the city provided by Aircoach, Airlink , Dublin Bus and GoBus. From there you can jump on a train from Connelly Station or Heuston Station to your chosen destination in the southeast.
The main bus station in Waterford City is located on the quays, in the city centre. Wexford's main bus stations are in Wexford Town centre and Rosslare Harbour. Kilkenny City's main bus station is located in the city centre, outside the main train station.
Bus journey times from Dublin City:
|Kilkenny City||50 minutes|
|Wexford Town||2 hours|
|Waterford City||2 hours and 40 minutes|
While there is a rail network across Waterford, Wexford and Kilkenny. Most people travelling in and out of the region would rarely take the train. The bus is seen as the more cost-effective and hassle-free option. The main train stations of the southeast are located in Waterford City, Kilkenny City and in Wexford Town.
Driving into Waterford City from the west, that is to say, coming from Cork or Kerry and travelling along the N25 and R680, you will be greeted with a stretch of road that seems to have an endless supply of roundabouts. This is definitely not the route to take if you are learning the delicate art of the roundabout. Top tip: to avoid 7 of them you can take a shortcut at Dungarvan along the R911 to Southways.
Heading to Waterford from Dublin is a little more straight forward. From the N7, after Naas in County Kildare, you take the N9 due south to Waterford. The tricky part about driving from Dublin City is getting out of Dublin City. Make sure, if you are booking a rental car to ask for a Sat-Nav. The route is the same from Dublin City to Kilkenny City except when you reach Naas, from here you go from the N7 to the M7 and then onto the N77. Driving to Wexford from Dublin involves taking the M50 all the way out of the Dublin and connecting with the M11 motorway.
Rosslare Harbour is serviced by a number of bus routes. The main bus route is the number 40, providing several services per day via New Ross in County Wexford to/from Waterford City, Cork City, Killarney and Tralee. There are also trains running twice a day from Rosslare Harbour to Dublin's Connolly and Hueston stations, these trains take around 3 hours and cost on average 17 euro one-way.
Rosslare Harbour services ports in Wales and France.