This is the summer of getting out and about – finally! And with Wexford having just been named Ireland’s sunniest spot (we always knew it was called the sunny south-east for a reason), there’s no better spot to check out for a couple of days and see the sights!
Wexford is chock full of history, being one of the first sites in Ireland that the Vikings landed, hosting the National Heritage Centre and having loads of old ruins of castles and monasteries to check out. The gorgeous coastline roads will see you travelling beautiful countryside with lots to see and do along the way. We picked out some of our favourite spots around the county that give a real sense of the history and culture of the area, as well as taking you through lots of pretty seaside towns and dramatic coastlines.
Dunbrody Abbey is an OPW site, meaning that it’s free in for the summer. While this isn’t something that could fill an entire day, it’s 100% worth stopping by when you’re out that way, because there’s plenty around there, like Tintern Abbey and Hook Lighthouse. But the 11th century monastery ruins are extraordinarily well preserved and out of the way so you won’t be contending with huge crowds and may even get the incredible and atmospheric ruins all to yourself to wander.
The visitor’s centre (across the road, which also has a carpark) provides information on the monastery’s lively history and also has a charming café, outdoor seating and the grounds feature a maze and a pitch & putt course, meaning this is a great place for kids to stop in also. One of my favourite unexpected finds so far this summer, I would 100% recommend veering off the beaten track to check out this one.
The John F. Kennedy park and arboretum, right outside New Ross, usually has guided tours available of its extensive grounds which aren’t happening yet this summer, but this spot is still worth seeing and going for a walk around.
It covers a massive 252 hectares on the summit and southern slopes of Slieve Coillte and contains 4,500 types of trees and shrubs from all temperate regions of the world. With a stunning lake walk and panoramic views, their walking trails are picturesque and their playgrounds are ready for kids to make the most of it. With a café and picnic spot on the grounds, it’s a stunning spot to stop in for a wander.
Moving up to the north of the county, Vinegar Hill is a historical site associated with the 1798 rebellion which had a major movement and support down in county Wexford where one of the most significant battles occurred. 20,000 men, women and children faced 10,000 members of the Crown forces in a battle that lasted only four hours, but left 1,500 dead in a county distraught.
Vinegar Hill sits at the top of Enniscorthy, giving visitors a spectacular panoramic view of the town, its surrounding townslands and the River Slaney. It is free to visit and you can stay and admire the views for as long as you like. Wander into Enniscorthy town afterwards to check out Enniscorthy castle and the 1798 centre for more information about the historical context of the site you just visited.
Tintern Abbey is another stunning spot in the county’s south-west that is a gorgeous place to stop and wander for a few hours. The Abbey was also founded in the 1200s by Cistercian monks and there has been extensive renovations happening since the 1960s, meaning it’s in incredible refurbished condition. Though it is still undergoing renovation in some parts, you can enter the ladies chapel and the old refectory hall, as well as accessing all the walking trails over the stunning grounds. The Rose Gardens and Walled Gardens are gorgeous in the summer months and a must-see for a very small admission price.
Pro tip for this one – it takes a while to get out to the Hook Peninsula, but it’s well worth the trek. Wait for a good day to do this one as it’s mainly outdoors as the Lighthouse isn’t open for tours at the moment. Park your car down in the quaint and small Slade Harbour (And check out Slade castle while you’re there), which is about 5k away from the lighthouse and do the walk from Slade to Hook, taking in the incredible cliff-side views on your way. Wear sturdy shoes and walking gear, as you’ll be hopping a few fences, but the views of waves crashing up on to the rocks are well worth it. Be sure to keep an eye out for the imposing and allegedly haunted Loftus Hall House on the journey out there!
Duncannon fort and beach is a lovely spot along Wexford’s south-west coast, looking across the estuary of the river Barrow. With a beach stretching 1km, it’s a nice spot for a walk and an ice cream at the little café by the beach and marvel at the old fort that back onto the beach. Not much of a swimming spot due to its tidal nature, it’s nonetheless a gorgeous spot to stretch out on the beach and soak up some rays. They also host a huge sandcastle competition there every year in August that features some amazing creations right there on the beach front.
Duncannon Fort itself is an impressive presentation of a bastioned fortress perched on the side of the stunning Hook Peninsula and is a stop along Ireland’s Ancient East trail. This historic structure has gathered countless intriguing and awe-inspiring stories over its 450-year history, though tours are currently still suspended. Why not check out ‘The Hollow’ Seafood restaurant and bar while there, which does a gorgeous lunch in a lovely sheltered beer garden.
Located just outside of Wexford Town, the Heritage Park is one of the best Ireland’s Ancient East attractions and a fantastic place for a family day out. They offer an immersive Irish history experience for all the family, with over 40 acres of natural woodland, 16 reconstructions of historic sites, and a live archaeological dig where the first Norman castle was built in Ireland. Walk around yourself or get a guided tour with a costumed guide that can tell you everything you need to know and more.
The sights, sounds and stories of the past come to life here with amazing sites along the way, from round towers to fullacht fiadhs. They have three special themed heritage tours – Pre-Historic Ireland, Early Christian Ireland and the Age of Invasion – with each bringing you on a different journey through Irish history. There are loads of activities for you and the family to try at the Park too so ask at Reception when you arrive or call ahead to see what’s happening that day. There’s everything from archery, axe throwing and Viking shield-making, to meeting the birds of prey in the Falconry Centre or taking part in one of the many courses in traditional skills that take place at the Park every year. Pre-booking is recommended at the moment due to high demand.