Ireland has a lot to offer foreign tourists, from the rich history, to the gorgeous scenery, to the lively bar culture. Aside from the less-than-fabulous weather, there’s no lack of things for tourists to see and experience — even the food has gotten less inedible over the last couple decades.
This all shows in the number of visitors Ireland gets on a yearly basis.This has obviously declined significantly in 2020 and 2021, but pre-pandemic, Ireland was accepting over 11 million tourists a year. To put that in perspective, that’s more than double the population of the Republic of Ireland.
But that’s how attractive a destination Ireland has become. Sights like the Cliffs of Moher, Connemara, and The Burren (among many others) are famous worldwide and are a massive draw.
However, even though Ireland is a small country, the majority of tourism is focused on specific regions, namely Dublin, Cork, and the west coast. Most tourists arrive in Dublin, then go to Galway or Cork, travel up or down the west coast, and either head back to Dublin or head towards Belfast. Those are all fantastic spots with plenty to do for travellers, but this route leaves out a gorgeous portion of the island that sadly tends to remain underappreciated.
No, obviously not the midlands. I’m talking about the southeast. Specifically Wexford.
Being a county that’s kind of nestled away between the sea and the Blackstairs, geographically speaking, it’s a little out of the way for tourists who only have a short amount of time in Ireland. On top of that, Wexford people (Wexicans) tend not to move to other parts of the island as much as people from other counties.
I have no idea why this is — it could be because we have the best weather, or because we’re just a bit weird. Whatever the reason, we don’t have a lot of ambassadors around Ireland talking it up, and there are many reasons to visit Wexford.
Being the sunniest county in Ireland is a good reason in itself to visit Wexford, but that isn’t much of a pull for foreign tourists, I know. Why would some lad from Italy come to Ireland for a beach holiday when he could just walk across the road? The sunshine attracts plenty of domestic tourists, mostly from Dublin, who flood the beaches of north Wexford every year.
But there is more to Wexford than just beaches. There’s an interesting history, incredible natural sights, and fun activities to enjoy. Here are some reasons that everyone, tourist or not, should take a trip to the land of Snakes and Scalders.
Wexford’s natural beauty
When the Vikings founded Wexford, they called it Waesfjord, which literally means “fjord of the mud-flats,” this rotten name does not do it justice. Wexford is known as the Model County, and that’s not just because of the people. It’s also not because of the gorgeous sights, which is annoying, because it’s genuinely stunning. From mountain and coastal hikes, to beaches, to islands, to gorgeous gardens, there are plenty of reasons to visit Wexford, it has a little something for nature lovers of all types.
Why is it called the Model County? Apparently because of early, progressive farming methods. Bragging rights.
Starting off with the big one. Probably Wexford’s top attraction for domestic tourists (Dubs mostly), Wexford’s coastlines are something to behold, and compare the beaches of the north of France. So much so, in fact, that a section of the jewel in Wexford’s beach crown, Curracloe, was the location for the Omaha Beach storming scene in Saving Private Ryan. If you’ve ever even crossed paths with anyone from Wexford, that bit of trivia has probably been slid into the conversation at some point.
Visits to these beaches needn’t be restricted to the summer months however. Beaches like Rosslare, Carne, Curracloe, and Kilmore to name a few, are pretty enough to warrant a stroll at any time of the year.
Obviously, for international tourists, the waters of the Irish and Celtic Seas are brisk, to say the least, reaching around 9 degrees in winter and a maximum of 20 in summer.
Whatever the weather, be sure to take a walk down Raven’s Point forest trail in Curracloe.
The Blackstairs are a mountain range separating Wexford and Carlow, and are not really brought up much when talking about Irish mountain ranges, but they have a lot to offer. Standing at a maximum elevation of 796 meters, it’s not too hectic a hike for seasoned walkers.
The views from the top are incredible, overlooking lush, green farmlands and, on a clear day, you can even see all the way to the sea.
If you want to walk the full trail, allow yourself around 5.5 hours to complete the 11km hike.
Forth Mountain and the Three Rocks Trail
This is a part of Wexford that was a bit of a local secret until quite recently, but renovations over the last few years have made this trail safer and more accessible to the wider public. The Three Rocks Trail is a 13km hike starting at Ferrycarrig, crossing right over Forth Mountain, and ending in Barntown. The first 8 km are a forest walk, the next three are on country roads, then half a kilometer on a path next to a busy road, then back to country roads until the end.
During the trail you’ll see various plaques commemorating the 1798 rebellion against British rule, as the trail was part of a route taken by Wexford men during the rebellion. You’ll stand at the location of skirmishes between English and Irish throughout, so if you’re a history buff, or just get off on hearing about dead Redcoats, then it’s ideal for you.
The highpoint of the hike, however, is Forth Mountain, specifically Carrigfoyle Quarry. It’s a former quarry, now nature reserve, located near the top of the mountain. The quarry has now become a lake, and is one of the most stunning areas in the whole country (see the featured image at the top of the page).
Recent renovations have made the area a lot safer, adding railings and life-savers along the cliffs and banks. A viewing point has also been added, where you’ll be treated to a view of nearly the entire county A perfect way to end a day’s hike.
People have been known to swim in the lake, but it is not recommended. There have been several drownings over the last number of years, and even though more life savers have been added, it’s still very dangerous. Swim at your own risk.
Sorry to end that on a downer.
The Saltee Islands
The Saltee’s are a pair of uninhabited islands off Wexford’s south coast. The Vikings called them Salt ey, and we’ve called them the very imaginative Great Saltee and Little Saltee.
The islands are a breeding ground for various bird species, including the Atlantic puffin, making them one of the few places in Ireland where puffins can be seen. The islands have therefore been granted Special Protection Area status so the breeding grounds can be protected.
If you’re a wildlife enthusiast, would love to see some rugged, untouched Irish landscapes, or if you just like islands in general, you can take a ferry there from Kilmore Quay. Be sure to book well in advance, especially during peak season of July-August.
You can book your ferry tickets here.
Cultural and historical sights
If you prefer the more rugged Irish landscapes of the Wesht Coasht, but are still a fan of history, then Wexford may still have a lot to offer you. Wexford’s history goes way back to the Viking invasion of the 8th century. As long ago as that was, there’s still signs of Viking life to be found, from the names of towns and villages to the architecture of Wexford Town itself. Here are some historical and cultural sights to see in Wexford.
Johnstown Castle and Gardens
Johnstown castle is a Georgian-era castle built on the grounds of a former Norman fort. It’s located about 15 minutes outside Wexford Town and features beautiful lakes, stunning wildlife and over 800 years of local history.
Also, if farming gets you all hot and bothered, it’s the site of the agricultural museum too.
Irish National Heritage Park
The heritage park is located on the banks of the river Slaney, just outside of Wexford town. It’s an outdoor museum covering 14 hectares of forests and wet woodlands, charting 9000 years of Irish history.
Ancient dwellings from as far back as Neolithic Ireland have been rebuilt, including crannogs, ring forts, Viking huts, and hunter-gatherer huts. It’s all there, including people in period accurate costumes to talk to.
You can choose to pay for a guided tour, or just wander through at your own pace. Some activities include:
- Building a hut with wattle
- Shooting a viking bow
- Panning for gold
There’s even a cafe and a playground. For people of all ages! The park, not the playground. Playground’s for the kids.
Hook Lighthouse and Loftus Hall
These are two very different sights, but they’re also neighbours, so I’ll put them together.
Both located on the Hook Peninsula on Wexford’s south coast, they have been part of Wexford for the better part of a millennium. Hook Lighthouse is the second oldest operating lighthouse in the world after the Tower of Hercules in Spain.
You can take a tour of the lighthouse, which features a life-sized hologram of a monk. Which is quite jarring if you’re not expecting it.
The surrounding area is nice to walk, have a coffee, or visit the gift shop.
You don’t really need to book a tour in advance, but you can still do so here.
Not far away from the lighthouse sits Loftus Hall, which holds the title of ‘Ireland’s most haunted house.’ If you’re a fan of tales of the devil himself visiting and playing cards with a rich Wexford family, then this might be for you.
The mansion, which was built in the 11th century, contains a rare, three-of-a-kind staircase. The other copies exist in Vatican City, and on the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean in the titanic.
Also people who have visited Loftus Hall have claimed to have seen the ghost of a young woman and a child. If that’s your thing, go for it.
Dunbrody Famine Ship and the JFK Arboretum
The town of New Ross gets a bit of flack from the rest of Wexford, but it has a couple of major tourist attractions, namely the Dunbrody and the JFK Arboretum.
The Dunbrody is a replica of a ship that took victims of the famine from Wexford to the United States in the 1840’s. The guided tour will give you an idea of the conditions that the passengers faced on their journey. You can sit in the sleeping chambers while costumed performers regale you with tales of the journey.
On a slightly lighter note, New Ross is also home to the family of the sexiest ever US President, that’s right, Mr. John F. Kennedy, who can trace his ancestry back there. You can walk around the arboretum, while learning about JFK’s great-grandfather, who was born in the area before fleeing to the US. Fleeing the famine, not New Ross.
Despite the ridiculous name, Vinegar hill in Enniscorthy has major historical significance. It played a huge role in the 1798 rebellion, being the site of one of the decisive battles.
It’s a bit of a trek if you’re walking, but the top not only offers a bit of history, but also a nice view of the surrounding area.
Activities in Wexford
If you’re more of an active sort, and hikes and walks on the beach aren’t quite enough for you, here are a few more things you can do in Wexford.
Even though Wexford lacks the big waves of the west coast, there are still some decent spots for surfing along Wexford’s east coast. Perfect for beginners as well as more experienced surfers. The Surf Shack on Curracloe beach offers surfing lessons as well as gear rental during the summer months. Perfect for the whole family.
If kitesurfing is more your style, you’ll have to travel a little further south to Duncannon, where you can get kitesurfing lessons with Hooked Kitesurfing.
Shielbaggan Outdoor Education Center
Shielbaggan has been a Wexford institution for years. Offering a huge range of activities to groups of all ages, from Kayaking, to rock climbing, to archery, there is something for everyone here!
Wexford Wildfowl Reserve
For the bird watchers out there, the puffins on the Saltee Islands aren’t all that Wexford has to offer you.
Wexford Wildfowl Reserve is a nature reserve covering 200 hectares of the North Slob, where people of all ages can come and learn about the various bird species that call Wexford their home.
Food and Drink of Wexford
For a county with a fairly small population and a lack of universities, Wexford offers some great options for food and drink. Here are a few places you need to try however.
Ok, this isn’t a pub or restaurant, but it’s the one food that is deeply ingrained as a Wexford staple. It’s basically just mashed potato mixed with herbs, covered in breadcrumbs or batter and deep fried. It doesn’t sound particularly amazing, but to many Wexford locals, it’s solid evidence of a divine being.
You can pick them up in many chippers across the county, but I’d recommend The Premier in Wexford Town.
The Saltee Chipper
If you’re heading out to the Saltee Islands, or are visiting Kilmore Quay for a walk on the beach, it is compulsory that you call into the Saltee Chipper.
I know, fish and chips are done everywhere, but not like this. The list of accolades this place has is staggering. Just go. But you may have to call and order ahead. It’s really popular.
Yes, Yellowbelly is a nickname for Wexford people, which is where this line of beers gets its name. Even though it was only founded in 2015, it has become one of Ireland’s leading breweries, and has released over 300 beers.
It’s not only a brewery, however. Yellowbelly also has a series of comics and animations created by Creative Director Paul Reck in a colourful, steampunk style.
You can get Yellowbelly beer at most pubs and restaurants around Wexford.
There is so much that Wexford has to offer, and its location is somewhat of a blessing and a curse. It is a growing county with a bright future ahead, so come see for yourself.