Wexford’s stunning beaches and idyllic harbor towns have long been a draw for local Irish on holiday. It’s only recently however, that international visitors to Ireland are stumbling upon County Wexford!
With its coastal small towns, dramatic beaches and outstanding local cuisine, Wexford is a fabulous place to unwind and relax for a couple days.
History lovers and ancestry buffs will want to visit the Dunbrody Famine Ship to learn about the Irish immigrant experience while water lovers will head straight to the sea for windsurfing, sailing and fishing.
Here are 6 fun things to do in Wexford, Ireland to make the most of your visit!
Ireland’s Ancient East
Wexford has a rich, deep history. On our visit, we dived a bit into Ireland’s ancient past. Here’s a bit about what we learned:
Ancient Irish history can be categorized into two main waves:
- the Viking Raids
- the Norman invasion
After Vikings arrived to the Emerald Isle in 795 AD, they built ports at Dublin, Waterford, Wexford and Limerick = these eventually became Ireland’s first cities.
The Norman Invasion
During this period, Ireland was governed by individual túatha, or medieval fiefdoms. It wasn’t until dynamic leader Brian Boru united North and South clans to become High King of Ireland that the country became one.
Brian Boru died at the Battle of Clontarf in 1014, leaving behind no single heir strong enough to maintain his kingship. The country fell into regional squabbling and one such king, the King of Leinster, fled to Britain, seeking foreign aid to restore his lands.
He found Norman knight Richard de Clare, nicknamed ‘Strongbow’ to aid him. In exchange, the King of Leinster gave Strongbow his pretty daughter (and sole heiress) Aoifa in marriage.
The Normans successfully crossed over, conquered Ireland and intermarried with the local Irish, altering the course of Irish history forever.
A couple centuries later, Wexford played another momentous turning point in Irish history.
By the 1600s, Ireland was under control of the English, yet the locals increasingly sought freedom. Part of the conflict stemmed from religion – most native Irish were Catholic and wanted the right to rule themselves. The English king on the other hand, was Protestant.
In 1641, rebellion broke out in Ireland and County Wexford was a hotbed for Confederate (Catholic) support. Oliver Cromwell and the English army were dispatched to Ireland to quell the unrest, and he brutually squashed the Confederate cause.
For another ~100 years Ireland was governed by the English, until a second rebellion broke out in 1798 – again in Wexford.
You can check out Vinegar Hill and New Ross to understand the nuances of the conflict in more detail!
Wexford’s green hills and sunny climate mean that the county produces some of Ireland’s best food. Of course that includes the staple Irish potato… but Wexford’s strawberries get some serious recognition too!
The area is also featured heavily in films.
The movie Brooklyn with Saoirse Ronan was filmed in Enniscorthy and Saving Private Ryan was filmed on Ballinesker Beach northeast of Wexford town.Read more: 8 Reasons to Hop Over to Waterford
Where to Stay in Wexford
County Wexford is the place to live and visit in Ireland.
It’s position in the south east of Ireland grants it more hours of sunshine and slightly warmer temperatures than the rest of the Island so it’s beaches are well loved!
Wexford is the largest county in the Leinster province (Ireland has 32 counties and 4 provinces) and holds the 4th largest population in Ireland.
We bounced back and forth a bit between Wexford, Waterford and New Ross so I have a couple hotel recommendations below!
Here are 3 of the best hotels in Wexford:
1 | Brandon House Hotel – Brandon House is a bit of an older hotel, but rooms are clean and we slept super well in the comfy beds.
We had dinner in the lobby restaurant which was unexpectedly amazing – I highly recommend the huge dessert selection! More photos of our meal in this post.
Book rooms: Booking.com, Hotels.com | Check prices: TripAdvisor
2 | The Talbot Hotel – Talbots is a huge, modern hotel right in the center of town and we were pleasantly surprised to see that our room, although cozy, had a view directly over Wexford harbor. Breakfast was great too – lots of choice!
Book rooms: Booking.com, Hotels.com | Check prices: TripAdvisor
3 | Clayton Whites Hotel – Clayton Whites has huge apartment like rooms and lots of amenities – from a luxurious spa, lots of conference & meeting rooms as well as a large gym.
With comfortable beds, clean facilities and a convenient location within walking distance from the town center, it makes a good all around hotel choice for Wexford!
Book rooms: Booking.com, Hotels.com | Check prices: TripAdvisor
Best Things to Do in Wexford
We spent 2 days in Wexford and left amazed at all that the area has to offer.
From great food, beautiful scenery to lots of history, Wexford has lots to offer for any travelers. Below I’ve listed some of the most popular points of interest in Wexford as well as fun nearby day trips.
1. Dunbrody Famine Ship
If you’re Irish American, you must visit the Dunbrody Famine Ship and Kennedy Homestead.
This brilliant museum tells the story of Ireland’s massive emigration in the 1840s, during the Great Famine. Over 2 million people left Ireland, driven by hunger and the hope for a better life abroad.
There’s a great world map in the museum displaying Irish populations all over the world as well as a life size replica of the original famine ships. It’s a must to tour the dark, musty ship underbellies where staff in character vividly illustrate what the harrowing journey was like.
2. Hook Lighthouse
Hook Lighthouse stands guard at the tip of Hook Peninsula.
Its distinctive squat shape and classic black and white stripes render it striking against the crashing waves.
Hook has been operating for over 800 years, making it the oldest operational lighthouse in existence! Monks have lit a beacon here as far back as the 5th century. Guided tours can take visitors all the way up to the very top for a beautiful view over the rocks.
You can book the tour online here.
Look out for whales, sea lions and fisherman!
3. Irish National Heritage Park
For the outdoor lovers and kids, Irish National Heritage Park is a must visit!
This outdoor museum is located within a forest so that visitors walking along the paths journey through over 9,000 years of Irish history.
We had fun taking photos in the various huts, dwellings and stone circles. You can even camp out and rent the ring fort for a one-of-a-kind stay.
The National Heritage Park offers a huge range of fun tours and classes, including basket weaving, archery, axe throwing, falconry, blacksmithing, bow making, pottery, egg decorating, fencing, small game butchering, stonework classes… and more!
Seriously, the list of courses offered here is extensive. I wanted to do them all.
We met the head falconer and his gorgeous falcon up close and finished our day with a glorious Viking style dinner in the long house. You can see more photos of our fun meal here.
4. New Ross
Wexford is right in the middle of Ireland’s Ancient East, a designation given to the area for its pivotal role in the country’s history.
At New Ross, local volunteers have created colorful, hand woven tapestries to depict crucial moments throughout Irish history. All the work is voluntarily created by local volunteers and the museum is quite unique!
Enniscorthy is a quaint town between Wexford and Dublin with its own local castle.
Spirited local volunteers run re-enactments of the Battle of Vinegar Hill (the later half of Irish history involving the fight for home rule against the English).
6. Ireland’s Best Beaches
Wexford has several fun beaches along its coastline.
There’s Curracloe Beach on the coast with its rolling dunes, Rosslare Beach popular with water sports enthusiasts and secluded twins Dollar Bay and Booley Bay for a bit of privacy.
Give white water kayaking a go while you’re in Wexford!
Enjoy visiting Wexford, Ireland! Let me know if there are any restaurants or sights you think I missed in the comments.
Essential Tips for Visiting Ireland
Getting In | Aer Lingus, the national Irish airline, offers non-stop flights from select US cities. Two reasons to recommend Aer Lingus: low nonstop fares from many US cities and their pre-clearance facilities. We found cheap flights to Ireland in October – you can check for flight deals and routes here.
When returning to the U.S., take advantage of the U.S. pre-clearance facilities at Dublin and Shannon airports, where you complete U.S. immigration, customs and agriculture controls before departure so that when you land in the U.S., you can just collect your bags.
Getting Around | If there's one thing I can recommend, it's to rent a car and drive around Ireland. Not only is the Wild Atlantic Way coastal route one of the world's most scenic drives, transportation in Ireland is a bit difficult without your own vehicle. We were nervous about driving on the left but ultimately renting a car was the best decision! Check car rental prices for your dates here.
Where to Stay | I highly recommend staying at an Irish country house during your trip. Irish hospitality is truly something else. For unique luxury accommodation check out out Ireland's Blue Book. Or, take advantage of Airbnb for a local experience!
Protect | Lastly, be sure to visit Ireland with travel insurance. Whether you get injured and need to be hospitalized, your phone gets stolen, or a flight delay leaves you with nothing but the clothes on your back, travel insurance will help when you need it most. Hurricane Ophelia hit the country smack in the middle of our road trip! Get a quote for your trip here.
You Might Also Enjoy:
Ireland Vacation Planning Articles
Ireland Travel Tips: Know Before You Go
The Most Beautiful Places in Ireland
How to Plan the Perfect Ireland Itinerary
Where to Stay: 10 Enchanting Irish Castle Hotels
Packing Checklist: What to Wear in Ireland
For Foodies: All the Best Food We Ate in Ireland
Ireland Road Trips
The Best Stops on the Wild Atlantic Way (with map!)
7 Useful Tips for Renting a Car in Ireland
How to Master Driving in Ireland (as a tourist!)
Irish Sights, Activities & Tours We Especially Enjoyed:
Co Galway: Visiting Kylemore Abbey, Ireland's Most Beautiful Castle?
Co Kerry: Can't Miss Sights in Killarney & Dingle
Co Waterford: Waterford, Ireland's Oldest City, the House of Waterford Crystal & Mount Congreve Gardens
Co Wexford: Don't Skip Wexford - Here's Why!
Co Kilkenny: Exploring Kilkenny Castle, in photos
Restaurant & Hotels We Loved:
County Clare: Gregans Castle Hotel
County Galway: Rosleague Manor Hotel, Where to Stay in Galway
County Wexford: The Strand Inn
County Waterford: The Cliff House Hotel, The Reg Pub
Travel Guide: Belfast
Where to Stay in Belfast as a First Time Visitor
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Thank you for putting this together. I am reading a few of your Ireland blogs in preparation for my next trip there in May. I used your Spain blog for a good deal of my itinerary last year.
Thanks again and happy travels!
Hi Dennie – thanks so much for commenting and letting me know!! So glad it was helpful. I loved Ireland even more than Spain so I think you’ll have a fantastic trip :)
Thank you again for your great indepth and insight blog. I just came back from Ireland a few days ago and like you we loved Ireland more than Spain in many ways. What really helped was we had mild sunny weather and clear skies our entire trip.
We are probably heading to France next year so I’ll surely check your posts for insights and details.
Hi Dennie – thanks so much for taking the time to comment – so glad you found the travel posts helpful! Ah, you’re lucky to have gotten such great weather in Ireland. Where in France will you be headed? I’m dying to visit the french countryside and small villages in the south someday!
I’m not sure where we’d go in France as I spend months looking at blogs, pinterest posts and travel guides as I start putting my itinerary together. I think tentatively we’d spend 4 days in Paris which includes a day trip to Versailles. The rest of the trip would likely be in the countryside.
I’m planning to move to Ireland late 2020-mid 2021. Have spent time in Greystones/Bray, Waterford, and Galway and toured around other areas. Hoping to find commentary on what it is like LIVING in Wexford. Touring spots wear thin after a visit or two, so I’m more interested in the average living conditions as to pace of life, things to do, events and special markets. Hope you can steer me to a blog or other online way of getting a sense of what living there full time would be.
Hi Michael – that sounds exciting! I’ve never lived in Ireland so don’t know first hand but perhaps Facebook has some groups. I’m sure you can ask locals at the pub in Wexford as well – they will probably have local tips!