Wexford began as a Viking town in the 10th century, when the "deep pool" in or around today's Crescent Quay provided a safe berthing place for longboats. The town of Veisafjörðr ("Bay of the Mud Flats") was thus established. Following the Norman conquest in the late 12th century, a walled town was established. Over the ensuing centuries, Wexford became a successful port.
However, during the 20th century, the silting up of Wexford Harbour made it almost unnavigable, restricting it nowadays to pleasure craft and a small fleet of fishing boats.
Over the years, Wexford has remained at the forefront of Irish history. Due to its position, it has been constantly targeted by invaders - the Vikings, the Normans and, most tragically, Oliver Cromwell, whose armies entered Wexford town in 1649, killing over half of its inhabitants. Wexford was also an important site for the failed rebellion of 1798, and in its aftermath, the heads of many rebellion leaders were displayed on Wexford Bridge. This important event has been immortalised in songs such as "The Boys of Wexford" and "Boolavogue" which most Wexford people learn in primary school.
Following an economically depressed period in the mid-20th century, Wexford has now recovered and is a vibrant, forward-looking town with a population of 20,000. Its people are fiercely proud of where they come from, and the town exudes a certain joie de vivre that can be hard to find elsewhere in Ireland. Perhaps due to its maritime past, recurring waves of invaders or its annual world-famous opera Festival, Wexford is also one of the most cosmopolitan towns in Ireland. it is also one of the cleanest, having been declared "litter free" by a recent inspection from Irish Businesses Against Litter (IBAL).
The Tourist Office on the Quayfront is open year-round, and provides reams of information on various activities such as walking tours, hill walking, local festivals, cultural events, horseriding, accommodation choices and eating out.
Wexford is easily accessible from south Wales and France (Cherbourg and Roscoff), as the ferry port of Rosslare is 20 km (less than half hour drive) from central Wexford. There are ferry sailings every day and you can catch a bus or train to Wexford. See the Rosslare article for ferry info.
An around town bus service is operated by Shuttlebus - look for the yellow and blue bus-stop signs. The same company also operates services to Kilmore Quay and Castlebridge.
Within the town, most attractions are of an ecclesiastical nature. St. Iberius Church, on North Main Street, is a must see for its romanesque influenced architecture. Also worth a look are the twin churches at Rowe Street and Bride Street. Built in 1858, and designed by a student of Pugin, both are fantastic examples of 19th-century neo-gothic church architecture. However, as Bride Street has undergone major alterations, Rowe Street is the more impressive. The ruins of Selskar Abbey, and the adjoining Westgate tower are also of interest. The former was where Henry II of England reputedly did penance for the murder of Thomas Beckett, archbishop of Canterbury. The latter is the only surviving gate in Wexford's town wall, dating back to the 12th century and the Norman invasion of Ireland. Other portions of the wall may be seen at Abbey Street and Mallin Street.
The revamped quayfront provides pleasant strolls along the River Slaney. Almost a sight in themselves are Wexford's narrow winding Viking streets. Follow the Main Street from Selskar onwards and discover the atmospheric buzz of the town. Many lanes linking the quayfront and the Main Street still exist - most notably Keyser's Lane, which was the main thoroughfare linking the quays to the town in Viking times.
- Irish Agricultural Museum and Johnstown Castle Gardens, Murrintown Rd (10 minute drive from Wexford town centre; follow brown signs from the N25). Museum daily Jul–Aug M–F 9am-6pm, Sa–Su & bank hols 11am-6pm (shorter hours other months). The stately home of Johnstown Castle is now home to the Irish Agricultural Museum as well as a finely laid out park, including artificial lakes, Gothic towers and statues. The museum has a tea-room. Museum & gardens: adult €8.
- Irish National Heritage Park (3 km from Wexford town, on the main Dublin-Wexford road). This sprawling complex shows the history of Ireland stretching back thousands of years through life-size displays of living quarters and places of worship. Try to come on a sunny day as it is all outside. The Fulacht Fia restaurant in the centre is very good for lunch.
Boat trips around Wexford Harbour, and seal watching tours out to Raven Point are provided by Harbour Thrills on the quayside, providing a mix of adrenaline and nature! Alternatively, hire a boat at Ferrycarrig and explore the river yourself.
Wexford Golf Course is located a few minutes from the town centre at Mulgannon. Other nearby courses can be found at Garrylough, Rathaspeck, Rosslare, Blackwater and St. Helen's Bay.
Horse racing is catered for at Bettyville racecourse, 2 km outside town. Roughly ten meetings a year are held.
Wexford Festival Opera has been drawing committed music fans from far and wide for over half a century: up-and-coming directors and designers joining forces with the dynamic musical talent to create brand-new productions; choral and orchestral concerts, lunchtime recitals, talks, stand-up shows, an extensive fringe programme, a setting of genuine charm. Since 2009, the festival has taken place in the Wexford Opera House. Replacing the quaint Theatre Royal, but sensitive to its surroundings, this has become one of Ireland's foremost cultural venues, with a year-round series of events taking place.
Wexford's Main Street is a wonderful place to browse local produce. Its atmospheric twists and turns, combined with an ever-present buzz and much pedestrianisation, provide an unique shopping experience. Wexford is renowned for its strawberries. Wexford Creamery cheese is also extremely good - try their vintage cheddar.
Handmade jewellery can be bought at Wexford Silver (North Main Street).
Westgate Design (North Main Street) provides an array of authentic souvenirs and crafts in its cavernous store. Slightly further afield, Ballyelland pottery (situated in Castlebridge) produces superb, unique pieces.
Wexford has a well-established culinary tradition, with most of the town's restaurants having been included in Top 100 lists at one time or another.
Very good are The Yard (George Street) and Forde's (Crescent Quay), both of which fall into the Modern Irish/European category. Le Tire bouchon (South Main Street, above the Sky and the Ground pub) offers an Irish take on French cuisine.
For Asian cuisine, Vine restaurant on North Main Street is superb. Watch the chefs prepare your meal through the open kitchen while you enjoy the excellent service and energetic atmosphere.
Spice (Monck Street above The Crown Bar) has excellent Indian cuisine, though bear in mind that it caters to the slightly less robust Irish taste, so you may need to request extra chilli!
Robertino's pizzas are also very good.
- La Cuisine, North Main St. Cheap and delicious but it can be difficult to find a table. Try their white coffees.
- Chocolate, Common Quay St. Offers an extensive lunch menu, with a sizeable terrace.
- Westgate Design, North Main St. Cheap and tasty, and usually very busy.
- Stable Diet Cafe and patisserie (south end of Main St). Serves award-winning breads cakes and pastries, and does a great lunch.
- La Dolce Vita, Trimmer's Lane. Was once deemed the best Italian restaurant in Ireland by a prominent food critic.
- Taste restaurant, ☎ . Overlooked by the historical ruins of Selskar Abbey, provides excellent traditional Irish and European fare.
- Cistin Eile. Try proper Irish food. Butlers Pudding, Cabbage, Apple & Mustard prepared with flair and care by award-winning chef Warren Gillen, in relaxed setting.
- Premier, South Main St. The chips are renowned amongst locals! Try a rissole, a Wexford speciality.
Wexford plays host to roughly 50 pubs, so plenty of variety is available! Some favourites include the renovated Thomas Moore Tavern in Cornmarket, the Loch & Quay, Maggie Mays and T. Morris on Monck Street, Mackens in the Bullring, the Sky & the Ground and Bugler Doyles on South Main Street.
- Saint George Guest House, George's St, Wexford Town, ☎ , e-mail: email@example.com. Located in town centre, close to all amenities and provide a private lock-up car park.
- Ferrycarrig Hotel, ☎ . Four-star hotel in a spectacular location on the River Slaney estuary.Recently voted Ireland's most family friendly hotel.
- Talbot Hotel Wexford, On the Quay, ☎ . Luxury 4-star hotel on the quays in Wexford, with a spa and swimming pool.
- Whites Hotel (in town centre).
- Maldron Hotel (formerly Quality Hotel) (2½ km from town centre, at New Ross road roundabout on N11/N25).
- Whitford House Hotel (3 km from town centre, at Duncannon road roundabout on N25).
- Riverbank Hotel (across the bridge from the town).
- The Blue Door, Georges St. B&B.
- Westgate House, Westgate. B&B.
- The St. George Guesthouse, George's St. B&B.
- Bugler Doyle's, South Main St. B&B.
- Kirwan House, Mary St (adjacent to the Franciscan Friary). A youth hostel, open to all ages.
- Unnamed campsite, Ferrybank (across the bridge).
- Carlton Millrace Hotel.
- 1 Maple Lodge Bed and Breakfast, Castlebridge (on R741 5klms north of Wexford Bridge), ☎ , e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Check-in: 16:00-19:00, check-out: 11:00. AA & Failte Ireland 4-star quality B&B. Safe parking and walk to restaurants. Guest sitting room/patio picnic area. Breakfast menu. €39 per person.
One cannot mention Wexford without mentioning beaches. The "Sunny South East" offers Blue Flag beaches at Courtown, Duncannon, Curracloe (Ireland's longest at 27 km) and Rosslare, the latter two being a 15-minute drive from Wexford town. Other nearby beaches include Carne beach and St. Helen's Bay south of Wexford town, and Booley Bay and Doller Bay south of Duncannon in the southwest of the county.
The Hook Head lighthouse is the oldest functional lighthouse in Europe, and possibly the world. It offers an interesting visitor's centre and a lovely café! Also, the surrounding area of Hook Head and Slade village provide wild and beautiful scenery.
- Enniscorthy – to the north, on the River Slaney. The National 1798 Centre gives visitors an in-depth look at the failed rebellion of 1798, using interesting and colourful displays.
- Gorey – further north than Enniscorthy
- Kilmore Quay – to the south
- New Ross – The Dunbrody famine ship offer visitors an opportunity to see what life was like on one of the "coffin ships" that left Ireland during the 19th century famine. The John F. Kennedy Park and Arboretum, 11 km south of New Ross, provides for a pleasant day out for the family - there is a café, mini train for the kids, a vast selection of rare plants and trees, and beautiful views of the surrounding area.