This post was originally published on 18 January 2018 and updated 30 June 2020.
Waterford’s Copper Coast is a stunning 25km stretch of coastline from Kilfarassy Beach in the east to Stradbally in the west. It’s an area that I first explored just a couple of years ago, after hearing about it for the first time.
Having spent 15 years living overseas, I figured that explained why I hadn’t heard of the area before. However after mentioning it to several other people, it became clear that the Copper Coast was just a well kept secret in general.
From what I could find online at that time, it looked pretty incredible though. So off I headed with high hopes and I certainly wasn’t disappointed. The only problem was that two days exploring the area just wasn’t enough!
The area gets its name from the copper mines that operated there in the 1800s. You can still see remnants of the industry today, most notably the ruins at Tankardstown, near the village of Bunmahon.
Copper Coast Geopark
In 2004 the region became a UNESCO Global Geopark, reflecting the geological history of the area over a not too shabby 460 million years of evolution. The Copper Coast Geopark was Ireland’s first geopark and is the smallest in the global network.
Things to do & see along the Copper Coast
The Copper Coast makes for a spectacular scenic drive but there is plenty to see and do along the way. It would be such a shame not to stop off and experience at least a little of what the area has to offer.
I don’t think you can go wrong if you just get out and start exploring. It won’t be long before you come across an area of interest that will get your attention. Honestly, two days was not enough for me to soak up everything the Copper Coast had to offer and I’m looking forward to getting back again soon. Here are some of the highlights along the way:
Copper Coast Geopark Centre
The visitor centre is the perfect place to start your Copper Coast adventure and discover more about the area. It’s located in a restored 19th century church in Knockmahon. Here you’ll find exhibitions and 3D animations, as well as information on walking trails in the area. There’s also a cafe and local craft shop.
In Tankardstown, not far from the visitor centre, stop off at the refurbished Tankardstown Engine House, where the mining legacy of the area has been brought to life. The site provides a reminder of the thriving mining industry which at one point provided work for thousands of men & women along this coast.
Geological garden in Bunmahon
460 million years of evolution is quite a bit to get your head around! Stop off at the Geological Garden in Bunmahon, where there are 28 slabs which will guide you through the evolutionary steps. There are also 2 ogham stones in the garden, which were discovered nearby.
There’s certainly no shortage of beautiful beaches and coves along this scenic stretch. You’ll be hard pushed to visit them all but perhaps you’ll find your own favourite as you explore. Bunmahon beach is beautiful, particularly if you want to stretch the legs or catch some waves. Some of my other favourites along the route were Kilfassary beach, Tra Na mBó and Ballydwan bay.
Visit the ruins of Dunhill Castle, located on a rocky outcrop overlooking the Anne Valley. There’s not a whole lot of the castle left but it’s still worth a look and there are some stunning views over the surrounding countryside from here too.
Annestown Heritage Trail
You can walk to Dunhill castle from Annestown beach (another fab beach by the way!) following the Annestown Heritage Trail. The castle is one of the stops on the walk, which takes you through the village and along the picturesque Anne Valley. It’s a loop walk, which takes approximately 90 minutes to complete. You can also download an audio file to listen to as you complete the walk.
Other Walking Trails
The Annestown Heritage Trail is just one of many scenic walks in the region. Trail cards can be picked up from the visitor centre or downloaded from the Copper Coast Geopark website.
Gaulstown Dolmen is one Ireland’s finest examples of a prehistoric portal tomb, or dolmen. Built between 3500 and 400 BC, it’s older than the pyramids of Egypt. The cap stone measures over 5 metres in length.
When to visit
Luckily the panoramic seascapes, rocky headlands, sea stacks, cliffs, secluded coves and bays are always open! So anytime is a good time to visit and explore the Copper Coast really.
Naturally, during the warmer months you’ll have the benefit of longer days to explore. On the other hand there will be a lot more people around and accommodation will be pricier. I love exploring at quieter times.
It was actually the middle of December when I visited. Though it was really cold and quite icy in the early morning, I was very lucky with the weather and it was mainly bright and sunny when I was there. Apart from a couple of surfers, a handful of walkers and one other photographer I met, I had the whole place to myself, which only added to the magic.
Copper Coast Market
The Copper Coast Market is a monthly event, featuring some fabulous small businesses based in Waterford. You’ll find original gift ideas including crafts, jewellery and clothing, with lots of yummy food on offer too. The market usually takes place in Tramore but has more recently been held as a virtual event online, due to COVID19 restrictions. Keep an eye on the Facebook page for updates and be sure to check it out when it’s back up and running.
So, what are you waiting for?!
The Copper Coast is another part of Ireland that has blown me away with its outstanding beauty. It’s also a photographer’s paradise and I found each stop more impressive than the last, as I hopped around its beautiful beaches and bays.
So know that you know all about Ireland’s biggest secret, why not get out there and experience it for yourself. You won’t be sorry.