A digital story trail featuring augmented reality which offers tourists an engaging way to discover Waterford’s rich and fascinating history via their smartphone has been shortlisted in the Digital Tourism and Digital Changemaker categories of the .ie Digital Town Awards 2024

The .ie Digital Town Awards recognise and reward projects with a digital element created by town groups, individuals and local communities.

In February of last year, Waterford City and County Council in partnership with Imvizar, and with Fáilte Ireland funding under the Destination Towns Initiative, launched Waterford’s first Digital Story Trail (DST), which explores the history, culture, and heritage of 15 different locations across the city centre, including Reginald’s Tower, Waterford Crystal, the Watchtower and Arundel Square.

Through the use of augmented reality smartphone technology, visitors and locals can experience Waterford’s past by watching digital animations of characters and architecture appear as if they are in the physical world right in front of them. The trail can be accessed for free by scanning one of the numerous QR codes on signs located throughout the city trail or by visiting visitwaterford.com/digitalstorytrail/

This innovative experience seamlessly combines audio, augmented reality, and a simple-to-use web interface which allows visitors to interact with Waterford City’s rich past. Using a mobile device, visitors are transported to 15 key locations where they can listen to tales from historical figures and witness AR recreations of pivotal moments.

In addition to meeting life-like characters from Waterford’s past, scanning the QR code also provides an audio tale from an historical figure, coupled with interesting facts and a timeline of events. Spanning over a thousand years of Waterford’s history, tourists can listen as Reginald, a Viking King and warlord from the 10th century, as he describes his quest to launch raids all over Ireland and watch as Thomas Francis Meagher, Leader of the Young Irelanders in the 1848 Rebellion, raises the first Irish tricolour.

Waterford’s history of master craft making is also recognised.  Rachel Penrose, the wife of one of the founders of Waterford Crystal, William Penrose, appears in a recreation of an 18th century glass-blowing scene. Trail users can also meet Anastasia Fleming, a silversmith from the late 1700s, and see a reimagined façade of her silversmith shop.

Mayor of Waterford City and County, Cllr. Joe Conway commended the initiative saying it truly brings Waterford’s history to life in a fun, engaging and fascinating way.  “With over 1,000 years of history to explore the Digital Story Trail takes the user on an intriguing journey, in which they can meet the characters that shaped Ireland’s Oldest City.”

Orna Holohan, Tourism Officer with Waterford City and County Council said, “The Waterford Digital Story Trail was identified as an ideal way to introduce visitors to the varied stories and characters of Waterford. It provides visitors with free entertainment at any time of the day, taking about one and a half hours to complete.  Users can stop and start at any point, and it purposefully leads people past attractions, shops and café’s to encourage people to dwell longer in the destination.”

The DST has exceeded expectations attracting over 25,000 visitors and boosting the city’s tourism, particularly from international guests. In its first year 75% of users were from Ireland but through promotion international users increased to 43% in 2023 with US, UK, Germany, France and Spain being the top users. Beyond enhancing tourism, the trail has deepened the community’s connection to its heritage, making history more accessible and engaging through innovative technology.

The project’s success has not gone unnoticed. It was featured in the New York Times “52 places to go” list in 2024 and praised on RTE’s Nationwide for its exemplary approach to digital heritage storytelling.

This year’s shortlisted finalists cover the full spectrum of idea development and readiness, with the gala awards ceremony taking place in Athlone on May 24th.