If you’re planning a road trip of Ireland you’ll likely want to create a list of the best things to do in Kilkenny.
The city of Kilkenny is one of the most popular holiday destinations in Ireland. Kilkenny is a perfect weekend getaway, located a short 90 minute drive south of Dublin. It’s regularly ranked as Ireland’s loveliest inland city and is most famous for its ancient medieval history.
History of Kilkenny
Kilkenny rose to prominence in the 13th-century when it became the medieval capital of Ireland. It was home to the Anglo-Norman Butler family, who came to power in the 1390s and ruled for over 500 years.
Today, Kilkenny continues to show off her ancient architectural legacy. History buffs visit to explore the city’s medieval alleys, small artisan houses, and architectural icons Kilkenny Castle, St. Canice’s Cathedral, and the Black Abbey.
Ancient Wonders and Modern Marvels
Kilkenny sits perched over the River Nore and is framed by the spectacular Kilkenny Castle to the south and St. Canice’s Cathedral to the north.
Kilkenny is conveniently compact, making it an easily walkable city best discovered on foot. Be sure to enjoy a stroll along the Medieval Mile, a discovery trail running through the centre of Kilkenny city linking the castle to the cathedral.
You can purchase a Medieval Mile Pass, offering free admission to Kilkenny Castle, Medieval Mile Museum, Rothe House, Smithwick’s Experience, St. Canice’s Cathedral & Round Tower, Kilkenny Cycling Treasure Hunt, Kilkenny Road Train Tours, Kilkenny City Tours Train and Kilkenny Ghost Tour.
While Kilkenny is most famous for its medieval streetscape, it’s the city’s modern marvels and contemporary cool that make a visit here so rewarding. Once you’ve soaked up the city’s medieval marvels, relax at a luxury spa, tuck into afternoon tea, grab a pint at a local pub or enjoy late night laughs at a comedy club.
Best Things To Do in Kilkenny
We suggest spending two nights in Kilkenny. You’ll have plenty of time to explore the city and enjoy a jaunt to popular nearby attractions such as Jerpoint Abbey and Dunmore Cave.
There are plenty of fun things to do in Kilkenny year-round. The best festivals in Kilkenny include:
- Kilkenny Trad Festival, March
- Kilkenny Roots Festival, May
- Kilkenny Arts Festival, August
- Cat Laughs Comedy Festival, August
- Savour Kilkenny Food Festival, October
Best Hotels in Kilkenny
- Pembroke Hotel: this four star hotel is the most luxurious accommodation in downtown Kilkenny featuring a bar, restaurant, medispa and suites overlooking the castle.
- Newpark Hotel: luxury boutique hotel featuring full-service spa, indoor and outdoor pools, restaurant and cocktail bar.
- Kilkenny Hibernian Hotel: historic Belle Epoque property featuring two restaurants and three bars.
- Hotel Kilkenny: contemporary hotel featuring full-service spa, indoor pool, restaurant and bar.
- Mount Juliet Estate: located a short 20 minute drive from downtown Kilkenny, Mount Juliet is the regions most luxurious accommodation. Guests enjoy posh suites, award winning golf course, equestrian centre and fine dining restaurants.
The Parade, 353-56-770-4100
Kilkenny’s must-see attraction is its iconic castle, an architectural marvel that sits perched over the River Nore. The Norman fortress is undoubtably one of Ireland’s most famous castles.
Built in 1190s and occupied until 1935, Kilkenny Castle features distinct drum towers and stone walls. The city’s powerful Butler family lived in the castle from the late 14th century. Their descendants eventually bequeathed the castle to the government in 1967 for just £50.
Two wings of Kilkenny Castle have been resorted to their 19th-century designs and include a drawing room, library and jaw-dropping Long Gallery adorned with an impressive picture collection. Take a moment to step outside and you’ll find Kilkenny Castle’s French Classical gardens with terraces opening into a woodland park.
The Close, 353-56-776-4971
Built in the 13th-century, this hilltop cathedral showcases an early English Gothic style. St. Canice’s Cathedral was sacked by Cromwell’s military in 1650, but has survived as one of Ireland’s most meaningful medieval treasures.
The walls of St. Canice’s Cathedral are made from local black limestone which give the space a hauntingly simple grandeur. Enjoy a stroll and you’ll find 16th century tombs, including beautiful effigies of the Butler family. The cathedral’s iconic Round Tower is the oldest standing structure in Kilkenny, dating back to the mid 9th-century. It is one of only two towers in Ireland that can be climbed. From the top of St Canice’s Cathedral Round Tower you can enjoy excellent views overlooking Kilkenny.
Kilkenny’s famous Black Abbey sits just outside the original town walls. The Dominican abbey was founded in 1225 and still to this day acts as a working monastery.
The Black Abbey’s church has a fine vaulted undercroft, jaw-dropping stained-glass windows, distinctive stonework and 14th century alabaster statue of the Holy Trinity.
St Mary’s is Kilkenny’s Roman Catholic cathedral. Designed by William Deane Butler in 1842, the completed church opened its doors in 1857.
St. Mary’s Cathedral in Kilkenny is constructed from local limestone. The cathedral has a cruciform plan and its style is best described as Early English Gothic. Its design is believed to have been inspired by Gloucester Cathedral in England.
St Mary’s Cathedral is situated on the highest point in the city of Kilkenny and features a notable sculpture of the Madonna by Giovanni Maria Benzoni.
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The Castle Yard, 353-56-779-6147
Kilkenny Design Centre is located within Kilkenny Castle’s stable block. The celebrated Design & Craft Gallery in Kilkenny has a nationwide reputation for promoting uniquely Irish artistic works.
From Kilkenny Castle skip across the street and you’ll arrive at the Design Centre, featuring a gift shop filled with hand-crafted Irish gifts. Shopaholics have an opportunity to browse through one of Ireland’s best collections of jewellery, knitwear, porcelain, pottery, glass and sweet smelling beauty products.
Further afield you’ll find the National Craft Gallery, two sun-soaked wings that showcase works by notable Irish artists. These petite gallery spaces routinely rotate through exhibitions that feature a wild variety of crafts, from soft woollen sculptures to avant-garde pottery.
15 Patrick Street, 056-772-2828
Butler House is the Dower House of Kilkenny Castle and has been associated with the Butler Family and the Dukes and Earls of Ormonde who resided at Kilkenny Castle for over 500 years. Today, the Butler House Kilkenny features decor and furnishing that reflect a 1970s Art Deco style.
Skip through the Butler House Garden in the early afternoon to enjoy Kilkenny’s best high tea. Ranked as one of Ireland’s best afternoon tea’s, Butler House offers guests a historic setting via large bay windows, original plastered ceilings, castle views and artwork from the Basil Goulding Collection.
Chef Gerard Dunne offers a decadent high tea menu featuring sweet and savoury treats enjoyed alongside 16 bespoke teas.
16 Parliament Street, 353-56-772-2893
Rothe House is an early 17th-century merchant’s home built in 1594. It consists of three separate town houses, three enclosed courtyards and a newly restored rooftop garden. Built between 1594 and 1610 by a wealthy merchant, Rothe House was John Rothe Fitzpiers family home and place of business.
Today, Rothe House is owned by the Kilkenny Archaeological Society and open to the public throughout the year. Rothe House is also home to the organizations curious collection of artefacts relating to life in Kilkenny. Be sure to spend some time in the library, which contains a collection of local newspapers, maps, family archives and books.
The self-guided tour finishes at the Rothe House garden, which opened to the public in 2008. It’s a reconstruction of an early 17th-century Irish town garden, and includes a large orchard of fruit trees alongside a vegetable and herb garden.
44 Parliament Street, 353-56-778-6377
Beer lovers visiting Kilkenny will love the Smithwick’s Experience located on the Medieval Mile directly across the street from Rothe House. Kilkenny’s beer loving museum is the original site where Smithwick’s beer was originally brewed from the 1700s until 2014. Previously the site was owned by Franciscan friars who also brewed beer before they were disbanded during the Reformation in 1537.
Opened in 2014, the Smithwick’s Experience offers an interactive and educational tour of one of Ireland’s most popular ales. Visitors enjoy an interactive journey through the Irish breweries 300 years of history. Guided one hour tours explain how the famous ale is made and include visual effects, holograms, tastings and gift shop.
The Smithwick’s brewery tour involves all the senses, allowing visitors to smell hops, taste fresh wort, feel the temperature of roasted barley, see a seven foot tall hologram monk and hear the sounds of monastery halls. The final stop of the Smithwick’s Experience is at a cozy beer bar where you can enjoy a freshly poured pint or tasting of the breweries three brews.
2 St Mary’s Lane, 056-781-7022
Located within the 13th century site of St Mary’s cruciform church, The Medieval Mile Museum is Kilkenny’s newest tourist attraction. First opened in the winter of 2017, it shares the stories behind the city’s Medieval Mile and the wealthy merchants who built and attended St Marys church and ruled the city between 1200 and 1650.
Visitors to St Mary’s Medieval Mile Museum have the opportunity to explore a treasure trove of artefacts that share stories of Ireland and its people over more than 800 years of history. Highlights include medieval sculptures and Ireland’s largest collection of Renaissance tombs.
Be sure to skip up the stairs to the museums Kilkenny Room, offering jaw-dropping views overlooking the city. The petite space features a selection of books, letters, petitions and leases that shed light on what daily life would have been like right back to the 1200s.
Kilkenny’s Butter Slip dates back to the early 17th century, running under two houses and featuring an arched entry and stone steps to a narrow and covered walkway. The picturesque hidden alley connects Kilkenny’s High Street with Kieran Street.
Kilkenny’s Butter Slip was originally established by Nicholas Langton. Utilizing locally-sourced limestone, the covered walkway was always cool, perfect for merchants who came here to sell freshly churned butter on market days.
Today, Butter Slip is filled with local businesses that cater to tourists who pause to snap photos under the famous stone archway. The famous street plays home to an Irish wool shop, restaurant, pub, nail salon and shoe shop.
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The River Nore is a 140 kilometre long river located in south-east Ireland that slices directly through downtown Kilkenny. In pre-Famine years the famous Irish river powered many industries including breweries, woolen mills, sawmills, marble works, distilleries and grain mills.
Skip across John’s Bridge today and you’ll enjoy one of the best views of the city. Straddling the River Nore photographers snap postcard-perfect shots of Kilkenny Castle on the bustling bridge. You can also enjoy the River Nore by cycling or walking along the river boardwalk. If the sun is shining in the afternoon you can enjoy lunch and a pint of fresh beer on a sunny patio directly below the city’s iconic medieval castle.
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Kilkenny’s most famous bar is The Hole in the Wall. The tiny bar and live music venue is housed in the oldest townhouse in Ireland – the 1582 Archer Inner House at 17 High Street.
The Elizabethan building features a tiny tavern on the main floor and Archer room upstairs where local bands jam. The Hole in the Wall was fully restored over the last 10 years and now open to visitors for the first time in hundreds of years.
Kilkenny’s adorable Hole in the Wall acts as a cafe during the day and lively bar serving organic craft beers, local cider and wines into the wee hours of the evening.
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St Kieran’s Street, 056-772-1064
Kyteler’s Inn is the best pub in Kilkenny to feast on authentic Irish dishes while enjoying traditional folk music.
Kytelers Inn in Kilkenny has a history that dates back to 1263, “Its first owner occupies a special place in the history of Kilkenny. The daughter of a Norman banker, Alice de Kyteler married four times and in the process amassed a considerable fortune. Local jealousies abounded and she was eventually accused of witchcraft and sentenced to be burned. Her excellent connections with local gentry ensured however that she was spirited out of the country to England before the execution could take place.”
Today, Kyteler’s Inn is ranked as one of Kilkenny’s best restaurants and bars. The historic property features a multi-level space including an outdoor beer garden, low-ceilinged basement dining room, main level bar and lively restaurant with seating that wraps around a live trad band.
Kyteler’s Kilkenny offers a lengthy beer and cider list that pairs perfectly with the kitchen’s classic Irish dishes including Bangers & Mash, Irish Stew and Smoked Salmon.
Castlecomer Road, 056-776-7726
Dunmore Cave is located a short 20 minute drive north of Kilkenny. The famous limestone cave in Ballyfoyle is known for its rich archaeological discoveries and for being the site of a Viking massacre in 928.
After arriving at the Dunmore Visitor Centre geology nerds skip down a flight of moss-covered stairs. The entrance of the cave is lush green, playing home to swarms of squawking birds.
The most photographed section of Dunmore Cave is the Market Cross, a distinctly cross-shaped column over 20 feet high.
Jerpoint Abbey is located a short 20 minute drive south of Kilkenny. The famous Romanesque church is surrounded by rural farmland (friendly cows moo at you while walking through the entrance).
The King of Ossory originally founded Jerpoint Abbey near Thomastown in 1158. The abbey flourished until the Dissolution of the Monasteries by Henry VIII.
Today, the Kilkenny’s beloved Cistercian abbey offers visitors an opportunity to explore 13th to 16th century tomb sculpture, a tower and cloister from the 15th century and a sculptured cloister arcade featuring detailed saintly carvings.
Mount Juliet Estate is one of Ireland’s most luxurious rural resorts, located just down the road from Jerpoint Abbey.
The 32 bedroom Manor House dates back to the 18th century and has hosted bold faced names such as The King of Ossory, The Black Earl, Lady Juliana and Fitzwilliam Le Gros.
Mount Juliet Estate offers plenty to do for those looking to enjoy a short day trip outside of Kilkenny. Visitors at Mount Juliet Estate enjoy Michelin starred dining at Lady Helen Restaurant, Jack Nicklaus signature golf course, extensive hiking trails, falconry, river and lake fishing and world class equestrian centre.
Horseback riding has been synonymous with Mount Juliet Estate for over 400 years. Mount Juliet Equestrian features two all-weather arenas, a full set of show jumps and trails that spread across the 500 acre estate.
If you’re a cheese lover researching the best things to do in Kilkenny we suggest booking a cheesemaking class at Knockdrinna Farmhouse.
The family-owned business features a popular bakery and cafe where locals enjoy decadent cakes, frothy lattes and fresh brunch plates on weekends.
Behind the cafe you’ll find Knockdrinna’s petite fromage school, designed to teach students how easy it is to make cheese at home.
Knockdrinna’s Kilree Cheese has won the Supreme Champion Award along with the Eugene Burns trophy for Best Irish Cheese…so you’re instructors here are experts at caring for casein.
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