Last updated on February 6, 2024
Kilkenny is definitely one of the most beautiful and interesting cities in Ireland. At least that’s my personal opinion. Why? Please read on…
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When the name Kilkenny is mentioned, many of our guests immediately think of the beer of the same name. Some have also heard of Kilkenny Castle. But when I talk to Irish people, they usually think of hurling when they hear the word “Kilkenny”.
We live (second home) just over an hour’s drive from Kilkenny, where we run our motorbike rental business (https://www.easycruiser.tours) and our guest rooms (https://www.the-view-accommodation.ie) in the summer. We are originally from Germany.
Back to Kilkenny: It is probably the town in Ireland with the most medieval buildings. In addition to Kilkenny Castle, there are several churches and monasteries and some buildings in the city centre, as well as walls, towers and a bridge that date back to this time.
Kilkenny is also a young, lively and cultural city with plenty to see and do. There are always festivals and cultural events here.
A good selection of hotels, B&Bs and pubs make for cosy stays and the surrounding area also offers a number of opportunities for interesting excursions. You can spend a day here, or several, the city is always worth a visit.
What’s more, the castle and old town are very compact. So you can easily park your car at the hotel and explore Kilkenny on foot.
Let’s take a closer look at the city or rather town:
Places of interest in Kilkenny
I would like to introduce you to some of the sights in Kilkenny here:
If you’re short on time and only passing through Kilkenny, you should still stop and take a nice little walk around the castle. The park is beautiful, the castle is beautiful from every angle and you also get nice views of the River Nore below the castle.
Then you can take a short walk into the old town opposite the castle and have a cosy lunch or teatime in one of the pubs or cafés and get a nice first impression of Kilkenny.
If you have more time, I highly recommend taking the one-hour guided tour of the castle’s interior. See: https://kilkennycastle.ie/.
I have already written a separate article about Kilkenny Castle, which I will link for you below this article.
The Medieval Mile Museum
If you’re interested in the Middle Ages, you’ve come to the right place. St Mary’s Church was built in the 13th century and is now home to the Medieval Mile Museum. From Vikings to Nomans, the history of Kilkenny and Irelands Ancient East. The museum also offers the Medieval Mile Trail, a guided tour of Kilkenny’s medieval history. See: https://www.medievalmilemuseum.ie/.
The Rothe House & Garden
Rothe House is a beautiful house of a merchant family and was built around 1600. Today it is home to the Kilkenny Archaeological Society. You can view the archaeological exhibits in the house. The garden has been restored and laid out as it probably was at the time. See: https://rothehouse.com/history/.
The Kyteler Inn
The Kyteler House is even older, it was built in the 13th century and this is where Alice de Kyteler was born. There are various versions as to whether she was the daughter of a Flemish merchant family or of Norman parents, but in any case she was born into wealthy circumstances. Alice later had 4 wealthy husbands, all of whom fell ill and died under mysterious circumstances.
Although Alice became very wealthy in the process, she also incurred the enmity of the Bishop of Kilkenny, which led to several years of quarrelling and finally to a trial by the Inquisition. Alice fled to England but was condemned in absentia as a witch. Her son and several friends were also punished and her maid Petronella was flogged and burned at the stake. The house of Ireland’s first convicted witch is now a quaint pub. See: https://www.kytelersinn.com/.
The Shee’s Alm House
Sir Richard Shee founded the Alm House in 1582 as the Alm House, a charitable institution that provided shelter for the needy. Can Alm House be translated as almshouse? I’m not sure, but there is an idea. The house also served as a chapel and hospital over the centuries before it was faithfully restored in 1978 and is now one of Kilkenny’s landmarks.
This building with its vaulted entrance is truly striking. It dates back to the 14th century and served as a council and assembly hall. It also housed the First Book of Kilkenny, the charter granted to the newly founded town by William Marshal, 1st Earl of Pembroke and Lord of the Castle.
The Hole in the Wall pub
This pub dates back to 1582 and was already a popular pub back then. It was lovingly restored by a private individual over many years and rebuilt as faithfully as possible. If you want to see a really old pub, this is the place for you. See: https://www.holeinthewall.ie/.
The Green’s Bridge
You have to look for Green’s Bridge, as it is located a little way north of the city centre. It was built to cross the River Nore to get to St Canice Cathedral. It was built, destroyed and rebuilt several times. The current arch bridge was completed in 1766 and is one of the most beautiful bridges in Ireland. It was modelled on the Bridge of Tiberius in Rimini, Italy.
St Canice’s Cathedral and the round tower
The beautiful St Canice’s Cathedral was built in the 13th century. However, there were ecclesiastical buildings on this site much earlier, as the well-preserved round tower next to the church was built as early as the 9th century. These round towers were mainly built in Ireland and were places of refuge for monks and their ecclesiastical treasures in times of raids, for example by the Vikings. The old graveyard around the church emphasises the special atmosphere of this site. Today you can climb the round tower, visit the church and listen to music concerts. See: https://www.stcanicescathedral.ie/.
St Mary’s Cathedral
This Roman Catholic cathedral is much more recent, dating from the early 19th century. It is tall, magnificent and impressively built. See: https://www.stmaryscathedral.ie/.
What else you can do in Kilkenny
If you are less interested in old stones, you can certainly make friends with the modern and lively Kilkenny:
The Smithwick`s Brewery
Kilkenny beer is better known in the world than in Ireland, where it is hard to find. It is an export beer that is modelled on Smithwick’s Red Ale. However, you can visit the old Smithwick’s brewery and taste the Smithwick’s beers. The brewery is no longer active. The parent company, Guinness, closed it in 2013 and has since brewed the beers in the St James Gate Brewery in Dublin. See: https://www.smithwicksexperience.com/.
In Ireland, Kilkenny is best known for hurling, probably the most popular of the Gaelic Games, the Gaelic sports. Kilkenny has provided the Irish champions many times and is practically the spiritual home of this incredibly fast and dynamic sport. You can visit the Kilkenny Way Hurling Experience, learn hurling, get an insight into the sport, visit the Hurling Bar Museum and, of course, eat and drink well. See: https://www.thekilkennyway.com/.
Guided city walk
There are several providers of guided city tours in Kilkenny with different focuses. These are mainly walking tours, which makes sense given the compact city centre. Examples:
Ormonde Langueage Tours offers walking tours in English, French and German, see: https://ormondelanguagetours.com/.
Kilkenny Foodie Tours offers a culinary tour, see: https://www.kilkennyfoodietours.ie/.
Shenanigans offers an entertaining tour mixed with folklore and myths. See: https://www.shenaniganswalks.ie/.
Kilkenny Ghost Tours offers a spooky journey through Kilkenny, see: https://www.kilkennyghosttours.com/.
I have already mentioned the historical tour of the Medieval Mile Museum.
Canoeing on the River Nore
If you like paddling, you can also take a guided kayak tour on the River Nore. See: https://riverbendadventures.ie/.
Do you know a hydrobike? It’s basically a catamaran with a bike on top. You can ride it on the Nore. See: https://kilkennycyclingtours.com/.
Art, crafts and music
Kilkenny has an active arts scene. Whether it’s theatre, music, dance, art or crafts, you’ll find all sorts here.
You will find more classical sounds at “Music in Kilkenny”, see: https://www.musicinkilkenny.org/concerts-events-in-kilkenny.
In Ireland, the harp is a highly symbolic instrument. No wonder that there is also a Historical Harp Society and corresponding concerts. See: https://irishharp.org/.
The Watergate Theatre dates back to the city’s first theatre in the 17th/18th century and offers a wide range of events from children’s theatre to jazz concerts. See: https://www.watergatetheatre.com/.
The Kilkenny Design Centre is located directly opposite the castle, where the old stables used to be. You will find various galleries, artisans and shops here.
There is also a whole range of festivals in Kilkenny, from music to theatre, literature, St. Patrick’s, the Jule Festival at Christmas or the Tradfest of Irish music. Maybe there’s a festival on when you come to Kilkenny? See: https://visitkilkenny.ie/member-category/festivals-events/.
Eat, drink and stay in Kilkenny
There is a wide range of places to stay, restaurants, pubs and cafés in Kilkenny.
You’ll automatically find a nice place to eat on your tour of the city, so you can’t go wrong!
You can book your accommodation on https://arbnb.com or https://booking.com, for example, both platforms are widely used in Ireland. In summer, I would definitely book in advance, but in the off-season you can take your chances and find accommodation locally.
Kilkenny caters to tourists and there are plenty of options for hungry, thirsty or tired travellers.
Is Kilkenny worth a visit? I think so, absolutely. The city has a very nice and cosy atmosphere and even if you’re not a real fan of medieval walls, it’s just nice to stroll around the castle and through the old town.
If an event or festival happens to be taking place in Kilkenny, there’s even more on offer. But there’s also a good chance that you’ll find live music or a few street performers delighting the children with their tricks in front of the castle.
Kilkenny has a lively and positive vibe and even if it can get a bit crowded on a weekend in summer, it’s usually not completely overcrowded, but simply lively!
With this in mind, I hope you have a great day, or several, in Kilkenny!
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Picture credits cover picture: Street musician in the old town of Kilkenny, photo by Ulrich Knüppel-Gertberg (www.easycruiser.tours, www.the-view-accommodation.ie, www.irland-insider.de, www.ireland-insider.com)