The medieval city of Kilkenny, Ireland, just seems to ooze charm and history. From its winding cobblestone streets to its historic castle, Kilkenny attracts visitors from all over the world. Located about an hour and a half from Dublin, you can easily visit Kilkenny on a day trip, but I hope, after reading this, that you will want to spend a few days exploring Kilkenny so that you can truly get to know this charming city.
Located on the banks of the River Nore in southeastern Ireland, Kilkenny is one of those towns that you have to see to believe. It is the perfect juxtaposition of modern and historic. Modern shops and restaurants stand alongside historic Georgian houses and ancient breweries, giving Kilkenny a look and feel that is all its own.
Once the capital of Ireland, Kilkenny’s long history is evident throughout the town, with some of its structures dating back to the 12th century. Locals and tourist flock to Kilkenny to enjoy some time away from the bustling city. With loads of attractions, it is easy to see why! Whether you are visiting for a day or a week, Kilkenny is truly worth some of your vacation time while in Ireland.
1. Kilkenny Castle
The grand Kilkenny Castle sits perched upon a high point, strategically overlooking the town below. Originally built as a wooden castle in the 12th century, Kilkenny Castle has undergone many facelifts and vast renovations over the years to become the fairy-tale castle that you see today. In the early 13th century, the 4th Earl of Pembroke, William Marshal, replaced the original wooden structure with stone and took residence there. It eventually became the home to the powerful Butler family for the next 600 years.
Visitors to Kilkenny Castle can enjoy taking a self-guided tour to explore the castle. Some rooms of special interest include the newly-restored drawing room, library, and Long Gallery. Art lovers won’t want to miss the gallery in the castle’s basement, with art dating back to the 1700s.
Outside, there are over 50 acres of parkland with gorgeous trees and wildlife abounding. Of course, like most stately homes, there is also a formal rose garden for visitors to enjoy.
Please note that due to the historic nature of the home, some areas are not suitable for visitors with reduced mobility.
Pro Tip: Limited guided tours of the Period Rooms of the castle are also available. The tickets are released online each morning or can be purchased from the ticket office beginning at 9:30 a.m.
2. St. Francis Abbey Brewery
The Smithwick’s Experience
For a one-of-a-kind experience that takes you through the history of an awesome Kilkenny business, you have to check out the Smithwick’s Experience.
The art of brewing ale in Kilkenny dates back to the 13th century, when beer-brewing monks created the brew. The craft caught on and continued into the 18th century, when John Smithwick began brewing in the ancient St. Francis Abbey, the current site of the Smithwick’s Experience.
You can learn all about the abbey and the Smithwick family legacy when you enjoy the Smithwick Experience during your time in Kilkenny. At the end of the fully guided tour, you are treated to a free pint of Smithwick’s Ale. You can find information on ticket prices and operating hours on the Smithwick’s Experience website.
Pro Tip: The Smithwick’s Experience is a popular attraction, so be sure to buy your tickets in advance, especially if you are visiting during the summer months.
3. St. Mary’s Cathedral
The beautiful St. Mary’s Cathedral is a neo-Gothic cathedral that was designed by William Deane Butler in 1843. The ornate design immediately draws your eye to the impressive tower that rises up 56 meters and can be seen from all over the city. One of the highlights of visiting St. Mary’s Cathedral is the incredible altar made of Italian marble you will find inside.
Pro Tip: Be sure to visit the nearby Medieval Mile Museum, which houses several historic artifacts at the site of a former 13th-century church.
4. Dunmore Cave
About 15 minutes outside of Kilkenny, you will find a popular and unique tourist attraction, Dunmore Cave. These limestone caverns are more than just a cave, though. These walls hold some serious secrets/
Legend says that over 1,000 people were killed inside these caves during a 10th-century Viking massacre. This might be more than legend, though, as human remains and Viking coins have both been discovered in the caves.
5. St. Canice’s Cathedral
St. Canice’s Cathedral sits on the north end of town and is a prominent fixture in Kilkenny. As one of the most popular heritage sites in Ireland, it is well worth a visit during your time in the city.
The Gothic-style cathedral was built on the site of an earlier church and is said to be under construction from 1251–1820. Despite many reconstruction projects and even an attack by Oliver Cromwell in 1640, St. Canice’s is still excellently preserved, both inside and out.
The Round Tower of St. Canice’s Cathedral stands tall over Kilkenny and is said to be the oldest standing structure in town. Not only can you catch a glimpse of it, but you can also climb it if you’d like!
6. Jerpoint Park
If you have ever wondered what it would be like to visit a lost city, you must add Jerpoint Park to your Kilkenny itinerary. During the 12th century, the town of Newton Jerpoint was a bustling city that just suddenly faded out of existence. The town was forgotten until a pig farmer named Joe O’Connor unearthed the ancient town over 800 years later. Not only did O’Conner find the lost city of Jerpoint, but he also found the tomb of Saint Nicholas of Myra (an inspiration for Santa Claus).
Today, O’Connor and his wife offer tours of the lost town and live sheep-dog demonstrations on their property.
Pro Tip: Be sure to book your tour in advance to enjoy some of Mrs. O’Connor’s tea and scones!
7. Kyteler’s Inn
When you visit Kyteler’s Inn, not only are you visiting one of the oldest pubs in Ireland, but you are also visiting an establishment with a fascinating story. The pub’s founder and namesake, Alice de Kyteler, was born in Kyteler’s House in 1263. During her life, she acquired four husbands, all of which were of considerable wealth. All four of Alice’s husbands died mysterious deaths within a few years of marrying her, and Alice inherited vast wealth from each one.
When her fourth husband, Sir John de Poer, changed his will to name Alice and her son William and the beneficiaries, Poer’s other family members were enraged. They brought charges of witchcraft against Alice, and she was found guilty before an ecclesiastical court. After the conviction, Alice and her son escaped to England, leaving behind her inherited Kyteler’s Inn.
Today, Kyteler’s Inn is a thriving pub and a must-see during your time in Kilkenny. They offer up lively music, delicious “bangers” (sausage), and a fine selection of whiskey and wine.
Pro Tip: Try to visit on the weekend to enjoy the live Irish music. You can find more information on the Kyteler’s Inn website.
8. Kells Priory
It’s easy to step back in time when you are visiting Ireland, especially Kilkenny. One way to do that is to visit the many ruins found throughout the county. One such ruin is located right in Kilkenny: Kells Priory.
The monastery was built in 1193 and has had quite a past. Founded by Strongbow’s brother-in-law during a violent time in Irish history, the priory burned down three times in the first 150 years of its existence. The stone-walled ruins that you see before you today make that dark period in history seem like a distant past. Visiting Kells Priory today evokes a serene peacefulness and is definitely one of the reasons to visit Kilkenny, Ireland.
9. Kilfane Glen And Waterfall
Head a few minutes southwest of the city center and you will find yourself immersed in a gorgeous Irish garden that was planted at the end of the 18th century.
Kilfane Glen is an incredibly romantic 6-hectare garden that is said to resemble the one at Marie Antoinette’s Petit Trianon. The flowerbeds planted at Kilfane are in the same formation as when they were designed over 200 years ago. Walking through the garden, you will pass a serene, bubbling stream with ornate bridges traversing it. Of course, the sight that most people love the most is the 10-meter man-made waterfall that is sourced from a canal built just for that purpose.
It is important to note that much of the garden is on natural terrain, with some uneven surfaces. There is also a small entry fee to visit the gardens, but that money goes to a good cause as it helps to maintain and preserve Kilfane Glen and Waterfall. For more information, please visit the Kilfane Glen and Waterfall website.
Pro Tip: There are no concessions or catering facilities at the gardens, so be sure to pack water and snacks if you plan on staying for a while.
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