The first time we visited Kilkenny, Ireland, was about 20 years ago. It was our first time in Ireland, and we went to Kilkenny specifically to visit the castle. A few days earlier, we had met some hardworking men at Dirty Nelly’s pub in Bunratty on the other side of the country. Of course, we ended up sharing a pint with them! We learned that the castle was being renovated, and they were the ones doing the plastering and painting. They told us Kilkenny was a beautiful town with an amazing castle and we should be sure to visit – so we did, and have returned many times since then. I highly recommend spending some time here!
Kilkenny is a great stopping point as you drive from Dublin to other parts of the country. You can spend as much or as little time there as you want. No matter how long you decide to stay, you will be sure to be delighted by its charm, history, architecture and warm Irish hospitality.
The city is only an hour and a half from Dublin, so it’s the perfect place to stop and have lunch, explore, and then continue on to further parts of the Irish countryside. If you decide to stay longer, you’ll be glad you did! If you stay for the whole day and overnight, you can really see a lot of what this town has to offer. If you don’t have that much time, stay for lunch and stroll the Medieval Mile, and plan to return another time. You will love this enchanting Irish town and all it has to offer.
Things to Do in Kilkenny, Ireland
Explore Kilkenny Castle and its beautiful grounds
Kilkenny Castle is everything you want in an Irish castle. It’s beautiful, well-kept and has gorgeous grounds for you to explore at your leisure. The River Nore runs right through the center of town and the view of Kilkenny Castle from the bridge over this river is really quite spectacular.
Kilkenny Castle was a symbol of Norman occupation in Ireland. It was built in 1195 to control an important point on the river where it was possible to cross. With its four corner towers and enormous ditch, it would have been an important part of the town’s defense.
It doesn’t cost anything at all to walk around the beautiful, extensive grounds. You can also meander around the old stables, which have been turned into craft shops and art galleries. It’s fun to browse and admire the artisan pottery and textiles.
There is a fee if you would like to tour the inside of the castle. Tours are usually self-guided, and it takes about an hour to see everything. There are two wings that have been restored and remodeled to show what it would have looked like in Victorian times in the 1800s.
Take a Tour of the Smithwick’s Brewery
On that first trip to Ireland, we were also introduced to Smithwick’s beer, and have been hooked ever since. Of course, we love Guinness, but if you feel like having something other than a stout, “Smitticks” is a great choice. Be sure not to pronounce the “w” when you order. If you pronounce it the way it’s spelled, you’re likely to be kindly corrected. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as it is a good way to strike up a conversation, which is easy to do all over Ireland!
The Smithwick’s Experience is about a 5-minute walk down the street from Kilkenny Castle, and is housed in a Franciscan Abbey were monks brewed ale beginning in the 1300s. John Smithwick founded Smithwick’s Brewery in 1710, and the ale was a part of Kilkenny life for 300 years. The brewery was bought by Guinness in 1965 and was Ireland’s oldest operating brewery when it closed in 2013.
Now it is a great place to visit when you are in town. You can learn a little bit about the beer, the town and the people of Kilkenny during your visit, which includes learning how brewers milled the malt and stirred the mash. You’ll also have a chance to smell the hops which have a fantastic aroma. The tour lasts about an hour and a pint is included in the price of admission. Sláinte!
Visit the Medieval Mile Museum
Meandering along the Medieval Mile is a wonderful, casual walk through time. The Medieval Mile stretches through the very center of Kilkenny between the Anglo-Norman Castle and St. Canice’s Cathedral and Round Tower at the other end of town. You will encounter narrow streets and laneways, as well as historical buildings and landmarks along the way. About half way along the route, you will encounter The Medieval Mile Museum on the site of St. Mary’s 13th-century church and graveyard.
The museum really does provide an international standard attraction for anyone visiting Kilkenny. They have completely renovated the church and included an enormous treasure trove of artifacts that tell the story of Kilkenny and its history as the medieval capital of Ireland. For a fee, you will be guided through the museum and have a chance to learn more about the work and lives of Ireland and its people across more than 800 years of history.
Stop for a Pint at Kytelers Inn
We absolutely love Kyteler’s Inn. Established in 1324, this place has been welcoming visitors for seven centuries. Imagine the stories that have been shared inside these walls, including those about its first owner, a woman accused of witchcraft! This pub is filled with atmosphere, history and charm. Each nook and cranny is worth exploring and a trip to the bathroom here can yield all kinds of fun and interesting treasures.
We ate here with our friends the very first time we visited Kilkenny, again with students when we led study abroad trips in Ireland, and the last time we were here, when it was just the two of us. This place has amazing character, serves good pub grub and is a great place for a pint! The last time we were at Kytelers Inn, we had bangers and mash, tomato soup and a Smithwick’s. It was just what we were looking for at that moment. Lunch here is a quintessential Irish experience.
Discover the Cathedral Church of St. Canice and its Neighboring Round Tower
At the far end of the Medieval Mile, you will find St. Canice Cathedral. Built in the 1200s, it is an absolutely stunning church, and well worth a visit if you have the time. The ceiling is truly remarkable and be sure to take notice of the baptismal font. It is original. Christians have worshipped on this site ever since the 6th century.
I love visiting places where people have gathered to pray, baptize, marry, bury, encourage, inform, and care for each other for hundreds of years. It makes me feel connected to those who came before me. What can we learn from their journey?
The church now belongs to the Church of Ireland and has been carefully preserved in its original Early Gothic style.
If you’d like a great view of Kilkenny and the surrounding beautiful countryside, you can also climb St. Canice’s Celtic Christian Round Tower, adjacent to the church. Constructed in the 9th century, it was built to protect both people and treasures. It was once a watchtower and a refuge. It is the oldest standing structure in Kilkenny, and on a nice clear day (not guaranteed in Ireland), the view from the top is totally worth the climb.
Wander the Streets of Kilkenny
If you are not in a hurry, this is a place where you can meander for hours and just explore with no plan and very little agenda. If you have time, I recommend just wandering the streets of Kilkenny and discovering some of its nooks and crannies at your leisure. If you’d like a specific place to find as you wander, ask someone in the tourist office, or a local on the street, where to find Butterslip Lane. This little part of town is quaint and charming and looks like it came right out of a scene from a Harry Potter book.
High Street in Kilkenny
The Smithwick’s Experience
Jazz at the Left Bank
Kilkenny Castle during the holidays
Kilkenny Castle on the River Nore
On the grounds of Kilkenny Castle
If you happen to be in town on a Sunday evening, check out the Left Bank, just down the street from the castle. This place used to be a bank, but it has been converted into a terrific bar with live jazz on Sunday nights. On some evenings, local dance instructors bring their students here to dance! You can watch or join in, but either way, you’ll have a great night out in a truly extraordinary Irish village.
It is easy to spend a wonderful day in the charming village of Kilkenny. There’s friendly people, lots of history and numerous places to explore. It’s a terrific jumping off place for the rest of your time in Ireland.
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Betsy Ball – Betsy is co-founder and partner of Euro Travel Coach (ETC), which crafts custom European vacations for independent travelers and leads small group trips to Europe. She is a passionate and culturally curious traveler who thoroughly enjoys sharing her love for exploring Europe with ETC clients. Prior to founding ETC, Betsy taught International Business at Tarleton State University in Texas (part of the A & M System) where she led study abroad trips to multiple European countries and other worldwide destinations. She retired from teaching two and a half years ago and now travels 9 months of the year in Europe. She has a degree in hotel, restaurant management from Michigan State University and an MBA from Southern Methodist University in Dallas. She also holds a Level 3 certification from the Wine & Spirits Education Trust.
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