What are the best things to do in Kilkenny city? Find out what to see and how to make the most of your time in Kilkenny, Ireland with this essential guide for visitors. – Updated 2019
Kilkenny is one of the mos charming and interesting cities in Ireland.
It is located in the region called ‘Ireland Ancient East’ and it is famous for its important medieval history and castle, its stunning cathedral and round tower and for a dynamic city life that rivals that of Dublin and Galway.
Adding a stop to Kilkenny to an Ireland road trip is easy and rewarding.
In this guide, I share my best tips on how to include Kilkenny in your trip to Ireland and the best things to do in Kilkenny city.
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What is special about Kilkenny?
Kilkenny is a medieval city: its foundation dates back to the 6th century and the city’s past is still visible in the many structures from that time.
Saint Canice cathedral and its wonderful round tower, Kilkenny castle and the colorful meandering medieval streets of the town centre are the best place in Ireland to feel immersed in the city life of long ago!
How long to spend in Kilkenny
Killkenny is a small city and you can see its main landmarks in a matter of hours.
However, I highly recommend to stay a little longer than strictly necessary and allow Kilkenny to surprise you with its dynamic nightlife and buzzy atmosphere.
While medieval in origin, Kilkenny is now a vibrant center for the arts and often hosts art festivals and events of all sorts.
Musicians, performers, writers and artists flock to the city and making the town of Kilkenny one of the best places in Ireland for the arts, nightlife an not just!
I have been to Kikenny several times and there is always something interesting on.
The last event I went to was a festival of economics and comedy – definitely not a standard event and very much emblematic of the original vibe of this city!
How to get to Kilkenny
Kilkenny is an Irish city located in the county of the same name (County Kilkenny), in South East of Ireland.
It is located about 1,5 hours drive from Dublin and it easy to reach by car, bus or train.
Getting to Kilkenny by car
Kilkenny is well connected to the rest of the country by an excellent motorway, the M9, that connects it to Dublin (North East) and Waterford (South).
The city offers several covered parking spaces that give easy access to the town centre.
This is best explored on foot so I highly recommend leaving the car in one of the designated area close to the castle and the Main Street.
The Motorway between Dublin and Kilkenny is excellent and one of the easiest drives in the country. An excellent first stretch for getting used to driving in Ireland.
Kilkenny by train
Kilkenny has a train station connecting it to the rest of the country.
I am personally only familiar with the train from Kilkenny to Dublin, which connects the two cities in about 1.5 hours.
You can check full train schedule on the Irish rail website
Reaching Kilkennny city by bus
Many buses stop in Kilkenny.
You can reach the city with the National Bus service Bus Eireann or you can join one of the many day tours available such as:
- ‘Kilkenny and Wicklow Mountains full day tour from Dublin’
- ‘From Dublin: Glendalough, Wicklow and Kilkenny Day Tour’.
Things to do in Kilkenny city Ireland: top tourist attractions
The best way to visit the city is to wander along its center and take in the atmosphere.
However, while you do that, make sure you do not miss the following attractions.
Kilkenny’s Medieval Mile
Kilkenny is a medieval city and its origins are still visible in the compact layout of its city centre where historical buildings frame the meandering street connecting its majour landmarks.
Two of them, St Canice’s cathedral and Kilkenny castle, punctuate the opposite external borders of the city and the are connected by the so-called ‘medieval Mile’.
This is a discovery trail looping through the heart so of the city of Kilkenny and touching most if not all of the city’s main historical buildings.
The trail itself is not long and it won’t take more than a few minutes to walk from one end of it to the other, but it is so full of attractions, shops and restaurants the best way to explore it is to devote to it a full afternoon.
If you can, arrange your day to have either lunch or dinner in town: the city centre literally bursts with restaurants and cafes and whether you fancy a pint or a coffee you are sure to be spoilt for choice.
The best way to explore the Medieval mile is on foot. Main Street is open to cars but St Kieran street is traffic free (and lovely!)
St Canices’ cathedral
If you came to Ireland looking for mystical atmospheres, ancient graveyards and mysterious round towers overlooking windswept green lawns, you will love the monumental complex of St Canices’.
Dating back to the 6th century, this Gothic cathedral sits on the top of a small hill overlooking Kilkenny city and it is an impressive site.
The church itself is Gothic in style and has large and elaborate stained glass windows and arched naves.
It sits beside a small cemetery with huge Celtic crosses and side by side with one of the most impressive round towers in the whole of Ireland.
The round tower is the oldest standing building in Kilkenny and one of the only two towers of this kind open to tourists.
If you are not scared of heights and your legs can take the steps, you will be rewarded by a beautiful view over the city and the river below.
Round tower need to know: height restrictions apply and small children are not allowed on the tower.
Graces courthouse and Rothe House
Strolling along Main street, Graces courthouse catches your attention for its grand facade.
The building was originally erected as a fortress in 1210, it was converted into a prison in 1568 and then in a courthouse in 1792.
Almost in front of grace’s courthouse sits another impressive building sure to get your attention: Rothe house.
I spent the best part of my stroll trying to take a picture of this gorgeous house but despite my failed attempts at capturing an image that does it justice, ti stayed as one of my favourite bits of the whole town.
Rothe house takes its name from the family who built it as it is now the headquarters of the Kilkenny Archaeological Society.
It is a gorgeous building with an amazing garden stretching back to the city walls and it is a lovely place to visit both for its important history and for the artifacts now on show here.
The Smithwick’s experience
If you love ales, then Kilkenny is a bit of a treat: Smithwick’s ale a has been brewed here in the city for over 300 years and you can learn all about it at the Smithwicks experience.
Located right on high street, in the heart of Kilkenny city center, the Smitwicks experience offers a fun interactive tour and offers a free tasting of their products (non alcoholic alternative are offered to under 18s and those who prefer not to partake in the tasting)
St Mary’s church and museum
St Mary’s is right in Kilkenny city center and it a beautiful church now turn into museum of Kilkenny’s medieval history.
The museum is small and not particularly impressive but does have some interesting exhibits and spaces that make it worth a visit.
The first is the space that hosts it: the exhibitions takes places in the main body of the church and you can still see impressive elements of the central name and its side chapels.
Tthe one ot the left is teh best preserved and has now a light and sound display that explaing interesting facts about life and the vision of death and pirgatory on the middle ages.
Other interesting elements are the reconstruction of the life of a medieval family whose remains have been found in the local area and some manuscripts.
These are exposed on the first floor, which is also an interesting space in terms of its architecture: the old space has been re-purposed into a modern and functional one and is truly beautiful
The Black Abbey
Another interesting site not far from the medieval mile and worth a visit is the so called Black Abbey.
Built in the 13th century the abbey has some beautiful sepulchral slabs, stone carvings and sculptures, and if famous for having the only known surviving statue of St Dominic in Ireland.
Kilkenny castle: medieval Kilkenny and beyond
Kilkenny castle is one of the most impressive buildings in the city and one of the most distinctive castles in the whole of the country.
If you have seen photos of Irish castles, chances are Kilkenny castle was one of them and its size and rich history explain why.
The original structure, probably made of wood was originally built by Strongbow in the 12th century, probably around 1172 and was rebuilt less than a century later in stone, when it acquired the four imposing towers we still see today.
In the 14th century it became the property of the Butler family, rulers of Kilkenny and despite the many historical vicissitudes the castle and the country went through, the Butler family kept living there until the 1930s!
Despite being in the hands of the same families for many centuries, the castle suffered bad damages and in 1967 was eventually sold to the castle restoration committee.
They did an amazing job of reconstructing its interior and maintaining the impressive grounds. In case you are wondering, the family didn’t exactly make a lot from this sale: the castle went for 50 Pounds!
As well as taking a stroll into Kilkenny castle and around its beautifully manicured gardens, make sure you stop and browse in what used to the castle stables.
This area, dating back to the 18th century, has now been converted into the Kilkenny design centre, a fantastic place to admire (and buy!) locally crafted design products ranging from home decor to weather and fashion.
The butter slip
Despite all these amazing buildings, my favorite bit of Kilkenny is far from a grand site: rather, it is the tiny ‘butter slip’!
A ‘slip’ is a tiny alley and the ‘Butter slip’ is just this, a tiny, narrow meandering road connecting High Street to lower grounds.
The butter slip takes its name from the fact that is used to be a road where merchants sold butter: it is so narrow that is always stays cold enough for butter to keep and the name stayed until today.
I find it the most picturesque corner of the whole of Kilkenny!
Best hotels in Kilkenny City
Kilkenny is very well equipped to welcome tourists and there is no shortage of accommodation.
Following the suggestions of friends and our personal experience, these are the Kilkenny hotels we recommend for families wishing to spend one or more nights in the city.
Butler house Something truly special and a treat for castle lovers. This hotel is part of Kilkenny castle and it is as grand and elegant as you expect castle accommodation to be. The location is incredible and baby-sitting service is available on request.
Kilkenny Ormonde Hotel Right in the centre of the medieval city, this hotel has beautiful family rooms, a nice restaurant and a heated swimming pool on site for the use of guests.
Kilkenny River Court: Located on the bank of the river Nore, that crosses Kilkenny just under the impressive bastions of its castle, this hotel is the centre of town but has a quiet courtyard that shelters from the noise of the busy city streets. Family-friendly hotel with children services including baby sitting.
Chaplins of Kilkenny A lovely B&B located 15-20 minutes walk from Kilkenny town centre, it has lovely rooms, welcoming hosts and a generous breakfast.
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