Kilkenny is Ireland‘s greatest small city, or smallest great city, depending on how you look at things. It is hands down my favorite city on the Irish isle. It’s small and walkable, yet there are lots of shops, pubs (duh!) and things to see and do. Being a medieval town, there are plenty of religious buildings, structures of defense and cobblestone alleyways.
From a massive castle, to local brews, to witchcraft, Kilkenny’s attractions will keep you occupied and fascinated for days. Like all cities and towns in Ireland, Kilkenny is pretty easily reached from Dublin.
- 1. St Canice’s Cathedral & Round Tower
- 2. Kilkenny Castle
- 3. Black Abbey
- 4. Go For a Pub Meal and a Trad Session in Kyteler’s Inn
- 5. Explore the Narrow Medieval Lanes
- 6. The Peace Park Walk
- 7. Have a Pint of Kilkenny or Smithwick’s in a Pub
- 8. National Craft Gallery
- 9. Butler House Gardens
- 10. Tholsel – Town Hall
- 11. The Canal Walk
- 12. St Mary’s Cathedral
- 13. St Mary’s Church & Graveyard
- 14. Rent a Car
1. St Canice’s Cathedral & Round Tower
Ireland’s second-largest medieval cathedral. In the 6th century a monastery was built on the site of the cathedral by St Canice, who is Kilkenny’s patron saint. There used to be a wooden church which apparently was burned down in 1087.
The round tower is located just outside the cathedral and is the oldest building on the site. It was built between 700 and 1000AD on an old Christian cemetery. The round tower is open to the public, you can climb the very steep and narrow steps to the top and enjoy a nice view of Kilkenny.
2. Kilkenny Castle
Kilkenny Castle is an iconic medieval castle rising high above the River Nore and is Kilkenny’s most visited attraction. In fact it’s one of the most visited heritage sites in the whole of Ireland. And it’s definitely worth it.
In 1172 Richard de Clare, aka Strongbow, decided to build a wooden tower on this strategic point. The actual stone castle was built in 1192 by his son-in-law, William Marshal. It’s a huge castle and you can take a great self-guided tour. The Long Gallery is a highlight.
3. Black Abbey
This priory of the Dominican Order was founded in 1225 by William Marshal the Younger, son of the above-mentioned William Marshal.
The Dominicans were often called “Black Friars” because they used to wear a black cloak. Hence the name Black Abbey. It’s an interesting place to visit, there are still regular masses and entrance is free.
4. Go For a Pub Meal and a Trad Session in Kyteler’s Inn
Established in 1324, it’s one of the oldest inns in Ireland. Besides the fact that it’s still in use, its history is even more intriguing. In the Middle Ages it used to be the home of Dame Alice de Kyteler, a wealthy woman who outlived four wealthy husbands and was accused of poisoning them. She was involved in one of the world’s first witch hunts. Somehow she managed to flee to England and escape being burned at the stake. Her servant, however, was punished instead, tortured and burned. You can find more details about this fascinating history on the Kyteler’s Inn website.
Today the place is a typical Irish pub with trad sessions and lots of pints. There’s a basement, a fireplace, and lots of stairs and hidden rooms. It’s a fantastic place to spend an evening.
5. Explore the Narrow Medieval Lanes
Being a medieval city, Kilkenny still has plenty of cobblestone, narrow and covered alleyways. The main street High Street and pedestrian St Kieran’s Street, for example, are connected by several small lanes, which are great fun to explore.
6. The Peace Park Walk
A nice, quiet walk northwards along the River Nore. Ideal if you want to get some fresh air after too much time in the pub!
7. Have a Pint of Kilkenny or Smithwick’s in a Pub
Little Kilkenny is the home of two excellent beers. Kilkenny is my personal favorite of all Irish beers and I don’t mind a Smithwick’s either.
8. National Craft Gallery
The National Craft Gallery is located in the former castle stables near Kilkenny Castle, these galleries are free to visit and show various Irish crafts, such as ceramics, jewellery and weaving. You can actually watch real craftsmen going about their daily business.
9. Butler House Gardens
Behind the National Craft Gallery are the beautiful gardens of Butler House, which nowadays is a guest house.
10. Tholsel – Town Hall
The Tholsel on High Street used to function as a place where tolls were collected, as a courthouse, guild hall and customs house. It’s now known as the Town Hall and that’s exactly what it is too.
11. The Canal Walk
A great walk along the River Nore (it runs in the opposite direction of the Peace Park walk) in the shadows of Kilkenny Castle. Perfect for a morning or sunset walk.
12. St Mary’s Cathedral
A very impressive cathedral on the outside. St Mary’s Cathedral is the other cathedral in Kilkenny. Finished in 1857, it’s not that old, but it looks great, is located at the highest point in the city and is a major landmark.
13. St Mary’s Church & Graveyard
Another old church located in the heart of the city. This church, also dedicated to St Mary, was built sometime in the late 12th century and has remained an important place in the city for 800 years.
Because of its former importance, the graveyard, which surrounds the church, was the favored placed to be buried by wealthy merchant families. This resulted in some impressive and beautiful burial monuments.
14. Rent a Car
Once you’ve seen and done all that, it’s time to get out of the city and explore the southeastern countryside. An absolute highlight here is the spectacular St Patrick’s Rock of Cashel, a fantastic collection of medieval buildings such as a round tower, cathedral and chapel.
Other interesting places to visit are Jerpoint Abbey, the National Rebellion Centre, Cahir, Athassel Priory and many many others.
I would like to refer to the Kilkenny Tourism website for further information and more activities.
This article is also available as a smartphone app, allowing you to use it as a reference when visiting Kilkenny. You can get the app right here!