Kilkenny is a popular destination in southeast Ireland. I don’t know if it was the beautiful weather I had during my visit, the excitement of going to a new place in Ireland, or the mixture of the two, but I thoroughly enjoyed my day in Kilkenny! The town all too often gets skimmed over on coach bus daytrips as a just stop at the castle, before moving onwards. There’s definitely enough to merit a full day!
Of course, you can’t visit Kilkenny without seeing the famous castle. Construction began on the castle in 1195, and was completed in 1213. The castle became the seat of the Butlers of Ormonde, following the family’s purchase of the castle in 1391. The family held the castle until 1935—over 500 years! Today, the castle has been restored and renovated to its former Victorian splendor. Admission prices are very reasonable, at 7€ for adults and only 3€ for students.
This most definitely isn’t a mile-long walk—the Medieval Mile is simply the name for the two streets (High Street and St. Kieran’s Street) that form the heart of Kilkenny. The Medieval Mile connects Kilkenny Castle with St. Canice’s Cathedral, arguably the two most important medieval landmarks in the city, with other historic buildings between the two. There are loads of shops and restaurants on the streets, and there will probably be at least a few people busking!
St. Canice’s Cathedral
This site has been a place of worship since the 6th century. The present Anglo-Norman cathedral was built in 1285, although its central tower collapsed in 1332. In addition to some 16th-century monuments, the cathedral also has a fun multimedia bit on the Bishop of Ossory, Richard de Ledrede, and his persecution of the “witch” of Kilkenny, Alice Kyteler (and her maid, Petronella de Meath), in the early 1300s.
The tower, located next to the cathedral, is the oldest standing structure in Kilkenny—it was built in the 9th century. It is one of only two other round towers in Ireland that is possible to climb. The foundation is only 60 cm deep, but the tower is still sturdy over hundreds of years later! The views from the top are great, but be warned: it’s a lot of steps (~120) and very narrow ladders to get to the top. You can buy a combo ticket for both the cathedral and the tower.
Smithwicks Experience Kilkenny
Although the Guinness Factory tour in Dublin might be the biggest in Ireland, visiting the Smithwick’s brewery is a must in Kilkenny. The guided tour takes you through the history of the beer—while monks were brewing at the site in the 13th century, Smithwick’s as we know it sprang up in the early 1700s. The tour also includes the brewing process and, of course, the delicious tasting at the end. I thought the coolest thing about the tour was how the company keeps it in the family—pointing to a picture from the mid-1900s of the Smithwick’s crew, my guide pointed out his grandfather!
This abbey is located close to St. Canice’s Cathedral, and was founded in 1225. Some of the spectacular windows survive from the 14th-century building. Outside of the abbey, there are some graves and coffins that date from the Middle Ages. There’s no entrance fee. Close to the abbey is the Black Freren Gate, one of the surviving entrance gates to the medieval city.
Newer religious buildings
There are loads of churches in Kilkenny that date from its medieval era. However, there are also a few 19th-century churches that are worth poking your head into! St. Mary’s Cathedral (the big one you see in the skyline) and St. Canice’s Church (which is Roman Catholic) are close to the Black Abbey and St. Canice’s Cathedral.
Nore Valley Walk
If the weather is nice and you have the time, there are loads of walking trails around Kilkenny! The easiest one is in the city itself, and follows the Nore River canal walk out of town.
If you’re looking for quick, on-the-go food, seriously go here. It’s located right on High Street and the sandwiches are so amazing that Market Deli made it onto this list just for that. There might be a bit of a queue around the busy lunch time.
The Basics: Kilkenny is a small city, with a population of about 25,000, including the surrounding area. It’s about 2 to 2.5 hours by bus from the capital of Ireland, Dublin—many bus companies operate from Dublin to Kilkenny. Bus Eireann is probably your best bet for getting connections around Ireland excluding Dublin. Ireland is a member of the EU and uses the Euro.
Getting Around: Kilkenny is a fairly small town and everything is within walking distance. Biking is popular in nice weather and there are lots of cycling trails in the surrounding area!
Where I Stayed: I stayed at Kilkenny Tourist Hostel in an 8-bed dorm. The hostel wasn’t extravagant but was in a great location (right on the main street) and was a good value for the price. The room and bathrooms were simple, and there was a kitchen and common room as well. I didn’t like that the lockers were outside of the dorm room—and they were small and only for valuables. One of the nicest things was that they did check us in even after reception had closed for the evening! Overall, it’s a pretty basic hostel—and I would stay here again as it’s worth it for the price.
Kilkenny was a great town to explore for a day. It’s medieval roots—the combination of castle/cathedral—ensure that plenty of other tourists will visit the town, but it should not be overlooked as stop in southeast Ireland!
Have you ever been to Kilkenny?