Kilkenny, known as the Marble City, is charming Irish city filled with Medieval architecture and buildings. An impressive castle, several well-preserved churches, and tons of artisan boutique shops, and pubs make it a favourite place to visit for tourists, and a popular weekend getaway for the local Irish (especially for stag and hen parties). With so many things to do in Kilkenny, it’s easy to spend a day or two in this picturesque town.
Kilkenny is only 1.5-2 hours from Dublin by car or bus, making it an easy day trip from Dublin for those looking to get out of the capital and see a bit more of Ireland. It’s also a popular stop on guided day trips from Dublin to Glendalough and Wicklow.
Whether you have a couple of days, a full day, or even just a couple of hours, Kilkenny has plenty to offer and is definitely worth the visit. Here is my ultimate list of things to do in Kilkenny, Ireland.
The Best Things to do in Kilkenny, Ireland
Kilkenny Castle & Park
The highlight for many history buffs and castle enthusiasts in Kilkenny is the massive Kilkenny Castle which is right in the middle of town. Located on a sprawling green lawn with a rose garden, it’s a stunning castle that looks like it belongs in a fairytale storybook. The castle dates back to 1195 but has undergone plenty of renovations and restorations over time. Parts of the castle can be visited on a self-guided tour and the grounds, popular with locals and tourists alike, are free of charge. It’s one of my favourite things to do in Kilkenny.
The Medieval Mile
Kilkenny’s Medieval Mile is a trail that links Kilkenny Castle to St. Canice’s Cathedral. This stretch is filled with shops, pubs, restaurants, picturesque alleyways and tons of history. It’s fun to do on your own, but if you are a history fanatic or just a story love, consider taking a guided walking tour.
St. Canice’s Cathedral and Round Tower
Located at the opposite side of the Medieval Mile from Kilkenny Castle, St. Canice’s Cathedral is one of the most popular things to do in Kilkenny. This historic building is beautiful and impressive, with two of its biggest highlights being the colourful stained glass windows and the Round Tower. The Round Tower is the oldest standing structure in the city of Kilkenny and one of only two round towers the visitors can climb in Ireland. Weather permitting, the views from here are stunning making it one of the best things to do in Kilkenny.
The Black Abbey
Kilkenny’s Black Abbey dates back to 1225. Throughout the tumultuous years it has faced many changes and, of course, the wear of time. But, it has been restored to its original grandeur complete with ornate stained glass windows, the most impressive of which is the Rosary Window. Part of what makes the Black Abbey so impressive is that it is also the longest established of all of the country’s foundations.
St Mary’s Cathedral
Located on the highest point of Kilkenny, St. Mary’s Cathedral is easy to spot. This impressive Cathedral is created from cut limestone, all of which was sourced locally when it was built in the 1800s. It’s free to visit and definitely work a walk around and a visit inside to examine the beautiful architecture.
National Craft Gallery and Kilkenny Design Centre
Kilkenny may be known as Ireland’s Medieval city, but it’s also known for its local artisans and craft shops. Established in 2000, the National Craft Gallery is located in what was once the stable yard of Kilkenny Castle. The exhibitions here feature local and international artists who work with a variety of materials and techniques. You can check to see what exhibitions are on by visiting their website.
Kilkenny Way Hurling Experience
Fun fact: Hurling in Ireland means something completely different than it does in North America. It’s a sport- and no, there’s no excessive drinking or being sick involved. The sport of Hurling is 3000 years old and you can delve into that history at the Kilkenny Hurling Way Experience. Packages here include a museum visit, introduction video to the sport, learning some skills, and then watching a game over lunch at the bar.
This medieval Inn dates back to 1324. It’s one of the oldest inns in all of Ireland with a rich history. The Inn was originally owned by Dame Alice de Kyteler, a merchant’s daughter who amassed a great amount of wealth and was accused of witchcraft. She was sentenced to burn but managed to escape to England. If the witch story isn’t exciting enough, Kyteler’s Inn is also said to be haunted. However, if you are brave enough to enter the premises you will discover one of the city’s liveliest pubs with great beer and food.
Rothe House and Garden is a bit of a hidden gem in Killarney. From the street, it just looks like a beautiful old building- which it is. But while Rothe House is a stunning building, and the only one of its kind remaining in Ireland, it also is a museum and has a lovely garden in the back. Rothe House dates back to the early 1600s and is actually made up of three houses. The museum inside contains historical artefacts both found in the Kilkenny area and donated by residents. Tours are self-guided, with the gardens in the back being a highlight for many.
When it comes to beer in Ireland, Guinness tends to get all of the glory. But, did you know that Smithwicks is, in fact, the oldest operating brewery in Ireland? With the help of a holographic monk and animated portraits, visitors can learn about the history and process of brewing Smithwicks. Plus, at the end, you’ll get to sample a pint of your choice: red, blonde or pale. Or, if you’re a true fan, you can order a paddle for an additional couple euros and try them all. The tour is family friendly with soft drinks provided at the end for visitors under 18 years of age. The Smithwicks Experience was one of my favourite things to do in Kilkenny.
The Butter Slip
This historical part of the city is a narrow street running between two large stone houses. It was named the butter slip because it was dark and cool and therefore ideal for storing and selling butter. The stones that line the alleyway can also be slippery when wet, giving it a modern reason behind for the name. Today this medieval alleyway is lined with shops and serves as a shortcut between High Street and St. Kieran’s Street.
The Tholsel (City Hall)
The Tholsel, more commonly known today as Kilkenny’s City Hall, was once a toll point, customs house, guild hall, and even a courthouse. The building dates back to 1761 and its key features are the octagonal tower and the open arcade. The arcade is a popular place to find Kilkenny’s buskers.
Check out a Trad Music Session
Ireland is known for its traditional (trad) music, and Kilkenny is a great place to find some. Many of the city’s pubs offer live music sessions at least once or twice a week (if not more) including Kyteller’s Inn, Matt the Millers, and the Field Bar and Restaurant.
Kilkenny Ghost Tour
Being a historic, medieval city there’s really no surprise that Kilkenny is home to a few wayward spirits and ghosts. If you’d like to learn more about the spooky history of this Irish city, then sign up for one of Kilkenny’s ghost tours. Tours take place every night at 8am.
Kilkenny Road Train Tour
All aboard! This adorable little train will take you on a 30-minute scenic tour through the heart of Kilkenny, passing by many of the city’s top attractions. It’s especially fun for families with little ones. The train leaves every half hour from in front of Kilkenny Castle. The first departure is 9:30am and the last departure is 6:30pm.
Kilkenny Jail and Courthouse (Grace’s Castle)
The Kilkenny Jail and Courthouse can’t be missed as you walk through the heart of Kilkenny. The impressive façade of this imposing building will quickly grab your attention and there are a couple of plaques out front to fill you in on some of the building’s history. The building was originally a palace, then served as a jail until it was turned into a courthouse at the end of the 18thcentury.
The Butler Gallery
Located in Kilkenny Castle, the Butler Gallery is an art gallery free to all visitors. It’s one of the country’s top contemporary art spaces and features a permanent gallery alone with opportunities and programs including talks, workshops, and events suitable for people of all ages. You can find out about the latest exhibitions of the Butler Gallery Website.
The Canal Walk
Kilkenny is a scenic city best explored on foot. One of the prettiest walks you can take while visiting is the Canal Walk. It starts at Canal Square, on Rose Inn Street and, assuming you keep going, stretches for many kilometres into the countryside. Of course, unless you are ready for a big adventure, it’s probably best to stay in the city limits where you will pass the castle, parks, and shaded benches alongside the old canal. It’s very picturesque and a popular walk for couples.
Shee Alms House
Sheel Alms House serves as the tourist office of Kilkenny today, but the building itself dates back to 1582. It’s a Tudor building that was once used as a church before it was bought by a wealthy merchant for the poor. Over time it was also used as a hospital as well as a shop. Today, this historic building is a tourist attraction that is regularly photographed by tourists. Feel free to go inside as well where the friendly tourism representatives will help you with tips and advice and other ideas of things to do in Kilkenny and the surrounding area.
Jerpoint Abbey isn’t in Kilkenny City, but if you have rented a car it’s absolutely worth taking a drive out to these 12thcentury monastic ruins. The Abbey, which is a national monument, is open from April to October. There is a visitor’s centre with an exhibition and of course, you can visit the ruins of the abbey itself.
About a 15-minute drive from Kilkenny city is Dunmore Caves; one of the most impressive caves in Ireland. The caves have played a role in Irish history since the 9thcentury. One of the first records about them tells of a Viking massacre that took place here in 928AD. The caves are open to visitors by guided tour only. If you are interested in geology and history, this is definitely one of the best things to do in Kilkenny.
Only about 20 minutes outside of Kilkenny city is the Ballykeefe distillery which produces whisky, gin, and Irish potato vodka. This family farm style distillery prides itself on being eco-friendly and runs on an ‘our field to your glass’ operation. The visitor centre and tours are open Monday to Friday at 2pm and 4pm, however, space is limited so it is recommended that you book your spot in advance.
Kilfane Waterfall and Glen
If you are looking to experience more of Ireland’s stunning natural beauty, then hop in your car and drive out about twenty minutes to Kilfane Waterfall and Glen. This scenic spot is pretty much perfect for your Irish fairytale fantasies. There is a 30-foot waterfall, plenty of plant life, a small grotto and cute thatched houses where you can take a rest from exploring.
Whether you have a couple of days or just a couple of hours, there are plenty of things to do in Kilkenny that will keep you busy and entertained in this beautiful Irish town.
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