Kilkenny is about an hour and a half’s drive from Dublin. It’s a vibrant historic city on the banks of the River Nore with plenty of things to do whether you just spend a weekend or much longer. It is popular with Dubliners and international tourists alike. Here are the 10 best places to visit in Kilkenny.
#1 Kilkenny Castle
Kilkenny Castle is top of the list of course. The original stone castle was built in the thirteenth century, though most of what is on view now is more recent. The castle is now an interesting mix of architectural styles including the nineteenth century Chinese Withdrawing Room. It is the palatial home of the Butler family and is a very popular tourist attraction. It also has the most beautiful formal terraced rose garden.
#2 The Celtic Christian Round Tower
The Celtic Christian Round Tower is one of only two of its kind in Ireland that has public access. It is one of the oldest buildings in Kilkenny. It is part of the Gothic St. Canice’s Cathedral off Vicar Street. You can climb the tower for fantastic views of the city.
#3 The Medieval Mile Discovery Trail
The Medieval Mile Discovery Trail is a wonderful way of seeing the best of the city. Its narrow roads wind past several historic museums making it extremely easy to find your way around and discover the best attractions. You can buy a pass which gives you discounts at all of these. Start with the Medieval Mile Museum which only opened a few years ago and is tucked inside St. Mary’s Cathedral, St. Mary’s Lane. The Museum is a fun way to explore some of the dark historic secrets of Kilkenny. It is also used as a cultural venue for events and exhibitions.
#4 Kilkenny Haunted Dark Tour
Another way to take in the local history is with the Kilkenny Haunted Dark Tour. It starts at the arched entrance of the castle at 7.30pm then proceeds to the Medieval Mile Museum where the ghost of the reverend is supposed to be protecting his church after death. From there it goes to Shee Alms House, then Kytelers Inn which was originally owned by a witch. Then Grace’s Castle with talk of murders. Then Smithwick’s Brewery where a highway man haunts. The plague and Kilkenny Castle’s 41 ghosts all get a mention. It is all spooky good fun.
#5 Smithwick’s Brewery
Smithwick’s Brewery on the medieval mile is great for an ale-themed experience. They have been brewing on this spot since medieval times when there was a Franciscan monastery on the spot. The current building operated as a brewery from 1700 until a few years ago. Now it offers a multi-sensory experience. You can listen to monastic chanting while smelling roasting hops then sampling a pint of Smithwick’s. The brewery also has a gift shop.
#6 Rothe House
Rothe House, five minutes away from St. Mary’s Cathedral is a beautifully preserved building from 1594. It was once a merchant’s house. It now holds the museum and library of the Kilkenny Archaeological Society. Exhibits include a well-worn Viking sword and beautiful historic costumes. The house also has a peaceful walled garden modelled on the style of a sixteenth century garden.
#7 The Black Abbey
The Black Abbey in Abbey Street lies just beyond Black Freren Gate, one of the old town gates. It was established in the thirteenth century and was a place of worship for the Dominicans or Black Friars, hence the name. The nave, south transept and tower are all that remains of the original church. But it is well worth visiting for its stained glass alone.
#8 Dunmore Cave
Outside the city, about 15 minutes along the N78, you will find the wonderful ancient Dunmore Cave in Ballyfoyle, Castlecomer Road. It has a series of limestone chambers with spectacular calcite formations, the best in Ireland. A stalagmite, six metres high, is known as The Market Cross. The cave is mentioned in a ninth century poem known as a triad. It refers to it as the darkest place in Ireland! The visitor’s centre has an exhibition of bones, coins and tools, many of which date back to the tenth century.
#9 Kilfane Waterfall and Glen
Another attractive location about 20 minutes out of the city is Kilfane Waterfall and Glen. It looks like the setting for an Irish fairy tale. It is an eighteenth century garden which has not changed a lot since the Powers family planted it. They were intellectuals and romantics and designed a landscape including a thirty-foot waterfall, a grotto, bridges, rustic seats and a thatched cottage for visitors to rest in.
#10 Cat Laughs Comedy Festival
Summer is probably the best time to visit Kilkenny although there is something to see any time of the year. You might choose to come when the Cat Laughs Comedy Festival is on. It has been going for 25 years and is a wonderful event that has helped launch the careers of many Irish actors and comedians. The comedy is international though with many UK and American acts performing too. If stand-up comedy is your thing you will love it.