How to Do a Fun Weekend in Kilkenny City

Weekend in Kilkenny City
Kilkenny City Ireland is an easy day trip or weekend destination from Dublin. How far is it from Dublin to Kilkenny? About 90 minutes by train. In fact, I recommend Kilkenny as one of the best places in Ireland to visit by train. Spend a weekend in Kilkenny and you're guaranteed to have a fun time. Kilkenny brims with sporting pride and is a hub for seasonal festivals. Take the time to visit Kilkenny from Dublin and you won't be disappointed. Read on for recommendations on how to fill a weekend in Kilkenny City.

Back the Kilkenny Cats, A Hurling Powerhouse

We decided to take to the rails for a day trip to Kilkenny. I knew something was up as we boarded the train and I saw a guy decked out in a yellow and black cap toting a garbage bag full of merchandise. That weekend, Kilkenny would take on Tipperary in the GAA All-Ireland Senior Hurling Championship! We arrived in Kilkenny and the town was awash in gold and black. The residents and businesses really support their team. We saw Kilkenny pride everywhere with black and gold flags waving on almost every lawn nearby. I was impressed by a hurling cake (complete with Kilkenny Cat) created by Keogh's Model Bakery. We even saw a rather intimidating looking cat wielding a hurley on the rooftop of a building along the river. Go Cats!
Things to see in Kilkenny: Kilkenny Cats mascot

Kilkenny Castle

We headed straight for Kilkenny Castle, one of the major landmarks in Kilkenny City and an anchor at one end of Kilkenny's Medieval Mile. Kilkenny Castle is a Norman castle that was build in the 12th century and was impressive inside and out. The Castle grounds are surrounded by a luxurious lawn which is great for picnics and sometimes hosts local events.
Kilkenny landmarks: Kilkenny Castle

Walk Along the River in Kilkenny

If the weather cooperates, it's fun to walk along the river path in Kilkenny behind Kilkenny Castle. In the spring, beautiful blossoms come to life. Have a wander and see where Kilkenny's river trail takes you. The path has quite a history: it was 'improved' in 1861. A small tributary wound away from the main river through the woods. We spotted some old ruins in the distance. We communed with nature, surrounded by green. No wonder Ireland is called the Emerald Isle. Ducking into the forest behind Kilkenny Castle, our jaws dropped at the immense height of the old growth trees.
Things to do in Kilkenny City: Take a walk along the river

Kilkenny Crafts

Kilkenny is known for crafts so pop into the Kilkenny Design Craft Centre for a look around. The Craft Centre is right across the street from Kilkenny Castle so there is not excuse not to stop by. We discovered a garden and the leaf covered Butler House through a passageway at the back of the Kilkenny Design Centre. We especially liked the stones that doubled as seating.
What to see in Kilkenny Town: Butler House

Kilkenny High Street

Kilkenny features a compact city centre. Take a stroll along along High Street. Kilkenny used to be a walled city and we spotted bricks along the sidewalk calling out where the wall once stood. Walking up Kilkenny's main shopping street, we spotted a disembodied head. An imposing church sat along a back alley. Not far away, we smiled when we saw a sign for a Chewbacca Roar Contest with a 100 EUR prize for the best impersonation! While away an afternoon browsing the shops and checking out Kilkenny's pub scene.

St. Canice's Cathedral and Round Tower

At the other end of Kilkenny's Medieval Mile is St. Canice's Cathedral and Round Tower. Spot solemn figures embedded in the wall on the walk up to St. Canice's. The gray stone was striking against the blue sky. We ambled among the tilted gravestones and looked up at the impressive round tower next to the church. We spotted the grave of a couple of the more recent members of the famed Smithwick's brewery family.
What to do in Kilkenny for a weekend: St. Canice's Cathedral and Round Tower
The round tower at St. Canice's in Kilkenny was built in the 9th century and is only one of two such structures in Ireland that tourists can climb. We felt up to the challenge, paid our 3 euro for the privilege and started to tackle the very steep ladders to get to the top. The round tower got narrower and narrower as we proceeded up the 120+ steps. At the top of the tower, the original stone steps are still present. We soon emerged onto the viewing platform and enjoyed sweeping views over Kilkenny town. Sights included the Smithwick's brewery which surrounds the historic St. Francis Abbey brewery. Given how steep the stairs are, we were relieved when we made it back to the bottom without incident. Climbing the round tower at St. Canice's was exhilarating and a highly recommended thing to do in Kilkenny.

The Black Abbey

We walked a short distance to Kilkenny's Black Abbey, a lovely church erected in 1225. One theory about the name is that it's due to an outbreak of plague that passed through the area hundreds of years ago. The Black Abbey is one of the first Catholic priories of the Dominican order in Ireland.

Smithwick's Experience Brewery Tour

While in Kilkenny, we signed ourselves up for the Smithwick's Brewery tour. The brand dates back more than 300 years and there is a ruined old abbey (St. Francis Abbey) on the property. Sadly, the working brewery shutdown several years ago and moved to St. James' Gate in Dublin. As we were led into the brewery, we passed all sorts of relics like a Smithwick's ceramic beer jug and bell. We suited up in high visibility vests and safety goggles for the tour.
Things to do in Kilkenny: St. Francis Abbey on the Smithwick's Brewery Tour
We emerged into an old courtyard which once fronted the Smithwick family's living quarters and beer testing area. After about a five minute walk we arrived at the impressive ruins of St. Francis Abbey. Inside, jumbles of stone lay on the foundation. The outline of a seven-paned stained glass window shown brightly in the sun. Light also tumbled in from the arches along the side of the abbey. Small statues stood watch from the walls. We stopped briefly at the adjacent, modern chapel built by Smithwick's factory workers.

In the tasters room, we were impressed by the training regimen that was adhered to. Very few people were certified to taste Smithwick's and make sure the quality and flavor were the same batch after batch for 300 years. It is a 3-5 year journey for an aspiring quality taster.

We took one last look at the chapel and Abbey from the outside before heading toward the modern production area. Giant stainless steel tanks stood as sentinels over the courtyard. The final stop of the tour was everyone's favorite - the tasting room! We each got to sample a pint of Smithwick's or Smithwick's Pale Ale. Our guide expertly and patiently poured the pints in two pulls. Smithwick's memorabilia sat off to the side. Sláinte!

Live Gigs in Kilkenny at the Left Bank

Kilkenny is a great city for music. I was tipped off by the Kilkenny tourism office on Twitter that the Swingin' Bluecats would be playing from 4-6 pm at the Left Bank while we were in town. Perfect! The band was amazing and we hung out to listen and sip a pint of Smithwick's. From our seat just inside the Left Bank's large windows, we could see more historic buildings decked out to support the Kilkenny Cats.

Kilkenny Roots Festival

We've visited Kilkenny twice now for the Kilkenny Roots Festival. On our first festival visit, we could immediately see that the Kilkenny Roots Festival was going to be taking over the weekend. Kilkenny Roots Festival is a mix of largely free Americana, Folk, and Bluegrass music sessions with a few premier paid gigs that take place in pubs across Kilkenny City.

We caught quite a few gigs at the Kilkenny Roots Festival. We started out at The Left Bank in mid-afternoon. Ben Reel was playing a free gig in the corner but we could barely see due to the size of the crowd. We caught a glimpse of his signature cap from outside.

SIDEWALK SAFARI SPOTLIGHT: Looking for other great music festivals in Ireland? The annual Westport Folk and Bluegrass Festival in County Mayo is another of our favorites.

Since the sun was shining, we decided to move on and get a breath of fresh air before catching the next gig. We stopped at Breathnach's next. Blue Horyzon, a Scottish Bluegrass band, turned pop hits into Hillbilly classics. I couldn't believe how young they were! Amazing talent! We popped across the street to Langton's to see The MeatMen. The crowd was having an amazing time dancing to their high energy rockabilly sound.

We toned it down a notch in the evening at Ryan's where we saw The Lost Brothers perform melodic and soulful classics. The Lost Brothers were a delight to watch but I was amazed that they could perform in the heat of the venue in full three-piece suits. Back at Langton's we caught Rye River Band. Continuing through the illuminated streets of Kilkenny we made one final stop. Les Harpies were playing in a local hotel bar. Their vocals were amazing and they truly deserved a bigger audience than they got at this particular venue. It was the best performance of the night for us!
The Eskies playing at the Kilkenny Roots Festival
We enjoyed Kilkenny Roots Festival and the associated annual extravaganza of high quality Folk and Americana music so much that we decided to go again the following year. We caught a performance by The Eskies at Lanigan's Pub. The gig was delayed in starting due to a long-running hurling match featuring the beloved Kilkenny Cats. Once the music got underway, the audience was tapping their feet and humming along with this energetic motley crew. Next up, we stopped into The Field to see Richie Foley and Hubert Murray. These guys were awesome. Hubert had an amazing gravelly voice and they played off each other extremely well. Turns out that Hubert and Richie were also playing at our hotel that night so we even got to see them twice and have a chat after the performance. Great stuff.
Walking through the heart of Kilkenny earlier in the day, we suspected we'd seen Morgan O'Kane busking near an archway. Turns out we were right. We instantly recognized him during the evening gig. We were lucky enough to have free tickets to this paid show thanks to the generosity of a local friend from Twitter. We packed ourselves into the back room at Ryan's Bar and got up on tiptoe to try and see over the crowd that had gathered. It was another energetic and toe-tapping performance. It was amazing to watch O'Kane's finger picking on the banjo. My favorite part was actually the lad in the corner who was playing the spoons! Very impressive. I can highly recommend visiting Kilkenny City for a weekend during the Kilkenny Roots Festival. We'll definitely be back again for another installment.
Morgan O'Kane at the Kilkenny Roots Festival: Animated gif

Where to Eat in Kilkenny

The Fig Tree

Delectable cakes beckoned to us from behind the glass counter at the Fig Tree. We opted for a walnut coffee cake and a fruit scone. A frothy latte washed them both down.
Walnut Cake at the Fig Tree in Kilkenny Ireland

The Grapevine

Stop at The Grapevine for tapas and a glass of wine. We were seated on a comfy purple coach in a warmly painted room. We could see the action at the bar from where we were seated. We enjoyed a couple glasses of Rioja paired with a mini-schnitzel (a rather non-traditional choice for a tapas menu), patatas bravas, and Spanish tortilla.

D.W. Bollard

Bollard's is a traditional Irish pub that also serves food. We sidled up to the bar and noted both Bollard's and Smithwick's branded merchandise was on sale. We tried a fruit crumble and custard for dessert along with a frothy cappuccino. I smiled when I saw a sign as we were heading out: "Soup of the Day: Jameson! :-)"

Cafe La Coco

We love to follow a savory meal with something sweet. Cafe La Coco was just the thing. We were seated in the airy interior with colorful feminine wallpaper. A slice of walnut cake and a cup of tea rounded out our mid-day eats.
Decor at Cafe La Coco in Kilkenny City Ireland

Mocha Days Coffee House

Mocha Days Coffee House is a great spot on High Street for a cappuccino sprinkled with chocolate plus lovely desserts. We tried a caramel square. It was tough to limit ourselves to just one treat since everything looked amazing. Mocha Days is situated upstairs in a repurposed house and was a lovely spot to have a hot drink and enjoy the afternoon.

The Pantry Patisserie

Stop at The Pantry, a local bakery, for some sweet treats to take back to the hotel or on the train for your return from Kilkenny to Dublin. The apple and almond filled tarts were very delicious and filling -- yum!

Riverview Bar and Terrace

We stopped at the Riverview Bar and Terrace at the Rivercourt Hotel near Kilkenny train station for lunch. Carvery is a popular weekend meal in Ireland. Riverview Bar and Terrace had both ham and turkey on offer and in copious amounts!

SIDEWALK SAFARI SPOTLIGHT: Other great single day or weekend break destinations in Ireland include Cork City and Dublin. Read about what to do in Cork City. Discover ways do one day in Dublin City.

Where to Stay in Kilkenny

Killarney House B and B is a good place to stay in Kilkenny if you plan to visit for more than a day and also if there is a festival on. We walked up a long hilly residential street to get to the ivy covered home. We were shown to a room on the top floor and the window looked out over the neighborhood. It was a lovely green area. We felt like we were staying at someone's home when we went down for breakfast and saw an adorable treehouse in the backyard. The breakfast was a no-nonsense mix of toast, coffee, and eggs served on a sun filled porch. For the price (60 EUR per night at the time we visited), Killarney House was convenient, homey, and comfortable. We would definitely stay there again if our adventures take us to Kilkenny.

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Sidewalk Safari | Part-time Travel Blog: How to Do a Fun Weekend in Kilkenny City
How to Do a Fun Weekend in Kilkenny City
Learn about how to spend a weekend in Kilkenny City Ireland. Take the train from Dublin to Kilkenny and discover fun things to do in Kilkenny. Experience for yourself what there is to see and do in the heart of Kilkenny town.
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