Things to do in Kilkenny at a Glance
Looking for places to visit in Kilkenny and things to see? Peruse this "at a glance" list of the best things to do in Kilkenny which are all covered in detail in this post.
- Cheer for the Kilkenny Cats Hurling Team
- Explore the Grounds of Kilkenny Castle
- Walk Along the River Nore in Kilkenny
- Discover Kilkenny Crafts and Hidden History
- Walk Kilkenny's High Street
- See St. Canice's Cathedral and Round Tower
- Visit The Black Abbey
- Tour Rothe House and Medieval Garden
- Visit Kilkenny’s Medieval Mile Museum
- Take the Smithwick's Experience Brewery Tour
- Discover Kilkenny’s Georgian Doors
- Catch Live Gigs in Kilkenny at the Left Bank
- Experience Kilkenny Roots Festival
- Educate Yourself While Laughing at the Kilkenomics Festival
- Visit Jerpoint Abbey
- Hike to Kells Priory and the Enchanted Cottage
- Explore Mount Juliet Estate
- Walk Heywood Gardens
Things to do in Kilkenny City
Kilkenny City has a population of about 25,000 residents. Despite the town's small size, there are an amazing array of things to do in Kilkenny. Kilkenny City has a certain buzz that is simply not replicated in other places in Ireland that I've been to. Read on for my picks of the best things to see in Kilkenny City.
1. Cheer for the Kilkenny Cats Hurling TeamWe 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 of Kilkenny love hurling and visibly 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!
2. Explore the Grounds of Kilkenny CastleWe 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.
SIDEWALK SAFARI SPOTLIGHT: Love castles? Then you must check out the Loire Valley in France. Drive this Loire Valley road trip itinerary and see some of the most amazing chateaux and associated gardens in the world.
3. Walk Along the River Nore in KilkennyIf the weather cooperates, it's fun to walk along the river path in Kilkenny behind Kilkenny Castle. Take time to walk the demesne and forest surrounding Kilkenny Castle. You'll find colorful blooming trees in the Spring and vibrant foliage in the Autumn. 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.
4. Discover Kilkenny Crafts and Hidden HistoryKilkenny 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. Remnants of much maligned Nelson's Pillar are installed in the gardens at Butler House. The column commemorating British Admiral Lord Nelson was blown up on O'Connell Street in Dublin on the 50th anniversary of the Easter Rising.
5. Walk Kilkenny's High StreetKilkenny 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.
6. See St. Canice's Cathedral and Round TowerAt the other end of Kilkenny's Medieval Mile is St. Canice's Cathedral and Round Tower, definitely one of the best places to visit in Kilkenny. 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.
7. Visit The Black AbbeyWe 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 Kilkenny hundreds of years ago. The Black Abbey is one of the first Catholic priories of the Dominican order in Ireland. The Black Abbey features some positively stunning stained glass windows that alone make the Black Abbey one of the best things to see in Kilkenny.
8. Tour Rothe House and Medieval Garden
Rothe House is a well-preserved merchant house and museum located in the heart of Kilkenny’s Medieval Mile. The house and grounds were built by John Rothe Fitz-Piers at the end of the 16th century. A ticket covering the museum and gardens cost 7.50 EUR at the time of writing for a self-guided tour. Guided tours are only offered in the summer. Inside highlights include 10,000 yr old giant deer antlers and a costume gallery with hats you can try on. The Medieval Garden at Rothe House was a real highlight and one of my top picks for places to visit in Kilkenny. You’ll find fascinating garden archaeology information on how they recreated the gardens as they were during Medieval times. The Rothe Medieval Garden is simply an all around beautiful place. I even spotted a hawk taking flight from a tree in the garden! I had the house and gardens all to myself when I visited Kilkenny in November.
9. Visit Kilkenny’s Medieval Mile MuseumKilkenny recently opened the Medieval Mile Museum. Take the audio tour (8 EUR at the time of writing) and spend an hour admiring artifacts over 1000 years old. The museum is built on the site of deconsecrated St. Mary's Church. A major highlight is Liber primus Kilkenniensis, a town record book that dates back to 1231.
10. Take the Smithwick's Experience Brewery TourWhile 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. I've done the tour twice: once in 2011 and once in 2019.
The first time we visited, Smithwick's Brewery in Kilkenny was still active. 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.
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!
The Smithwicks Experience has changed a lot since I visited several years ago. Francis Abbey ruins are no longer included but Smithwick's has definitely upped the technology and interactivity game. Taste wort, stir mash, and smell different types of hops on your tour. One thing hasn't changed on the tour... you still get to finish the Smithwick's Experience with a taste of Smithwick's finest beer. I upgraded to a tasting paddle of Smithwick's Blonde, Red, and Pale Ale for an extra 3 EUR on top of the 14 EUR ticket price.
11. Discover Kilkenny’s Georgian Doors
Much like Dublin, Kilkenny features some stunning Georgian architecture. I’m always drawn to Ireland’s colorful Georgian doors. Go door-spotting in Kilkenny City especially up and down the Medieval Mile and near Kilkenny Castle.
12. Catch 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.
13. Experience Kilkenny Roots FestivalWe'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!
14. Educate Yourself While Laughing at the Kilkenomics Festival
Kilkenomics is another popular festival in Kilkenny that takes place in November. The content sits at the intersection of comedy and economics. Expect to be both educated and entertained. One recent Kilkenomics featured a panel including famous economists Dan Ariely and Rory Sutherland debating the (de)merits of the gig economy.
Things to do in County Kilkenny and Nearby
If you travel to Kilkenny by car, don't limit yourself to just the things to do in Kilkenny City. The countryside of County Kilkenny and surrounding counties feature some enchanting places to visit.
15. Visit Jerpoint Abbey
Jerpoint Abbey is way off the beaten path in County Kilkenny but was fascinating to explore. It's also extremely well preserved. Jerpoint Abbey is believed to be the only example in Europe of a highly decorated Augustinian Abbey. The OPW representative onsite told us that abbeys of this order are usually much more austere. Take time to admire the details of the figures carved into the columns of the cloister. Climb the steps to what was once the monks' dormitories for stunning views of the abbey ruins and surrounding Kilkenny countryside. You may even spot a few Kilkenny cows waiting to greet you at the fence separating the neighboring farm from Jerpoint Abbey.
16. Hike to Kells Priory and the Enchanted Cottage
Kells Priory was an absolutely delightful find. Park at the King's Mill Restaurant for lunch and have a wander afterward. There are signs for the Kells Priory walk which will take you past the adorable Enchanted Cottage.
The walk is supposed to be a loop walk, but we turned back after visiting the priory since the onward path was unclear. Kells Priory is definitely an off-the-beaten path place to visit in Kilkenny. We had the priory ruins all to ourselves aside from a couple of guys doing restoration work on the crumbling walls. Founded in the 12th century, Kells Priority is a unique example of a fortified monastery with several towers incorporated into a defensive wall.
17. Explore Mount Juliet Estate
Mount Juliet Estate is a 5-star hotel and golf course in the Kilkenny countryside. Even if you aren't staying on the property, it's worth stopping by. There are several picturesque hikes around Mount Juliet Estate nestled next to the River Nore. Stroll the walled garden or book yourself in for a round of golf.
Mount Juliet Estate also features an exclusive craft beer collaboration with Metalman Brewing. Sip a pint of Moongate in the courtyard of the Hunter's Lodge. Featuring lots of great citrus, Moongate was very refreshing after our lake hike.
It's definitely worth getting a peek inside the Mount Juliet Manor House. The easiest way to do this is to grab a drink at the bar. Better yet, book in for an afternoon champagne tea service. Sit on comfortable couches next to the window in the dark-paneled library with views out onto the River Nore and surrounding pastures. Mount Juliet's afternoon Champagne Tea cost 55 EUR per person at the time of writing.
18. Walk Heywood Gardens
Heywood Gardens isn't in County Kilkenny, but rather in County Laois. However, I'm including Heywood Gardens in this post about the best things to to do in Kilkenny since it's just a 30 minute drive from Kilkenny City. We actually popped into Heywood Gardens en route from Athlone to Kilkenny. Heywood Gardens is free to visit and features lovely formal gardens, stunning vistas, and a few follies. Follies are impressive structures or ruins meant to look centuries old but are really modern (circa 19th century) constructions. Heywood Gardens was once associated with a manor house. However, Heywood Manor House burned down in the 1950s and was replaced with a school.
Where to Eat in Kilkenny
Kilkenny may be a small city, but there is some great food to be found here. Learn about where to eat and drink in Kilkenny with the recommendations below.
Kilkenny Design Centre Food Hall
The food hall at the Kilkenny Design Centre is a great place to grab a quick breakfast or lunch in Kilkenny. Enjoy a homemade sausage roll with savory dipping sauce and a pot of tea. Nab the corner table for lovely views of Kilkenny Castle.
Book in for an early dinner at Ristorante Rinuccini in Kilkenny City. The restaurant has great atmosphere! We opted for the 3-course early bird and sampled deep-fried calamari, chicken with mushrooms, delectable cannelloni with Irish beef, and tiramisu. Cafe Rinuccini claims to have the largest selection of grappa in Ireland so I had to give it a go. Grappa is definitely not for the faint of heart and will definitely burn on the way down.
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.
CakeFace Patisserie is so good if you have a sweet tooth. Grab a coffee and a homemade peanut butter marshmallow. Sit back and while away the afternoon or early evening.
Cafe La CocoWe 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.
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 PatisserieStop 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!
Coffee LaneCoffee lane is a great place to spend Sunday morning on a weekend in Kilkenny. Order a lemon drizzle cake and a cappuccino and take a seat at the window for a spot of people watching.
The GrapevineStop 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. BollardBollard'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! :-)"
Riverview Bar and TerraceWe 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!
PetronellaPetronella is a cozy two story restaurant featuring lovely decor and amazing food. We made a reservation for dinner and sampled fried Brie, paté, hake, and chickpea escalope in an elegant setting on the upper floor..
Sullivan’s TaproomSullivan’s is thought to be the oldest known brewery in Kilkenny. Founded in 1706, Sullivan’s even predates Smithwicks’s. Stop for a nightcap at Sullivan's Taproom for a pint of craft beer. I enjoyed a pint of Black Marble Stout. I also learned that Sullivan’s has a connection to my home town of Buffalo, New York in the US. Sullivan’s launched a beer in Buffalo a couple years back. Buffalo is one of the few places you can find Sullivan’s craft beer outside of Ireland.
The Hole in the WallThe name says it all. We squeezed into the Hole in the Wall for a glass of Costello's Spelt Lager. It’s definitely a tight space at the bar but I was lucky and managed to nab a stool. The Hole in the Wall is situated in a 16th century Tudor mansion and features a performance space upstairs that is used for Kilkenny festivals like Kilkenomics and other events.
Langton’s KilkennyIt's worth wandering in to Langton’s Hotel in Kilkenny. The bar and brunch rooms feel like taking a step back in time. Very sumptuous. I especially loved the patterned chandeliers and stained glass ceilings. Grab a pint or a glass of wine and steep in the ambiance.
Rive GaucheRive Gauche is connected to Left Bank Kilkenny and is a cozy, French bistro-inspired spot with dark wood and leather seats. Sample calamari and a mango cheesecake for a light lunch.
King's Mill Restaurant
King's Mill Restaurant near the tiny village of Kells in County Kilkenny is a great starting point for the walk to Kells Priory. There is a small parking lot at the Mill. If you approach from the wrong direction, you'll need to turn around since the ramp to the lot is a tight turn. Sit outside at a picnic table under the shade of an umbrella and enjoy a Kells Priory pizza which features goats cheese and caramelized onions. You'll also find some cakes on offer. Try a slice of triangle cheesecake to fuel your walk to the priority.
The Lady Helen
The Lady Helen in the Manor House at Mount Juliet Estate sports a Michelin Star. You can choose from a 7-course tasting menu, a 9-course tasting menu, or the table d'hôte. We opted for the signature 7-course tasting menu with wine pairings (of course!). The very generous pours included a full glass of champagne with dessert. The dining room features Georgian stucco decoration and views over the River Nore and pastures beyond. Very elegant! Our menu included:
- 2 amuse bouche
- scallops with chive beurre blanc, seaweed, and lime
- cod with violet artichoke and yuzu lemon
- Tipperary organic veal with comte cheese, wild garlic, and vin jaune sauce
- strawberry 'pre-dessert' with rice pudding
- chocolate hazennut and passionfruit tart
- a selection of petit fours
Where to Stay in Kilkenny
You definitely have options when it comes to places to stay in Kilkenny. The main decision you need to make is whether to stay in Kilkenny City or out in the County Kilkenny countryside. I've personally stayed in the two hotels below. Check it out to give yourself a feel for the accommodation options in Kilkenny.
The Laurels Bed and BreakfastThe Laurels Bed and Breakfast is a good place to stay in Kilkenny, especially if there is is a festival on. We paid 80 EUR to stay at the Laurels during Kilkenomics in November. The rooms are simply appointed but comfortable and the room price includes a full Irish breakfast the next morning. The Laurels is situated about a 15 minute walk from the Medieval Mile in Kilkenny.
Mount Juliet Estate
Mount Juliet Estate is a 5-star rated hotel, resort, and golf course in rural County Kilkenny. You can stay in the historic Manor House or book the more modern Hunter's Lodge. We got an "upgrade" to the manor house, but found it to be a little shabby with no air conditioning which can be problematic in the summer so we opted to go back to Hunter's Lodge. The staff were all extremely friendly and helpful in sorting out the issues we encountered. They even drove me back to the Manor House at 11 pm when I realized that I'd forgotten my purse at the Lady Helen after dinner. Mount Juliet surprised me with a bottle of wine and box of Irish artisan chocolates for my birthday. We spend a relaxing evening with the balcony doors open and a glass of wine.
Kilkenny City is only a 20 minute drive from Mount Juliet Estate. The Ormonde Street carpark is an ideal end point. It costs 5 EUR to park all day and is easy to get in and out again without getting snarled on the narrow medieval roads of Kilkenny Town.