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Kilkenny is a small medieval town located in southeastern Ireland. Steeped in history and boasting one of the most beautiful castles on the Emerald Isle, this former medieval capital town is one of Ireland’s top places to visit.
Want to know more? Here are 13 of the best things to do in Kilkenny, Ireland.
1) Kilkenny Castle
Towering over the town that bears its name, Kilkenny Castle is one of the most famous castles in Ireland. Constructed over 800 years ago, the castle served as the seat of the noble Butler family for over 600 years.
The original castle was made largely out of wood. Although it underwent numerous extentions and remodels, the castle we see today is a 19th century Victorian remodel which was intended to restore the castle to its 13th century appearance.
Sitting on 50 acres of land, the castle is now owned by the Office of Public Works. Both the castle’s and the grounds are open to the public. Highlights include the impressive Long Gallery in the East Wing and the first floor’s tapestry and drawing rooms.
2) Medieval Mile
As the medieval capital of Ireland, one of the best things to do in Kilkenny is to walk the Medieval Mile. This path links Kilkenny Castle and St. Canice’s Cathedral, bringing you through the heart of historic Kilkenny.
Spend some time meandering past the city’s most important sites. While you’re at it, take a break for a bite or to visit one of the local shops along the way.
3) Medieval Mile Museum
The Medieval Mile Museum is a “must-do” for anyone visiting Kilkenny. It’s a fun way to learn about Kilkenny’s medieval past and great primer for what you’ll see throughout the rest of the town.
Inside the museum, you’ll find books, letters, and other exhibits telling the story of Kilkenny all the way back to the 1200s. Explore lost relics, medieval treasures, uncovered tombs, and more. Plus, the museum is housed inside the old 13th century St. Mary’s Church, which is also super cool.
4) St. Canice’s Cathedral
Built roughly 800 years ago, the ground on which St. Canice’s Cathedral sits has been an important spiritual site for even longer. For nearly 1,500 years, Christians have gathered at this spot for fellowship and worship.
The cathedral itself measures 75 yards long, which makes it the second longest in Ireland. Enjoy the beautiful stained glass windows before checking out the impressively preserved Celtic Christian tower that stands guard beside it. The imposing 100-foot round tower is actually older than the cathedral building. Even better, you can still climb it for a great view of the town below.
5) Black Abbey
Constructed in 1225, the Black Abbey was one of the first houses in Ireland built for the Dominican Order of monks.
The Black Friars built the abbey outside of the original city walls in order to establish their independence from both the Irish and English settlers living there at the time. Unfortunately, its close proximity to a tributary of the River Nore has subjected it to repeated flooding over the years. The tumultuous history of the abbey has seen it constantly subjected to the political whims of the times, however, it continues to stand as a functioning house of worship.
As one of the most popular things to do in Kilkenny, be sure to spend some time inside the Black Abbey. Pay special attention to the Rosary Window behind the altar. Made in 1892, the sections of this beautiful stained glass window illustrate the mysteries of the Rosary.
>>Learn More: Ireland Travel Guide
6) St. Mary’s Cathedral
St. Mary’s Cathedral may look old, but it is actually one of the newer buildings you’ll find in historic Kilkenny. Completed in 1857, the cathedral sits on the highest point in town and is the main cathedral for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Ossory.
If you’re a fan of churches, you may feel like St. Mary’s Cathedral looks familiar. The exterior is made from locally-sourced limestone, and its design is thought to be inspired by Gloucester Cathedral in England.
While you’re here, don’t miss Giovanni Maria Benzoni’s sculpture of the Madonna.
7) Rothe House and Garden
At first glance, Rothe House may seem like it is just a beautiful old building. There is a little more to it than that. This building is historically significant because it is built on the last remaining “burgage plot” that is open to the public.
Built between 1594 and 1610, this hidden gem is actually comprised of three houses – each with their own enclosed courtyards and gardens behind them. Much of the original architecture remains, which is super cool in its own right.
Inside, you’ll find a small but nice museum displaying several artifacts, costumes, and more.
Genealogists should also make a trip to Rothe House. Here, you’ll find over 200,000 civil and parish records, allowing visitors to trace their ancestry back for centuries. Of course, for visitors whose family originated from this area, a visit to Rothe House is one of the top things to do in Kilkenny.
8) Smithwick Experience
Want to grab a drink inside of an abbey? You can when you enjoy the Smithwick Experience.
Located inside the old St. Francis Abbey, the Smithwick Experience allows you to grab a pint where the beer used to be brewed. Smithwick Brewery (acquired by Guinness in 1964) operated here from 1710 through 2013, and it is believed that the Franciscan friars even brewed their beer here for centuries before that.
The site was eventually transformed from a brewery to a brewery tour. Similar to the Guinness Storehouse in Dublin, this attraction includes beer tastings, exhibits, and more. Closed for a few years due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Smithwick’s Experience reopened during the summer of 2022.
9) Kytelers Inn
What’s a trip to Ireland without enjoying a pint of ale and some traditional Irish music? A visit to Kytelers Inn will do the trick.
Kyteler’s Inn isn’t just any old public house, however. Dating back to 1324, the inn was established by Alice Kyteler. This daughter of a merchant built her own fortune, and she also tied the know four times! Of course, this rubbed some of Kilkenny’s residents the wrong way, eventually leading to her conviction for witchcraft. She was able to escape to England (twice) and eventually disappeared from the history books.
The inn is said to be haunted, but that doesn’t mean you should avoid it. With live traditional music, tasty food, and good beer, Kyteler’s Inn is one of the most popular and fun things to do in Kilkenny!
10) Woodstock House & Gardens
A few miles southeast of Kilkenny lies the Woodstock House and Gardens. Once a grand estate, the house was burned down and now lies in ruins. However, the incredible gardens make a visit here one of the best things to do in Kilkenny.
Overlooking the River Nore and the charming village of Inistioge, the restored Victorian gardens make a lovely spot to enjoy your morning or afternoon. A mix of formal and informal gardens, take a relaxing stroll through the rose garden, walled garden, and terraced garden. Spend time wandering down the “yew walk” before admiring the exotic trees in the arboretum. Finish your trip with a visit to the the cast iron conservatory and tea shop.
11) Jerpoint Park and Abbey
Discover the lost town of Newtown Jerpoint at Jerpoint Park. Located just a few minutes south of Kilkenny, the once bustling medieval town was deserted sometime in the 17th century.
At the park, walk the footprints of the deserted town and wander around the ruined church of St. Nicholas. Catch one of the sheep dog demonstrations before you pay your respects at the incredible tomb effigy of St. Nicholas. If you believe the local legend, the saint who inspired Santa Claus is buried here.
Directly east of the park, you’ll find the ruins of Jerpoint Abbey. This Cistercian abbey was built in the 12th century and has been declared a national monument.
12) Kells Priory
Founded in 1193, Kells Priory remains one of the largest and most magnificent medieval structures in Ireland. These ruins date mostly from the 14th and 15th centuries and have been designated as a national monument.
Nestled on the banks of the King’s River near the village of Kells, this roughly 3 acre site looks more like a fortress than a church. Featuring seven tower houses spaced throughout the walls of the compound, the priory is known locally as the “Seven Castles.” These were likely built as a defensive system after the priory was burned three times during its first 150 years of existence.
13) Dunmore Cave
Are you ready for some adventure? Take a fifteen minute drive from Kilkenny to the Dunmore Cave and start exploring.
Formed over millions of years, the cave reaches a depth of roughly 150 feet. The limestone chambers contain some of the best calcite formations in Ireland, the most impressive of which being the 19-foot high Market Cross.
Discovered centuries ago, the Triads of Ireland is the first text known to mention the cave. With that said, a mention in the Annals of the Four Masters may be the most interesting. This 16th century text claims that, in 928 A.D., over one thousand people were massacred here by the Viking leader Guthfrith of Ivar. These claims can not be verified. However, several sets of human remains as well as silver and bronze items dating from the same time period have been found inside the cave.
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