Kilkenny, located in southeastern Ireland, was the last stop on our Irish road trip and possibly our favorite. Despite its small size—approximately 25,000 residents—Kilkenny has everything visitors want in an Irish city: A proper castle, scads of medieval history, cozy pubs, ancient churches, and lively locals. We spent one full day there and hit many of the highlights.
These are some of the best things to do in Kilkenny, Ireland:
Though I hate to admit it, I’d been underwhelmed by some of Ireland’s castles up until this point. (Several appeared to be little more than dilapidated heaps of stone, though I’m sure they were spectacular 500 years ago…).
But Kilkenny Castle blew away my expectations in a good way. It was originally constructed in 1195, and was the powerful Butler family’s residence for centuries.
The expenses of maintaining the castle eventually became too much for the family, and they sold it in 1967 for a whopping £50. Since then, the weather-beaten castle has undergone massive restorations.
Admission costs €8 for adults and €4 for students/children. We highly recommend listening to the brief audio-visual presentation about the castle before beginning the tour.
After touring the castle, we enjoyed meandering the well-manicured grounds.
St. Canice’s Cathedral
St. Canice’s Cathedral has endured all manner of calamities throughout its long existence.
In 1087, it burned to the ground. A few centuries later, the church tower collapsed. Witchcraft was the obvious culprit, and Alice Kyteler—a name you’ll hear a lot in Kilkenny—was convicted. She escaped, but her maid was flogged and burned at the stake. Alice’s nephew tried to smooth things over by reroofing the Cathedral. But his roof collapsed, too. Later, Oliver Cromwell–charming chap that he was–used the church to stable his horses.
Despite its tumultuous history, the cathedral is still standing. At least for now. Parts of the present building date to the 13th century.
After we finished touring the inside, we decided to climb the 9th century Round Tower for a bird’s eye city view.
The cheerful Irish woman who sold us our tickets smiled and told us we were just in time. She planned to lock up for the day as soon as we finished. Thrilled with our rare stroke of good fortune, we ducked through a low entryway into the tower.
We immediately regretted our decision. Rather than a brightly lit, easy-to-navigate stairwell, we saw a rickety, upright ladder. For all we could tell, it was original to the building.
We hesitantly made our way up the rungs.
The final few steps were up a narrow, stone stairwell with no guardrail. In America, we would have had to sign half a dozen waiver forms promising not to sue in the highly likely event of severe injury or death. Here we never even got a passing word of caution.
The view was impressive. We lingered at the top for quite a while, partly because of the nice view and partly because I was too terrified to climb back down.
If you suffer from claustrophobia, have a fear of heights, or really any healthy sense of fear at all, I recommend skipping the tower. If you’re a nutcase like us, proceed with caution.
Admission to the Cathedral costs €4 and the round tower costs €3 (and possibly your life). The cost to do both is €6.
Established in 1225, Black Abbey is a medieval Catholic priory of the Dominican order. The stone interior is impressive and the stained glass windows are spectacular.
But we wanted to visit the abbey for more personal reasons. Some of my relatives traced my maiden name—Blackaby—to the Black Abbey. I wanted to take a picture in front of the sign for my dad.
Kilkenny Design Center
The Kilkenny Design Center is a two-story shop located in what used to be the Butler family’s stables near Kilkenny Castle. Though pricy, the products for sale are high quality and authentically Irish. If you want to take home something classier than a leprechaun key chain, here is your chance.
I fell in love with the beautiful throw blankets. Unfortunately, Sam was not quite as infatuated with the price tags. Maybe next time!
The Medieval Mile runs from Kilkenny Castle on one end to St. Canice’s Cathedral on the other. Rather than rushing from one major landmark to the next, we enjoyed taking our time strolling the medieval streets.
Eating and Drinking
For such as small city, Kilkenny is chock-full of great restaurants and cafes. Since we were only in town for one day, we didn’t have the chance to visit many of them. But we had a delicious lunch at a little restaurant called Willoughby’s (No. 1 High Street, Kilkenny Kilkenny, Ireland) and then got our afternoon caffeine fix at The Fig Tree (20 High Street, Kilkenny, Kilkenny 0000, Ireland).
What is your favorite thing to do in Kilkenny?
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