About an hour and a half from Dublin, on the banks of the River Nore, the city of Kilkenny, in the South East of Ireland, is seen by many as the only place for the capital in its visitor attractions. The narrow, winding streets give it an air of old-world charm; its terraces of handsome Georgian houses give it elegance; and with all this it remains a bustling modern city and a market center for a fertile agricultural area. For those who don’t want to drive, there are regular bus and train connections from Dublin (Heuston Station for the train or Busáras – Central Bus Station).
1 Kilkenny Castle, Rose Garden and Park
Dramatically perched on a strategic height and leading a crossing on the River Nore, Kilkenny Castle dominates the ‘High Town’ of Kilkenny City. After many facelifts over the centuries, Kilkenny Castle today displays a mix of architectural styles. In the early thirteenth century, the original Anglo-Norman stone castle was built for the 4th Earl of Pembroke and became the main Irish residence of the powerful Butler family for nearly 600 years. In 1967, Arthur Butler, 6th Marquess of Ormonde, presented it to the people of Kilkenny. There is a long standing rose garden with 20 acres of charming grounds to stroll through.
Hours: Open all year, June-August, 9am-5:30pm, off-season 9:30am-5:30pm (closed 4:30pm October-February)
Admission: Adult €6, seniors €4, students & children €2.50, under 6s free
Address: The Parade, Kilkenny
Official site: www.kilkennycastle.ie
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2 National Craft Gallery and Kilkenny Design Centre
Opposite Kilkenny Castle, in the former castle stables, Kilkenny Design showcases the best of contemporary Irish craft including, among others, textiles, knitwear, pottery and jewellery. There is an impressive selection of original Irish handmade products of the highest quality and an excellent restaurant, open daily and evenings from Thursday to Saturday. Adjacent is the National Craft Gallery. Founded in 2000, it is Ireland’s premier center for contemporary craft and design. The Gallery features Irish and leading international designers, artists and artisans across a range of disciplines and hosts an ever-evolving and eclectic range of exhibitions.
National Craft Gallery
- hours: Open Tuesday – Saturday 10am-5.30pm, Sunday 11am-5.30pm, Closed Monday
- Admission: Free
- Address: Castle Yard, Kilkenny
Kilkenny Design Centre
- Opening hours: Open 7 days from 10am
- Admission: Free
- Address: Castle Yard, Kilkenny
3 Saint Mary’s Cathedral
A leisurely 10-minute walk from Castle Yard takes visitors to the imposing Gothic Revival St. Mary’s Cathedral. Kilkenny Tourist Office (Rose Inn Street) is a short detour and three minutes from Kilkenny Castle. Designed by William Deane Butler, the cathedral dates from 1843 and its impressive Grade II listed tower, visible across the city, rises to a height of 56 metres. The altar is made of Italian marble and relics of Saints Cosmas, Damian, Clement and Victoria are found here. There is a pleasant tea room serving coffee, tea, cakes and snacks.
Opening hours: open daily
Address: James’s Street, Kilkenny
Official site: https://stmaryscathedral.ie/
4 Rothe House and Gardens
About five minutes walk from St. Mary’s is Tudor Rothe House (1594). This merchant’s house, built around two courtyards, was restored in 1966 and has been a major tourist attraction ever since. It is now the headquarters of the Kilkenny Archaeological Society, with their library and museum. The house is comprised of museum exhibits, including a well-worn Viking sword, a period costume collection, and a genealogy study center. Open since 2008, the scenic walled garden is a reconstruction of an early 17th-century city garden and is very popular with visitors. Across the street is the courthouse (1794).
Hours: Open April-October 10:30am-5pm (Monday to Saturday), 3pm-5pm (Sunday)
November-March 10:30am-4:30pm (Monday to Saturday)
Admission: Adults €5, seniors & students €4
Address: Parliament Street, Kilkenny
Official site: https://rothehouse.com/
5 St Canice’s Cathedral and Round Tower
On the north side of town, just off Vicar Street, about a five minute walk from the hotel Roth House, stands Gothic St. Canice’s Cathedral, one of Ireland’s most popular visitor and heritage sites. Built on the site of an earlier church, it was begun about 1251 and eventually became what we see today in 1820. The huge 14th-century squat tower and the walls of the aisles, transepts and clerestory are all covered with battlements. Despite much restoration (most recently in 1863-1864), the interior has retained its spacious character. One of only two in Ireland with public access, the Round Tower is the oldest standing structure in Kilkenny City. Visitors can climb for great views of the city.
Hours: Open June to August, Monday to Saturday 9am to 6pm, Sunday 1pm to 6pm, off-season variations
Admission: Adults €6, concession €5.50, family ticket €15 (Under 12s not allowed in tower – alternative rates for cathedral or tower)
Address: The Close, Coach Road, Kilkenny
Official site: www.stcanicescathedral.com
6 The Black Abbey
Parliament Street, south of the cathedral, crosses the small River Bregagh, the boundary between Kilkenny’s Irishtown and High Town. To the right, in Abbey Street, are the Black Freren Gate (one of the gates of the old town) and beyond that, Black Abbey Church, once the church of a Dominican monastery, Black Abbey (c.1230). Of the original church, only the nave, 14th-century south transept, and 15th-century tower remain. Notable features of the interior include a medieval alabaster carving of the Trinity and a roughly carved oak figure of St. Dominic.
Address: Abbey Street, Kilkenny
Official site: https://blackabbey.ie/
About a 15 minute drive out of town along the N78 brings visitors to this ancient cave. Made up of a series of chambers formed over millions of years, it contains some of the best calcite formations to be found in Ireland. One of the most impressive is a stalagmite over six meters high known as the Market Cross. This famous cave was first mentioned in the 9th century Irish Triads. The visitor center contains excavated objects such as bones, coins and simple tools, many of which date back to the 10th century.
Hours: Open daily 9:30am-6:30pm (last tour 5pm – subject to seasonal variations)
Admission: Adult €3, seniors €2, children & students €1
Address: Ballyfoyle, Castlecomer Road, Kilkenny
8 Editor’s Choice Jerpoint Abbey
A 25 minute drive along the N10 (towards Thomastown) takes visitors to the beautiful monastic ruins of Jerpoint Abbey (National Monument). Founded in 1158, it was inhabited by the Cistercians from 1180 until its forced dissolution in 1540. Only the sacristy, chapter house and day rooms on the east side of the structure survive. There is a handsome 15th century tower with great views from the top. The nave is divided into two parts: the choir of the monks and the choir of the lay brothers. The church has many fine monuments and tombs, including those of knights from the 13th century, and a fine array of carved figures can be seen in the cloister.
Hours: Open daily from March to September from 9:30am to 5:30pm (slight seasonal variations)
Admission: Adults €3, seniors & groups €2, children & students €1
Address: Thomastown, Co. Kilkenny
Where to Stay in Kilkenny for Sightseeing
We recommend these wonderful hotels in Kilkenny, near top attractions such as Kilkenny Castle:
- Lyrath Estate Hotel & Spa: luxury estate, 17th century country house, elegant decor, afternoon tea, spa with indoor pool.
- Langton House Hotel: mid-range prices, good value, friendly service, breakfast buffet.
- Pembroke Kilkenny: affordable rates, convenient location, castle views, free Irish breakfast.
- Kilkenny Hibernian Hotel: great rates, great staff, free breakfast.