Here’s our pick of must-visit activities in the Marble City and beyond.
Although you’ll find Kilkenny Castle right in the heart of the city, once you’re inside its walls you’ll feel like you’ve travelled back in time. Originally built by the Normans in 1195, Kilkenny Castle with its magnificent gardens, woodland paths and a man-made lake, all added in the 19th century, is the perfect place to forget about the real world.
The castle is open to visitors throughout the year, with a tearoom for refreshments, a playground if you’re bringing kids and the magnificent Long Gallery for art lovers.
The round tower of St. Canice’s Cathedral is the oldest standing structure in Kilkenny and, weather permitting, you can climb to the top of its 30 metres for incredible views of the city and nearby countryside. The religious roots of the site go back centuries, evident in the tombstones and round-headed stained glass windows.
Running through the centre of Kilkenny city, The Medieval Mile is a discovery trail linking St. Canice’s Cathedral and the Anglo-Norman castle and much more in between. The Medieval Mile Pass gives you access to everything on the trail, as well as discounts for various cafes and restaurants, and is the best value way to see the attractions along the route.
The historic setting of The Medieval Mile Museum is 13th century St. Mary’s Church, now converted into a modern museum. Here, you’ll begin to understand the city’s medieval past as Kilkenny’s 800-year story is told using the best modern technology.
Taking in the sights can be thirsty work. Along the Medieval Mile, you’ll find The Smithwick’s Experience, the perfect place to learn about the brewing process behind the famed local ale, while enjoying a pint. You can learn about the rich history of Smithwick’s from the moving portraits and monk holograms on the tour.
Take a 20-minute spin to pretty Thomastown to check out a business where playing with fire is actively encouraged. Here you’ll find Jerpoint Glass Studio run by the four siblings whose parents established the internationally-renowned business in 1979. Every piece is made by hand and you’ll get to watch skilled glassblowers manipulate the red-hot molten glass.
While you’re there, nearby Jerpoint Abbey is wonderfully preserved from its 1158 origins and you can get a fascinating glimpse into the life of the Cistercian monks who once lived there. Afterwards, take a walk, or a drive to Jerpoint Park where you can see the remains of a deserted medieval town. During the summer you can even watch sheepdog demonstrations as man’s best friend rounds up herds of sheep.
Fancy visiting one of the darkest places in Ireland? A place where Viking history and myths come to life before your eyes? At Dunmore Caves, voyage deep into chilly chambers formed over millions of years, discovering stories of archaeological finds from 928 AD. Afterwards, sit and wonder at it all in the charming tea room. The caves are just a 15 minute drive from Kilkenny.
Put the phones down and let nature take over at Castlecomer Discovery Park where treetop walks, climbing walls, ziplines, canoeing and orienteering are just some of the activities you can enjoy with the family.
Back in The Marble City, Kilkenny Design Centre is renowned for showcasing emerging Irish craftspeople and their exceptional work. Come, browse and bring home your choice of Irish-designed jewellery, knitwear, fine china, pottery or glass. Don’t leave without dining in the award-winning Anocht restaurant, with delicious homemade food served daily.
The Calder-Potts family produce delicious apple juices, ciders and their cult product, Highbank Organic Orchard Syrup at Highbank Organic Orchards in Cuffesgrange, just ten minutes outside Kilkenny city. Visit the farm, which dates back to the 17th century and pop into the organic farm shop to stock up on their ‘Pip to Sip’ produce.
With its fascinating history, cultural experiences, outdoor activities and great food, Kilkenny is just waiting to be experienced.