When Kilkenny Tourism invited us to spend a day in Kilkenny as their guests, we couldn’t resist. After all, who could be a better tour guide than the people responsible for promoting tourism there?
We expected them to show us the best things to do in Kilkenny – and they did – but we didn’t expect that we would have so much fun. Or, that we would fit so much into 24 hours!
ⓘ TIP: If you’re planning to spend a few days in Ireland’s “Sunny Southeast,” include visiting Waterford and touring Wexford County on your travel itinerary! You’ll find related articles at the end of this story.
Why visit Kilkenny Ireland?
Kilkenny began as a religious community in the 6th century. It has since grown to be Ireland’s fifth-largest town. Most people know about 800-year-old Kilkenny Castle, but the town has so much more to it than just that.
Kilkenny’s medieval center is full of a rich history and culture. You can lose yourself for hours just walking down cobbled streets. You’ll find yourself admiring the centuries-old buildings that have been kept in such pristine condition, for sure.
If you’re not fond of history, Kilkenny City is perfect for shoppers, too. The town is well known for its many shops selling pottery, jewelry and artwork along its quaint lanes.
Best things to do in Kilkenny
We’ll admit it: Some of the things to do in Kilkenny that they shared are a bit off-the-beaten path, unusual tourist attractions. We might not have known to try them on our own. But that would mostly be because we haven’t found them on any “Kilkenny things to do” list.
We’re going to fix that here, by sharing the “one day in Kilkenny itinerary,” that was created for us. Hopefully you’ll find it helpful as you plan your own trip.
1. Walk down Kilkenny’s Medieval Mile
Kilkenny’s Medieval Mile makes history entertaining. The discovery trail runs through the oldest part of Kilkenny, and along the way you can immerse yourself in the sights, sounds and smells of the historic city.
It begins at the 13th-century St Canice’s Cathedral and ends at Kilkenny Castle, with much more in between. We suggest booking one of the Medieval Mile walking tours to get the most out of your walk. This one gets good reviews on TripAdvisor.
ⓘ TIP: Buy the Medieval Mile Pass for free admission to attractions as well as discounts in various cafes and restaurants along the mile.
2. See St. Canice Cathedral
- Hours: For information on this visitor attraction in Kilkenny, contact St Canice’s directly.
- Cost: Free
- Website: stcanicescathedral.ie
Although St. Canice’s Cathedral was built in the 1200s, Christians have been worshiping on the site ever since the 6th century. It now belongs to the Church of Ireland.
The cathedral that stands today has been carefully preserved in its original Early Gothic style.
When you enter the church, you’ll find the original baptismal font, as well as a replica of an original 13th-century stained glass window. The cathedral also contains some of the finest 16th-century monuments in Ireland, so it’s definitely worth a visit.
Nearby is a 9th-century round tower that once served as a watchtower and refuge. If you climb to the top of the tower, you’ll be rewarded with remarkable views of both the city of Kilkenny and its surrounding countryside. Weather permitting, of course.
3. Tour Rothe House
- Hours: 11:00 am – 6:00 pm Tue – Sun
- Cost: Adults €7.50
- Website: rothehouse.com
Rothe House is a unique Irish merchant’s townhouse complex dating from the 1600s. It was by John Rothe Fitz-Piers, a wealthy merchant and father of 11 children.
He must have loved his wife. A LOT.
As it happens, the Rothes were part of an oligarchy of around ten families who controlled Kilkenny for nigh on three centuries.
The complex includes three houses with enclosed courtyards, which have changed very little over the centuries. And to the rear is a typical 17th-century garden.
Taking a tour will give you insights into Kilkenny’s influential merchant class back in the day. You should expect to spend between 30 and 45 minutes on the tour.
4. Visit Kyteler’s Inn
Dame Alice de Kyteler began Kyteler’s Inn in 1324. As the daughter of a Norman banker and the owner of a popular Kilkenny inn, she became very well-to-do and very well-connected to the local gentry. Unfortunately, she also had the misfortune of being a widow four times.
Jealousy over her success led Alice to be eventually accused of having used witchcraft to kill her husbands. The penalty for witchcraft was to be burned at the stake, so loyal friends in the local gentry ensured that she was ‘spirited’ away to England before she could be arrested.
Kyteler’s history is fascinating, but so is its layout. I almost got lost just looking for the restroom. Everywhere I looked I seemed to discover more quaint details, such as the beautiful stained glass windows on the top floor. Each room led to another room, all connected to the main inn in a hodge-podge fashion.
ⓘ TIP: Return after dinner for traditional Irish music.
5. Tour Kilkenny Castle and its grounds
- Hours: 9:30 am – 5:00 pm, daily.
- Website: kilkennycastle.ie
Kilkenny Castle marks the other end of the Medieval Mile. It was built in 1195 to control an important fording point on the River Nore, which runs through the center of town. It was privately owned until 1936 when it was sold to the government. I’m guessing the upkeep was too much to bear.
There is no charge to walk about the extensive grounds, but they charge a fee to tour the castle’s interior. Two wings have been restored to what they might have once looked like in the 1800’s.
I’d have liked to have shared a few photos of the interior to inspire you to visit… but since no photography was allowed inside, I can’t share much more. Trust me when say, though, that this is a definite must see Kilkenny attraction.
6. Visit the Medieval Mile Museum
If you think museums are boring, you should know that this one is rated 5-stars and ranked #3 of ‘Things to Do in Kilkenny’ on TripAdvisor.
It is located inside a 13th-century church that’s considered to be the finest example of a medieval church in Ireland.
The Medieval Mile Museum contains 800 years of artifacts, including some of Ireland’s finest examples of medieval sculpture and the country’s largest collection of Renaissance tombs.
Other highlights include the incredibly ornate Rothe Chapel, some exposed tombs belonging to the Rothe family, and St Mary’s graveyard, where only the wealthiest could be buried.
Interactive Audio Tours are available Wednesday – Sunday, running every 10 minutes from 11 a.m. – 5.20 p.m.
- Tickets are available onsite or online. Learn more here.
7. Have lunch at Lanigan’s Bar and Restaurant
When it’s time for lunch, stop in at family run Lanigan’s Bar & Restaurant for some traditional Irish food.
Head directly upstairs to Legends Hurling Bar, the must-go sports bar for hurling enthusiasts. Legends is Kilkenny’s only bar dedicated to the legends that have played the game of hurling – past and present.
Sure, it’s a bar with food and all, but it comes complete with hand-painted murals of history’s greatest hurlers, as well as a well-thought-out assortment of hurling memorabilia.
Adding to the ambiance, there’s a huge TV on the wall. So if there’s a game on, you can watch the pros play while you eat.
If I were a fan of the sport, I’d be in hurling heaven.
But of course, you’re hungry and wondering about the food. We get it.
Lanigan’s serves typical Irish pub fare. We enjoyed a savory bowl of very traditional Irish lamb stew. A pint of Kilkenny’s own Smithwick’s red beer made the perfect accompaniment.
8. Try your hand at Irish hurling
- Hours: Daily, 2:00 pm Mon – Fri, 12:00 pm Sat & Sun
- Website: thekilkennyway.com/
In America, hurling is what college students do after having had too many drinks on a Saturday night. In Ireland, it’s a 3,000-year-old sport that’s only just begun to catch on overseas.
Never mind soccer or football! The Irish are rabidly passionate about this sport. Hurling has been played in Ireland for over three millennia. It is arguably the world’s fastest game … and Kilkenny has the best team in the country.
Just one day after the All Ireland Hurling Final, we got our own chance to try our hand at it. The Ultimate Hurling Experience has got to be one of the most unusual things to do in Kilkenny. And it was super fun!
Our host, P.J. Lanigan, is a veritable authority for all things hurling. He met us on a hurling field and gave a brief talk about the sport, its history, and why it’s so popular.
Then the fun began. He had us each pick up a hurley (the stick) and a few hurling balls. Before we knew it, we were blocking, hooking, lifting and striking — skills we’d never even heard of before. By the end of it all, he had us balancing balls on our hurleys while running across the field.
Even for someone like me who is not a sports fan — and most definitely not athletic — this was a thoroughly enjoyable way to spend two hours.
9. Get the Smithwick’s Experience
What would an Irish pub be without its beer? There’s Guinness, of course, but if you’re in the mood for something lighter, Smithwick’s might be just what you’re looking for. “Smitticks” is the most popular ale in Ireland.
Kilkenny’s love affair with beer began long before 1710 when John Smithwick founded Smithwick’s Brewery. Franciscan monks had brewed ale in Kilkenny since the 1300s. Smithwick’s was a part of Kilkenny life for three centuries until it was finally bought by Guinness.
The 300-year-old brewery was Ireland’s oldest operating brewery when it closed in 2013, just a week before we were there. It has since been renovated and now hosts The Smithwick’s Experience, Kilkenny’s newest tourist attraction. The brewery is right across the street from Rothe House, so it’s easy to get to.
Smithwick’s Experience brings you through over 300 years of history behind Ireland’s most loved ale. As part of your tour, you’ll have the chance to mill the malt, stir the mash and smell the hops, just as the brew masters do.
10. Enjoy a 5-star dinner at Zuni Restaurant
Zuni Restaurant makes me wish we had more opportunities to dine at a Michelin-rated place.
What a treat! The talented chef, Maria Raftery, only uses the best locally-sourced ingredients, and she even designed her menu so that it reflects where each ingredient came from.
The best way I can describe their cuisine is Irish-global fusion. The foods are native to Ireland, yet the flavors and tastes are from all over the globe.
As guests of the restaurant, Maria planned and prepared a menu to showcase the restaurant’s specialties. Even so, they seamlessly adjusted dishes at the last minute for those on special diets.
My mouth still waters when I remember that duck with mushroom risotto….
11. Enjoy traditional Irish music
It’s not very often that you’ll get the chance to enjoy a bite or a beer in a 750-year-old building.
If you will only be in Kilkenny for one day, then you must plan to end the evening at Kyteler’s Inn. In 2012, Kyteler’s was named Ireland’s Best Music Bar in the Licencing World Bar Of The Year Awards.
The historic bar’s ambience and traditional Irish music will complement each other so well that you may well lose yourself in the experience.
You can learn more here. Or, get up-to-the-minute updates on their Facebook page.
Where to stay in Kilkenny
Just outside of town is Lyrath Estate, a luxurious hotel-spa-convention center, where we were lucky enough to stay for a night. Lyrath Estate is a classic estate house with a very modern wing that somehow blends into the hotel’s history. Its gardens are amazing, and they make a wonderful background for the many concerts and events that are held throughout the year.
Dan took so many great shots of this beautiful hotel during our stay that we thought it deserved its own post: Lyrath Estate: Luxury in Kilkenny.
ⓘ TIP: For budget accommodations, consider the Kilkenny Tourist Hostel. It’s a 280-year-old Georgian townhouse on the Medieval Mile. Learn more here.
Plan your Kilkenny trip
Here are some ideas to help you plan your own trip.
- For additional things to see and do in the area, the Kilkenny Tourism website is your best resource.
- Find a list of top Kilkenny attractions along the Medieval Mile here.
- Lodging: We stayed at Lyrath Estate Hotel and Spa. Check prices and reviews on Booking.com.
- For budget accommodations, we suggest the Kilkenny Tourist Hostel. Compare prices on HostelWorld.
- Transportation: This website shows how to get anywhere by plane, train, bus, ferry and car.
- Want to see more of this destination? For more sightseeing, check out our gallery for more photos of Kilkenny.
- Get a bird’s eye view on Google Maps here. Zoom, scroll around and explore!
Want a unique experience? We have had good experiences with Get Your Guide, a reputable source for booking a wide variety of local tours, attractions and activities. That’s why we’ve chosen to affiliate ourselves with them. Find a list of Kilkenny tours here; some are day trips from Dublin.
Read more about Kilkenny
We have a whole series of Southeast Ireland articles here on As We Saw It, interesting things to do, delicious foods, luxe places to stay. Enjoy!
Things to do
- The Best Things to See and Do in Waterford, Ireland
- The Waterford Viking Triangle – An Irish Treasure
- 9 Things to Do in County Wexford
Where to stay
- Lyrath Estate: Luxury in Kilkenny
- Why You Need to See Waterford’s Granville Hotel
- Visit Dunbrody House, Kevin Dunston’s Wexford Hotel
Learn more about Kilkenny with these Amazon books.
- Dame Alice Kyteler The Sorceress Of Kilkenny A.D. 1324 (Folklore History Series) by John Drelincourt Seymour
- Ireland’s Ancient East: A Guide to Its Historic Treasures by Neil Jackman
- Kilkenny: A History and Guide by Pat Tynan