Kilkenny is probably one of Ireland’s most famous cities. Yes, it may only have around 26 000 inhabitants but it still hangs on to its city title, which it was awarded in 1609. By that age, you probably already guessed its famous for its history and architecture, as well as its beer. Being only an hour and a half from Dublin makes it an ideal destination for a day trip by rail or bus. Due to its small size, it’s also very easy to get around the city, so you will get to see as much as possible in even a little amount of time. Here are some must-sees in Kilkenny not to be missed. Don’t forget to also check out our 5 unusual things to do in Kilkenny.
As you walk towards the city centre from the train station, there’s no way to miss it. No matter which path you take, a bridge will lead you across the river Nore. From there you’ll get a gorgeous view of the Castle. If you follow the path by the river, you can enjoy a walk there or take up the stairs into the castle gardens. Closer up, you’ll be amazed by how huge this more than 800 years old castle is. No wonder it took them eighteen years to build it! If you don’t feel like viewing the inside, you can still stroll around the castle and rose gardens.
The Medieval Mile
Perhaps not exactly a literal mile, depending on how you walk it, the Medieval Mile is the old city centre of Kilkenny. Amongst these parallel streets, connected by slips (medieval alleys), you’ll find several historical buildings and museums. Time travel back to the Middle Ages by visiting one of the many churches or simply walk around the town centre and marvel at the medieval architecture towering above you. If you continue straight ahead away from the Castle, through the medieval mile and its sights, stay on Irishtown Street. It will lead you up the steps to Canice’s Cathedral with its 30m high tower. For a €4 entry fee, you can climb it yourself. However, there’s only a limited number of people allowed on top of the tower at a time. So plan in some extra time in case you need to queue. Onwards, from here you can walk to the Black Abbey, a Dominican Abbey which is still in use and free to visit. As you continue around the corner, it’s impossible to miss St. Mary’s Cathedral which has a little cafe on top.
More left to discover
Since we only had a few hours in Kilkenny, we weren’t able to visit everything I had researched. More options on our list – and also good alternatives for if it rains – would have been the following.
- The Smithwicks Brewery: If you like this popular beer you can find out more about how it’s made. From what we heard, it’s much less crowded than the Guinness Brewery. Do still consider booking online though, since it’s cheaper.
- Dunmore Caves: If you have more time and ideally a car (since there’s no public transport), you can visit Dunmore Caves nearby Kilkenny. The tour is only €5 and was recommended to me by several people.
- Kilkenny Famine Experience: If you’re interested in learning more about Kilkenny’s history, another alternative for rainy days is a free audio-visual tour, which is sponsored by McDonagh Junction Shopping Centre. Since it’s right next to the train station and the tour is self-guided, it makes a good last stop if your nervous about missing your train.
Planning your visit
You can take either a train or bus to Kilkenny from Dublin. We opted for the train from Heuston station. Considering that the amount of trains per day are limited, even more so on the weekends, you’ll want to check which one you want to take. In our experience, while the 7:25 train from Heuston means getting up early, it helps you get a lot more out of the day.
Depending on your preferred method of getting back, you could also consider staying for a night in Kilkenny. For us the roughly six hours we had by taking the first train there and the second to last train back was enough to walk around and see most attractions from the outside, as well as enjoy the atmosphere from cafés and pubs.
How to get there:
Why go: Medieval architecture and vibes; small city so you can walk everywhere; a variety of attractions; friendly locals
Best time to visit: Due to the train times, going on a weekday gives you more flexibility than weekends, unless you rely on the bus. If you want to avoid bigger tourist crowds, you can choose to go in early spring or late autumn. We went in the beginning of July and getting there early meant we had a few hours until closer to 11am when most other visitors started arriving.
Price: Overall, Kilkenny is cheaper than Dublin. If you want to go budget, taking the bus will be cheaper than taking the train. Within Kilkenny, you can see many attractions for free or from the outside.