I’ve just officially celebrated three weeks of living in Dublin. How the time has gone so fast is beyond me. And while I’ve really enjoyed spending that time exploring the city I’m fortunate enough to now call home, I was itching this weekend to get out of Dublin and start seeing more of the beauty that Ireland has to offer. As it turns out, traveling around this country via bus or train is incredibly accessible and affordable.
Looking for a town with history and quintessential Irish charm, I settled on a day in Kilkenny. Located in Leinster province just a quick hour and a half south-west of Dublin, this medieval town is the perfect place to get away for a day. I booked bus tickets that cost €10 each way and conveniently left nearly every hour throughout the day. I departed Dublin at 8:00 in the morning and was in Kilkenny by 9:40 with a full day ahead of me before catching my bus back at 7:40 that night.
Kilkenny offers all the charm that one comes to Ireland in search of. The colorful facades of pubs and shops line the roads that wind through town. The River Nore runs through the middle, and towering above overlooking the city is Kilkenny Castle, dating back to the twelfth century. Cathedrals wait behind every corner, while trad music drifts from the pubs.
|| Start Your Day at Kilkenny Castle
I found that it was best to begin the day early at Kilkenny Castle, beating the crowds of tourists (and thus, of course, getting better pictures). The castle is the epicenter of the town – you can’t miss it. The castle was built in the first decade of the thirteenth century for William Marshall, Earl of Pembroke. In the fourteenth century, the estate became owned by the Butler family, who continued residency there for nearly six hundred years.
In 1967 Arthur Butler presented the castle to the people of Kilkenny for a mere €50, and today visitors can admire the stately halls, libraries, and rooms. The grounds of the castle are worth strolling as well to admire the striking architecture. To one end of the castle sits a rose garden, and on the other, a large park serves as a great spot for a picnic with a view.
|| Visit the Cathedrals
Named for Saint Canice, this ecclesiastical site was founded in the 6th century. The adjacent Round Tower is the oldest standing structure in Kilkenny, and for €3 visitors can climb to the top for views extending over the town. If you desire to admire the interior of the cathedral but you’re there on a Sunday as I was, save your visit until at least early afternoon when mass is over. The Round Tower will not be open for climbing during mass.
Founded in 1225, this church was part of the Dominican Priory. The name Black Abbey comes from the Black Friars, as the Dominicans were called. Visitors are welcome to visit the cathedral to admire the stained-glass windows or attend mass.
Located outside of the city near Thomastown in County Kilkenny, Jerpoint Abbey is another spot worth a visit. The monastic ruins of this Cisterian abbey date back to the twelfth century. Stroll through the cloisters and even pay your respects to the grave of jolly old Saint Nicholas himself.
|| Take a Stroll Through Town
While there is plenty to see and do, Kilkenny is by no means a large town. It is easily walkable, with a few main streets sprawling out from the river. Take some time of your day to just walk the city. Take in the colorful shops along the way – send a postcard or pick up some books. Maybe pop in to a pub for a Guinness. Wander along the path alongside the river. Grab some soft-serve at Murphy’s Ice Cream. The best way to see a town like Kilkenny is not to plan too much – just stroll to see what you’ll find.
|| Go for a Tasting at Smithwick’s
Guinness isn’t the only delicious fermented export Ireland has to offer. Smithwick’s is another pint of choice, and the brewery calls Kilkenny home. While the beer is no longer brewed in this location, you can still visit the original brewhouse at the Smithwick’s Experience. Learn all about the history by taking a tour, and end with a tasting of the variety of ales.
|| Grab a Drink at the River Court Hotel Terrace
I walked by this hotel assuming that like any, it was just a hotel, and that the real charm of local Kilkenny would rather be found in the pubs and castles and shops. But later, the River Court proved me wrong. I had strolled out to Maudlin Castle (the ruins of a tower keep dating back to the 1500s) and was sitting in a nearby riverside park indulging in a copy James Joyce’s Dubliners that I had picked up that afternoon when I heard live music coming from somewhere in the distance. I decided to chase it, wandering along the riverside back towards town.
The path eventually led me to the backside of the River Court Hotel, and left me to cut through the outdoor dining patio to get back to the main road through town. I realized then that the River Court has the BEST view in all Kilkenny, because it sits just across the river from the Castle. Charming strings of lights hang overhead, while flowers decorated the fence that ran along the river. I had found the live music – a man with an Irish brogue crooned Adele’s Make You Feel My Love. I grabbed a glass of pinot grigio and sat at a table facing the castle, convinced I had found one of my favorite spots ever.
So if there is one thing I recommend before you continue on to a traditional Irish pub, rest your feet by grabbing a drink at the River Court Hotel and sitting on the terrace under the shadow of the castle. Remind yourself that the charm of a city isn’t always in experiencing everything you can in one day, but in slowing down to really appreciate the view.
|| Dine at Kyteler’s Inn
It was the sheer history of Kyteler’s that drew me to it. Founded in 1324, this lively medieval pub has provided good craic for hundreds of years. But it was the ghost story that got me through the door. I love a good haunted house. Kyteler’s Inn was originally owned by Dame Alice Kyteler, who, through many marriages, had amassed a great fortune. Those envious of her had accused her of witchcraft, but it is said that she escaped to England. She disappeared from history but claimed a place in Kilkenny’s folklore.
However those she left behind didn’t fare as well. Her maid Petronella was tortured and burned at the stake in her place. So is Kyteler’s Inn haunted by the ghost of Dame Kyteler? Or of Petronella? Was Alice really a witch – and has she lived on to this day, posing as her biographer Clare Nolan? (You can read more of the history here and be the judge for yourself.) But even if the pub offered a strange energy, it was still a great place to enjoy food, a beer, and trad music.
|| Stay for the Live Music and Nightlife
As the sun begins to set over Ireland, you’ll hear more and more music drifting from the windows of pubs throughout the city. From trad music in a quaint pub to late bars and clubs that make it a popular destination for stag and hen parties, there is plenty more to experience in Kilkenny after the sun goes down.
Other things to do: I opted to pay admission to the castle rather than other experiences, but if you’re a history or museum buff, check out the Medieval Mile Museum! If you’re visiting during August, be sure to check out the offerings of the renowned Kilkenny Arts Festival.
What are some of your favorite things to do in Kilkenny?