Kilkenny, Ireland: Ultimate Guide for Fellow Travelers

When my family headed to Kilkenny, Ireland, in June 2017, I was so excited because I’d heard it’s a great town. We were coming from our visit to the Bru na Boinne archeology sites and our stay at the Powerscourt Hotel. I discovered that Kilkenny is so nice, I couldn’t resist putting together this ultimate guide to the town so I could share it with you!

Hopefully my guide will save you the loads of time it took me to research it. For more great Irish destinations, check out my Ireland travel guide. A good place to start is also with my descriptions of 18 Beautiful Ireland Towns and Irish Villages.

For this Kilkenny guide, I looked for not just “the best of the best,” but also anything quirky or “secret” that real travelers and locals had to share. This post covers how to get there, what to do, where to stay, and where to eat. There are mini table of contents throughout, so you can jump right to the sections!

Street in Kilkenny, Ireland
Street in Kilkenny, Ireland. Photo by William Murphy/Flickr

Here’s an example of my mini table of contents if you want to jump directly to sections of this guide:

But first, why do tourists flock to Kilkenny, Ireland?

  1. It’s so beautiful that it’s won many awards. It won the National Award at the Failte Ireland travel awards. The Japanese Association of Travel Agents named it “the most beautiful town in Europe.”
  2. It’s full of Medieval houses, cathedrals, and abbeys — so much so that it has a Medieval Mile you can walk for the full experience. There’s a beautiful castle with gardens.
  3. The town is surrounded by forest and there’s a pretty river that runs through it (the River Nore). It’s a good area for biking, driving, and hiking.
  4. The town is also known for its arts festivals, which include everything from bluegrass music and comedy, to dance and plays.
  5. It’s inland, and is a great stop when you’re crossing from one side of the country to the other.
  6. There are tons of good places to stay and eat!
  7. It makes great beer.

 

My family on River Nore in Kilkenny
My family on River Nore in Kilkenny. Photo by Travis Neighbor Ward

Here’s the Kilkenny Map (scroll down for the map of the town):

Map of Kilkenny, Ireland

How I Chose What’s in This Guide

I love roughing it and I love spoiling myself while abroad. So you’ll find a mixture of mellow, fun activities and more adventurous ones. You’ll also find a mixture of price points for hotels and restaurants. Plus, I’ve added in links to discounts wherever possible.

I amassed this information based on reviews and write-ups I read on many travel forums and websites, including:

>>Affiliate notice: I research every product I recommend, and I only give high marks to the very best. Some of the links here may be affiliate links, which means I may receive compensation from companies if you purchase from them. This is at no cost to you and it helps me keep this website running. So thanks for helping me! I independently own this site and the opinions expressed here are my own.<<

Roads around Kilkenny, Ireland
Roads around Kilkenny look like this. Photo by Nico Kaiser/Flickr

How to Get to Kilkenny

Kilkenny is in the southeast part of Ireland, about 75 miles from Dublin in Kilkenny County. Some people bicycle there. But the fastest ways to get to it are:

Rent a car

My family has rented our car in Ireland with Hertz because we’ve found the service abroad, and at home, to be excellent. I also like their website because it’s so easy to navigate.

Take a train

Rail Europe goes from Dublin to Kilkenny, for example, in just under two hours. Expect a one-way ticket to cost somewhere around $43 to $60. If you’re a student, also make sure to check the STA Travel website, which specializes in great deals for students.

Take a bus

For details and prices, check out the website of the Bus Eireann.

Here’s the Kilkenny City map:

Kilkenny City Map
Kilkenny city map by Kilkenny City Online

Kilkenny Things to Do:

These are the things people say you absolutely shouldn’t miss when you’re there. Where possible I’ve included activities that are also great with little kids who are going nuts from looking at too many churches (been there, done that!). Some activities contain warnings to pay attention to if you have any mobility issues.

Wander around Kilkenny Castle

Castle Kilkenny
Castle Kilkenny. Photo by Tambako/Flickr

This is most tourists’ favorite activity while here. The Anglo-Norman castle is Medieval and sits above the River Nore. It includes pretty gardens, all of which has been restored to its original gorgeousness when the Butler family lived here. Plus (love it!) when it’s cold out the coffee shop will give you blankets for sitting around outside.

Insider tips:

  • Give yourself at least 1.5 hours to walk the castle. Lots of people who planned only a day trip wish they’d stayed in town overnight.
  • There are two guided castle tours a day, around 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. I saw it priced at around 8 euros. People said the tour is pretty short.
  • Go on Thursday so you can check out market stalls that are on the road leading to it.
  • Get afternoon tea in the castle kitchen cafe. But make sure to go when it’s open!
  • The bathrooms are far from the entrance, so don’t wait until the last minute to start looking for them.
  • If the castle is closed, you can always hang in the park outside.
  • No drones allowed on the property!
  • Expect to pay 8 euros for adults; 4 euros for kids; and 20 euros per family.

Where to find it:

>>Check it out: Go on a Ghost Walking tour of Kilkenny. Buy tickets in advance by clicking here! 

A room inside the castle:

A room inside the castle of Kilkenny
Inside Kilkenny Castle. Photo by Mobiles in Mobile/Flickr

Go shopping and eat in Kilkenny Design Centre

Kilkenny Design Centre Exterior
Kilkenny Design Centre Exterior. Photo by Travis Neighbor Ward

 

If you’re looking to bring home Irish crafts and crafts (shopping time!),this is the place for you. It’s across the street from the castle. They sell everything from wool blankets and cutting boards.

Kilkenny Design Centre Shop
Kilkenny Design Centre Shop. Photo by Travis Neighbor Ward

 

There’s also a really nice restaurant and food hall upstairs. They also serve afternoon tea (of course they do, this is Ireland!).

Kilkenny Design Centre Food Hall
Kilkenny Design Centre Food Hall. Photo by Travis Neighbor Ward

 

Where to find it:

  • Castle Yard, right across the street from the castle
  • And here’s their website

Go on a Bike Tour

Kilkenny Cycling Tours
Kilkenny Cycling Tours

The one with the highest ratings I found is Kilkenny Cycling Tours. People say it’s fun and informative. You learn tons about Kilkenny from the tour guide and you can rent the bikes for extra days. Plus, you get to see the prettiest roads and vistas!

Where to find it:

Sample Kilkenny Beer at Smithwick’s Experience Kilkenny Tour

Basically you get to sample beer in a very fun place, which is the producer of Ireland’s oldest ale. I read that they have a Harry Potter theme as part of the tour, which includes an audio and video display (as in, holographic monks and talking portraits on the walls!).

Smithwick's Brewery in Kilkenny
Smithwick’s Brewery. Photo by Irish Fireside/Flickr

But don’t think you’re going to tour where the beer is made; those operations have been moved elsewhere. This tour tells you about the history of the beer and how it’s brewed. Still, people rave about it. The tour ends with a flight of beers.

>>Buy tickets for it now! 

Where to find it:

  • Saint Francis Abbey Brewery on 44 Parliament Street

Pause to talk shopping…

One of the things I love doing when abroad is purchasing handmade crafts. So I have to stop for a sec and tell you about The Irish Store, which is an online shop I recently discovered. Basically they sell all sorts of high-quality wares (clothing, jewelry, food) made in Ireland, a lot of it by hand. And they ship anywhere in the world for just $10.

Here’s a Celtic bronze green agate brooch made in Kilkenny that they sell for about $25:

Celtic bronze green agate brooch from Kilkenny via The Irish Store
Celtic bronze green agate brooch from The Irish Store

 

Okay, now back to things to do in Kilkenny!

Go to Castlecomer Discovery Park

Think 80 acres of beautiful forest, zip lines, a two-level obstacle course with high ropes, a playground, animals, hills, and a river with paddle boats.

Insider tips:

  • There are helmets and safety lines.
  • Book online so you don’t have to wait in line.
  • There’s a cafe at the entrance that’s not overpriced.
  • The restaurant has breakfast, lunch, and snacks all day long.
  • There are arts and crafts shops in the restaurant courtyard (gifts!).
  • The Tree Top walk is great, but young kids may be too scared.

Where to find it:

Visit St. Canice’s Cathedral and Round Tower

St. Canice's Cathedral in Kilkenny
Photo by psyberartist/Flickr

 

The views are beautiful. There’s a pretty graveyard beside it. You can climb the tower (see below).

Insider tips:

  • Buy combo tickets inside the church for the cathedral and tower, to get the best photos of the landscape. Costs about 6 euros.
  • There are about 129 steps up the narrow tower staircase, and it won’t take you long if you’re adept at climbing them. But they’re steep and, as one person said, like climbing ladders in spots. People recommend that little kids and elderly people avoid it. Going down is more difficult.
  • At the top of the tower there’s a great map of the city.

Where to find it:

>>While you’re in Kilkenny try hurling, the ancient Celtic sport that’s all the rage in Ireland even today!

Visit Jerpoint Abbey (Thomastown)

It’s not in the town of Kilkenny, but nearby. People love that there are fewer tourists than at St. Canice’s. The 12th-century ruins are better preserved than many (though lacking a roof) and very pretty.

Insider tips:

  • If you’re traveling with kids, ask about the scavenger hunt.
  • You can get a guided tour of the monastery, which includes history of the monks who once lived here.
  • There’s a good museum with sarcophagi and architectural relics.
  • Expect to pay about 2.9 euros for an adult; 1.30 euros for a student; and 7.40 euros for a family.

Where to find it:

Sunset in Kilkenny, Ireland
The town at sunset. Photo by Bernd Bragelmann/Flickr

Tour Rothe House and Gardens

This house is actually comprised of several buildings; people say that from the street it doesn’t look like much. But once past the entrance you’re in for a pleasant surprise — especially if you’re into gardening.

The house belonged to a wealthy merchant in the late-16th century (built in 1594). It’s a good look at how that group lived back then. The Tudor gardens go on far behind the house.

Insider Tip:

  • Make sure to check out the rooftop garden

Where to find it:

Tour Black Abbey

Black Abbey in Kilkenny, Ireland
Black Abbey. Photo by Photo by psyberartist/Flickr

Tourists rave about this 13th-century Priory of the Dominican Order, mainly for the stained glass windows, which show the 15 mysteries of the rosary. They also like the choir stall and spiral staircase. It’s on the Breagagh River.

Insider Tips:

  • There are services daily.
  • It’s close to the bustling town center, which makes it a peaceful spot to relax.

Where to find it:

Tour Woodstock House and Gardens

An avenue of Monkey Tree puzzles, a bamboo tunnel, a run-down house, and renovated, walled gardens make this popular with travelers. Costs about 4 euros per car.

Insider tips:

  • Go when the house is open and get tea in the conservatory’s tea house.
  • There’s a playground with a swing to keep little kids busy (phew!).
  • Bring cash for the parking lot!!

Where to find it:

The Best Places to Stay in and near Kilkenny (Hotels and B&Bs):

Tons of choices. A lot of it comes down to price. But it also comes down to size and tone. Hotels may be more modern and offer you more services. But at B&Bs you’re going to get a friendly person welcoming you to their home!

These generally get 4 to 5 stars from travelers. I’ve listed them in alphabetical order.

Some are in Thomastown, which is about 11 miles (17 km) from the town of Kilkenny. There are buses and trains that go there. Assume that everything is in the town of Kilkenny unless I state otherwise.

Top-rated Kilkenny hotels:

Aspect Hotel Kilkenny

Aspect Hotel in Kilkenny, Ireland

Aspect Hotel Kilkenny is located at the edge of town, near the ring road. There are 80 rooms, free Wi-fi, a restaurant and bar. It’s a more affordable option that travelers say offers great service and a great location.

Hotel Kilkenny

Hotel Kilkenny
Hotel Kilkenny

Hotel Kilkenny is right on College Road in the town of Kilkenny. It has a modern look, and includes a small gym (“lesiure center”) that includes a nice indoor swimming pool. Plus it has a bar and Taste Restaurant.

Kilford Arms Hotel

Kilford Arms Hotel is right in town, close to the bus and train station. The on-site restaurant has nightly entertainment and the hotel has private parking (always nice).

Kilkenny Hibernian Hotel

Kilkenny Hibernian Hotel room
Kilkenny Hibernian Hotel room

Kilkenny Hibernian Hotel is a 4-star hotel with very stylish accommodations. It has two late-night bars and restaurant, Harpers, which is beautiful. Here’s a photo of the bar:

Bar in the Kilkenny Hibernian Hotel in Ireland
Bar in the Kilkenny Hibernian Hotel

Kilkenny Inn Hotel

Triple room in the Kilkenny Inn Hotel
Triple room in the Kilkenny Inn Hotel

 

The 3-star Kilkenny Inn Hotel has 30 rooms. The rooms are modern and large, and it’s right in town. It has the Kernel Bar & Kitchen. Families will like the triple room.

Kilkenny Ormonde Hotel

Bar at the Kilkenny Ormonde Hotel
Bar at the Kilkenny Ormonde Hotel

Kilkenny Ormonde Hotel is a 4-star hotel with contemporary decor, a leisure club (includes fitness machines, a swimming pool, and exercise classes!), and spa. Apparently it’s the only hotel in the town center that has an indoor swimming pool and spa. I love the decor in the bar!

Kilkenny River Court Hotel

Kilkenny River Court Hotel on River Nore
Kilkenny River Court Hotel on River Nore. Photo by Travis Neighbor Ward

 

The luxurious, 4-star Kilkenny River Court Hotel has been renovated and includes a restaurant overlooking River Nore — beautiful setting. It’s a popular spot for weddings (the bridal suite is so pretty).

Lyrath Estate Hotel Spa & Convention Centre

Manor house room at Lyrath Estate in Kilkenny, Ireland
Manor house room in Lyrath Estate

 

Lyrath Estate is on Paulstown Road in Kilkenny. It’s very pretty, with more contemporary-styled luxury suites and Downton Abbey-esque manor house rooms. Think free Wi-fi, plus milk and cookies at bedtime. Here’s another room:

Family room at Lyrath Estate in Kilkenny
Family room at Lyrath Estate

 

They have a snooker room (!), bars, a restaurants, and bikes you can use to get around the property. For kids there’s a console room with Xbox and Playstation games. Say no more.

Mount Juliet Estate

Mount Juliet Estate in Thomastown, Ireland
Mount Juliet Estate

Conde Nast Traveler voted The Mount Juliet Estate one of the 20 top resorts in Europe! Its restaurant has also received a Michelin star rating. It’s actually 11 miles (17 km) from Kilkenny in Thomastown. Archery, falconry, fishing, horseback riding, golf, fine dining — what more could you want? Here’s what one of the rooms looks like:

Mount Juliet Estate, a Manor House Superior room
Mount Juliet Estate, a Manor House Superior room

Newpark Hotel

Bedroom in the Newpark Hotel in Kilkenny, Ireland
Bedroom in the Newpark Hotel

 

The 4-star Newpark Hotel sits at the edge of town, on more than 40 acres of parkland. It includes kids’ activities, a health club, spa, infinity pool, restaurant, and bar. The decor style is stylish and modern, in a traditional-looking way.

Pembroke Hotel

Room in the Pembroke Hotel in Kilkenny, Ireland
Room in the Pembroke Hotel

 

The Pembroke Hotel is a 4-star hotel is in the center of town. It has a restaurant and bar called Statham’s, and the menu is long and looks delicious. The brunch menu is alone is enough to get me in the door.

Room decor is pretty and modern — think pale gray, white, and touches of bright red. For a treat to look at when you wake up, book a castle view room.

Zuni Hotel

Zuni Hotel bedroom in Kilkenny, Ireland
Zuni Hotel bedroom

 

Zuni Hotel is a boutique hotel is in the town center on Patrick Street. It’s where Charles and Camila stayed during their Ireland trip this year (in the Royal Suite)!

Zuni has an award-winning restaurant by the same name and a cocktail bar. It offers free Wi-fi and free parking. Room decor is stylish and contemporary, lots of black and white with pops of plum.

Zuni Hotel restaurant in Kilkenny
Zuni Hotel restaurant

Top rated Bed & Breakfasts and Inns:

There are SO many B&Bs and inns around Kilkenny. Here are 12 that consistently get high reviews from travelers. For more B&Bs in particular, take a look at the Kilkenny page on Booking.com. When I checked it had 50 listed.

Butler House in Kilkenny, Ireland
Butler House. Photo by Brian Washburn/Flickr

Where to Eat in Kilkenny, Ireland

Again, there are tons of options. But here are some restaurants, cafes, and other eateries that travelers refer to often as worth checking out (in addition to the hotel restaurants and bars I mentioned in the hotels section).

Where we had lunch and loved it:

My family really enjoyed eating lunch at Willoughby’s Cafe at 1 High Street.

Willoughbys Cafe in Kilkenny
Willoughbys Cafe in Kilkenny. Photo by Travis Neighbor Ward

 

It offers a menu of simple, but delicious food (try the quiche!) that people of all ages will enjoy. The upstairs dining room also gave us a quiet, roomy space to kick back in for a while and rest our feet.

Upstairs at Willoughby's Cafe in Kilkenny
Upstairs at Willoughby’s Cafe in Kilkenny. Photo by Travis Neighbor Ward

Campagne
Gas House Lane, under the old railroad arches. It’s gotten a Michelin star rating in the past.
http://www.campagne.ie

Cillín Hill Mart
Dublin Road
www.cillinhill.com

Foodworks
Parliament Street
www.foodworks.ie

Langton’s
John Street
www.langtons.ie

Lavistown House
Sion Road
www.lavistownhouse.ie

Marble City Bar & Tea Rooms
High Street
www.langtons.ie/marble-city-bar

Ristorante Rinuccini
On The Parade
www.rinuccini.com

Ryeland House Cookery School
Cuffesgrange
www.ryelandhousecookery.com

The Thatch Pub
Grannagh
www.thethatchpub.com

For more dining out ideas:

Try the website for the Taste of Kilkenny Food Trail

Phew!

That’s a lot of awesome stuff!! Personally I can’t wait to get there. The first thing I’m going to do is have a picnic lunch in the castle park. How about you? Leave a comment and let me know if you’ve done anything of these things. I’d love to hear your opinions.

4 COMMENTS

  1. Glad you enjoyed your trip to our lovely city and county, so much packed in, thumbs up from me, I couldn’t have given a more comprehensive account,

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here