Kilkenny, often dubbed as the “Marble City” for its unique limestone heritage, is a beguiling blend of rich history, vibrant arts, and natural beauty.
Nestled in the heart of Ireland’s Ancient East, I love that this mediaeval city effortlessly weaves tales of ancient lords and warriors with the buzz of contemporary culture.
From the shadows of its majestic castle to the whispers of its cobbled alleyways, Kilkenny invites visitors to immerse themselves in experiences that are as diverse as they are memorable.
Whether you’re a history buff, an art enthusiast, or an adventurer at heart, I know you’ll find something in Kilkenny for your tastes.
In this article, I share my favourite things to do in Kilkenny – let’s explore the very best that this Irish gem has to offer.
Author Bio: Jessie Moore
Jessie Moore is a luxury travel expert with years of experience travelling the world to find the best destinations, hotels and adventures.
1. Visit Kilkenny Castle
Address: Kilkenny Castle, The Parade, Kilkenny, R95 YRK1
- October to March: Daily 09:30 – 17:00
- April to September: 09:15 – 17:30
I think it would be remiss of me not to kick off my guide to the best things to do in Kilkenny with the majestic Kilkenny Castle.
The first time I stepped into the grounds of Kilkenny Castle, I felt like I’d been transported back to mediaeval times.
This Norman castle, with its grandeur and vast history, is truly the jewel in Kilkenny’s crown.
The Picture Gallery, with its high glass ceiling, is particularly breathtaking. Outside, the expansive castle park offers a serene retreat (especially when the weather is good, which does happen sometimes in Ireland, I promise!).
I’d suggest meandering through the rose garden, by the ornamental pond, or just sitting on a bench and soaking in the views of the castle’s imposing façade.
2. Explore Dunmore Cave
Address: Mothel, Ballyfoyle, Castlecomer Road, Kilkenny, R95 A972
- Wednesday to Sunday: 09:30 – 17:00
- Closed Mondays and Tuesdays
- Open Bank Holidays
I don’t think a trip to Kilkenny would be complete without delving into the depths of Dunmore Cave.
Located just a short drive from the city, this limestone cave boasts some of the finest calcite formations in Ireland. And it’s well worth seeing the stunning stalactites and stalagmites for yourself.
Apart from its natural beauty, Dunmore Cave is steeped in history and folklore. I was particularly intrigued by the tale of the Viking massacre that is said to have taken place here in 928 AD.
3. Tour the brewery at Smithwick’s
Address: Smithwick’s Experience Kilkenny, 44 Parliament Street, Kilkenny, R95 VK54
- March to October: Daily 10:30 – 19:00
- November to February: 11:00 – 17:00
If you’re a fan of ale then I know you’re going to love the Smithwick’s Experience. Even if you’re not, I’d still recommend stopping by for a tour.
Nestled in the heart of Kilkenny, this old brewery tells the story of Ireland’s oldest beer. From the moment you enter, you’ll be met by the aromas of malted barley.
I was really impressed by the interactive tour, which offers a blend of holographic displays, brewing artefacts, and hands-on experiences.
Learn all about the brewing process, from fermentation to bottling. And of course, I have no doubt that the tasting session at the end will be the cherry on top for most!
I’m sure many will agree that this is one of the best things to do in Kilkenny.
4. Climb the round tower at St Canice’s Cathedral
Address: The Close, Coach Road, Kilkenny City, R95 V63H
October to April:
- Monday – Saturday, 10:00 – 17:00
May to September:
- Monday – Saturday: 09:00 – 18:00
- Sunday: 13:00 – 18:00
For a panoramic view of Kilkenny, I’d recommend climbing the round tower at St Canice’s Cathedral. Trust me when I say that it’s well worth the effort!
Built in the 9th century, this is one of only two round towers in Ireland that visitors can climb.
At the top you’ll be rewarded with a breathtaking 360-degree view of the cityscape, the meandering River Nore, and the lush countryside beyond.
The cathedral itself is a masterpiece, with its splendid stained-glass windows and ornate stonework.
You can choose from either a self-guided tour or a guided tour, which run on Monday, Wednesday and Fridays at 11:00 and 15:00.
5. Spend a night at the Mount Juliet Estate
Address: Estate, Mount Juliet, Co. Kilkenny, R95 E096
If you’re looking to indulge in a bit of luxury during your stay in Kilkenny (and who can blame you), I’d really recommend staying at the Mount Juliet Estate.
This Georgian mansion, set amidst 500 acres of rolling countryside, exudes elegance and charm. I had the most wonderful stay here.
My room, overlooking the gorgeous landscape, was the epitome of comfort, with plush bedding and period furnishings.
I love that the estate offers a myriad of activities, from horseback riding and fishing to golfing on its world-class course.
I particularly enjoyed exploring the gardens and seeking out the hidden corners of the estate. Plus, meeting the hounds and horses of the estate was a very memorable experience!
Dining at the Michelin-starred Lady Helen restaurant was a culinary delight. Every dish was a feast for the senses and the service was faultless.
Read my full review of staying on the Mount Juliet Estate.
6. Visit Rothe House & Garden
Address: 16 Parliament St, Gardens, Kilkenny, R95 P89C
- November to March: Tuesday – Sunday, 10:00 – 17:00
- April and October: Tuesday – Sunday, 10:00 – 18:00
- May to September: Daily 10:00 – 18:00
For another of my favourite things to do in Kilkenny, I’d recommend a visit to Rothe House & Garden for a spot of history and some gorgeous gardens.
Nestled in the heart of the city, this Tudor merchant’s townhouse is like stepping into a time capsule of 17th-century Kilkenny.
Wander through its period rooms, furnished with authentic artefacts, and imagine the daily lives of the prosperous Rothe family.
But the true highlight for me was the garden. Reconstructed to its original design, it’s segmented into three distinct areas, each with its own unique character.
The medicinal herb garden was particularly fascinating, a testament to the old ways of natural healing.
7. Discover rich history at the Medieval Mile Museum
Address: 2 St Mary’s Lane, High Street, Kilkenny, R95 K276
Opening times: Daily 09:30 – 16:30
At the Medieval Mile Museum you’ll discover a journey through Kilkenny’s past. Located in the heart of the city, this modern museum is housed within the walls of a 13th-century church.
I’m sure you’ll be fascinated by Kilkenny’s history, from its early monastic origins to its bustling mediaeval heyday.
The high-ceilinged nave, with its ornate tombs and ancient artefacts, resonated with tales of kings, warriors, and saints.
In my opinion, one of the standout displays is the collection of Renaissance-style tomb sculptures – they’re simply exquisite.
8. Shop for crafts at the Kilkenny Design Centre
Address: The Castle Yard, The Parade, Gardens, Kilkenny, R95 CAA6
- Monday to Wednesday: 09:30 – 18:30
- Thursday to Friday: 09:30 – 19:00
- Saturday: 09:30 – 18:30
- Sunday: 10:00 – 18:30
If you’re a creative soul like me, or you have an appreciation for fine craftsmanship, the Kilkenny Design Centre is a must for your list of things to do in Kilkenny.
Situated across from the iconic Kilkenny Castle, this hub of creativity showcases the best of Irish design.
Wander through its array of shops, and browse the intricate handcrafted jewellery, vibrant textiles, and delicate ceramics.
Each piece seemed to carry with it a story of Irish heritage and artistry. After shopping, I’d recommend relaxing in their courtyard café, sipping on a hot drink and enjoying the ambiance.
9. Take a walking tour of Kilkenny
I don’t think there’s a better way to get to know Kilkenny than by walking its cobbled streets.
I’d recommend joining a guided walking tour, as your knowledgeable guide will regale you with tales of the city’s storied past, pointing out hidden gems and historic landmarks.
From the ancient city walls to secret passageways, every corner of Kilkenny seemed to whisper tales of its fascinating past.
10. Have a pint at The Hole in the Wall
Address: Hole in the Wall, 17 High St, Gardens, Kilkenny, R95 TY30
- Closed Monday to Wednesday
- Thursday: 18:00 – 23:00
- Friday: 18:00 – 00:00
- Saturday: 14:00 – 00:00
- Sunday: 14:00 – 23:00
The Hole in the Wall isn’t just any tavern – it’s a portal to the past! Tucked away in a narrow alley, this 16th-century tavern exudes charm and character.
As you push open its aged wooden door, you’ll be greeted by the warm glow of candlelight and the hum of lively conversations.
With its low ceilings and wooden beams, I love that it feels almost as if you’re in someone’s cosy living room from centuries ago.
I’d recommend settling down with a pint of local brew and simply revelling in the ambiance, and perhaps striking up conversations with locals and fellow travellers.
The tales of hauntings and historic revelries adds to the mystique of the place, making it a memorable stop on your Kilkenny adventure.
11. Admire the stained-glass windows of Black Abbey
The Black Abbey is a Dominican abbey that was founded in the 13th century; it radiates an air of serenity and antiquity.
But what truly took my breath away were the stunning stained-glass windows. As sunlight streams through, the vibrant hues of blues, reds, and golds paint a kaleidoscope on the floor.
The famed Rosary Window, with its intricate depiction of the fifteen mysteries of the rosary, is a particular highlight. Each pane seems to tell a story, and I think it’s well worth stopping by to see.
12. See contemporary art exhibitions at Butler Gallery
Address: Evans Home, John’s Quay, Gardens, Kilkenny, R95 YX3F
- Monday: Closed (except Bank Holidays when Sunday hours apply)
- Tuesday to Saturday: 10:00 – 17:00
- Thursday: Late Night 10:00 – 20:00
- Sunday: 11:00 – 17:00
Tucked away in the heart of Kilkenny, I’m sure that the Butler Gallery will be a delightful discovery for the art enthusiasts among you.
This dynamic space, dedicated to showcasing contemporary art, has a fresh and invigorating vibe. Plus I love that there is always something new to see.
The exhibitions, curated with thought and vision, often aim to challenge your perceptions and stir the emotions.
From avant-garde installations to evocative paintings, I think it’s a testament to the thriving art scene of Kilkenny.
13. Visit Jerpoint Abbey
Address: Jockeyhall, Thomastown, Co. Kilkenny, R95 P523
- March: Daily 09:00 – 17:00
- April to September: Daily 09:00 – 17:30
- October: Daily 09:00 – 16:30
- November: Daily 09:00 – 16:00
A short drive from Kilkenny city will bring you to the historic ruins of Jerpoint Abbey. It’s a 12th-century Cistercian abbey, with a robust round tower and ancient cloister.
I’d recommend roaming the grounds and spotting the beautifully carved stone figures, each with a story to tell.
The serene surroundings, dotted with ancient tombs and gravestones, whisper tales of monks, prayers, and bygone eras.
Despite its ruined state, the abbey’s beauty and reverence remain intact, which I think makes a visit one of the best things to do in Kilkenny.
14. Go canoeing on the River Nore
For an adventurous twist to your Kilkenny escapade, I’d recommend taking the waters of the River Nore.
I have no doubt that canoeing down this tranquil river will be an experience like no other – although I’d recommend saving this one for a good weather day!
The verdant banks, adorned with weeping willows and ancient stone bridges, paint a picturesque backdrop.
Along the way, you may even spot playful otters, graceful herons, and even the occasional kingfisher darting by if you’re lucky!
15. Cosy up with a drink at Kyteler’s Inn
Address: St. Kieran’s Street, Kilkenny City
- Monday to Thursday: 10:30 – 23:30
- Friday to Saturday: 10:30 – 13:30
- Sunday: 12:30 – 23:00
If walls could talk, I’m sure Kyteler’s Inn would have tales aplenty! The aged stone walls, dark wooden beams, and roaring fireplace created a cosy and inviting ambiance.
Legend has it that the inn’s original owner, Dame Alice Kyteler, was Ireland’s first accused witch.
The live traditional Irish music, with its lilting melodies and foot-tapping rhythms, no doubt adds to the enchantment of the inn.
16. See the views from Brandon Hill
If you’re yearning for a bird’s-eye view of the lush Irish landscape, I’d suggest making your way to Brandon Hill, the highest peak in County Kilkenny.
A favourite among both locals and tourists, this hill offers an invigorating hike that culminates in a panoramic spectacle.
As you ascend, the trail is lined with an array of local flora and the gentle sounds of nature. But the best part is reaching the summit.
Here you’re greeted with an unparalleled vista of the verdant countryside, the meandering River Barrow, and the quaint town of Graiguenamanagh in the distance.
17. Take to the water on a paddleboard at Graiguenamanagh
Another water-based activity for the adventurers among you! While you’re visiting Brandon Hill, I’d recommend heading to Graiguenamanagh for a spot of paddleboarding.
The historic town, with its rich monastic heritage, sits on the banks of the River Barrow.
As you glide down the river, the beauty of the Kilkenny landscape unfolds – from ancient stone bridges to the occasional wildlife spotting.
And if you’re new to paddleboarding I’d recommend opting for a lesson or guided tour.
18. Have fun with friends at Kilkenny Activity Centre
Address: New Orchard Road, Kilkenny City, Co. Kilkenny, R95XRC4
Opening times: Daily 10:00 – 18:00
If you’re travelling with a group of friends and looking for a fun few hours, I’d recommend heading to the Kilkenny Activity Centre.
A hub of energy and excitement, this centre offers a range of activities that promise heaps of laughter.
Dive into the playful challenges of bubble soccer, navigate the muddy trenches of “Hell’s Kitchen” assault course, or test your archery skills.
I love that each activity is designed to be inclusive, ensuring participants of all ages and skill levels have a fantastic time.
19. Go for a walk at Kilfane Glen
Address: Kilfane Demesne, Kilfane, Co. Kilkenny
Opening times: July & August
In my opinion, a visit to Kilkenny would be incomplete without soaking in its natural beauty, and Kilfane Glen offers just that.
This romantic-era garden, hidden away from the hustle and bustle, is a sanctuary of tranquillity.
As you wander its paths, I love that every turn unveils a new sight – from ponds and waterfalls to age-old trees.
The garden has been painstakingly restored to maintain its historic charm, with gothic follies and a quaint thatched cottage adding to its allure.
Whether you’re a nature lover, a history enthusiast, or simply seeking solace, I know you’ll find a peaceful retreat at Kilfane Glen.
Note that Kilfane Glen & Waterfall is only open in the summer months.
20. Wander Butterslip Lane
Address: The Butter Slip, connecting High Street with St Kieran’s Street, Kilkenny City, Co Kilkenny
In the heart of Kilkenny lies a narrow, cobbled alleyway that seems to transport you back in time: Butterslip Lane.
Dating back to the 1600s, this lane, with its overhanging buildings and historic charm, offers a glimpse into the city’s mediaeval past.
Its peculiar name is derived from the butter stalls that once lined the alley during market days. Today, it’s a haven for shoppers and explorers.
The lane is dotted with artisan boutiques, quaint shops, and craft stores, each offering unique products that tell a story.
I’d really recommend simply going for a wander along Butterslip Lane, and soaking up the charm.
If you have any recommendations or questions about visiting Kilkenny then do get in touch in the comments!
For more Kilkenny inspiration, read my honest review of staying at the Mount Juliet Estate.