Just a couple hours from Dublin, Kilkenny is an easy ‘first stop’ for many on an Ireland driving tour . Unfortunately, many visitors won’t get further than the Ring Road, which circles the city of Kilkenny, before continuing on their trek to the southwest.
Both the medieval city of Kilkenny and the county that bears the same name, are filled with history, attractions, and activities that deserve more than a pause in your Ireland itinerary.
10 Reasons to Linger in Kilkenny
One of the most beautiful Irish castles , Kilkenny Castle was home to the Earls of Ormond since 1391. Improvements, additions, and restorations combined to create the Baronial Style castle that enchants visitors today. Situated on a large public demense, complete with walking paths and a wonderful playground, Kilkenny Castle welcomes visitors to tour the castle or just enjoy the grounds. Across the street, the old stables have been converted to house the canny shops of the Kilkenny Design Centre – a perfect place to purchase souvenirs or a light lunch to be eaten on the grass with the castle in the background.
For a terrific overview of Kilkenny, hop a train! Both the Castle Express and Kilkenny City Tours offer 30 minute narrated historical tours of the medieval city aboard vehicles and trailers modified to have the look and feel of steam trains. This is a tour that is great fun for kids and adults!
The Kilkenny Way – Ultimate Hurling Experience is your chance to get hands-on with the world’s oldest (3,000 years old!) and fastest field game. A two-hour tour introduces you to the history of hurling before teaching you the skills of the game. End the tour at Legends Hurling Bar – Ireland’s only Hurling Museum Bar – with a bowl of Irish stew and a game on.
While the Kells Augustinian Priory isn’t the Kells of the famed book, you’ll easily forget that minor detail as you explore the site locally known as the ‘Seven Castles’ for its medieval tower houses interspersed along the high stone walls. Covering over three acres, the site consists of a church, chapel, prior’s residence, and domestic buildings necessary for a self-sustaining monastic community. The site itself is maintained by the Office of Public Works, but the land is privately owned, so be aware of the animals – and what they leave behind.
Founded in the second half of the 12 th century, the Cistercian Jerpoint Abbey offers one of the best visitor’s experiences in Ireland. The staff in the visitor’s center really know the history of the Abbey and take the time to share all its little surprises with you. The wide open cloister garth invites children to play while their parents explore the very unique and intricately carved archways of the cloister.
Just across the river from Jerpoint Abbey lies the Lost Town of Newtown Jerpoint at Jerpoint Park . Privately owned by Joe and Maeve O’Connell, Newtown Jerpoint was only a legend when they purchased the property. Of course they knew that the ruins of St. Nicholas Church were on the land, along with the effigy carved stone said to be laid upon the earthly remains of St. Nicholas. But it was only after Lidar imaging that the town – roadways, houses, and waterwheels – were able to be seen. The O’Connell’s offer a most extensive tour of the property which brings 12 th century Ireland to life.
Just down the road, Jerpoint Glass welcomes visitors into their glass studio to watch live glass blowing demonstrations. If you’ve never seen how molten glass becomes elegant candlesticks or beautiful bowls, this stop will amaze you. You can also purchase those special souvenirs in the Jerpoint Glass shop and explore the Glass Attic Gallery, filled with pieces from the best craftsmen and artists in Ireland.
For an active day out, Castlecomer Discovery Park is the place to visit. The over 80 acres of parkland includes trails for a relaxing stroll or orienteering, lakes for boating or fishing, and a coal mining exhibit that shares the area’s past. For real adventure, schedule a Tree Top Adventure Walk which takes Ireland discovery to new heights!
If you’re more comfortable with your feet on the ground, consider going underground at Dunmore Cave . The monks wrote of a Viking massacre here in the Annals of Ireland in 928 AD. While archeologists have discovered human bones and ancient coins in the cave, the only signs of past life you are likely to see are the bat skeletons in calcite formations. One of Ireland’s most famous ‘show caves,’ the entertaining, guided tours take you to places called the ‘fairies floor,’ the ‘well of the bones,’ and the ‘rabbit burrow.’
If you’re a ‘foodie’ or delight in artisan works, Kilkenny has two trails to delight you. The Taste of Kilkenny Food Trail will lead you to artisan cheesemakers, chocolatiers, cafes, and farms where you can sample the freshest food you’ve ever tasted and even take part in events and workshops. The Made in Kilkenny Craft Trail features craftspeople using both traditional and modern techniques to produce authentic, handmade Irish crafts.
Bonus – The Smithwick’s Experience has just opened! The Victorian brewing building has been transformed into a state of the art visitor centre that will immerse you in Ireland’s oldest beer, teach you about the craft of brewing and ultimately allow you to taste the perfect Smithwick’s pint.
Kilkenny’s current motto is “Living History, Loving Culture,” which you will find in abundance if you linger longer in this south-eastern county during your Ireland vacation .