Perched dramatically at a strategic height and commanding a crossing on the River Nore, Kilkenny Castle dominates the “High Town” of Kilkenny City. After many facelifts over the centuries, today Kilkenny Castle exhibits a blend of architectural styles. In the early thirteenth century, the original Anglo-Norman stone castle was constructed for the 4th Earl of Pembroke before becoming the main Irish residence of the powerful Butler family for almost 600 years.
In 1967, Arthur Butler, 6th Marquess of Ormonde, presented it to the people of Kilkenny. There’s a long-established rose garden together with 20 hectares of charming grounds to stroll through.
Address: The Parade, Kilkenny
2. National Craft Gallery and Kilkenny Design Centre
Opposite Kilkenny Castle, in the former castle stables, Kilkenny Design showcases the best of contemporary Irish craft including, among others, textiles, knitwear, pottery, and jewelry. There’s an impressive selection of original Irish handcrafted products of the highest quality and an excellent restaurant, open daily and in the evenings from Thursday to Saturday.
Adjacent is the National Craft Gallery. Established in 2000, it’s Ireland’s foremost center for contemporary craft and design. The Gallery features Irish and cutting-edge international designers, artists, and artisans across a variety of disciplines and hosts an ever-evolving and eclectic range of exhibitions.
3. Saint Mary’s Cathedral
A leisurely 10-minute stroll from Castle Yard will take visitors to the imposing Neo-gothic St. Mary’s Cathedral. The Kilkenny Tourist Office (Rose Inn Street) is a small detour and three minutes from Kilkenny Castle. The cathedral, designed by William Deane Butler, dates from 1843 and the impressive landmark tower, visible across the city, rises to a height of 56 meters. The altar is of Italian marble, and relics of Saints Cosmas, Damian, Clement, and Victoria are found here. There’s a pleasant tea room serving coffee, tea, cakes, and snacks.
Address: James’s Street, Kilkenny
4. Rothe House and Gardens
About a five-minute walk from St. Mary’s is Tudor Rothe House (1594). This merchant’s house, built around two courtyards, was restored in 1966 and has been a major tourist draw ever since. It’s now the headquarters of the Kilkenny Archaeological Society, with their library and museum. The house consists of museum exhibits, including a well-worn Viking sword, a period costume collection, and a genealogical study center.
The quaint walled garden, open since 2008, is a reconstruction of an early 17th-century urban garden and is very popular with visitors. On the opposite side of the street is the Courthouse (1794).
Address: Parliament Street, Kilkenny
5. St. Canice’s Cathedral and Round Tower
The Round Tower, one of only two in Ireland with public access, is the oldest standing structure in Kilkenny City. Visitors can climb up for fantastic views of the city.
Address: The Close, Coach Road, Kilkenny
6. The Black Abbey
Address: Abbey Street, Kilkenny
7. Dunmore Cave
About a 15-minute drive outside the city along the N78 brings visitors to this ancient cave. Consisting of a series of chambers formed over millions of years, it contains some of the finest calcite formations in Ireland, among the most impressive being a stalagmite more than six meters high, known as the Market Cross. This famous cave was first mentioned in the 9th-century Irish Triads. The visitor center contains excavated items such as bones, coins, and simple tools, many of which date from the 10th century.
Address: Ballyfoyle, Castlecomer Road, Kilkenny
8. Editor’s ChoiceJerpoint Abbey
A 25-minute drive along the N10 (Thomastown direction) takes visitors to the beautiful monastic ruin of Jerpoint Abbey (National Monument). Founded in 1158, it was occupied by the Cistercians from 1180 until its forced dissolution in 1540. Only the sacristy, chapter house, and day rooms on the east side of the structure have been preserved. There’s a handsome 15th-century tower with fine views from the top. The nave is divided into two parts: the monks’ choir and the lay brothers’ choir.
The church has many fine monuments and tombs including those of 13th-century knights, and in the cloister are a fine series of carved figures.
Address: Thomastown, Co. Kilkenny
Where to Stay in Kilkenny for Sightseeing
We recommend these wonderful hotels in Kilkenny, near top attractions like Kilkenny Castle:
- Luxury Hotels: For that grand Irish castle feel, book a stay at the elegant Lyrath Estate. This 17th-century luxury country manor is filled with sophisticated decor. Updated with modern conveniences, the property also offers afternoon tea and a spa with an indoor pool.
- Mid-Range Hotels: For a great value, the four-star Langton House Hotel is known for its friendly service. The interior sparkles with natural light from a gorgeous domed sky light. This small, suite-style hotel boasts an excellent location within walking distance of Kilkenny Castle and other nearby sights.Located in the center of the city, the Pembroke Kilkenny has a roof deck with excellent views of the castle. Guests will appreciate the free parking, Wi-Fi, and an excellent Irish breakfast in this boutique charmer. A wonderful staff and complimentary breakfast are two of the amenities that make the Kilkenny Hibernian Hotel one of the top picks in this gateway city to Ireland’s Ancient East.
- Budget Hotels: Guests will find the popular Kilkenny Inn Hotel a good choice in this category. This boutique-style property is located near St. Canice Cathedral and on the Medieval Mile. Guests appreciate the free Wi-Fi and parking. The on-site restaurant offers breakfast, lunch, and dinner.For those on a strict budget, the Kilkenny Tourist Hostel offers a selection of dormitory-style and private rooms. A shared central sitting room with a fireplace is a great spot to take advantage of the free Wi-Fi. A shared kitchen can save on meals, and the owners love to share information about experiencing Kilkenny like a local.The Rafter Dempsey’s is a centrally located guesthouse/hotel with a great reputation. They offer free Wi-Fi and breakfast in their on-site restaurant. A bit farther out of town, visitors will find the Ballybur Lodge.This small bed-and-breakfast is run by friendly and helpful innkeepers, who include Wi-Fi and breakfast with their rooms.