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8 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in Kilkenny, Ireland

Written by Andrew Birbeck and Alison Abbott
Mar 27, 2019

Roughly one-and-a-half hour's drive from Dublin, on the banks of the River Nore, the town of Kilkenny, in southeast Ireland, is considered by many to be second only to the capital in its attractions for visitors. The narrow, winding streets lend it an atmosphere of old-world charm; its terraces of handsome Georgian houses give it elegance; and with all this, it remains a bustling modern town and market center for a fertile agricultural area.

One of the most popular things to do is to walk along the Medieval Mile, a scenic discovery trail linking many of the top sights of the city. Purchase a pass for a money saving entry to locations along the way. For those who don't wish to drive to the city, there are regular bus and train links from Dublin (Heuston Station for the train or Busáras — Central Bus Station).

Find the best places to visit with our list of the top tourist attractions in Kilkenny, Ireland.

See also: Where to Stay in Kilkenny

1. Kilkenny Castle, Rose Garden, and Park

Kilkenny Castle, Rose Garden, and Park

Kilkenny Castle, Rose Garden, and Park

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

Official site: www.kilkennycastle.ie

2. National Craft Gallery and Kilkenny Design Centre

Window at Kilkenny Design Centre

Window at Kilkenny Design Centre | IrishFireside / photo modified

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.

National Craft Gallery

  • Address: Castle Yard, Kilkenny

Kilkenny Design Centre

  • Address: Castle Yard, Kilkenny

3. Saint Mary's Cathedral

Saint Mary's Cathedral

Saint Mary's Cathedral | Nico Kaiser / photo modified

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

Rothe House and Gardens

Rothe House and Gardens | John Lord / photo modified

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

Official site: http://rothehouse.com/

5. St. Canice's Cathedral and Round Tower

St. Canice's Cathedral and Round Tower

St. Canice's Cathedral and Round Tower

At the north end of town, just off Vicar Street, around a five-minute walk from Rothe House, stands Gothic St. Canice's Cathedral, one of Ireland's most popular visitor and heritage sites. Built on the site of an earlier church, it was begun about 1251 and finally became what we see today in 1820. The massive 14th-century squat tower and the walls of the aisles, transepts, and clerestory are all topped by crenellations. In spite of much restoration (most recently in 1863-1864) the interior has preserved its spacious character.

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

The Black Abbey

The Black Abbey | Kieran Lynam / photo modified

Parliament Street, running south from the cathedral, crosses the little River Bregagh, the boundary between Kilkenny's Irishtown and High Town. On the right, in Abbey Street, are the Black Freren Gate (one of the old town gates) and beyond this, Black Abbey Church, once the church of a Dominican friary, Black Abbey (c.1230). Of the original church, only the nave, 14th-century south transept, and 15th-century tower remain. Notable features of the interior are a medieval alabaster carving of the Trinity and a crudely carved oak figure of St. Dominic.

Address: Abbey Street, Kilkenny

7. Dunmore Cave

Dunmore Cave

Dunmore Cave | Stephen Hanafin / photo modified

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

Dunmore Cave - Map

Dunmore Cave Map

8. Editor's Choice Jerpoint Abbey

Jerpoint Abbey

Jerpoint 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

Jerpoint Abbey - Floor plan map

Jerpoint Abbey Map

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.

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