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9 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in Kilkenny, Ireland

Written by Andrew Birbeck and Alison Abbott
Updated May 20, 2021

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History seeps from every corner of lovely Kilkenny. Located about an hour and a half from busy Dublin, this sleepy town lies serenely on the banks of the River Nore in southeast Ireland. The slew of tourist attractions in Kilkenny is worthy of a visit at all times of the year, especially during summer.

Kilkenny's narrow, winding streets lend it an atmosphere of old-world charm, while handsome Georgian houses flanked by romantic terraces bestow elegance. Despite its antiquated charm, Kilkenny remains a bustling modern town dotted with unique shops and excellent restaurants. It also serves as the market center for a fertile agricultural area.

One of the most popular things to do in Kilkenny is walk along the Medieval Mile, a scenic discovery trail linking many of the top sights of the city via charismatically narrow, winding roads. Purchase a pass for a money-saving entry to locations along the way.

Not a fan of driving on Irish roads? Regular bus and train links from Dublin (Heuston Station for the train or Busáras – Central Bus Station) make this an easy place to reach.

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, Kilkenny Castle today exhibits a blend of architectural styles. It is one of the best tourist attractions in Kilkenny.

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.

Visitors can see the depth of the original walls close up in the Undercroft at the base of the West Tower. In the Chinese Withdrawing Room, they'll be treated to a taste of early 19th-century décor.

In 1967, Arthur Butler, 6th Marquess of Ormonde, presented the castle 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 Design & 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, Anocht, which is open daily and in the evenings from Thursday to Saturday.

Adjacent is the National Design & Craft Gallery. Established in 2000, it is 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 Design & 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. Set in the Shee Alms House, this is a great place to learn more about the city, grab a map, and gab with the friendly staff.

The cathedral, designed by William Deane Butler, dates from 1843. Its impressive landmark tower rises to a height of 56 meters and is visible across the city.

The altar is one of the cathedral's most impressive attractions. It is made of Italian marble, and relics of Saints Cosmas, Damian, Clement, and Victoria are found here.

After wandering around the grounds, satisfy your hunger craving at the on-site tearoom, a pleasant space serving coffee, tea, cakes, and snacks.

Address: James's Street, Kilkenny

Official site: http://stmaryscathedral.ie/

4. Medieval Mile Museum

The Medieval Mile Museum lies inside St. Mary's Cathedral
The Medieval Mile Museum lies inside St. Mary's Cathedral

The Medieval Mile discovery trail winds its way past the city's most historic museums, making it easy for visitors to guide themselves from one beautiful Kilkenny tourist attraction to the next.

Inside St. Mary's Cathedral lies the new(ish) Medieval Mile Museum – it opened in 2017. A bright and airy museum dedicated to divulging the town's deepest, darkest secrets, the museum also serves as a venue for exciting events and changing exhibits. These are designed to help boost the city's cultural element.

Medieval Mile Museum
Medieval Mile Museum | Warren LeMay / photo modified

Treasures on display include replicas of Medieval Ossory High Crosses. Modern technology such as giant television screens; a long, interactive table; and projected images help bring the past to life in a magical way.

Audio guides are available to complement your tour, and interactive audio tours take place every 10 minutes from 11am to 5:20pm on Wednesdays through Sundays.

Address: 2 St. Mary's Lane, High Street

Official site: www.medievalmilemuseum.ie

5. Rothe House and Gardens

Rothe House and Gardens
Rothe House and Gardens | John Lord / photo modified

Tudor Rothe House (1594) lies about a five-minute walk from St. Mary's. Once a merchant's house, this historic building was created around two courtyards. Restored in 1966, it has been a major tourist draw ever since.

The house now serves as the headquarters of the Kilkenny Archaeological Society, with their library and museum. Inside, visitors will find museum exhibits that include a well-worn Viking sword, period costume collection, and genealogical study center.

A highlight for visitors lies just outside the house. Here, visitors are treated to a quaint respite in the form of a walled garden. Open since 2008, this peaceful space is a reconstruction of an early 17th-century urban garden. On the opposite side of the street is the Courthouse (1794).

Address: Parliament Street, Kilkenny

Official site: http://rothehouse.com/

6. St. Canice's Cathedral and Round Tower

St. Canice's Cathedral and Round Tower
St. Canice's Cathedral and Round Tower

The entrancingly Gothic St. Canice's Cathedral lies just off Vicar Street at the north end of town. A mere five-minute walk from Rothe House, this is one of the most popular visitor and heritage sites in Ireland.

The building of this prominent cathedral took years – from about 1251 to 1820, to be exact. Interestingly, it was erected on the site of an earlier church.

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

Official site: www.stcanicescathedral.com

7. The Black Abbey

The Black Abbey
The Black Abbey

The medieval Black Abbey is found just beyond Black Freren Gate (one of the old town gates) on the aptly named, Abbey Street.

Established in 1225, this church was once a place of worship for Christians of the Dominican Order (a.k.a. Blackfriars) whose black cloaks inspired the church's moniker.

Of the original church, only the nave, 14th-century south transept, and 15th-century tower remain. All are more than worthy of a visit. Notable features of the interior are a medieval alabaster carving of the Trinity and a crudely carved oak figure of St. Dominic. The large, almost floor-to-ceiling stained-glass windows are breathtaking.

To get to the Abbey, follow Parliament Street, which runs south from the cathedral and crosses the little River Bregagh. It serves as the boundary between Kilkenny's Irishtown and High Town. Abbey Street lies just steps beyond.

Address: Abbey Street, Kilkenny

8. Dunmore Cave

Dunmore Cave
Dunmore Cave | Stephen Hanafin / photo modified

Head outside the city, following the N78 for about 15 minutes, to find an ancient cave so captivating, you'll wish you could stay longer. Known as Dunmore Cave, this spectacular natural wonder consists of a series of limestone chambers formed over millions of years. Inside lie some of the finest calcite formations in Ireland.

The Market Cross is particularly impressive. A stalagmite of immense proportions, it reaches more than six meters high. This famous cave was first mentioned in the ninth-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 (Historical)

9. Jerpoint Abbey

Jerpoint Abbey
Jerpoint Abbey

Though not technically in Kilkenny, a quick 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, but they are well worth the trip.

Jerpoint Abbey
Jerpoint Abbey

Also on site is a handsome 15th-century tower rewarding stair climbers 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 (Historical)

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 décor. 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 and Wi-Fi. The on-site Statham's Restaurant is a real crowd-pleaser.
  • A wonderful staff and complimentary breakfast (if you book the B&B package) 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 recently refurbished boutique-style property is located near St. Canice Cathedral and on the Medieval Mile. Guests appreciate the free Wi-Fi and parking.
  • 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 with their rooms.

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