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The Best Kilkenny Tourist Attractions on a Road Trip

by Roberto
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Kilkenny has long had that reputation as a city in Ireland that is unmissable. Loved by both tourists and locals alike, it exudes an atmosphere that draws people in. By day its 800 year old history captivates, and at its heart is Ireland’s finest castle. By night the city has few parallels in Ireland, with a lively bustling social scene. It’s a place where I’ve had the pleasure of sampling both, but for the purpose of this blog let’s focus on the former. Setting our sights beyond those Kilkenny tourist attractions just contained within the city, we decided a road trip was in order.

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Dublin to Kilkenny

Kilkenny city is just under two hours drive from Dublin. The 112 km route follows the M9 motorway for much of the way. That is of course if you choose to follow it. Road trips are always better on a country roads and so as soon as we hit County Carlow we obliged. This was of course by intent. Our road trip doesn’t begin in Kilkenny, but with one of the most enigmatic ruins in Ireland.

Ducketts Grove.

This 19th Century plantation house now unfortunately lies in ruins. Pre-1830 it was a modest house before William Duckett transformed it with towers, turrets and arches. In its day it surely ranked as one of the most stunning houses in Ireland. Perhaps in creating such a fantastical structure it also brought its own share of misfortune. The house is said to be haunted by a banshee, brought on by a piseog; a curse placed on the family and house. Staring at the ruin today, it’s not beyond the realms of possibility.

However it was deserted the day I was there, with no staff, no ghastly ghosts, and nowhere to enter. Tea rooms do open on the weekend. It’s nice to walk between the picturesque ruins and out into the gardens and grounds beyond. In late spring rapeseed fields in the vicinity make the scene all the more stunning. The emptiness does most certainly lend credence to the banshee story, and a distinct spookiness can be felt. Not a place I would be spending the night.

  • Ducketts Grove
  • Ducketts Grove
  • Ducketts Grove

From here we travelled to the Brownshill Dolmen outside of Carlow. Dating from 4500 years ago, it has the largest capstone of any Dolmen in Europe, weighing in at over 100 tonnes.

Brownshill Dolmen

Kilkenny Tourist Attractions

Arriving in Kilkenny, we did the best thing you can do with a car in a city. We parked it up for the night and checked in at the River Court Hotel. Located on the banks of the River Nore, the hotel easily lived up to its 4-star status. Our castle view suite was incredibly spacious with a large sitting room and excellent views over the river to the castle. A balcony overlooking that river finished a beautiful room.

River Court Hotel Kilkenny
River Court Hotel Kilkenny

Hungry we set off into the city centre. Our intention was to eat at the Kyteler’s Inn, which gives visitors the opportunity to bridge a reputation for good food with a historical pub. Serving since 1263, they have had time to get it right. It is named after Alice Kyteler who opened it, a local woman suspected of being a witch. She fled during her trial, leaving her daughter to burn at the stake. Now that’s what you call poor parenting. The food was great, we kept it simple with a soup and sandwich, and the service was full of local hospitality.

Kyteler's Inn, Kilkenny Tourist Attractions

And on to the Kilkenny tourist attractions

With hunger no longer a distraction we then took to exploring the city. There is a considerable history to embrace. A town since the 13th century, it was granted city status in 1609. Parliament Street is lined by:

  • Rothe House (a 3-storey 16th century merchants house complete with gardens and a beautiful arcaded front);
  • Kilkenny Courthouse (which was built on the remains of Graces Castle from the 13th century, and has seen an evolution first to gaol and now to courthouse) and;
  • Smithwicks Experience. Smithwicks is one of Irelands oldest breweries from 1710, but now comes under the Diageo umbrella. Never had a taste for it, so onwards we went to…
Kilkenny Tourist Attractions
Rothe’s House is rated as one of the best Kilkenny things to do. It is the only such house of its kind in Ireland

St Canice’s Cathedral and Round Tower.

The cathedral is still the functioning pro-cathedral of the city, and so be wary of not arriving at mass times. Highlights outside include the exterior stone work and the buildings and graves of the close. Heading inside the medieval effigy stone tombs on the floor are unique, and there are some stained glass windows by famous Irish master of glass Harry Clarke. The tombs of the Butler family from Kilkenny Castle still rest within the cathedral. The cathedral was completed in 1285 but has seen much addition and change over the centuries.

Back outside the round tower is one of only 2 in Ireland that can still be climbed. It dates from 1111. As long as you don’t mind the 129 laddered steps or the dodgy opening at the top, this is one of the best Kilkenny tourist attractions. Good views lie in wait. €7 admission gets entry to the church and tower.

St Candices Round Tower, Kilkenny Tourist Attractions

Medieval Mile Kilkenny

Returning via the Medieval Mile, we made brief stops to see the 13th Century Black Abbey, and the Tholsel, now serving as the Town Hall. Cherry blossoms at the rear of the Tholsel gave some lovely photos (when in season) and the new Medieval Mile Museum can be accessed from here. The museum is housed in the 800 year old St Mary’s Church, and contains artefacts from the 800 years of Kilkenny’s history.

The streets of Kilkenny are linked by small medieval alleyways, known as slips. The most picturesque of these is the Butter Slip, where butter vendors used to sell their produce from the 1600’s on. It now has some nice stores and restaurants, including Petronella named after the unfortunate daughter of Alice Kyteler.

These streets are still the craft centre of the town, with pottery, jewellery and paintings being made and sold here. It’s an ideal place to pick up something for those unfortunates working at home.

The Kilkenny tourist office is located in the Shee Alms house dating from 1582, a really beautiful Tudor building. It bears the unusual pointed stone roof of the era. It was built by a local businessman to house the poor at the time.

We enjoyed the luxury of our hotel room for the rest of the evening and after much debate dined that evening again in the Kytelers Inn. Steaks were ordered, and while I can’t share them with you, please take my word they were excellent.

Kilkenny Tourist Attractions
Shee Alms House, now the tourist office of the town
Tholsel Kilkenny, Kilkenny Tourist Attractions

Kilkenny Castle

We began the following day with a good breakfast in the Riverside Restaurant, as ever there’s nothing like a full Irish (or English or Scottish) to set up a full days exploring. Having saved Kilkenny’s main attraction till then, the might of Kilkenny Castle now awaited. Dominating the town from its position on the parade, the walk there really filled me with anticipation (severe castle addict here).

Kilkenny Tourist Attractions
The finest of the Kilkenny tourist attractions looms into view

The castle was constructed in 1195 on the site of a Strongbow wooden castle, in particular to control an important bridging point on the river. Strongbow was one of the leaders of the Anglo-Norman invasion of Ireland. It was subsequently purchased by James Butler in 1391, and remained in the family’s possession until the 20th Century. The butler name interestingly probably refers to the person’s job at the time, but James Butler was the 3rd Earl of Ormond and it’s unknown how he earned his lofty position to be able to purchase the castle. The castle went through a lot of additions and changes throughout the centuries and these can be seen throughout the tour.

Tour of Kilkenny Castle

There is a rose garden to the front of the castle complete with a small fountain. Entry through the castle gates takes you into the courtyard. From here you can take the guided tour *. Tours take roughly an hour and entry is €8. The tour highlights include the period furnishings, the moorish staircase, and the various bedrooms. I loved the “courting couch” (I’m sure it had a different name), where the intended couple sat back to back, with a parent at each end. Cringeworthy!!!

The main focus of the tour is on the Long Gallery, built to house the Butler family’s art collection. It has a 19th century hammer-beam and glass roof. The designs on the cross beams are excellent, each one painted elaborately and with motifs of birds and animals. The room also has an elegant massive double fireplace, with carvings featuring episodes from the history of the castle.

The tour ends landing you in the tea room. Exiting outside the Kilkenny design centre is located in the stables, and there is a large green area worthy of a stroll, giving great views looking back at the castle.

*It is highly recomended you book tours online due to current covid restrictions on numbers.

Kilkenny castle, Kilkenny Tourist Attractions
The main entrance
Kilkenny castle, Kilkenny Tourist Attractions
The view from the towers, overlooking our hotel. I can see our balcony.
Kilkenny castle, Kilkenny Tourist Attractions
Views from gardens of castle

County Kilkenny Tourist Attractions

No trip in Ireland is worth it without a drive in the country, so we headed for the car to leave Kilkenny city behind, and explore County Kilkenny.

Following the path of the River Nore south, we stumbled across some lovely villages.  Bennettsbridge and Thomastown are both built on the fertile bends of the river. Nice rapids can be seen on a walk over the bridge and down the village of Bennettsbridge, a town famous for its crafts.

Much more passive is the town of Thomastown further down road. Ruins line the banks of the river and its worth a stroll if you have time to abandon the car.

Jerpoint Abbey

3 km from Thomastown is the ruins of Jerpoint Abbey, a Cistercian Abbey from the 12th Century. With a €5 entry fee, you can tour freely around the site. While mostly in ruins, the main reason to stop is the cloisters. The engravings on the inside of the cloisters are mostly intact and are awesome. All feature a different image of figures from the abbey past. There are some detailed tombs dating from the Middle Ages also, and a visitor centre with an exhibition.

Kells Priory

Kells Priory is one of Ireland’s most spectacular medieval monuments, a huge Augustine Priory located about 15km south of Kilkenny. It sits on the banks of the Kings River, and is located in some large fields near the village of Kells. The site can be investigated fully, just park by the side of the road and get exploring. Spanning a large area it has the appearance of a walled town, due to the tower houses at intervals along the walls. There also a number of ruins within of churches. It’s location at the riverside is idyllic and peaceful too.

Kells Priory, Kilkenny Tourist Attractions
Kells Priory, Kilkenny Tourist Attractions

Spotted by chance while at the Priory, we drove through the village of Kells to the mills beyond at the riverside. Mullens Mills in Kells has a small tour and is also bestowed a beautiful location. We had a late lunch in the delicious kitchen there, called Jen’s. Finally, we headed up the road beside to find an unique thatched Cottage.

Kells mills, Kilkenny Tourist Attractions
Kilkenny Tourist Attractions
Kings River Kilkenny Kilkenny Tourist Attractions

Other Kilkenny Tourist Attractions in the county

While our trip came to an end with the town of Kells, there is so much more to Kilkenny for you to include.

  • Head to Kilfane to see the church, and also the Glen and Waterfall. A Norman effigy of a knight from the 13th century is found within the church yards. It was on my agenda but opening times of the waterfall (which is privately owned) are very limited, only within the summer months of July and August.
  • Dunmore Cave in north Kilkenny, is a limestone cave etched in Irish history. In 928 AD Guthfrith of Ivar, surely one of Ireland’s more pleasant Viking invaders, massacred a thousand people here. Guided tours of the caves are available year round, for €5. Find out more about Dunmore Cave here.
  • The pleasant village of Inistioge is entered by a ten arch bridge, and featured in movies such as Circle of Friends (who remembers that one?). Nearby are the formal walled Woodstock Gardens also, known as one of Ireland’s finest gardens.
  • The Castlecomer Discovery Park is the perfect place to end the trip and appease those kids tired of all the culture and history. Featuring ziplines, a tree top walk, a climbing walls and a zillion other activities, they will certainly burn off all that excess energy.
  • Should you decide to stay one more night, consider the Mount Juliet Estate in Thomastown. This 18th century manor house is the peak of 5 star luxury. With a michelin star restaurant and Jack Nicklaus designed golf course, it’s undoubtedly even better if you leave the kids at home.

Kilkenny as part of an Irish trip

Taking a road trip in Ireland is definitely one of my favourite ways to see the country. Perhaps some of my other trips may inspire you.

The Causeway Coast of Northern Ireland.

Killarney and the Ring of Kerry.

Making Dublin to Cork a road trip

Would you consider adding Kilkenny to your next Irish trip? Have you already visited and what were your impressions? Let me know in the comments below.

Kilkenny Tourist Attractions

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