Having just spent the most perfect, sunny weekend in Kilkenny, I thought I would sit down, put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) and explain exactly what made it such a memorable weekend. I’ve always known there’s lots of fun things to do in Kilkenny City, but this was my first time really exploring Kilkenny County and all the gems there are to be found there.
From ancient abbeys, historic castles, adventure activities and tranquil waterways to vibrant shopping streets, beer gardens, top class restaurants and beautiful boutiques around every corner – here’s why you should pick Kilkenny for your next weekend staycation in Ireland.
VIDEO: The Perfect Weekend in Kilkenny
Top Things To Do in Kilkenny
Visit Jerpoint Abbey
Jerpoint Abbey was the first place we visited in Kilkenny as it was en route from Waterford to Kilkenny city. This ruined 12th Century Cistercian Abbey is located outside the cute town of Thomastown, which is where we spent our first night.
The Abbey is run by the OPW and there is a small visitor centre with information on its history. At the moment (this could change) it’s free to walk around the grounds and you can even go up a set of stairs to view the abbey from the second level – with panoramic views of the inside if the ruins and the surrounding area.
The abbey is known for its unique stone carvings and also its architecture and its Romanesque details.
If you’re in the area I highly recommend a visit to the nearby Jerpoint Glass to buy some stunning hand crafted wine glasses – my Mum keeps proudly telling me that’s where our “good ones” are from!
Tour Kilkenny Castle
No visit to this part of Ireland is complete without a visit to a castle or two, and Kilkenny Castle is by far one of the top places to visit in Kilkenny. It’s impossible to take a bad photo of this castle, as it takes centre stage from every angle and there are views of it from all over the city!
It’s free to take a stroll around the outer grounds and huge green park that is attached out the back. You can also sign up for a self guided tour inside the castle which is what we did – and it was most definitely worth it. All of the decor and furniture has been restored and replaced but no match what it would have looked like.
You can look in awe at the grand drawing room, the impressive dining rooms, portrait galleries and huge bedrooms was accompanying fire places and large windows to enjoy views of the River Nore below.
St Canice’s Cathedral and Round Tower
Being able to visit an impressive round tower right in the middle of a city is something pretty unique to Kilkenny. While round towers are quite common and dotted all over the Irish countryside, they are normally to be found in smaller towns and village or rural areas rather than smack bang in the middle of a popular city.
St Canice’s Cathedral dates back to the 6th Century, and worship has taken place here for over 800 years. The Round Tower is the oldest standing building in Kilkenny city and (pre Covid) you can climb to the top of the tower for panoramic views of the city.
Walk The Medieval Mile
The Medieval Mile is a historical district in Kilkenny home to many of the city’s most important and historical buildings.
It’s a self guided walking trail from St Canice’s Cathedral to Kilkenny Castle, passing by some haunted pubs, clock towers with a dark history, Kilkenny Castle, the Medieval Mile Museum, Rothe House, the Smithwick’s Experience and more!
Adventure activities in Kilkenny
Take a boat trip down the River Nore
In all the times I’ve been to Kilkenny, I never knew you could do a boat trip down the River Nore, right in front of the castle and past all the cities main bridges and main sites.
We signed up for a half hour trip with BoatTrips.ie and it was such a relaxing trip, as we motored down the river and our knowledgable guide told us stories from the castle, filled us in on ghost stories and the history of the city and we all agreed people in Ireland don’t enjoy the rivers and waterways enough!
Ziplining at Castlecomer Discover Park
If you’re looking for a spot of adventure while in Kilkenny, you must sign up for a morning of adventure at Castlecomer Discovery Park. There’s so many fun activities here for children (and adults) of all ages, including archery, an assault course on high ropes, a zipline and canoes and paddle boats.
There’s also a lovely cafe and lots of picnic tables everywhere so you can bring your own picnic for all the family.
Walk through Woodstock Gardens
We stopped off at Woodstock Gardens on our first day in Kilkenny, and it’s not too far a drive from Jerpoint Abbey in Thomastown. Located in the extremely picturesque village of Inistioge, Woodstock Gardens and Arboretum are an absolute breath of fresh air.
You could easily spend an hour or two wandering the grounds, checking out the walled garden and stopping off at the tea rooms.
It’s free to enter but parking is 5 euro and payable by cash or card upon exit – it’s all automatic!
Canoeing down the River Barrow
This was the highlight of my weekend in Kilkenny, personally! A self guided canoe trip with Go With The Flow adventures down the River Barrow, starting on the Carlow side and ending up on the on the Kilkenny side in Graiguenamanagh.
It was one of the most peaceful and relaxing 2 hours of the entire summer – and yet also a bit of a work out with all the paddling! It was so nice to be back in nature and to end in a town as beautiful as Graiguenamanagh where we spent half an hour checking out the town and enjoying the views.
While we just did a short 3 hour trip, you can also do full day adventures and can even sign up for overnight camping trips that are also self guided which sounds like a right micro adventure!
Cost starts at 25 euro per person depending on what package you choose.
Where to go shopping in Kilkenny
There are two main shopping centres in Kilkenny but we really loved checking out Market Cross – mainly because of all these pretty umbrellas hanging on the entrance alleyway. It’s right in the centre of the city, right off the Medieval Mile.
If you’re looking to buy hand crafted and Irish designed glass, then stopping off at Jerpoint Glass Studio near Thomastown is a must. As mentioned previously, this is where you will get some beautiful glass jugs, wine glasses and vases. Jerpoint Glass has been up and running for over 35 years and is probably one if Ireland’s best known handmade glass companies.
Nicholas Mosse Pottery
If you feel you recognise Jerpoint Glass from visiting peoples houses, then you will definitely recognize Nicholas Mosse Pottery as the designs are very unique and its a very popular item to be gifted – be it birthdays, anniversaries or weddings.
The old pottery building, just outside Thomastown, includes an indoor and outdoor cafe and seating area, the pottery work shop viewing area, shop floor and also a section with discounted pottery – knows as the “seconds” area where items with slight irregularities are sold for hugely discounted prices.
Kilkenny Design Centre
The Kilkenny Design Centre is a must visit in Kilkenny – home to many of Ireland’s home grown designers.
The shops are located in historic buildings directly opposite Kilkenny Castle and this is where you will find beautiful souvenirs, gifts, artwork, glass, pottery and more – all of it made here in Ireland.
Where to eat in Kilkenny
Right, we’re onto the best part of the article and one of my favourite things to do no matter where in the world I go: find the tastiest places to eat and drink! Here’s a very brief guide to some of the places we had lunch and dinner at which I cannot recommend enough. I know Kilkenny has a lot more to offer, but these places are a good guide to start!
Cakeface is a super cute Patisserie in the Medieval Mile, home to delicious iced lattes and super colourful, mouthwatering sweet treats – beautiful enough to rival Paris or London.
What was once quite a small (yes colourful) cafe has now been extended right our the back with a huge garden area and converted barn – an impressively large area for a small cake shop and the perfect place to chill in the sun with a coffee, cake and a good book!
If you’re looking for the best (locally sourced!) steak in Kilkenny, then Butcher Restaurant is the place to come. As the name suggests, meat and steak in particular is the speciality here, although there are others options and the desserts are to die for. Also a great spot for a date night and with an excellent selection of cocktails!
Zuni is one of the top rated restaurants in Kilkenny and I loved absolutely everything about this place. From the the cool entrance that felt like stepping into a Speakeasy Bar, to the warm welcome and surprisingly large seating area out the back – everything was simply perfect here. I ordered a chicken dish that was quite possibly the tastiest and most flavoursome dish I’ve eaten in years.
The truffle chips were a nice extra and while I didn’t get a photo because I was too busy squealing and drooling – their golden chocolate ball dessert – where they pour melted chocolate over a brownie and honeycomb sweet delight, was exquisite.
We were able to get an amazing picnic from Aran Bakery for our day at Castlecomer Discovery Park. It came with mouthwatering Buddha Bowls (or boxes – with chicken or vegetarian options) freshly baked bread and non-alcoholic cider. Talk about a luxury picnic!
Sullivans Tap Room and Brewery
Sullivans Tap Room and Brewery has an enormous outdoor beer garden and serves up some brilliant pizza and beer deals (pizza and a pint for 15 euro!).
We loved all the colourfully painted huts, the 90’s music and just sitting out in the sunshine drinking some locally brewed beers.
HIGHLY RECOMMEND AN AFTERNOON HERE…especially if it’s sunny!
Where to stay in Kilkenny
Kilkenny River Court Hotel
There is no better place to stay in Kilkenny that the Kilkenny Rivercourt Hotel. We were blessed with this room with a castle view and you can even wake up and eat breakfast looking across the river at this beautiful building.
There’s a lovely terrace at the front of the hotel running along side the river, where you can sit out in the sun with an afternoon drink / lunch and watch the day go by!
You can’t get any more central and it’s less than a 2 minute walk to pretty much all the delicious cafes and restaurants mentioned above. x