Welcome to Kilkenny, a charming Irish gem that effortlessly blends its medieval heritage with modern delights. Nestled along the banks of the picturesque River Nore in Ireland’s southeast, Kilkenny is a city that reveals its beauty, history, and hidden treasures at every turn. Whether you’re here for a day, a weekend, or an entire week, this city has something special in store for you.
Kilkenny’s rich history is palpable as you stroll along the Medieval Mile, a historic strip that cuts through the heart of the city. At one end stands the imposing Anglo-Norman castle, a testament to over 800 years of evolution. Step inside to discover the long picture gallery and the charming Victorian nursery. The plaza next to the castle frequently plays host to lively festivals, but don’t miss the quieter gem across the road. Venture through an arch into a former stableyard, and you’ll find the National Design & Craft Gallery. Here, modern designers and traditional Irish crafts converge, and you might even catch a glimpse of skilled artisans at work, including talented jewelers and potters.
As you wander further along the Medieval Mile, you’ll come across Rothe House, a 16th-century merchant’s home complete with a delightful walled garden. And if you take a left onto New Building Lane, you’ll stumble upon the Black Abbey, a Dominican church known for its awe-inspiring stained glass in the Rosary Window, rumored to be the largest in Ireland.
Kilkenny isn’t just about history; it’s a hub of cultural experiences. The Butler Gallery, located in a former 19th-century servants’ home on John’s Quay, constantly refreshes its modern art exhibitions. Meanwhile, Tony O’Malley’s works, which vividly depict the landscapes of his hometown Callan, grace the gallery as a permanent fixture. Nearby, Butler House, a graceful hotel on Patrick Street, harks back to the illustrious Butler family, who called Kilkenny Castle their home for generations.
Food and Drink
Foodies and beer aficionados won’t be disappointed either. Start your day at Arán Bakery, where artisanal sourdough meets delectable cinnamon rolls dipped in local Highbank Orchard apple glaze. They even offer an all-day brunch with unlimited coffee refills. For a taste of Kilkenny’s brewing heritage, visit Smithwick’s Brewery, where you can immerse yourself in the story of an ale that predates Guinness. However, insiders know that the best local brews can be found at Sullivan’s Taproom, a treasure trove for beer enthusiasts. And when it comes to dining, Kilkenny offers a delightful range of options. Sullivan’s Taproom serves up both local brews and delectable dishes in its charming beer garden. For classic Italian fare with an Irish twist, try the family-run Rinuccini. And if you’re seeking a Michelin-starred experience, don’t miss Campagne, which takes a French-inspired approach to its cuisine.
Kilkenny’s charm lies not only in its well-known attractions but also in its hidden gems. Take a stroll down Patrick Street, where shops like Yesterdays and Folkster occupy Georgian townhouses. Yesterdays is a treasure trove of Victoriana, 1930s American crafts, and unique homewares. Folkster, on the other hand, offers a local edit of vintage-inspired clothing.
And finally, no visit to Kilkenny is complete without a stop at the “Hole in the Wall,” one of Ireland’s most unique pubs. Tucked away in a 16th-century townhouse off High Street, this bar and music venue offer an intimate atmosphere, lively tunes, and the warm hospitality of Michael Conway, a cardiologist who runs it as a passion project.
When to Go
Late summer and early autumn are ideal times to explore Kilkenny. Culture Night, which takes place on September 22nd, kicks off the season, followed by Kilkenny Animated, a celebration of animation, and the Savour Kilkenny food festival a month later.
In Kilkenny, history, culture, and modernity seamlessly intertwine, making it a destination that promises endless discoveries. So, whether you’re an adventurer, a history buff, or simply in search of a magical getaway, Kilkenny welcomes you with open arms.
This article was brought to you by National Geographic Traveller (UK) and published in the September 2023 issue. For more travel inspiration and stories, consider subscribing to National Geographic Traveller (UK) magazine (available in select countries).
Now, go and explore the enchanting blend of old-world charm and modern magic that is Kilkenny!
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Kilkenny Travel Guide
Q: When is the best time to visit Kilkenny?
A: The ideal time to explore Kilkenny is in late summer and early autumn. Culture Night on September 22nd marks the beginning of the season, followed by Kilkenny Animated and the Savour Kilkenny food festival a month later. This period offers pleasant weather and a vibrant atmosphere.
Q: What are the must-visit attractions in Kilkenny?
A: Don’t miss Kilkenny Castle, the heart of the city’s history, and the Medieval Mile, which takes you on a journey through its heritage. Explore the Butler Gallery, Rothe House, and the Black Abbey for art and history enthusiasts. And, of course, indulge in local cuisine and brews at places like Sullivan’s Taproom and Campagne.
A: Absolutely! Venture down Patrick Street to find unique shops like Yesterdays and Folkster. Explore the National Design & Craft Gallery and the Hole in the Wall pub for distinctive experiences. Kilkenny’s charm lies not only in its famous landmarks but also in these lesser-known treasures.
Q: Is Kilkenny suitable for families?
A: Kilkenny offers a family-friendly atmosphere with attractions like Kilkenny Castle, Rothe House, and the Smithwick’s Brewery sensory experience. The city’s welcoming ambiance and various dining options make it suitable for visitors of all ages.
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