Kilkenny is more than its castle. That being said, it is pretty impressive, so why not start off your day by going on a tour of a building with over eight centuries of history (adult/senior citizen/child €6/4/2.50; 9.30am-4.30pm Oct-Feb, 9.30am-5pm Mar, 9.30am-5.30pm Apr-May, 9am-5.30pm Jun-Aug, 9.30-5.30 Sept). Much of its medieval character was removed in the 19th century when the occupying Butler family decided to make the castle more liveable. As a result, there is a distinct early Victorian feel to much of the interior. The Long Room Gallery with its Pre-Raphaelite painted ceiling is a highlight. In the basement is the Butler Gallery (admission free).
Although the exhibition space is small, whatever is on show is almost always interesting. If anything, the contemporary pieces of art serve as a nice counter balance to the sombre portraits in the floors above. If you haven’t stuffed yourself at breakfast make sure to have a tea and scone at the Castle Kitchens. Located immediately beside the Butler Gallery the elegant tea room is a perfect place to pause and plan your day. For whatever reason the door into the Kitchens is usually closed but don’t worry, they are open.
Once you are suitably refreshed, go across the road and check out the best of Irish craft in the Kilkenny Design Centre. If you choose to buy something but don’t want to lug around your shopping, the staff will hang on to your purchases until collected later on in the day. They can also ship them home if you happen to live overseas.
One of the great things about Kilkenny is its compactness. Almost everything worth visiting is no more than a few minutes’ walk away. As a result, there is no need to rush. Simply walking through Kilkenny’s medieval laneways is a worthwhile activity. This is particularly true when one of the many festivals is on.
Located on Parliament St., halfway between the Cathedral and Castle is Rothe House and Gardens (adult/senior citizen & student/child (under 12) €4.80/3.80/free; 10.30am-4.30pm Mon-Sat Nov-Mar, 10.30am-5pm Mon- Sat, 3pm-5pm Sun Apr-Oct). The house (which is actually made up of three buildings) is the only early 17th century merchant’s house left in Ireland. The garden to the rear is worth the admission price alone. All the plants in both the vegetable garden and orchard are accurate to the 17th century.
If you’re still in a medieval mood St.Canice’s Cathedral and Round Tower just two minutes walk from Rothe House should keep you more than happy (combination cathedral and tower tickets adult/senior citizen & student/child (under 12) €6/5.50/free; 10am-1pm & 2pm-4pm Mon-Sat, 2pm-4pm Sun Oct-Mar, 10am-1pm & 2pm-5pm Mon-Sat, 2pm-5pm Sun Apr-May & Sept, 9am-6pm Mon-Sat, 2pm-6pm Jun-Aug). The Cathedral was built by the Anglo-Normans within the enclosure of an earlier Irish monastery. The large round tower is the only upstanding building left from the pre-Norman monastery. A thousand years old and standing 30m high it is still the tallest building in Kilkenny. If you feel up to it, make sure to climb to the top. The view is worth it. In the cathedral there is a fantastic collection of medieval monuments some of which have their faces smashed off courtesy of Oliver Cromwell’s’ soldiers.
A great way to finish your day in Kilkenny is to have a glass of wine at the Hole in the Wall (open each evening Thurs-Sun). Built originally at the end of the 16th century, it has recently been lovingly restored for use as a wine bar and music venue. It can be a bit hard to find. But in a way, that makes it all the more special.
Other things to do include visiting the home of Kilkenny Red Ale, Smithwick’s Brewery (admission €10; 1pm-3.30pm, Thur-Sat Nov-Apr, 12pm-3.30pm Tue-Sat May-Oct), checking out the newly restored Talbot’s Tower at the top of Ormonde Rd, or walking around the monuments in St. Mary’s Church and Graveyard just off High St. Finally, if you happen to be in Kilkenny on the weekend make sure to see if there is a hurling match on at Nolan Park Stadium (Hebron Rd.).