From stag and hen weekends to spa breaks and family holidays, the Medieval city of Kilkenny is one of Ireland’s most popular visitor destinations. The former Medieval capital of Ireland is steeped in history, while it also boasts a great reputation for food and drink, and, of course, one of the best places in Ireland to catch a game of hurling. So, if you’re planning a short break to Kilkenny, here’s a 48-hour itinerary to get you started.
Things to do in Kilkenny for 48-hour Stay
Day One – Explore the Medieval Mile
If you’re a first-time visitor to Kilkenny (and even if you’ve been to the county before), begin your trip by visiting Kilkenny City and exploring the famous Kilkenny Medieval Mile. Before setting off to explore Kilkenny’s Medieval Mile, be sure to grab a Medieval Mile Pass, as this ensures free entry into many of the city’s most iconic attractions, as well as discounts in many bars and cafes along the route. You’ll be able to purchase your pass at the Kilkenny City Chamber office or most Kilkenny hotels.
Start With Kilkenny Castle
Begin your Medieval Mile walk by visiting the spectacular 12th-Century Kilkenny Castle. Located in picturesque parklands on the banks of the River Nore, the castle grounds are free to enter, while you can also join one of the regular tours of the castle (well worth joining). Art fans, be sure to pencil in a visit to the Butler Gallery, which is located within the castle. The Butler Gallery is one of Ireland’s finest contemporary art spaces and has regular exhibitions featuring works from both Irish and international artists. Continue your exploration of Irish crafts by visiting the Kilkenny Design Centre and National Craft Gallery, two buildings that form part of the popular Kilkenny Craft Trail.
Onwards to The Tholsel
As you leave Kilkenny Castle, make your way up High Street where you can visit several famous sites along the Medieval Mile, including the 13th-Century St Mary’s Church and Graveyard, The Tholsel and the Butter Slip. The grounds of St Mary’s Church is now home to the Medieval Mile Museum, a modern museum sharing the 800-year-old story of Kilkenny. Join a guided tour of the museum or enjoy at your own leisure.
From here make your way towards one of the city’s most iconic buildings, The Tholsel. The Tholsel has had many roles in the city since being constructed in 1761 including a courthouse and Guildhall. Today it’s the home of the local government, and also a favoured spot for musicians and street performers.
Time To Relax in The Hole in The Wall
There are many great pubs in Kilkenny, and top of the list for first-time visitors to the area should be The Hole in The Wall. At this point you are around the midway section of the Medieval Walk, so call in and grab a drink in Ireland’s oldest surviving townhouse, and one of the city’s oldest bars. Should you want to visit the city’s oldest pub, make your way to the 14th-Century Kyteler’s Inn, a pub that has been serving the locals in Kilkenny since 1324.
Next Up, St Canice’s
From High Street, head for Parliament Street and the beautiful 13th-Century Grace’s Castle. Continue on towards the 16th-Century Rothe House, and marvel at this hidden gem in the heart of the city. Next up is the 13th-Century Black Abbey, and from here you’re well placed to discover the story of St Canice at St Canice’s Cathedral & Round Tower. Indeed, the round tower at St Canice’s is one of only two in Ireland that can be climbed, with wonderful views of the city awaiting you atop this 9th-Century tower.
The Smithwicks Experience
As you get ready to end your first day in Kilkenny City, make the Smithwicks Experience your final destination. Discover the story of how beer was born in the city and walk with the monks of St Francis Abbey at the Smithwicks Experience. One of the most popular attractions in Kilkenny, give yourself some time to explore the brewery and finish it with a pint of the good stuff. Discover the 300-year history of Ireland’s favourite ale, and in the process, you might just work up a thirst to visit some of the city’s many bars. Enjoy Kilkenny City at night before heading off to explore the wider county on your second day.
Day Two – The Kilkenny Way
Begin your second day in Kilkenny by discovering more about the county’s love affair with hurling by visiting the Kilkenny Way and joining the Ultimate Hurling Experience with the team at Lanigan’s Bar. The tour begins in the ‘Legends Bar’ in the popular city centre bar. Here you will get great insight into the history of the game, including some of the most recent successes by Kilkenny. After you’ve got a taste for the history of hurling, next up is a trip to Nowlan Park, home of Kilkenny GAA. Here you will get to set foot on the hallowed turf and try your hand at a spot of hurling – a great experience if you aren’t a regular with a stick and sliotar.
Make your way back to Lanigan’s and hope in your car to explore some of the most famous attractions in Kilkenny. The tour takes about two hours, and you’ll have no doubt worked up an appetite when you’re finished.
Time to Explore Dunmore Cave
Now that you’ve got your fix of hurling for the day, your next stop will take you to the site of one of Kilkenny’s biggest massacres, Dunmore Cave. Dunmore Cave is one of the finest caves in Ireland thanks to the impressive formation of chambers and calcites. Dunmore Cave is thought to be the location of a Viking massacre that took place in the 10th Century. Recent Viking discovers in the cave highlight the Viking ties in the area, while the Annals claim that over 1,000 men, woman and children were murdered here in 928 AD. Take a guided tour of the cave, where you will not only discover more about the impressive structure but also unearth more insights into its dark past.
A Trip to Jerpoint Abbey
As you leave Dunmore Cave, make the 30-minute trip to Thomastown, and the impressive 12th-Century Jerpoint Abbey. Here you will visit the stunning Romanesque church and see tombs ranging from the 13th to 16th Centuries. Before leaving Thomastown be sure to make a quick stop in Jerpoint Park and uncover the secret of the ‘Lost Town of Newtown Jerpoint’.
Time for Some Retail Therapy
Before calling time on your trip to Kilkenny, make your way back towards the city for a spot of retail therapy. The MacDonagh Junction Shopping Centre is home to over 30 stores including many high-street brands, as well as several popular cafes. Another shopping centre to consider visiting if you’re looking more choice when visiting Kilkenny is the Market Cross Shopping Centre.
Call it a Night With a Michelin Experience
With a busy 48 hours in Ireland’s Medieval Heartland almost drawing to a close, relax with a Michelin dining experience in one of Kilkenny’s two Michelin restaurants – Champagne or the Lady Helen Restaurant. Both restaurants have held one Michelin Star since 2014, and have helped firmly cement Kilkenny’s place on the top table when it comes to culinary escapes in Ireland.
Plan Your Trip to Kilkenny Today
Check out the latest Kilkenny hotel deals and plan your trip today. If you’re looking for a longer break over the coming months, check out this five-day itinerary to Ireland’s Historic Heartlands, which includes 24 hours in Kilkenny, and a list of things to do in Kildare, Carlow, Tipperary, Limerick, Laois and Offaly.
Images via Fáilte Ireland