Top Things to Do in Kilkenny Along the Medieval Mile
Along Kilkenny’s Medieval Mile, beginning at Kilkenny Castle, descending through the city and ending at St Canice’s Cathedral & Round Tower, you’ll find a host of historical and cultural attractions and exciting things to do that will suit everyone’s tastes.
The home of the Smithwick’s Experience can be found at the old St Francis Abbey Brewery, nestled in the city of Kilkenny’s uniquely historic Medieval Mile, a highlight among the historic attractions of Ireland’s Ancient East. Finding the Smithwick’s Experience, as well as the rest of the best places to visit in Kilkenny, couldn’t be easier, thanks to our interactive map of the town and all of its main attractions.
For brewery tour lovers and history lovers alike, the Smithwick’s Experience (Number 13 on our map) should be your first stop when you come to visit Kilkenny. But what other attractions should you put on your list of things to do?
There’s something here for everyone, from architecture and history to modern art and entertainment. Check out the icons below each attraction to find out what kind of tastes they will suit. These are our top picks of the best things to see and do when visiting Kilkenny City’s Medieval Mile:
- Art & Craftsmanship
- Food & Drink
- 1. Kilkenny Castle
- 2. Butler Gallery
- 3. Castle Yard
- 4. National Craft Gallery
- 5. Butler House & Garden
- 6. Shee Alms House/Tourist Information
- 7. Medieval Mile Museum
- 8. Tholsel - Town Hall
- 9. The Hole in the Wall
- 10. Butter Slip
- 11. Kyteler’s Inn
- 12. Court House - Grace’s Castle
- 13. Smithwick’s Experience Kilkenny
- 14. Rothe House & Garden
- 15. St.Canice’s Cathedral & Round Tower
- 16. The Bishop Palace/Heritage Council
- 17. The Black Abbey
- 18. Black Freren Gate
- 19. St.Mary’s Cathedral
- 20. County Hall
- 21. Talbot Tower
- 22. St. John’s Priory
- 23. Magdelen Castle
- Culture & Entertainment
1. Kilkenny Castle
Easily one of the most renowned attractions in the city is Kilkenny Castle (located just a 10 minute walk from the Smithwick’s Experience) – a site steeped in centuries of history. Originally the location where Norman invader Strongbow built his fort, the castle and fortified walls were built by his son-in-law William Marshall in the 12th Century. Subsequently in Victorian times, the castle was remodelled by the Butler Family as their principal residence, followed by the Marquesses and Dukes of Ormonde down through the ages.
Today, the castle grounds house beautiful gardens and a family park, which are accessible free of charge. Select rooms within the castle have been restored to how they would have looked in Victorian times, with audio tours of these rooms available to purchase at the Castle.
2. Butler Gallery
Within the grounds of Kilkenny Castle lies Kilkenny’s art gallery – the Butler Gallery. The gallery is free to visit and houses a range of owned 19th and 20th century artworks, as well as displaying touring collections throughout the year.
3. Castle Yard
Across the street from Kilkenny Castle is Castle Yard – originally the castle’s stable yard, built by the Duke of Ormonde in 1790. In more recent times (since the 1960s) the Castle Yard has been converted to house Kilkenny Design Workshops, where you can watch skilled skilled craftspeople at work – from woodworking to silverwork, metalwork, textiles, and ceramics. You’ll also find the Kilkenny Design Centre, where you can purchase local craft products and grab a bit to eat.
4. National Craft Gallery
Considering Kilkenny’s reputation as a hive of local craft talent and promotion through the Kilkenny Design Workshops and Kilkenny Design Centre (See pinpoint #3), it’s no wonder Kilkenny’s Medieval Mile is also home to the National Craft Gallery. Here you can see collections exhibited by the best of local and international designers.
5. Butler House & Garden
Butler House was originally the Dower House of Kilkenny Castle (a house built for use by the widow of the estate owner once the primary residence was taken over by the next generation). It was built for Lady Eleanor Butler in 1783. It was passed down through the Butler family for generations and was eventually restored by Kilkenny Design in the 1970s and opened as a guesthouse to the public. The landscaped gardens too have been restored to their original splendour and are well worth a walk around.
6. Shee Alms House/Tourist Information
Shee Alms House (a charity home to house the poor) was originally built by the Shee family in the 1500s, and is a great example of a Tudor period building for architecture buffs out there! It now houses the Kilkenny Tourist Office, so pop in to get some information on the city and check out the Tudor architecture of the building.
7. Medieval Mile Museum
The hub of the Medieval Mile – this is where you’ll find all the information about Kilkenny’s Medieval history. The museum is housed in what was formerly St Mary’s Church – a prime example of an Irish medieval church. Within the museum you’ll find replicas of relics from the city’s legacy as a monastic settlement set up by St Canice (from whom Kilkenny gets its name), including Ossary High Crosses, as well as touring exhibitions and events.
8. Tholsel - Town Hall
Tholsel is a name given to public or government buildings in old Irish towns and cities – deriving from old English words ‘tol’ (meaning toll or tax) and ‘sael’ (meaning hall) – indicating a building where taxes are collected. You may wonder why we chose Kilkenny’s Tholsel as a tourist attraction, considering it still houses local government to this day. Architecture fans will enjoy the limestone façade constructed in 1761 and still standing strong, while culture vultures will enjoy the buskers and street musicians who flock to play on the street outside.
9. The Hole in the Wall
The Hole in the Wall is a running pub to this day. The tavern originates from the 16th century – one of Ireland’s oldest surviving townhouses. It gets its name, quite literally, from a hole that was knocked in the wall at the back of the building to gain access from the High Street behind the house.
The Hole in the Wall tavern today is abuzz with cultural events and entertainment – from music and dance to literature and art.
10. The Butter Slip
If you’re keen to imagine the Kilkenny Streets as they may have looked in Medieval times, The Butter Slip is a prime example of the narrow stone streetscape from the Middle Ages. It dates back to the 17th Century, when it used to run underneath two houses to connect High Street and St Kieran’s Street. It is a picturesque alleyway with stone cobbled steps and an arch entryway.
11. Kyteler’s Inn
A little-known fact – Kilkenny was the site of Ireland’s only, and Europe’s first, witchcraft trials. Kyteler’s Inn is one of Ireland’s oldest inns, dating back to the 13th Century. The owner and innkeeper, Dame Alice de Kyteler, was married four times. When each husband died under suspicious circumstances, and leaving to her an amassed fortune, she was accused of using poison and sourcery against them. She fled to England before she could be tried, but her maid was flogged and burned at the stake.
Today, Kyteler’s Inn is a pub in which you can enjoy some local musical talent, including some roaring Irish trad music sessions.
12. Court House - Grace’s Castle
Kilkenny Courthouse, formerly a castle belonging to the Grace family, is another beautiful stop for architecture enthusiast. It dates back to 1210 when it was originally a home for the wealthy Grace family, before becoming a prison in the 1500s and finally Kilkenny’s courthouse in the 18th Century.
13. Smithwick’s Experience Kilkenny
We couldn’t leave ourselves out of our own recommendations! The Smithwick’s Experience tour isn’t just for beer lovers – those who enjoy history and architecture will also gain great insights into Kilkenny’s heritage. Our tour takes place in St Francis Abbey, where you’ll learn about the 300 year history of our brewing experience. Not to mention enjoying a complimentary pint of our famous ale at the end of the tour.
14. Rothe House & Garden
At Rothe House you’ll get a glimpse like no other into the life and times of Tudor-era Kilkenny, as well as some artifacts from even further back. The Rothe Tudor house itself was built in 1594, and today it has been turned into a museum housing over 2,500 artifacts. Some incredible highlights include a wedding dress with a 10 ft train dating back to 1894; and the remains of a giant Irish deer, found in North Kilkenny, which became extinct over 10,000 years ago and would have stood at over two metres tall.
15. St.Canice’s Cathedral & Round Tower
There’s no doubt about it – here’s where you’ll find the best views over Kilkenny City. The 9th Century Round Tower is one of only two remaining in Ireland that can be climbed. The Cathedral and Round Tower are built on the site of the original monastic settlement established by St Canice (from whom Kilkenny gets its name) in the 6th Century. Within the Cathedral you can see a model scale replica of Kilkenny in the 1600s.
16. The Bishop Palace/Heritage Council
Now home to the Irish Heritage Council, this building was originally built by Bishop Richard Ledred – a controversial figure in Kilkenny’s history. He led Ireland’s only, and Europe’s first, witch trials. See #11 Kyteler’s Inn for more information on this spooky side of Kilkenny’s History.
17. The Black Abbey
There is a lot to be said for the beautiful medieval stone architecture of the Black Abbey, but the greatest draw for art and architecture lovers are the magnificent stained-glass windows.
18. Black Freren Gate
Black Freren Gate is the only gate still standing from the old Norman walls of the city erected in the 12th Century. The gate originally connected the monastery to the town, and the friars of Black Abbey held the key.
19. St.Mary’s Cathedral
This building is for fans of Gothic architecture, having been built in the 1800s, cut from Limestone and based on the design of Gloucester Cathedral in England. It features a beautiful limestone altar, also in gothic style.
20. County Hall
Another stop on an architectural-appreciation walking tour of Kilkenny is this beautifully grand building constructed in the late 1700s.
21. Talbot Tower
Talbot Tower is a remaining section of the fortified walls of Kilkenny City, dating back to the Anglo-Norman settlers descendant from Strongbow, who invaded and conquered the city from Normandy. The tower would have sat at the south-west of the city’s walls as a defence look-out.
22. St. John’s Priory
St John’s Priory was established by the Augustinian monks in the 1200s and became a centre for scholarly activity, worship and culture. This history of cultural promotion is still alive today at the priory, acting as an intimate venue for lunchtime concerts during the Kilkenny Art Festival, which takes place in August each year (see ‘Culture and Entertainment’).
23. Magdalen Castle (Maudlin Castle)
Magdalen Castle, also known as Maudlin castle, was a hospital built during Medieval times. It eventually became a hospital to house lepers when leprosy spread through Ireland in the 10th-11th Century – hence it was given its name, as Mary Magdalen has long been associated with lepers. At another stage in its history it also served as a retirement home for the elderly of wealthy families, including the Shees (see #6) and Rothes (see #14).
Culture & Entertainment
Not necessarily a single pinpoint on the map, but a general tip on the best of what Kilkenny has to offer – a year-round hive of culture and entertainment.
Kilkenny boasts a host of bustling live music venues and bars scattered throughout the city.
These is also a wide range of festivals and events taking place in the city throughout the year, with highlights including:
- Smithwick’s Kilkenny Roots Festival in May
- Kilkenny Cat Laughs Comedy Festival in June
- Kilkenny Arts Festival in August
- International Gospel Choir Festival in August-September
- Greystock Festival in September
- Savour Food Festival in October
- Kilkenomics Festival in November