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One of Ireland’s most magnificent medieval cities, Kilkenny boasts many fascinating historic sites that are all concentrated in a relatively small area of the city center. The narrow, cobbled roads are lined with ancient buildings, many of which serve as art galleries, cafes, pubs and gift shops, while stunning Kilkenny Castle overlooks it all. While a tour of the castle is a must, you’ll find many other things to do in this beautiful city.
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Visiting Kilkenny Castle should be on the top of your to-do list. While you can walk around the grounds for free, you won’t want to miss a tour of the interior either. Built in 1195, it was a symbol of Norman occupation, and in its original condition would have formed an important element of the city’s defenses, with four large circular corner towers and a massive ditch, part of which can still be seen today. The castle stands out dramatically with its elevated position on the River Nore. On the tour, which can be taken at your leisure, it’s easy to imagine what the walls have seen and heard over the centuries. You can also watch an excellent audio-visual presentation that illuminates both the castle’s and the city’s history before wandering through the castle.
The Black Abbey
The Dominican Black Abbey was founded in 1225 and was the hub of civic life in Kilkenny for centuries. It’s since been impeccably restored to its original splendor, including a magnificent multi-colored stained glass window. Both the size and beauty of the “Rosary Window,” which was created in 1892, are incredibly impressive as the largest stained glass window in Ireland, with the colors and scenes depicted glowing vividly when sunlight hits.The church was part of the Dominican Priory and derived its name from the Black Friars, as the Dominicans were called. Today the friars that are assigned here are engaged in traditional apostolates, particularly sacramental services and liturgical preaching. There is a public celebration and service every day, and visitors are encouraged to participate.
Dunmore Cave is made up of a series of chambers that were formed over millions of years. it contains some of the finest calcite formations ever discovered in an Ireland cave, which was first mentioned in the 9th-century Irish Triads. The Annals tell of a Viking massacre at the cave in 928 AD, and archaeological finds have confirmed Viking activity here. Guided tours are available, while the visitor center offers a variety of ways to learn more about the ecology, myths and history of the cave. At the Interactive Virtual Museum, you can view a number of treasures found inside the cave, including one of the most significant Viking finds in the country.
Kilmogue Portal Tomb
Kilmogue dolmen or the Kilmogue Portal Tomb is one of the tallest and most magnificent examples of a portal dolmen in the country. Not only is the sheer size of the tomb impressive, but its engineer. It was constructed using a large capstone which rests on two large portal stones and a pillow stone resting on a backstone. Most dolmens like this were built around 3000 BC, and though many believe they are burial sites, there has been little evidence to identify them as such. Whatever the purpose, this one is truly awe-inspiring.
Medieval Mile Museum
Dating back to the early 13th century, St Mary’s Church now serves as a fascinating museum which follows Kilkenny’s history through medieval times. Highlights include the Rothe Chapel, lined with ornate 16th- and 17th-century tombs carved from local limestone, remnants of the 17th-century timber roof above the crossing, and a selection of 13th- and 14th-century grave slabs. A huge interactive map of Kilkenny allows you to explore maps and documents relating to the medieval city.
Dame Alice Kyteler’s home was built back in 1224. Since then, it’s seen quite a bit of interesting history, including Kyteler herself being charged with witchcraft in 1323 after four of her husbands all met an untimely death. Today, the house is a popular bar that includes the original structure, complete with vaulted ceiling and arches. It hosts a beer garden, a courtyard and a large room upstairs where live bands are frequently featured – every night from March through October. Just beware that there have been reports of paranormal activity, it’s reputedly haunted by Alice.
Rothe House & Garden
The Rothe House is considered the finest example of a Tudor merchant’s house in all of Ireland. Built around a series of courtyards, today it’s home to a museum with a display of local artifacts, like an ancient Viking sword and a grinning stone head. The highlight is the medieval garden, a lovely walled garden that’s divided into fruit, vegetable and herb sections, and also features a traditional orchard, as it would have been in the 17th century.
Smithwick’s was Ireland’s oldest working brewery until production was moved to Dublin in 2014. John Smithwick was the founder, with the brewery opening in 1710 on the site of the city’s 13th-century St Francis Abbey and you can still see the abbey ruins in the complex today. It now serves as a popular tourist attraction, with the opportunity to join a one-hour tour to learn about the brewing process, the history of the brewery, and, of course, the grand finale: tasting.
Live Music at the Pumphouse
The Pumphouse is one of Ireland’s favorite pubs and it’s located right in the heart of Kilkenny. You’ll find a warm and friendly welcome with the loyal, local crowd along with a lively atmosphere, an extensive selection of craft beers and typically, some outstanding drink deals too. But the highlight here is the live music. The split-level ground floor has two bars, with the top bar featuring a more traditional layout that includes interesting artifacts on display and the lower bar with its modern, contemporary feel. Enjoy traditional tunes throughout the summer on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday nights, tribute acts every Sunday night and DJs on Saturdays