travel guide: kilkenny, ireland

overview

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in may, I embarked on a two week road trip around certain parts of Ireland. starting in dublin, my itinerary took me to Kilkenny, waterford, castlemartyer, and finally cork. the road trip also included day trips to the cliffs of moher, the ring of kerry, the copper coast, and the villages west of cork. 

during the next several weeks I'm going to break down each destination, talking about the city, the hotels, the things-to-do, the food, and our itinerary. I'll give you an honest look at how safe I felt, how clean the city and the hotel was, insights on getting around, what was worth seeing and what to skip, and what I would do differently knowing what I now know.

I'll also be breaking down what it's like to drive in Ireland, particularly as someone coming from America, as well as advice on day trips while you're in Ireland.

we started our roadtrip in dublin, then drove through wicklow national park to our second destination - kilkenny, ireland...

the city at a glance

population - according to a 2006 census, the population within kilkenny was approximately 8,500, but combined with the entire borough of kilkenny the population is roughly 24,000. 

brief history - kilkenny is a city that went back and forth between protestant and catholic rules for a number of years. in addition, kilkenny had the first and only witch trial in ireland in 1324 when alice kyteler and her lady were accused of witchcraft when alice's four husbands died under suspicious circumstances. alice fled and her lady was burned at the stake, however the inn that alice owned remains today as part of the medieval mile. today, kilkenny is the home to numerous arts and culture festivals, as well as being the home to smithwicks, one of the oldest breweries in ireland.

safety - i personally felt very safe in kilkenny. just like in dublin, a little bit of common sense goes a long way, which is true is almost all of my travels so far. according to a 2015 report in the irish mirror, kilkenny has one of the lowest crime rates in ireland with approximately 3 murders per 100,000 and 2 rapes per 100,000. 

cleanliness - kilkenny seemed very clean to me. clean streets, minimal litter; a city that seems to take pride in keeping their area welcoming.

vibe - medeival and artsy. and it should be, considering their tourist attraction is visiting all the sites on the 'medieval mile' (more on that below). everyone that we encountered as laid back and had an aura that they were very simply, happy. 

walking around - easy! there are gradual inclines and declines at points, and st. canice's cathedral sits atop a hill that you have to climb about 20-30 stairs, but otherwise the city was relatively flat and easy to navigate. 

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hotel

location - the hotel kilkenny is approximately 1 mile away from downtown kilkenny, but it's completely walkable. thankfully we didn't mind walking, and a mile is no big deal, but just be aware that there are many more places to stay that are closer. 

parking - parking is FREE and there are plenty of spaces!

breakfast - breakfast is 12.50 euro per person. you receive a continental cold breakfast with your choice of fruits, juices, muffins and cereals, and then you order one out of 5 hot items. i found this breakfast to be quite average compared to the clayton hotel in dublin that we stayed at. it wasn't bad, and the price wasn't bad either, but there were more options in a nicer environment at our dublin hotel. 

cleanliness - the lobby of the hotel was hip, modern and clean. the rooms...well let me tell you they were clean. i don't want there to be any misconception about that. but they were faded. tired. worn looking. like the white walls were dull and the carpet was faded. but it was clean, and i'm hoping they're updating the rooms to match the lobby and lounge that were fresh and modern!

cost - our per night charge, including taxes and fees, was $106.42.

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tourist things

kilkenny castle - i told you in my dublin travel guide that i wasn't real impressed in the dublin castle, but i did really like kilkenny castle. when we arrived it was rainy (look at all the people huddled under the entrance in my second picture!), but the staff quickly ushered us to a small room to watch a short 5 minute video on the history of kilkenny castle.

just like in dublin, we opted to do the self-guided tour, and it wasn't just that kilkenny castle was asthetically more pleasing, but there are thorough and interesting descriptions of what room you're in, what it was used for, why it was important, etc. in each room. no doubt that a guided tour would provide you with even more information, but i can be a bit of a wanderer and am not a big fan of being shuffled along with a herd, so i'm pretty picky about my 'guided/group' tours. 

the castle itself and the grounds were beautiful. it seemed appropriately rainy; the backdrop of white clouds set a beautiful stage for the gray castle and the bright green grass. the inside of the castle was gorgeous and as you walk through the rooms you can picture a life long since passed living there. 

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smithwick's brewery - okay so i'm not going to bury the lead here - the smithwick's tour is WAY better than the guinness tour. and I liked the guinness brewery tour a lot! but there are a number of reasons why i would recommend smithwick's if i had to choose.

first, you get a guided tour. you literally can't go it alone, so you go in a small group of no more than 10 or 12 people so you're not fighting to hear your tour guide or see all the awesome stuff. and i have to tell you that per my statement above of not being a huge fan of guided tours, for me to say 'yes, it's awesome and worth it!' is really an endorsement. and i have to give a special shout out to cillian, or guide! he was personable, fun, knowledgeable, and such a great guide!

second, this history is fascinating. perhaps i'm a bit biased as i am a big lover of history, but learning about the history of kilkenny as well as smithwick's was an interesting story. 

third, you actually learn the beer process; from what the monks did hundreds of years ago to how smithwick's is made today (more history!)

if you are visiting both dublin and kilkenny i recommend doing both tours, and you'll even receive a discount on your smithwick's tour from purchasing a guinness ticket, but far and away smithwick's was the better brewery tour.

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st. canice's cathedral - st. canice's was set across the same backdrop as kilkenny castle was - bright white skies, gray stone and vivid, bright green grass. it was beautiful, and i would have loved to have gone inside but it was closed! temporarily, for like an hour or two, but long enough that we weren't going to be able to go back and check it out. it was spectacular though; the beautiful old building that has been a place of worship for over 800 years. 

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butter slip - the butter slip is a small, narrow alley way that was the place that merchants sold their butter long ago because the size of the alley left it at a colder temp that was needed to sell the product. it's a skinny but beautiful little alley way tucked into the medieval mile that is most definitely worth the walk through if you're in kilkenny.

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kyteler's inn

the dylan whisky bar - so we had to stop here for obvious reasons, but the funny part is that the very same day when we were driving from dublin to kilkenny we pulled into a restaurant for lunch without paying any attention to the name, and it happened to be called 'the heather restaurant'. in ireland there aren't typically gigantic neon signs that you can't miss like there is in america, and that day was our first real day driving so much of our focus was on the driving and being alert to other vehicles. when we pulled into the restaurant we asked to sit outside, we got situated, looked up, and realized we were at 'the heather restaurant'. so as fate would have it when we encountered 'the dylan whisky bar' we HAD to go. 

we're not whisky drinkers at all; i love a well made whisky sour with egg whites, but never just straight whisky. but as the saying goes, when in rome...

we simply told the bartender that we were brand new the game, what our preferred drinks were, and asked what we would recommend as a good starter that wasn't bottom of the shelf bad stuff, but wasn't $50 a shot. 

he gave us a nice 10 euro whisky and a pretty great introduction into drinking whisky. bottom line - don't order anything under 5 years old. ever. that was his advice. and if you notice me spelling whisky without an 'e' that's because that's how it's spelled over in ireland and scotland, so i'm sticking with it when i write about the area.

matt the millers - matt the millers was recommended to me when i joined a facebook group on ireland. the back story is that i was looking for a facebook group that i could get some real talk advice about ireland from people who had been there or lived there, so i joined the group. i'm not much of a participator in these large groups, tending to only comment when i feel i can offer very genuinely good advice, and having never been to ireland at that time, i had zero advice.

one thing i was curious about though and thought would be a good question for these 15k+ people in this group was where someone would recommend we go for great, traditional irish music in a few of the city's we were going to be in. the overwhelming majority of folks said 'matt the millers in kilkenny'. so on the list it went.

we stopped by on our first night in kilkenny and as luck would have it a fantastic two-piece band (group?) was playing. and it was AMAZING. we grabbed a pint and settled in a table overlooking the duo to listen. i quite honestly didn't want to leave and if it weren't for the fact that was fighting with pure exhaustion from a very long day, i likely would have stayed longer than i should have. if you find yourself in kilkenny you must drop by matt the millers in the evevning for a truly authentic and fun irish experience! 

food

ristorante rinucciniwe attempted to go to ristorante rinuccini the night we arrived, are let's just say we definitely weren't fancy enough. now in our defense, we had spent the day travelling through the wicklow mountains and then when we arrived in kilkenny we were walking downtown from the hotel when it started to rain, so we probably looked just fine for tourists, but not fine for ristorante rinuccini. 

the menu looked amazing though so we made a reservation for the next evening, and were excited about going back.

the food was excellent, and the service was...okay. our server cared much more about the couple five tables away, and as a former server i completely understand that you connect with some people and some you don't, i did take issue with the fact that we sat there with empty wine and water glasses for 15-20 minutes while he chatted with them and brought them things. 

nonetheless, our food was fantastic. dylan got Polpettine con Spaghettini Home-made baby meatballs served in a fresh tomato sauce with garlic and basil Spaghettini

and i got Ravioli Gorgonzola e Noci - Fresh Ravioli, handmade by Chef Antonio, stuffed with Ricotta and fresh spinach in a Gorgonzola, cream and white wine sauce, with a dusting of crushed toasted walnuts.

and my ravioli was fantastic! that melt in your mouth/you want to eat slowly so you can savor every last bite, fantastic. i would most definitely recommend ristorante rinuccini if you're in the kilkenny area!

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kyteler's inn - kyteler's inn is on the medieval mile as it is the former home of alice de kyteler who had four husbands that died under mysterious circumstances, prompting her to be the first woman in ireland to be accused of witchcraft. alice escaped to england before her trial and her lady ended up paying the ultimate sacrifice. but this is 2017 and kyteler's inn is now a pub/restaurant. the inside is fun and the menu is light. we knew we were going to ristorante rinuccini for italian that evening so we wanted to keep it light. i ordered the turkey sandwich and dylan ordered the blt. there are lots of good restaurants right in the area, but if you don't stop for a bite of food than i recommend stopping for a pint!

paris texas bar and smokehouse - what can i say about this place...it was interesting. so we ended up at paris texas after walking around on our first night trying to find somewhere to eat. we were at the stage of hunger where you simply think 'i don't care where i eat, as long as there isn't a wait'. so we found ourselves at paris texas, which claims to have 'traditional southwest favorites fused with new orleans flavors'. um, what? that's what i thought. but i wasn't in the mood to go traipsing around kilkenny for the perfect place; i needed food! and i'll say that the food wasn't too bad. i don't know that i'd got back again, but it hit the spot.

dylan got the house-smoked lamb sirloin, and i thought they did a great job of cooking the lamb and it was really flavorful. i opted for the smoked chicken club with avocado quesadilla and the ingredients were fresh enough, but there was zero flavor. so my meal was kind of a bust, but dylan's was good. 

sullivan's brewing company - this was a quick stop in for a beer as dylan is a craft beer lover, but the place had a great atmosphere and they made wood-fired pizzas in this big oven, so if i went back i would most definitely try the food. right now the brewery doesn't offer a tour, but the bartender noted that they are moving all of the manufacturing into kilkenny and expanding the space, so i would be interested in going for a tour once that's complete.

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our itinerary

day 1

hotel kilkenny > st. kieran's college > left bank > paris texas bar and smokehouse > matt the miller's > the dylan whiskey bar > hotel kilkenny = 1.7 miles (2.7km), 34 minutes of walking

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day 2

hotel kilkenny > kilkenny castle > butter slip > smithwick's brewery tour > st. canice's cathedral > kyteler's inn restaurant & bar > sullivan's brewing company > hotel kilkenny > left bank > ristorante rinuccini > hotel kilkenny = 4.1 miles (6.6km), 1:23 of walking

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are you thinking about going to kilkenny (you should, it's fantastic!)? pin this travel guide so you know what to see, what to eat, and what you can skip. if you missed my '3 days in dublin' travel guide be sure to check it out, and stay tuned for part 3 of our trip through waterford (plus I'll be breaking down what it's like to drive in Ireland and the best day trips you can take!).

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cheers!
heather