1. Soak up the atmosphere of a historic castle
A 12th-century castle for £50? Only in Kilkenny.
The city's famous Norman Castle was home to the Butlers of Ormonde for nearly five centuries, before the 6th Marquess of Ormonde offered it to the city of Kilkenny for £50 in 1967!
A tour will bring you to the Picture Gallery Win, and around the nooks and crannies of the library, with its psychedelic colour scheme. Don’t feel like doing a tour? No problem: 500 years of history is condensed into a 12-minute film in the Medieval Room in the South Tower, and it's free – you only pay to go into the rest of the castle.
2. Pick up a hurling stick and make like a local
The ancient Irish game of hurling has long links with Kilkenny (“Go the Cats”). The county’s team colours – black and amber – will often be seen on flags flying from every window and car. If you want to get under the skin of the sport, then hook up with The Ultimate Hurling Experience Tour. Rated five out of five on TripAdvisor, the tour gives a great insight into the game of hurling, which according to tour guide Jim Croke has been compared to a “mixture of ice hockey and murder”.
After an explanation of the rules, he brings you to an impeccably manicured pitch, hands you a genuine ash hurley stick and a hard leather stitched ball known as a sliotar – the rest is up to you.
3. Experience spine-tingling chills at the Black Abbey
The 13th-century Black Abbey is a world of candlelit serenity, with the largest rosary window of its kind in Ireland. Depicting the life of Christ, it contains an astonishing 10,000 pieces of ruby and sapphire glass – all taken out and restored by the Abbey Stained-Glass Company. That’s a jigsaw we’re glad they called in the experts for.
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4. Discover a “city pad” with a difference
Just a short distance from Black Abbey is the medieval jewellery box of Rothe House and Garden, a restored 16th-century Tudor home, where archaeologists recently found the remains of an earlier medieval townhouse (thought to be the “city pad” of the Abbot of nearby Duiske Abbey).
More specifically, they found the Abbot’s toilet, which revealed how he liked to spend his downtime. It turns out this guy lived pretty well, dining on swan and T-Bone steaks and washing it down with his favourite Bordeaux – we like his style.
5. Get crafty, Irish-style
Artists and craftspeople work in studios all around Kilkenny city. Renowned potter Nicholas Mosse creates his elegant pieces here, and the Kilkenny Design Centre anchors the city’s retail scene with a stunning collection of jewellery, knitwear, Celtic gifts, china, crystal and pottery.
And don’t miss the National Craft Gallery at Castle Yard, previously home to the stables and coach houses of Kilkenny Castle, where you can watch clay workers in action, or have a go yourself.