Majestic Kilkenny Castle on the River Nore in the centre of the city doesn’t look like a bargain, but it is… or was. Kilkenny’s famous Norman castle, home to the Butlers of Ormonde for nearly five centuries, was offered to the city of by the 6th Marquess of Ormonde for £50 in 1967.
A tour will bring you to the Picture Gallery, and into the lavish library, with its claret silk damask curtains and French silk poplin walls. 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 in to the rest of the castle!
The ancient Irish game of hurling has long links with Kilkenny – go on the Cats! The county's team colours – black and amber – are often seen flying on flags from every passing car, and in every window. 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 called "a mixture of ice hockey and murder".
After a quick explanation of the rules, you'll be brought to an impeccably manicured pitch, and given a genuine ash wood hurley stick to try your hand at the game. The hard, leather-stitched ball is known as a sliotar – enjoy it, and good luck!
The Black Abbey, built in the 13th century, is a world of candlelit serenity. It features the largest rosary window of its kind in Ireland, which contains an astonishing 10,000 pieces of ruby and sapphire glass and tells the story of Jesus Christ and his life.
Just a short distance from Black Abbey is Rothe House and Garden, a restored 16th-century Tudor home. Recently, archaeologists found the remains of an earlier Medieval townhouse (thought to be the "city pad" of the Abbot of the nearby Duiske Abbey). History has shown that this guy lived pretty well – dinners of swan and steak, all washed down with a favourite Bordeaux wine. He certainly had style! Immerse yourself in 800 years of history and visit the Medieval Mile Museum – it's located at the heart of the city with the locals describing it as a ‘legendary’ experience.
The origins of Smithwick's Brewery date all the way back to 1231, when a few thirsty monks discovered ale when trying to purify water. Fast forward through 300 turbulent years of penal laws, world wars and poverty, and the brewery fell into the hands of the Smithwick family. The rest is, as they say, history, and this pale ale was being shipped worldwide by the 1800s.
The story of Smithwick's is told in full at the Smithwick's Experience Kilkenny. Walk through the original St. Francis' Brewery, discover the story of the beer, and finish your time off with a pint. You'll be thirsty after your long walk through history!
Artists and craftspeople work in studios all around Kilkenny city. Renowned potter Nicholas Mosse creates his elegant pieces in the nearby village of Bennettsbridge, 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!