Did someone say castle? Earlier this month I was invited on a spontaneous trip to Ireland. As my friend and I planned our itinerary, we thought it would be nice to do a half-day trip outside Dublin, so we looked for interesting things within a short driving radius. Visiting Kilkenny Castle came recommended by other travel bloggers, so we added it on for our Thursday afternoon adventure. It wasn’t quite what I expected, which I’ll describe below. Nonetheless, I recommend visiting Kilkenny Castle and the rest of the charming town for a taste of Ireland outside of Dublin city life.
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Kilkenny is about 90 minutes from Dublin via M9. It’s a leisurely drive through the verdant countryside complete with sheep and cow fields. (Please make sure to drive carefully during rain showers.) Alternatively, you can book a day trip from Dublin and let an experienced professional drive on the left side of the road for you.
Kilkenny City, Wicklow Mountains and Glendalough Day Trip from Dublin
For a third option, you can take a train out of Heuston station: Catch the Irish Rail Kildare/Waterford service and disembark at Kilkenny. The train journey will cost about €30 round trip per person.
Visiting Kilkenny Castle
First, some brief history. The castle was built 800 years ago which will be evident when you approach its medieval gray fortified walls. It was inhabited and controlled by the aristocratic Butler family for 600 years(!) until they vacated it in the 1930s. In the 1960s, the castle was handed over to a restoration committee, which restored the castle to its former glory and then opened it up to visitors.
The remarkable thing was the extensive renovation and the diligent attention to detail that went into recreating the castle as it was at the turn of the twentieth century. The restoration committee went to great lengths to preserve and reuse as many original materials as possible. Furthermore, signage will point out details such as carpet and wallpaper that took extra effort to replicate.
Instead of a stereotypical medieval castle tour, it’s closer to a Downton Abbey style experience. Walk through and see what it was like to live in a castle almost 100 years ago. The picture gallery is a particualry interesting and beautiful room to visit.
Down in the lower level, there is an art gallery that puts on exhibits of contemporary, modern artists. This was one of my favorite parts of the castle. What a delightful surprise! Visit the gallery before heading for a bite in the beautifully-decored tea room (cafe). The gardens and grounds are beautiful and parts of them can be visited without an entrance ticket.
Visiting Kilkenny Castle costs €8 for adults and €4 for kids (self-guided). Guided tours take 45 minutes and cost €12/€6.
Where to Eat
An interesting thing to me about Kilkenny is that there are restaurants encompassing a wide variety of cuisines, especially some standout Asian and Indian influenced options. For an extended trip through Ireland, I suppose a break from the standard fish and chips or full Irish breakfast would be welcome. As for us, we went for local Irish pub fare and ate at the sports-themed joint The Field. The service was very friendly and the patrons sang along energetically to the live Irish folk songs.
Hurling is a beloved Irish sport that I found confusing. Taking a hurling-centered tour will be illuminating for sports fans!
After visiting Kilkenny Castle, I recommend dining in town (see above) and staying the night at a local lodging (suggested: the excellent yet reasonably priced Kilkenny Hibernian Hotel). Staying outside of Dublin would make a great jumping-off point for a scenic driving tour of other charming small towns and castles of Ireland. Follow Me Away has a good suggested Ireland itinerary.
What’s your favorite European small town? Let me know in the comments!
All photos by Staci Jackson and Rachel Christensen for The Voyageer.