Last weekend I ambled east to Kilkenny along with my trusted side-kick, Aoife. Apart from fuzzy memories of a Fifth Class school tour and a desperate trip to find silver stilettos for my Debs ball three years ago, I hadn’t properly explored Kilkenny without being on a mission of some sorts. Freed from the childhood ties of bossy teachers and a looming ball, I could finally discover the magical delights of one of Ireland’s finest urban centres.
Hailed as the “Marble City” due its black limestone footpaths resembling marble, its innate medieval magic doesn’t go unnoticed even today. Winding stepped alleyways and the quirkily named “Pudding Lane”, give Kilkenny its unique character, rivalling Edinburgh for its plentiful supply of cobbled walkways and stony walls.
The iconic Kilkenny Castle is undoubtedly the city’s star attraction. The immaculately kept lawn and Alice in Wonderland-like rose garden which surround the castle are enjoyed by locals, school children and tourists alike, while its tea-rooms extend out onto a marquee when the weather is fine. Entertained by a fascinating Birds of Prey exhibition on the particular day I visited, if one forgot their wallet the exterior of the castle has plenty of relaxation and pleasure for everyone.
Luckily the 3 euro student entrance fee to explore the castle interior didn’t corrupt our purses, while the front of house staff were friendly and eager to know where we were visiting from. With the choice of a guided or self-guided tour, we chose the latter as we weren’t in the mood for a detailed history lesson and had both visited the castle on previous occasions. Carpeted, grand staircases make the castle accessible for all generations, while the restored furniture and rooms reignite the regal atmosphere of a structure which was once home to one of Ireland’s most famous families, the Ormondes.
Highlights include the dining room and recently restored nursery with its stencilled walls and laced curtained cot resembling the ideal play room for a privileged child of the 1800s. Every corner of the castle holds a view of the stunning grounds and fountain, while the Nore river meanders alongside it meaning plenty opportunities for photos and romantic strolls.
While beer is by no means my favourite alcoholic beverage, Smithwick’s Brewery was still on top of our travel plan. The enticing smell of barley brimmed throughout the former brewery as we were walked through the Smithwick Family Tree and learned about the brewing process.
Eating in Kilkenny is a sheer delight. We chose The Playwright for our evening meal, while the following morning, although a little worse for wear, Matt the Millers on the riverbank offered a neat selection of traditional sandwiches and dinner options. Known for my sweet tooth, cosy café’s and tearooms, are dotted throughout the town too.
Since the well-known night time haunt, Langton’s closes at 12.30 on Friday night and Left Bank looked like a hub for 30 something’s on stag and hen do’s, we found her ourselves moshing amongst a crowd of millennials in Morrison’s nightclub. With such a choice of venues in a concentrated area, your feet won’t get tired and you won’t feel disheartened!
Our B&B, McCourt’s, although very central and suitable for young adults, if you’re in search of comfort, hospitality and better value, it’s worth your while to stay at one of Kilkenny’s fabulous hotel’s such as The River Court which unmissable on the banks of the Nore.
Literally only delving in window shopping on our trip, Kilkenny is the ultimate haven for boutiques and mother-of-the-bride outfits. Glittering dresses dazzled from the front of the nationally renowned Folkster, while a compact yet sufficient shopping centre exists on the city’s outskirts.
Tucked in between numerous counties, it’s easy to dismiss Kilkenny as just another city that you bypass on your way to Dublin, yet the charm of its history and cheer of its residents make each visit to the city as warm and unforgettable as the last.