If you would like to experience a city that’s as rich in history as it is in local “Irish charm” and has an excellent track record in hospitality for meetings and events, then travel to Kilkenny. Situated on both banks of the River Nore, in the South East of Ireland, Kilkenny is an enchanting medieval city, complete with cobblestone streets, a 900 year old cathedral and a 13th century Norman castle.
Because of its small size, Kilkenny’s downtown is very walkable and second to none if you are looking for fine dining, delightful pubs, or a one of a kind treasure made by a local artisan. Kilkenny is a hop skip and a jump from Dublin (actually 75 miles) from N7 to M7 to M9. Secure your automatic car from Sixt Street (in Dublin or at Dublin International Airport) and get ready to drive on the left side of the road, from the right side of the car. If this doesn’t sound relaxing to you, the train will get you there in just under 2 hours from Dublin. (Tip: you really do not need a car in Kilkenny – taxis are easy to order, even if you are staying just outside of town.)
Many people think of Kilkenny as a leisure destination because it is a medieval city with quaint shops. But you may not realize that Kilkenny also specializes in conferences, meetings and special events (Kilkenny has an international reputation for weddings).
568,000 people visited Kilkenny in 2010, according to data from Failte Ireland. More than 200,000 of them – about 35% – were international visitors, including 59,000 from the UK, 76,000 from continental Europe, 61,000 from the U.S, and 10,000 from other parts of the world. 10% of these visitors were specifically business tourism visitors, but that may be as high as 15%, according to Failte Ireland data.
So, if you’re here for a meeting and want to find some time to explore Kilkenny on your own (or wish to extend your business travel for a day), consider the following travel tips for 24 hours in Kilkenny, Ireland:
- Meetings in Kilkenny
The vast majority of meetings– 80%– were domestic corporate meetings and events, according to data from Failte Ireland. And Kilkenny has won many national and governmental conferences in recent years because of full service properties such as Mount Juliet and The Lyrath. That’s potentially also a great sign of a destination’s potential ability to be attractive for international meetings consideration.
And this is certainly the case in Kilkenny which benefits from the visibility of the new National Conference Center in Dublin. Kilkenny gains a large amount of pre and post-international meetings and events business mainly because of its proximity to the capital. It also doesn’t hurt that hotels are fairly cost effective here as well which may be why it also welcomes a large number of international incentive tourists mostly from the U.S. and UK.
- Find a Hotel in Kilkenny
Industry research shows that most Kilkenny business visitors stay between two and three nights, and the average cost of a hotel room per night here is 107 EUR – down 4% from 2010, according to Failte Ireland. There are many different options for hotels in Kilkenny, including in town and others with nearby access. I stayed at the Pembroke Hotel, a boutique where you will find the comforts of a modern hotel that is an easy walk everywhere.
Other hotels in downtown Kilkenny include Kilkenny River Court (which has an wonderful outdoor café with amazing views of Kilkenny Castle), and Ormande Hotels. If you’re looking for a great hotel for yourself –or your group – where you can create a more secluded experience with five star service, check out Lyrath and Mount Juliet. Lyrath Estate is a 17th century house (obviously expanded and updated) and convention center. There’s a large gym and spa, and the grounds are picturesque for any outdoor event or wedding.
If a traditional golf resort destination is what you want, Mount Juliet (18th century manor and separate guest house locations) is the place. As its name implies, this is an old world establishments with mahogany wood and designer fabrics. The grounds are beautifully manicured. And Mount Juliet also has a spa, equestrian center and a full range of outdoor activities.
- Enjoy Activities in Kilkenny
Kilkenny offers a full range of unique activities that are popular for off-site events as well as leisure options. Downtown Kilkenny is filled with boutiques, craft centers, charming cafes and pubs – all in a small area. To be honest, they have some fantastic venues for a town of its size. For example, Langton House Hotel has an old fashioned, balconied theatre (red velvet seats and all) where live performances and entertainment is brought to town on a regular basis – imagine hosting a general session there!
Another Kilkenny gem is Rothe House, which includes a museum and a historic, 17th century garden — this is definitely a unique entertainment venue as well. If you’re looking to research your Irish geneology, this is the place. Another must for any visit is to enjoy St. Francis Abby/Smithwick’s Brewary for a pint (and there’s a great event space that is located by its tasting room). Less than 15 minutes from downtown you can visit Nicholas Mosse Pottery where you can shop and enjoy beautiful, hand-crafted ceramics in the style of Irish Spongeware.
And if you venture just 45 minutes outside of Kilkenny, it’s easy to access world famous and iconic attractions such as The Rock of Cashel (where the High Kings of Ireland sat), House of Wateford Crystal (renowned for exceptional craft, skill and beauty), and Hook Head Lighthouse which is known to be one of the world’s oldest operational lighthouses (built by the Normans in the 12th century).
- Enjoy Restaurants in Kilkenny
When it comes to dining, Kilkenny offers the traditional Irish cuisine you expect from a quaint city like this, but you’ll also find a range of international gastronomy. My picks: Rinuccini, which is an award-winning, family owned restaurant that specializes in Italian cuisine. Rinuccini is located in a historic house that faces Kilkenny Castle.
Zuni Restaurantis another top pick in Kilkenny. The restaurant is in the middle of town in a building that was once a theatre. Zuni has an open kitchen concept, and Chef Maria Raftery uses local ingredients to create comfort and gourmet Irish cuisine.
Langtons has a range of dining options and rooms. If you’re looking to find somewhere special, check out the Langton Room which is also available for private events. Kytelers Inn is a restaurant and pub that has an amazing space for dining (including private events downstairs). Kytelers is filled with history, folklore and legend of its original owner, Dame Alice Kyteler, who was accused of being the witch of Kilkenny. Of course, terrific options are also available at hotels throughout Kilkenny.
- Create Your Own Pub Crawl in Kilkenny
You can’t plan a trip to Kilkenny or anywhere else in Ireland and not enjoy the pubs. Kilkenny offers a mix of contemporary and traditional entertainment choices — all within walking distance, so make sure you spend some time on your own pub crawl. My first stop? 67 Bar at Langtons. The Langston family is a synonymous with hospitality in Kilkenny, and Langston’s is in the middle of town and exudes Irish charm: open fire places and wood paneling – with entertainment most nights. They had live, traditional Irish music the night I visited.
Next head over to John Street for a pint inside one of the oldest establishments, Matt the Millers featuring live music and 5 very different bars. They also have a tobacco shop where you can purchase and enjoy your favorite humidor. Don’t be surprised if a local offers to buy you a pint, accept it and say, “Cheers!” For a more modern bar and nightclub atmosphere, go down the street to the Left Bank. It’s very trendy and plays popular music.
Finally don’t neglect the hotel bar where you are staying. I was at the Pembroke and would stop in for a nigh-cap and a chance to talk with the locals as well as other travelers.
From its founding in the 6th century to the Norman invasion in the 12th – and the years leading up to its “city status” in the 1600’s, Kilkenny boasts a unique past with many colorful legends and characters, who have left their mark on the city’s architecture, heritage and culture. Several of the historical sites are still standing today, allowing visitors the opportunity to explore and imagine what Ireland was like in centuries past.
– Research contributed by AnnMarie Koss
Initially published June 18, 2012.