A weekend in Kilkenny
History, great local beer, an lively nightlife and stag and hen (bachelor/bacholorette) parties galore, Kilkenny is like Ireland's Prague, albeit on a smaller scale.
Kilkenny is a rarity in Ireland; an intact medieval town. This attractive town is focussed around the 'medieval mile' with the 12th/19th century Kilkenny Castle at one end and the.13th century St Canice's Cathedral at the other. If you've got the time you should certainly take a walk between the two and make a few attraction stops along the way.
The exterior of the massive marble baronial style Kilkenny Castle is what you want from a castle. It's big and imposing with turrets and arrow slits and can be seen from all over the town. It looks fantastic from a number of angles - from the vast parklands, from the terrace of the River Court Hotel or from the parade on the town side. Unless you haven't yet or don't plan to visit a stately home during your Ireland trip I wouldn't wholeheartedly recommend visiting the interior. It is just a stately home inside which comes as a bit of a disappointment as, let's face it, you want all the dungeons and usual castley stuff. Also the tour is with an audio guide so there's not even a tour guide's charisma to save the day.
St Canice's Cathedral is an impressive Gothic structure with some interesting local stories that come out in the guided tours. However, the real reason to go there is for one of Ireland's only climbable round towers. The views from the top aren't spectacular but it's more the claustrophobic vertical journey than the destination that's important.
In-between is the spiritual home of Ireland's second beer - Smithwicks. You should have sampled one of the red or pale ales by now and the Smithwicks Experience will help you delve further into the history. This attraction is along the lines of the Guinness Storehouse as it's not a working brewery but it's a polished, interesting visit nonetheless.
The nightlife if Kilkenny is the reason this place should be an overnight stop but it's also the main reason why it's difficult to get a hotel room at the weekends. Like Galway this is a more authentic and eclectic version of an Irish night out than Dublin. There's plenty of choice, with the area either side of the river being a good place to start. Matt the Millers, Kytelers Inn, Lanigans, Paris Texas and Left Bank all get pretty rowdy as the night goes on.
Pleasant as it is, Kilkenny town probably isn't worth a full weekend to itself so you will need to use one of these days to explore the surrounding areas. That's not exactly a chore though.
Just twenty minutes down the road from Kilkenny is Jerpoint Park. This little gem hidden in the pleasant rolling Kilkenny countryside has it all. A working farm, it has the usual sheepdog demonstrations but the key selling point is a deserted medieval town on the land. Percy the guide enthusiastically gives tours around the town which culminates in the tomb of St Nicholas of Myra (or Santa Claus to give his rock star name). This attraction is a lot less gimmicky than it sounds and it's a great chance to meet the very nice owners - Percy and Maeve - who are always on hand to chat. Not to be confused with Jerpoint Abbey which is a nice but fairly standard abbey ruins just down the road.
Less than an hour to the west is one of Ireland's most recognisable sights - the Rock of Cashel. The extremely photographic hilltop citadel is just as good to look at from afar as it is from up close and commands panoramic views of the surrounding countryside.