Kilkenny is one of the nicest cities in Ireland. It's one of the true medieval towns whose history is dominated by still-standing structures rather than ruins caused by Vikings/the English/famine/weather (delete as appropriate). And Kilkenny Castle is the bombastic centrepoint. With fantastic views of this classic fortress from so many different angles - the river, from the park and from the town centre - it's possible to gain a new appreciation from each one.
Built in 1195 as a defensive castle, Kilkenny Castle looks like the archetypal Middle Ages castle that was built to scare off any would-be invaders before they even came close. When this purpose was apparently no longer warranted, it was bought by the Butler family at the end of the 14th century. Since then they've succeeded in turning the castle it into a cosy palace fit for a fancy landowning family.
The interior now is classic stately home with drawing rooms, hundreds of paintings of pasty Butler ancestors and places once sniffed by Queen Victoria. The problem is that there are plenty of grand houses in Ireland and it just seems out of place in this building. Furthermore, there isn't even a guided tour as it's all done by handheld audio-guides.
One highlight inside is the Long Gallery which showcases masses of works of art in one - you guessed - long gallery. They're packed in so tightly it looks like the junkroom of an art collector. It's a truly impressive sight.
As much as we hate to say, the recommendation is to enjoy the Kilkenny Castle from the outside with a picnic in the park, a gluhwein at the Parade's Christmas Market or a beer in the River Court Hotel terrace, not from inside..