From Glendalough, our road trip to Ireland continues with a visit to the lively and colorful city of Kilkenny. Here we visit the main attractions, including the famous castle and the high round tower located next to St. Canice's Cathedral. The following day, we leave for the amazing Rock of Cashel - a must-see for anyone visiting Ireland - and in the evening we reach Cork, where we have dinner and stay overnight. In this article we give you all the information about these places and some useful tips for planning your visit!
ALL ARTICLES ABOUT IRELAND
After exploring the monastic site and valley of Glendalough, our road trip to Ireland continues to Kilkenny, a lively and colorful city in the south of the island. Kilkenny offers some of the most iconic and visited monuments in Ireland and has a good dining and music scene, which runs along the Medieval Mile, the old heart of the city. We spent only one day in Kilkenny: big cities are not the focus of our trip and, to be honest, none of the ones we visited – apart from Dublin – left a lasting impression on our memory. After all, Ireland means mostly nature, green pastures and ocean! Anyway, we recommend a stop in Kilkenny at least to visit St. Canice’s Cathedral and the very famous Castle. The following day, we picked up our car and moved further south, first visiting the amazing Rock of Cashel and then reaching Cork, where we had dinner and spent the night. So, in this article we tell you about all these places and give you all the information and some useful tips for planning your visit!
Arriving by airplane
Most travelers choose to reach Ireland by plane. The island’s main airports are located in Dublin and Cork – in the Republic of Ireland – and in Belfast – in Northern Ireland, part of the United Kingdom. However, the island is well connected to Switzerland and the rest of Europe by several flights of the national airline Aer Lingus, Swiss* and, of course, the low-cost airline Ryanair. Dublin Airport is located about 11 km north of the city. If you have rented a car, the counters of the major rental companies are located in both Terminal 1 and Terminal 2.
Arriving by ship
Ireland can also be reached by ship, a popular option for those who enjoy on-the-road travel with their own car or caravan. Dublin has two harbor areas: Dun Laoghaire Terminal, southeast of downtown, and Dublin Port Terminal, northeast. Many companies connect the city with the United Kingdom. We suggest Stenaline, Irishferries, P&O Ferries. Alternatively, other companies connect Ireland with France (mainly with Cork, southern Ireland): Irishferries and Brittany Ferries.
As already mentioned, big cities are not the focus of our trip and, to be honest, none of the ones we visited – apart from Dublin – left an indelible memory in our minds. However, Kilkenny is the one that gave us a pleasant visit, as well as being the only one in which we suggest you spend at least half a day. The city is colorful and cheerful, and although some areas appear rather neglected, its character and spirit are clearly visible in the buildings, squares and on the faces of the local people. Moreover, Kilkenny has some of Ireland’s most famous and iconic monuments! So here is everything you should not miss during a visit to the city. To visit everything, we suggest you plan a full day, but if you decide to limit your visit to half a day, then our advice is to prioritize St. Canice’s Cathedral with its round tower and Kilkenny Castle.
MEDIEVAL MILE – It is the old heart of the city! This tangle of narrow streets and alleys is the oldest part of Kilkenny and includes the streets that run between St. Canice’s Cathedral and the magnificent Kilkenny Castle. You will love getting lost in its streets and discovering its hidden corners! A useful map can be found at this link. If you have a free hour left, we suggest you to visit also the Medieval Mile Museum – recently opened – which tells about 800 years of the city’s history. The museum is normally open from Tuesday to Sunday from 9:30 am to 4:30 pm. Access is by guided tour only, so advance reservations are recommended. Here you can find all the information.
KILKENNY CASTLE – Kilkenny Castle is certainly one of the most visited historic attractions in all of Ireland. Strategically built on the banks of the River Nore, this ancient mansion was home to the powerful local family of Butler. The historic heart of the castle dates back to the 12th century, but the building still visible today is actually the result of some extensive Victorian-era renovations. Lived in until the 1930s by the Butler family, it was sold in 1967 to the city of Kilkenny for only 50 pounds, as the onerous maintenance costs did not allow the decaying aristocratic family to maintain it intact. Since then, significant restoration work has been carried out over the years, and the castle can now be visited again in its entirety either independently (with the option of listening to an audio guide available online on your cell phone) or through guided tours. We suggest that you do not miss a visit to the Long Gallery – an elegant hall with high ornate ceilings and a magnificent marble fireplace – and the old kitchens. The Castle is normally open from 9:15 am to 5:30 pm during the summer and with slightly shorter hours during other seasons. The entrance fee is € 8.00 for an independent visit and € 12.00 for a guided tour. You can find all the information at this link.
ST. CANICE’S CATHEDRAL – After St. Patrick’s in Dublin, St. Canice’s Cathedral is Ireland’s largest medieval cathedral, and its grandeur is clearly visible even from outside. Its oldest heart dates back to the 6th century, but the building visible today is largely the result of several reconstructions that took place between the 13th and 16th centuries. Many people visit the interior of the church distractedly and prefer to focus on the high circular tower that stands next to it. Indeed, this tower is the only one that can still be climbed to the top, so we suggest that you do not miss the opportunity of a visit to admire the city from above. However, be careful, because the steps are quite steep and the passageway narrow! The cathedral can normally be visited during the summer from Monday to Saturday from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. and with shorter hours during other seasons. A climb to the top of the tower is possible from 9:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. from Monday to Saturday, but given the high number of visitors during the summer, our advice is to schedule the climb to the top in the early morning hours. Both attractions can be visited on Sundays only in the afternoon. You can find more information at this link.
Rock of Cashel
Leaving Kilkenny and picking up our car, we drive further south and make a first stop at the ancient Rock of Cashel. This amazing historic area situated atop a limestone cliff in the plain Tipperary countryside is truly a wonder. Its location makes it visible from a considerable distance, and you cannot avoid noticing it as you continue along the road leading to it. This ancient complex of religious buildings is a thousand years old and is composed of the ruins of an imposing 13th-century cathedral, the 15th-century Hall of the Vicars Choral – the hall in which sung masses were held – the Cormac’s Chapel – which houses frescoes dating back more than eight hundred years and a 12th-century sepulcher – and a famous circular tower as high as 28 meters. The Rock of Cashel can be visited daily from 9:00 am to 5:30 pm (last access at 4:45 pm). Visits to the site can be conducted independently, except for Cormac’s Chapel, which instead is accessible only through guided tours in small groups for preservation reasons. The ticket for Cormac’s Chapel cannot be purchased online. Therefore, our advice is to purchase tickets directly on site even if you will have to plan for a slightly longer wait for entry. You can find all the information at this link.
We arrive in Cork in the late afternoon. Our bed & breakfast – the Gabriel House Guesthouse* – is located just outside the city center, which however is also reachable on foot in a few minutes.
Among big cities, we are sad to say that Cork is the one that disappointed our expectations the most and left us with a bitter taste in our mouths. In front of our eyes was a city in decay, decidedly dirty and neglected and visibly in social and economic crisis. We are not sure what happened and where has gone that cheerful and colorful city that is reported everywhere on the web and that so many friends had told us about, but we can imagine that two years of pandemic and economic crisis have left a strong mark on Cork and its inhabitants. We are deeply sorry about this! However, as travelers we cannot but advise you to take it into account when planning your on-the-road itinerary, hoping of course that the situation will improve in a short time, because really the city has a lot of potential!
Both Kilkenny Castle and Rock of Cashel are monumental assets managed by the Office of Public Work (OPW). This means that in case you have decided to purchase the Heritage Card, you can access them for free. However, we suggest that you always check in advance whether a reservation is required for your visit!
For dinner in Kilkenny, we suggest that you reserve a table at the “Petronella” restaurant, which is located in a narrow, quaint alley on High Street. Don’t be intimidated by the somewhat kitschy décor, because the staff is really friendly and welcoming and the food is great!