Your tour begins at your Kilkenny hotel, where your private guide will collect you to lead you through the city’s historic streets. You’ll hear how Kilkenny was founded in the 6th century as a monastic settlement, was walled by the Normans and, by the Middle Ages, was the unofficial capital of Ireland.
The walk takes roughly two and a half hours with your first stop at Kilkenny Castle, a Norman fortification that dates from the 13th century. It was originally built for the 4th Earl of Pembroke, William Marshal, to guard the crossing of the River Nore, but the castle belonged to the powerful Butler family from the 14th to the late 20th century.
Three of the original four towers survive, but much of the present castle dates from the 19th century. You’ll get to visit some of the most impressive rooms in the predominantly Victorian interior, many of which have gilded plasterwork and hand-painted Chinese wallpaper. In the Great Hall, your guide will tell you about the many portraits and tapestries lining the walls, each of which has a story of its own.
From here, you progress through the city, meandering between the various sites of interest on old and twisting alleyways such as the amusingly named Butter Slip, a medieval walkway with an arched entry and steep stone steps.
You’ll visit the 13th-century Black Abbey to see the vivid Harry Clarke stained-glass windows, hear stories about the old jail and courthouse, visit the traditional and characterful Kyteler’s Inn and explore one or both of Kilkenny’s two cathedrals.
Gothic Saint Canice's Cathedral is the final resting place of many in the Butler family and has a 1st-century round tower. Meanwhile, Kilkenny's Catholic cathedral, Saint Mary's, is a neo-Gothic building dating from the 19th century and has an impressive nave and intricate mosaic work.
Along the way, your guide will regale you with stories about the city, its history and its residents, with many amusing stories that offer an entertaining and informative perspective on Kilkenny.