We rode the longest zip line in Ireland, tried falconry and horse riding for the first time, and enjoyed some great dining experiences – there are so many great things to do in Kilkenny with kids.
Despite being less than 90 minutes from my own home, I am almost embarrassed to say that this was the first time we went on a family holiday to Kilkenny. I recall a few romantic weekend breaks over the years, and I always knew Kilkenny had a great food scene, but I never knew how much there was to do in Kilkenny with kids. I was delighted when Visit Kilkenny asked me to spend a few days exploring this great city. As soon as our travel restrictions were lifted, we took off, a mere 90 minute drive from Dublin.
We stayed in the fabulous Mount Juliet Estate (watch out for my review coming soon), ate in some great restaurants, and experienced some of Kilkenny’s top family attractions. It was great to see such a buzz in the city, with most shops and attractions open, and businesses re-inventing themselves. You can see the full list of Kilkenny’s attractions re-opening dates here. Kilkenny City has a temporary one-way system in place in order to provide additional space to pedestrians, and popular streets like Kieran Street and James’s Street pedestrianised from 9am to 9pm.
I recommend pre-booking everything in advance, all attractions and meals (including breakfast) should be pre-booked, as many establishments have specific time-slots, with reduced numbers to allow for additional space. This will apply no matter where you are, even in your home town, so it is something we need to get used to. We got used to this very quickly, and fully embraced the ‘new normal’ with open arms! It felt so great to get away, to visit top attractions and try new experiences. I also really appreciated the simple things, like crisp cotton sheets and food being served to me (I didn’t miss the breakfast buffet one bit!). I have highlighted some of my favourite things to do in Kilkenny with kids below, I hope it will inspire you to book a family trip there soon.
1. Castlecomer Discovery Park
Castlecomer Discovery Park is a must-do if visiting Kilkenny with kids. In fact, I would also recommend visiting on a day trip from Dublin, or any of the surrounding counties. It is set in 80 acres of stunning natural woodland and is a non-for-profit park. It was built as a rural tourism project to rejuvenate the town of Castlecomer, and currently employs staff from the local area.
It is home to Ireland’s longest zip line, which of course I had to do! It is not for the faint hearted (12+), the video on my Instagram highlights will attest to that! You can also take out paddle boats, try mountain biking, archery and axe throwing, and there are lots of tree-top walks for kids of all ages. The park is free to enter, and all activities are paid for separately, so you can do as little or as much as you like. You can also choose to simply enjoy the woodland walks, playgrounds and Elf Village.
2. Try a private falconry experience
Luke, my eldest (age 12) has been obsessed with animals since he was a toddler, so when we travel, be it at home or abroad, we always try to include an animal experience. I had never tried falconry and although I knew Luke would be a fan, I was really surprised at how much we all loved it.
Walking through the fields behind Lyrath Estate, with a harris hawk on my arm, was an experience I will never forget. Within minutes of our arrival, Bertie, a harris hawk, flew on to our gloved hands to feed. Our falconers, John and Caroline were so attentive and ensured we got some amazing photo and video opportunities, they were also particularly good with Luke and Alex.
They also introduced us to their owls, Turbo and Diesel, who are legends in their own right, and a new baby owl Ruby. Ruby flew for the first time on to Alex’s arm, and we were able to pet and hold them – it was a wonderful family experience. Suitable from children aged 7+
3. Enjoy a Chocolate Ball in Zuni’s Restaurant
When I announced on Facebook that I was visiting Kilkenny, I received lots of recommendations from people telling me to try Zuni. Luckily we managed to squeeze in lunch on our second day, and we were so glad we did. Myself and Cormac loved our mains, and the kids menu was a big hit, but the pièce de la résistance was the chocolate ball for dessert.
We were presented with a round chocolate ball filled with salted caramel ice-cream on a chocolate brownie, surrounded by toffee popcorn and pretzels. This was pretty impressive on its own, but once the waiter poured the hot caramel sauce over the top and the chocolate melted, I think the whole restaurant heard the kids scream with delight!
4. Visit Kilkenny Castle
No trip to Kilkenny would be complete without a trip to Kilkenny Castle. Over 800 years old, this remarkable Castle has been beautifully preserved. The tour is currently self guided, but you need to pre book your time slot. Older children will be fascinated by its history, and the 50 acres of parkland will suit kids of all ages. There are plenty of walking trails as well as a lake and playground.
5. Have pizza in La Rivista
La Rivista is one of Kilkenny’s most popular family restaurants. Located in the heart of historic Parliament Street, La Rivista offers Italian food to suit all taste and budgets. We enjoyed some delicious pizzas and according to my kids, some of the best chicken wings they have ever tasted! You can also get take-away pizza here too.
6. Take a cycling tour of Kilkenny
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A cycling tour is a great way to see Kilkenny with kids. We took a tour with Kilkenny Cycling Tours, which are located in the heart of the city on John Street. They offer a variety of tours and have bikes to suit all ages. Our tour took us to Kilkenny’s highlights and our guide, Conor told us lots of stories about Kilkenny’s historical past.
7. Take a break in Cake Face
Cake Face is a delightful coffee / cake shop in the heart of Kilkenny. Owned and created by husband and wife team Laura and Rory, their cakes really have the wow factor. Like many small businesses they had adapt to our new way of life. They have cleverly managed to bring the outside in, with a rustic outdoor dining area. They also offer some signature sandwiches, so it is an ideal spot for a quick lunch too.
8. Go horse riding in Mount Juliet
Mount Juliet Estate is a stunning five-star luxury hotel on the outskirts of Kilkenny. Set in 500 acres, there are plenty of horse riding trails for you to enjoy. I would highly recommend that you stay there, but you can also enjoy their horse riding experience if you happen to be staying in a different hotel.
It was my first time to try horse riding and it was a fabulous experience. Myself and my daughter Alex (9) enjoyed a leisurely ride through the woods, before passing in front of the Manor House. If you are novices like ourselves, or experience riders, this is a horse riding experience you will never forget.
9. Visit The National Reptile Zoo
If you have young children who are fascinated with reptiles, then bring them to Ireland’s only reptile zoo. Home to over 50 exhibits, including an animal encounter area and a nocturnal room, there were reptiles here that I had never even heard of! This is a short tour and is particularly suited to younger kids. Unfortunately it is currently not possible to touch any of the animals, but hopefully, this may change as restrictions are eased.
I hope this post on the top things to do in Kilkenny with kids will inspire your next family holiday. We had a flying visit and only managed to try some of the activities. Be sure to check out the VisitKilkenny website for many more ideas.
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