Travel for me is all about that high I get from exploration, from discovering and being surprised by new places when I least expect it. It’s a sensation I never tire of and is one I recently enjoyed when I first visited the colorful city of Kilkenny, Ireland. Kilkenny has been an important city for a very long time from the early Irish Christians to a lively medieval city. It’s still a vibrant place to be and thanks to its fairly unique history and culture has a lot to offer visitors. My only regret in Kilkenny was that I didn’t have more time to explore but even if you find yourself in town for a short time, I know you’ll love it as much as I did for these reasons and more. I partnered with Tourism Ireland for this project to share what makes not only Kilkenny, but all of the Ireland’s Ancient East region so unique.
I knew almost immediately upon arriving into town that I would really enjoy Killkenny. It’s strange how that happens sometimes, but there was just something special about the city that resonated with me almost immediately. Maybe I was just charmed by the summertime weather, but I don’t think so. No, I think that I would’ve felt the same had I visited even during the worst of weather days. I wasn’t influenced by the warm temperatures, I was won over by the city itself. That love only deepened during my far too short time in Kilkenny, but as I made my way around town my admiration for the city strengthened with each impressive sight I visited, and there are a lot. There’s a reason why Kilkenny came recommended, there’s a lot to see and do even in the small central business district.
At the heart of the tourist experience is the famous Kilkenny Castle, standing on the same site in some form for centuries. It was the basis of the city’s power and influence in the Middle Ages, power that was substantial. But life in the city began well before the castle at the even older St Canice’s Cathedral. This was an early Christian pilgrimage destination and the church is one of the oldest in the country. There’s even an old Round Tower next to the church which visitors can climb, only one of three in Ireland in such remarkable condition. From the top of the tower I gained a better perspective of the city and nearby countryside, scouting out my next steps as I explored Kilkenny.
Any trip to Kilkenny also necessarily includes some time spent on the so-called Medieval Mile, the main road along which you’ll find scores of colorful shops, restaurants, cafes, museums and more. Before arriving into town a friend told me about a special stop on the Mile that I had to try, the Smithwick’s Experience. The world-famous beer Smithwick’s started in Kilkenny and it’s where the beer is still brewed today. I’ve visited a number of food-related businesses and tours around the world, but the Smithwick’s experience was something special, something different and truly an engaging experience. Led through the history of the company in what is one of the most interactive and fun tours I’ve ever been on, the logical conclusion is of course a pint of freshly pulled Smithwick’s beer. From start to finish this is one of the best experiences in town and even if you’re not a fan of the beer, the history of the beverage tells the story of the city and is well worth a visit.
Any travel experience though is of course about so much more than just the sights and attractions we feel compelled as visitors to see. It’s an overall feeling, an impression that is impossible to fully explain or sometimes even define. It’s a combination of factors that makes the travel experience personalized for each of us, ensuring that no one really takes the same trip. In Kilkenny, it was my time spent wandering around town that meant the most to me, starting from my incredibly well-located hotel, the Kilkenny Ormonde Hotel. From there I was able to easily amble around Kilkenny, discovering it for myself, in my own way. Walking across the bridge spanning the River Nore, the views of the castle and river are unrivaled and I think represent Kilkenny perfectly, but it was a nearby pub that determined forever how I would feel about the city.
I was starving, I must have eaten lunch but I couldn’t remember what it was, but I knew exactly what I wanted to enjoy in Kilkenny, a traditional Irish pub experience. While I appreciate fine dining, at the core I am a plain and simple eater. I much prefer hearty, soul-filling food to a Michelin star dish any day. Around the world this means connecting with the local comfort foods and in both Ireland and the UK, this means the local pub. There are few things I enjoy more than a great pub and it’s so much more than just the food. It’s an experience and the night I visited Matt the Millers, the experience was made all the better by live Irish music. Sitting there enjoying my meal, listening to the lyrical ceilidh style jam session was utter perfection. It’s when I knew I was in Ireland, it’s when I really connected to Kilkenny and ultimately was my favorite meal of the trip. Not for the food, which was fine, but for the total experience. There’s nothing like it and when you visit Ireland, stopping by a local pub and enjoying some live music is an experience truly not to be missed.
Ultimately though a pub didn’t decide whether or not I enjoyed my time in Kilkenny, that would be somewhat ridiculous. No, it was a variety of factors coming together in a perfect confluence that proved to me that yes, Kilkenny is indeed a special place. I’ve visited many cities around the world and even around Ireland, and it is somewhat rare when I connect to new places, but when I do I realize it for what it is – something remarkable. Ultimately, it’s for instances like this one that we travel. Sure, we travel to see and do new things, to learn and grow as individuals, but it’s also for the rare opportunity to capture what I call travel umami. It’s the 6th sense of travel, a combination of factors impossible to define and even harder to replicate. You just have to let it happen, but when it does you know you have something very special. That was my experience in Kilkenny, enjoying that sense of travel umami and immediately wishing I had far more time to devote to this, one of Ireland’s most interesting cities.