There is a booming café culture and restaurant scene in Co. Kilkenny. A thriving tourist season and a recent influx of new and exciting businesses sprouting up alongside the numerous already established mainstays means you could easily spend a weekend there and not even touch the sides of the cultural and culinary delights that the Marble City and surrounding county have to offer. Below are some of our favourite places to overindulge in the Medieval city which fittingly would have played host to many a feasting banquet in Kilkenny Castle, ancient home of Strongbow, overlooking the river Nore. Be warned, you will return home 80% cake. Here are our picks for the best cafés, stays and restaurants in Kilkenny.
Coffee, Brunch & Sweet Treats
Low Lane is a joint venture by Robyn Butler and Mark Butler, natives of Kilkenny who had gained a following in the coffee industry having worked for well-known coffee cornerstones like 3fe and Storyboard. Like many, the pair relocated back to their hometown during the pandemic and Low Lane opened its doors to much fanfare in July 2022 serving specialty coffee, brunch, lunch and sweet treats. It was a welcome addition to the street and a must-see for coffee nerds.
Happy Valley Coffee is yet another business set up by a couple who returned to their roots during the pandemic. Kasia Kaminska and Eddie Murphy first anchored their coffee box at the banks of the Nore River in Thomastown overlooking a natural outdoor public swimming pool. Since then they have travelled around the county catering for weddings and events.
Keep an eye on their Instagram for their upcoming locations and cross your fingers that they will return to the happy valley where you can follow a river swim with a deserved cup of coffee and some locally sourced, seasonal grub.
Cake Face, located on the ‘medieval mile’ is the mecca for all things patisserie related in Kilkenny. Pastry chef duo and Ballymaloe trained Laura and Rory Gannon cut their teeth in the illustrious pastry kitchens of the Savoy and Café Royal before returning to home shores. The coffee is sourced from several roasters, as well as their own and there are always two different beans to choose from.
The bread is sourced from The Seagull Bakery in Tramore and Arbutus in Cork but really you’re heading here for the show stopping cakes. Face 2, is the more brunch focused sister café from the same owners just a short four minute walk away. Don’t fret, they also have cake.
Café la Coco has been serving the city since 2010, producing everything they can in-house and supporting local food producers and ingredients from Riversfield Organic Farm and Grogan and Brown Butchers. Owners Sylvia and Magdalena are dedicated to providing a space “that facilitates a happy, healthy and sustainable lifestyle without compromising on ingredients or generosity.”
Located outside of the city walls, The Blackberry Café in Thomastown serves primarily organic, traditional Irish bakes and cakes in the cosy confines of an old shoemaker’s shop. They also have a location in Inistioge.
Moving west, Fennellys of Callan is a cultural hub that serves ethical and sustainable food – hearty stews, seasonal salads, wholesome bakes and no fuss ‘builders tea’. They host regular music events and art exhibitions and the interiors and outdoor area are beyond quaint.
Lunch & Dinner
There’s a plethora of restaurants in Kilkenny to choose from. Sinead Molclair, who was behind the successful Connemara pop-up that was Báidín, and her sister Maeve opened Nóinín in November 2022 and have gone from strength to strength. Nóinín is the Irish word for daisy and pays homage to their ethos of using home grown ingredients and championing local Irish producers.
They have a small selection of wines from their neighbours, Le Caveau Wine Merchants, an independent, family-run wine shop established in Kilkenny in 1999. The menu is concise yet ever-changing and influences from overseas are evident throughout with local Irish produce very much at the heart.
Some examples of recent mouth-watering dishes are Confit Tandoori Chickpeas served with basmati rice, garlic naan, fresh coriander chutney, yoghurt and mint (€18.50) and Bún Thịt Nướng – Vietnamese marinated crispy pork shoulder with rice noodles in a fragrant broth with pickled cucumber, fresh herbs, crunchy peanuts, beansprouts, lime and nuoc cham dipping sauce (€21.50).
Zuni is housed in an old theatre and you can start your meal with a drink in The Box Office cocktail bar and stay in one of their boutique hotel rooms for ultimate ease and comfort. The menu reads quintessentially Irish, with a strong focus on quality meat and fish. They also have a kids menu if you fancy bringing your green gourmandes. They serve an Early Bird Menu of two courses for €28.00 or three courses for €35.00 between 5pm-6pm Monday to Wednesday and 5pm-5:30pm on peak days, Thursday, Friday and Sunday.
Rinuccini is a family owned and operated, award winning restaurant in the heart of the city serving rich, authentic Italian cuisine in a white-tablecloth setting. Rinuccini is home to a custom built wine cellar which is visible to the diner and you can choose from their Magnum list for ultimate Italian indulgence or polish off your meal with a grappa from their extensive selection. You’re looking at spending approximately €60 per head for a starter, main course and dessert, not including alcohol or service charge so bring a well weighted wallet with you.
Were you really in Kilkenny if you didn’t do the tour of Smithwicks Brewery? Short answer, no. The Smithwick’s Experience guided tours are about an hour long and run regularly throughout the day from Thursday to Monday. You’ll learn the in-depth story of the brewery and the family behind it and the history of beer production in Ireland. You’ll also get a chance to enjoy a pint at the end of the tour so you can put your newfound knowledge to the test.
Given the brewing history of Kilkenny, it’s no surprise that good bars are ten a penny in the city. Sullivans Taproom, Cleere’s, The Front Room, Lenehan’s and Tynan’s are just a small handful of our favourite spots to whet the whistle in case you can’t make a visit to the brewery itself.
Some family friendly activities include visiting The National Reptile Zoo, Nore Valley Park and the jewel in the crown that is Kilkenny Castle and Park. There is a farmer’s market on the parade, just a stone’s throw from the castle, every Thursday which hosts local crafts people and food vendors.
If you’re looking for a sublime stay look no further than Mount Juliet. Enjoy an opulent Michelin-starred experience in the Lady Helen, play a round of gold, take part in some archery, fishing or falconry and lay your head to rest in one of their luxurious rooms at the end of the day.
An overnight stay in the Manor House will set you back approximately €310, including breakfast, for two people.
Knockdrinna is a tranquil hub for all things nature and nurture, housing a café, cheese dairy, orchard, farmyard and garden. You can take part in cheese making classes, pruning courses, or simply while away some time in the garden. There are five traditional stone buildings on the Finnegan’s farm that have been converted and the Stables is one of them. It is open plan, has a wood-burning stove and can sleep up to eight people. Accommodation would set you back about €45 per person per night.
If you’re in the market for a group venue for a special get-away celebration then Mountain View will fit the bill. Nestled in the idyllic countryside, Mountain View is a one-stop-shop for a rural escape without sacrificing any glamour.
The Greenhouse serves dinner on Friday and Saturday from 5pm and brunch on Sunday from 10am. This is yet another family friendly venue that offers a kids menu, sorry “little dudes menu”. The stylish shepherd’s huts or “Hilly Huts” are available to book throughout the year for weddings, events and parties.
They will also host a weekly market with seventy five vendors on Sundays from 10am-4pm starting on April 2nd and running until September.
Kilkenny is a suitable destination for all budgets and you only have to scratch the surface in order to find top quality food, drink, activities and accommodation at several price ranges. There is a very strong emphasis on local, seasonal produce and the long standing heritage of the county is at the core of every morsel of the expanding foodscape of Kilkenny.
Note: Prices were correct at the time of publication
Philippa has worked in many facets of the food and wine industry since she was 18, from cheese shops to wine bars to restaurants to grocers. She spent a year in New York training as a cheesemonger in the Bedford Cheeseshop and has completed her level 3 WSET in Wine. She is fiercely proud of the quality of Irish produce and not only does she love to eat it and sell it but she loves to write about it too. Philippa is also a food guide for Fab Food Trails and when not working enjoys a dip in the sea, drinking wine and mildly obsessing about her dog (sometimes in quick succession).
The Taste Guide: the Best Cafés, Stays and Restaurants in Kilkenny