If you want to get away from the ‘hustle and bustle’ of Dublin but still want to experience Irish culture, this part of the country is perfect for you.
Top Reasons to Visit
Ardmore – The first Christian settlement in Ireland, this fishing village founded by Saint Declan is set on the stunning Waterford seafront.
Kilkenny – One of the most important cities in medieval Ireland, Kilkenny is widely known for it’s Gothic Black Abbey, extravagant three-sided castle, and 14th century ‘witch’ Petronilla.
Lismore – Walter Raleigh and Fred Astaire are just some of the famous names to have visited this picturesque village overlooked by the Dukes of Devonshire’s elegant castle.
The Rock of Cashel – One of the most impressive monastic sites in Ireland, the Rock of Cashel overlooks County Tipperary from an outcrop over 60 metres high.
Waterford – Waterford is Ireland’s oldest city and still retains elements of its Viking past but is best known today for the Waterford Crystal visitor centre.
Wexford – You might not expect it as you arrive in this town, but the Wexford Opera House is one of the finest in Ireland. You’re also not far from fantastic beaches and the Irish National Heritage Park.
There are five counties in the South East; Carlow, Kilkenny, Tipperary, Waterford, and Wexford. Major towns tend to attract hordes of tourists but there are plenty of quieter places to explore away from the hustle and bustle.
Kilkenny features both medieval artistry and modern craftsmanship side-by-side while the southeast coast offers Ireland’s best climate and highest amount of sunshine throughout the year. There are many famous monastic sites here as well, including Cistercian Jerpoint Abbey, and the Rock of Cashel.
‘The Sunny Southeast,’ as the region is called, is a popular holiday spot for the Irish themselves though as ever, come prepared for less than stellar weather just in case. This area is flooded with families, many of them from Dublin, mainly between May and October, who gladly take up the opportunities for picnics and barbeques.
This part of Ireland’s coast is less rough than what you’ll find on the west coast and offers fabulous sandy beaches and rocky inlets surrounded by low lying cliffs. Further inland, a great deal of lush farmland can be found thanks to the many rivers which flow through the area.
If you’re more interested in history than scenery, the Southeast won’t disappoint you either. Towns and cities like Ardmore, Carlow, Kilkenny, Waterford, and Wexford are still stamped with the legacy of the Vikings and the Normans.
Kilkenny is the best place to go if you want to get a taste of Ireland in the Middle Ages. The city was a political and religious powerhouse up until the 17th century and you’ll find that legacy at Kilkenny Castle and the 12th century Saint Canice’s Cathedral.
Waterford is home to notable buildings dating from the Viking, Norman, and Georgian eras as well as the Waterford Crystal factory and visitor centre (though production ceased here several years ago).
Wexford is a maritime town with links to the U.S. Navy through one of its founders, local man John Barry. There’s also a monument here to mark the visit of President John F. Kennedy in 1963.
Planning Your Visit to the Southeast
When You Should Go
The Southeast is not only Ireland’s sunniest region, it’s the driest too with just over 100 centimetres (40 inches) of rain per year compared to more than 200 centimetres (80 inches) on the West Coast. Rain can vary from brief showers to day-long deluges however, and as with anywhere else in Ireland, it’s advisable to come prepared just in case.
Summer visitors can find the towns and villages and cities here a little too crowded so spring or autumn are pretty good seasons to come to the area. Winter offers the worst weather in the southeast and most rain but it’s rarely too cold and you may have some attractions all to yourself.
Festivals and Other Events
There are festivals in almost every town and village in the Southeast and some of them are Ireland’s most popular. Local tourist offices will have a full lists of events.
Eigse Arts Festival – Held in June, this is a 10 day festival dedicated to the visual arts.
Location: Carlow Town, County Carlow
Kilkenny Arts Festival – A two week celebration of parades, street theatre, and music (including a rock concert) every August.
Location: Kilkenny, County Kilkenny
Spraoi – Also in August, Spraoi includes theatrical performances, music, and a host of other events in the city’s pedestrianized heart.
Location: Waterford, County Waterford
Wexford Opera Festival – This two week long cultural event occurs each year between late October and early November. The festival attracts musicians, singers, and more from around the world with three grand operas spearheading the event at the Wexford Opera House. There are more mainstream musical recitals and concerts in pubs and other smaller venues as well with performances often happening from before midday all the way to midnight. If you are planning to attend the festival, you will need to book very early in advance in order to get a room nearby. Location: Wexford Town, County Wexford
Wexford Fringe Festival – This celebration of dance, music, literature, theatre, and on-street entertainment takes place at the same time as the town’s Opera Festival.
Location: Wexford Town, County Wexford
Planning Your Visit
If you have three days you may wish to centre yourself in one of the region’s major cities, though distances aren’t too much. Kilkenny, Waterford, and Wexford are historic settlements with attractive shopping options and sites of interest within easy reach.
The coast from Wexford to Waterford is home to some of the most beautiful villages in Ireland such as Ardmore and Dunmore East.
The mountains of Tipperary aren’t far from Kilkenny or Waterford and there are fine sea view hotels such as Ardmore’s Cliff House and country homes like Thomastown’sBallyduff House to stay the night.
With more time on your hands, say five days, it’s definitely worth driving along the coast road from Wexford and exploring the stunning Hook Head before heading to Waterford, stopping at such towns as Ardmore and Dungarvan.
You’ll be left with plenty of time to head north into Tipperary and see the Rock of Cashel before heading into historic Kilkenny.
How to Get Here
Aer Lingus Regional connects Waterford Airport to both Luton and Southend airports in London with additional services to Birmingham, Manchester, and Lorient in France during the summer. Waterford City is just 10 kilometres from the airport and a taxi to the city will cost about €18.
Rosslare Harbour, 19 kilometres south of Wexford Town, is the main point of entry for visitors to the region and one of Ireland’s busiest passenger ports with connections to Pembroke in Wales and Cherbourg in France on Irish Ferries and routes to Fishguard, Wales on Stena Line. The terminal has kiosks for both companies as well as an information centre.
There’s also a car ferry between Ballyhack in Wexford and Passage East in Waterford.
Tickets for international ferries can be bought at the terminal but try to book in advance at the companies’ offices in Dublin and Cork or online before arriving in order to ensure you get a ticket. If you intend to bring a car or motorbike than booking in advance is strongly advised as parking space is limited on board.
There are buses available from to Waterford from Carlow, Cork, Dublin, Kilkenny, Limerick, and Rosslare.
The M9 is the main route through the region, connecting Dublin to Kilkenny and Waterford. The N11/M11 is the principal road for access to Wexford from the capital and roads throughout the region are generally of good quality but country lanes tend to be narrow.
If driving from Dublin, head down the M7 before changing onto the M9 which bypasses Carlow, Thomastown, and Kilkenny before arriving in Waterford. The N25 links Waterford to Cork and Wexford while the N24 begins in Waterford and passes through Tipperary Town and Limerick.
Taxis from Waterford Airport cost roughly €18 into the city, €80 to Kilkenny, and €85 to Wexford. Taxi fares begin at €4.10 (€4.45 at night) and increases by €1.03 per kilometre or part thereof for the first 15 kilometres.
Waterford has daily train services to Dublin, stopping at Thomastown, Kilkenny, Bagenalstowns, and Carlow. The Waterford to Limerick train serves Carrick-on-Shannon, Clonmel, Chair, and Tipperary. There’s a twice daily train to Rosslare.
Most of the food you’ll eat in the Southeast is hearty and traditional but there are some innovative chefs with modern interpretations of classic Irish meals. Notable eateries include Dunbrody House (which also has a cooking school) and serves meals such as tea smoked chicken. The Tannery serves wonderful French meals created with local Irish ingredients and the seafood is a must.
Ardmore’s Cliff House has the Southeast’s only Michelin Star. The Southeast is noted for it’s strawberries as well as it’s seafood such as mussels, lobster, crabs, and salmon. There’s an annual seafood festival at Kilmore Quay in mid-July.
Given the region’s popularity thanks to the good weather and number of festivals throughout the year, you should book up rooms in major towns well in advance of your visit. The same goes for small country houses which regularly fill up quickly.
Tourist information centres can usually help if you arrive without a reservation.
Paddywagon has day tours to Kilkenny throughout the year with tours to other destinations throughout the southeast available by request. Walking tours of Kilkenny, Waterford, and Wexford can be booked on arrival in these locations at tourist offices.
The tourist offices in Carlow, Dungarven, Enniscorthy, Gorey, Kilkenny, Lismore, Waterford, and Wexford are open throughout the year. There are another five seasonal tourist information centres in Cahir, Cashel, Rosslare, Tipperary, and Tramore.
Kilkenny has as many pubs as it does sites of historic interest and is best seen on foot or by bicycle. The 900 year old Norman streets are easily navigable and the city is located on the banks of the River Nore which runs right by the impressive Kilkenny Castle.
Kilkenny gets its name from the Irish for Church of Canice, after Saint Canice who built a monastic settlement here in the 6th century but it would be four centuries before the city assumed its distinctive medieval aesthetic when the Anglo-Normans constructed the castle, walls, and gates.
How to Get Here
Use the M7 then the M9 to get to Kilkenny from Dublin, using exit eight and the N10 to finally reach the city. The city is 100 kilometres from Dublin and the journey takes about 90 minutes if you stick to main roads.
Cork is two hours away while Waterford is a 40 minute drive. Paid parking is available throughout the city.
MacDonagh train station is located on Saint John’s Street, near the city centre, and is located on the Dublin to Waterford line with stops at Athy, Carlow, Bagenalstown, and Thomastown. There are six trains per day.
Kilkenny’s bus station is located down Saint John’s Street from the train station and connects to Dublin and Cork.
Kilkenny Tourist Office– Shee Alms House, Rose Inn Street, Kilkenny City, County Kilkenny
Though crammed with historic buildings and locations worthy of a visit, it’s small and only takes a few hours to see everything. The city is one of Ireland’s most pleasant but if you’re not a sport fan you may want to stay away during the summer months as all conversation seems to revolve around the All Ireland Hurling Championship in which Kilkenny usually performs strongly.
The Kilkenny Design Centre is just one example of the many arts and crafts stores and galleries which have opened in the city in recent years. Many of the city’s three score pubs can be found on High Street and Parliament Street, many of which have live music and unique façades. High Street and Kieran Street are considered to be the city’s historic core and boast some of the most well preserved shops and pubs in the city.
The meandering Riverfront Canal Walk near the castle is a pleasant one and the castle grounds are nice picnic spot. The Statutes of Kilkenny, enacted in 1366, would define Anglo-Irish relations for centuries to come. These laws were passed to prevent Norman lords becoming “more Irish than the Irish themselves” with Norman-Irish marriages punishable by death and native Irish being forced to live in slums outside the city walls.
This led to the Confederation of Kilkenny between 1642 and 1648, a Catholic government of Ireland based out of the city with support from Pope Innocent X. The city’s significance came to an abrupt end in 1650 when Oliver Cromwell’s army sacked Kilkenny.
Martial law was imposed in the city during the 1798 Rebellion and King Edward VIII visited Kilkenny during a tour of Ireland in 1904. The castle was temporarily occupied in 1923 during the Irish Civil War by forces opposed to the Anglo-Irish treaty which established the Irish Free State – they had vowed to accept nothing less than a fully independent republic (which Ireland became in 1949).
Top Reasons to Visit
Black Abbey – Not necessarily the most beautiful church in Ireland based on its exterior, it’s the interior of this 13th century monastery that’s most worth exploring.
The Rosary Window, dating from 1340, fills a whole wall with red and blue glass and tells the story of Jesus’s life.
Black Abbey is named for the black robes of the Dominican monks who established this holy site in 1225 and it’s one of the few medieval churches in Ireland to have remained in the possession of the Roman Catholic Church – the vast majority converted to Anglicanism after the English Reformation.
The last surviving medieval entrance to the city, the Black Freren Gate, is located nearby.
Location: Kilkenny City, County Kilkenny (south of Saint Canice’s Cathedral)
Kilkenny Castle – This castle dates back to 1172 and is located on the banks of the River Nore with some 50 acres of grounds attached. Today, the castle is three sided (Cromwell’s army destroyed the fourth wall) and is a curious mix of Victorian and Gothic styles.
The Butler family, one of Ireland’s most powerful clans, lived her from 1391 for five centuries. The Butler later became the dukes of Ormonde and William Robert, son of the first marquessOrmonde, renovated the castle in 1820 with medieval revival embellishments. The Long Room, an appropriately named gallery of family portraits, was refurbished in 1859 by John Pollen.
Kilkenny Castle is also home to the Butler Gallery, once the servants’ quarters, which features modern Irish art by the likes of Jack B. Yeats, John Lavery, Nathaniel Hone, James Turrell, and Louis Le Brocquy.
Location: The Parade, Kilkenny City, County Kilkenny
Kyteler’s Inn – Alice Le Kyteler, a supposed with and brothel owner, was accused of poisoning her four husbands at this inn, the oldest in the city. Le Kyteler hailed from a rich banking family and whatever the truth of her actions, the 14th century pub retains its medieval air.
The basement was built onto Kieran’s Wall which pre-dates the inn. There’s simple, nourishing food on offer and it’s been a very long time since anyone was poisoned in these parts.
Location: Kieran Street, Kilkenny City, County Kilkenny
Saint Canice’s Cathedral – This is Ireland’s second largest medieval church after Saint Patrick’s Cathedral in Dublin and remains one of the most impressive despite the damage caused to it by Cromwell’s troops following an 1866 restoration.
The interior is filled with tombstone effigies depicting Norman knights in full armour made with black marble quarried nearby.
The Bishop of Ossory, an ancestor of President Obama (his great-great-great uncle to be precise) is buried here. A 32 metre high tower is the main attraction on the grounds and dates from 847. Built by King O’Carroll of Ossory, the tower has 167 steps and offers thrilling 360 degree views of the city.
Saint Canice’s Library is adjacent to the cathedral and is home to 3,000 books dating from the 16th and 17th centuries.
Location: Dean Street, Kilkenny City, County Kilkenny
Also Worth Exploring
Rothe House – Constructed between 1594 and 1610 by one John Rothe, this is one of Ireland’s finest Tudor-era merchant homes. The house is owned by the Kilkenny Archaeological Society and includes several stone wall courtyards including a medieval well and the Burgage Gardens which has been designed to recreate a typical merchant’s garden during the 17th century.
Period costumes and Bronze Age artefacts including ogham stones (stones carved with an early Irish alphabet) are housed inside and there’s a genealogical history research centre as well.
Location: Parliament Street, Kilkenny City, County Kilkenny
Tholsel – This building, featuring a clock tower and distinctive portico entrance, stands on the site where the ‘witch’ Petronilla was burnt at the stake in 1300s in place of Alice Le Kyteler. Tholsel was constructed in 1761 before being destroyed by fire in 1985 and rebuilt to house the city’s archives.
Alice Castle, built beside the Tholsel, is an 18th century prison with surprising ornamentation.
Location: Parliament Street, Kilkenny City, County Kilkenny
Where to Eat
Langton’s – Established in the 1940s, this venue actually consists of several connected restaurants and pubs. The Horseshoe Bar attempts to recreate a gentleman’s club feel while the main dining rooms is modelled in the art deco style.
Up is one of the most famous food-serving pubs in Ireland and is almost always busy. A neo-Gothic garden out back offers a more peaceful spot to enjoy your meal. The principal restaurant serves such traditional Irish staples as stew and beer battered cod.
Typical main: €15
Ristorante Rinuccini – This basement-set restaurant in the basement of Georgian home serves fine pastas such as arrabbiata other specialities like seared beef. Garlic roasted potatoes are an excellent side dish and the restaurant has a good wine list to complement its menu.
Typical main: €23
Butler House – This 18th century town house was once home to the dowager Duchess of Ormonde and features a walled garden with breakfasts served in Kilkenny Castle’s former stables.
There is no bar or restaurant and rooms fill up quickly, room size is greatly inconsistent.
Location: 16 Patrick Street, Kilkenny City, Kilkenny County
Zuni Townhouse – A family owned hotel at the heart of the city with a good restaurant, this hotel attracts a business orientated clientele and books up quickly. It can suffer from street noise, particularly on weekends.
Location: 26 Patrick Street, Kilkenny City, County Kilkenny
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