The Ring of Kerry might be one of the most scenic road trips in Europe with incredible landscapes dotted with beautiful small towns. We spent 5 days exploring this stunning area.
tl;dr – Want to watch a video instead? 😉
The town of Killarney ist the starting point for the Ring of Kerry. We took the train from Dublin to Killarney which is a very relaxed way to get their: the train takes about 3 1/2 hours from Dublin Heuston, with one change of trains in Mallow. At first, Killarney looks very touristy as it is the start- and end-point of most Ring of Kerry trips. But as soon as you get out of the centre, it gets quieter. The upside is that Killarney is well equipped to handle the tourists visiting especially in summer and many bars, restaurants and shops line the area around Main Street, Plunkett Street and adjoining roads.
Also right next to the Main Street sits Killarney House, which houses a beautiful visitor centre for the national park – as is often the case in Ireland, it is free to visit!
The National Park
Killarney National Park stretches right from the centre of Killarney all the way through the Gap of Dunloe. You can start your walk or hike from the town centre or take a jaunting car, a small horse-drawn carriage. Ross Castle and Muckross House are within walkable distance if you are fit.
To explore the Gap of Dunloe with the beautiful Wishing Bridge, you best go by car to Kate Karney’s Cottage in Dunloe and start your walk from there. You can technically go by car throught the Gap of Dunloe – it is a public road, but seriously: don’t do it. The road is just too narrow.
Driving the Ring of Kerry
The Ring of Kerry is the 170km ring road that leads around Iveragh peninsula back to Killarney. Especially the stretches from Killarney to Kenmare, around Caherdaniel and from Caherciveen to Glenbeigh are very picturesque. You can easily do a day trip of the Ring of Kerry by bus from Killarney with a tour guide and stops at most photo sites but if you have the time, you should definitely rent a car and take several days. Many blogs recommend just two days – but you could easily spend a week to explore the peninsula and go hiking if you prefer it more relaxed.
You should also take the time to also drive the Skellig Ring – an extension of the Ring of Kerry at its Western end that goes from Waterville to Portmagee and is really a hidden gem!
All roads on the peninsula can sometimes be quite narrow, so busses are only allowed to go counter-clockwise. We therefore decided to go clockwise so as not to drive behind busses – but that means you will invariably come head-to-head with those busses somewhere, which can be a tight fit. 😉
Stops: Caherciveen & Killorglin
If you go counter-clockwise like the busses do, the first bigger towns you pass will be Killorglin and Caherciveen, two beautiful cute towns with small houses and colourful facades that look just like you always imagined Ireland would look like. 😉
Jack’s in Killorglin is a small sandwich maker and deli shop that makes truly amazing sandwiches to go. It might just look like a small shop at first, but the food is fantastic!
Stop: Waterville and Surroundings
Waterville (An Coireán in Irish) is a small town about halfway around the Ring of Kerry from Killarney, which we choose as our base for three days. It is a great starting place for day trips around the Skellig Ring and to Portmagee for a trip to the Skellig Islands, but also for a drive to Ballaghisheen Pass.
The area around An Coireán is part of the Gaeltacht – the area where Irish is still the predominant language and most signs are in Irish only and you have a good chance to hear Irish spoken.
Recommendations for dining
For some great, fresh seafood and pasta in Waterville, head to OhMaryLoo which offer fantastic freshly made dinner. If you fancy something more exotic, FiveSpice serves Malaysian food – the Rendang is great! For good coffee or steak with a view of sunset over the Skellig Islands, head to Driftwood Surf Café in St. Finian’s Bay!
Stop: Skellig Islands
The Skellig Islands are a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and rightly so. The two rocky islands are home to an estimated 25.000 birds – but the larger of the islands once used to be inhabited by monks who founded a monastery there sometime around the 6th century. The old monastery on Skellig Michael can be visited by landing boat tours that start in the morning and take about 6 hours in total.
As the number of visitors per day is limited to 10 boats and 180 people, they tend to be booked out months in advance. There are also some tours that do not land on Skellig Michael but just go around the islands which are a lot cheaper – just make sure you book the right tour. We took a boat from Portmagee that took about 2 hours to reach the islands, giving about 2 hours on Skellig Michael to climb the 600 stairs and explore the island. You best get to Portmagee half an hour before your booked time. There is a café right at the pier selling great lunch packages. Just be prepared for rough sea – you are really heading out onto the Atlantic in a small boat. 😉
Stop: Valentia Island
After returning from a the Skellig Islands to Portmagee, we went to Valentia Island, which is connected to Portmagee by a short bridge (in fact you might not even realise it’s an island at first 😉 ). The hill offers some nice views over the surrounding scenery. And if you can’t stomach an actual trip to the Skelligs due to high seas, Valentia Island also hosts a visitor’s centre and museum about the islands.