Things to Do in Ring of Kerry
Explore southern Ireland on a road trip along the Ring of Kerry, a 110-mile (180-km) scenic route of narrow roads winding around the Iveragh Peninsula. As you cruise along the Atlantic Coast on this mountain road through Kells, Derrynane, and Glenbeigh, you’ll find a number of impressive sights.
Most travelers start and end the loop in Killarney and make stops all around County Kerry to see historic seaside villages, Killarney National Park, the rugged Atlantic coast, and a few Irish castles. Many tours depart from other Ring of Kerry towns such as Sneem, Parknasilla, Cahersiveen, and Killorglin, the home of the famous Puck Fair festivities, but if you need transportation to southern Ireland from elsewhere in the country, Ring of Kerry day tours are offered with starting points in Dublin, Kenmare, Cork, Limerick, and Kinsale.
Things to Know Before You
As with many ring roads, there is little room to pass at some points. It’s good to note that all tour buses travel counterclockwise from Killarney and that self-driving travelers can head clockwise for less traffic.
What to See Along the Ring of Kerry
From Ross Castle and Muckross House to Torc Waterfall, Bog Village, and the glacial valley of the Gap of Dunloe, you’ll want to keep your eyes peeled and your camera out. The ring also passes the golden beaches of Inch Beach, the Lakes of Killarney, the Macgillycuddy’s Reeks mountains, Ladies View, and Dingle Bay looking out to the Dingle Peninsula. The coastal side of the loop offers a taste of the Wild Atlantic Way, and in County Kerry’s Waterville, visitors tend to stop for photos with the waterfront Charlie Chaplin statue.
How to Tour the Ring of Kerry from Dublin
The Ring of Kerry loop is one of the most popular day trips available from Dublin, as WiFi-equipped coach tours make it easy to see dozens of sights in one day. Bus tours depart from a main street in Dublin city center and head out on a four-hour drive 185 miles (300 km) southwest to then embark on the 110-mile (180-km) loop. Day trips tend to be quite long (upwards of 14 hours) due to all the driving. If a single day isn’t enough, multi-day tours include accommodation and allow you to see more at a slower pace. The ring can also be reached from Dublin on a rail tour, during which travelers take a train to Killarney and then hop on a coach bus to ride the ring.
Killarney National Park, with idyllic lakes and ancient woodlands backed by the serrated MacGillycuddy’s Reeks mountains, is an area of stunning natural beauty. The park is also historically significant, with two heritage buildings on-site: Ross Castle, a 15th-century fortress-turned-hotel, and Muckross House, a stately Victorian estate.
A vision on the shores of Lough Leane, the 15th-century Ross Castle was built as a medieval fortress for an Irish chieftain named O’Donoghue, and was said to be one of the last strongholds to fall to the brutal English Cromwellian forces in the mid-16th century. The ruin has been restored, and features lovely 16th- and 17th-century furniture.
Off the coast of the Dingle Peninsula, a group of abandoned sandstone islands rise out of the Atlantic Ocean. For hundreds of years, the Blasket Islands (Na Blascaodai) were home to an Irish-speaking population; however, in 1953 the Irish government decided that, due to their isolation, the islands were too dangerous for habitation and ordered a mandatory evacuation.
Experience the natural beauty of County Kerry with a visit to the Torc Waterfall. Located a short walk from the Killarney–Kenmare road, in Killarney National Park, Torc Waterfall is part of the River Owengariff and flows into Muckross (Middle) Lake. The site is a popular spot on the area’s scenic drives and hiking routes.
One of Ireland’s finest stately mansions, the 65-room Muckross House was built for the Herbert family in 1843. Muckross House, Gardens & Traditional Farms sits on the shores of Muckross Lake and is replete with period furnishings and decorative objectives. Three recreated farms on the estate showcase the life of rural dwellers in the 1930s and ’40s.
This scenic driving route loops around the Beara Peninsula, a secluded sliver of land that protrudes out into the Atlantic Ocean on Ireland’s southwest coast. The peaks of two mountain ranges—the Caha and Slieve Miskish mountains—rise up in the interior, while its serrated coastline is indented with inlets and coves.
This scenic lookout takes its name from Queen Victoria and her ladies-in-waiting, who were bowled over by the views when they visited here in 1861. These days, the vista remains as spectacular as back then, with visitors lingering at the lookout to soak up the magnificent lake and peak landscapes of Killarney National Park.
Dating back to the seventh century, this ring fort is one of several such structures dotted around County Kerry. Restored to better resemble its original state, this circular stone structure features sturdy stone walls up to 16.4 feet (5 meters) thick and 6.6 feet (4 meters) high, and affords stunning views down to the Atlantic coast.
Set atop a grassy pasture overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, this crumbling, ivy-covered castle is one of Ireland’s most romantic ruins. The castle, which originally dates back to the 16th century, was damaged during the 17th-century War of the Three Kingdoms. Now, only parts of the structure, such as its high stone walls, remain in place.
Founded in the 1440s as a Franciscan Friary, the Muckross Abbey, like many religious sites in Ireland, has a long and violent past. Damaged and rebuilt several times, what remains is an intriguing collection of well-preserved mossy ruins. Visitors are drawn to the beloved yew tree, thought to be more than 500 years old, that grows within the Abbey walls.
More Things to Do in Ring of Kerry
Located on Valentia Island, the Slate Quarry was opened in 1816 by the Knight of Kerry, and supplied slate to London’s prestigious Houses of Parliament and Westminster Abbey. The quarry operated for almost 100 years before it was closed by a rock fall in 1911.
Backed by dunes, green hills, and wave-worn rocks, this vast expanse of sugary soft, seaweed-free white sand looks almost Caribbean when the sun shines. It’s a popular spot for swimming and beach walks, and at low tide, it connects to Abbey Island, home to the ruins of the sixth-century Derrynane Abbey.
The former home of Irish politician Daniel O’Connell, Derrynane House is packed with period furnishings and exhibits related to the statesman, who campaigned for Catholic emancipation in the 19th century. The house sits within Derrynane National Historic Park, which encompasses woodland trails, walled gardens, and scenic shoreline.
When strolling through the trees of the Gougana Barra National Forest Park, and gazing out at the placid waters of Gougana Barra’s lake, you can see why this corner of southwestern Ireland was a place of historical solace. It was here on the island in the middle of the lake, that St. Finnbar—patron saint of Cork—founded a monastery in the 6th century before eventually moving to Cork. When visiting the Gougane Barra today, the most popular site is St. Finnbar’s Oratory on a small island in the lake. With its romantically elegant stone design, this 19th-century, picturesque church is a popular spot for weddings, and it’s also a holy pilgrimage site—where Roman Catholics would hold secret Mass away from the Anglican Church. Behind the lake is the National Forest Park and its system of hiking and biking trails, which pass through woods that are densely forested in Sitka Spruce and Pine. This is also the site of the River Lee—which meanders its way through Cork—and while Gougane Barra is most often visited as a relaxing day trip from Cork, there’s also a small, family-run hotel that’s open from April-October.
Situated on neighboring Valentia Island, the Skellig Experience Visitor Centre showcases the history and habitats of the Skelligs, two remote and rocky islets off Ireland’s southwest coast. Exhibits document the history of the UNESCO-listed Skellig Michael monastic settlement, Skellig Lighthouses, and the wildlife of the islands.
Set on a grassy outcrop with sweeping views of the surrounding countryside, the remote Leacanabuaile Fort is a worthwhile addition to any tour of the beautiful Ring of Kerry. The original fort, thought to date back to the ninth or 10th century, has been partially reconstructed to give a better sense of its original features.