12 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions & Things to Do in Killarney
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Nestled amid towering hills and sparkling lochs, Killarney is a dream spot for those hoping to soak up Ireland's history, as well as its charm. A popular Irish travel destination, this lovely town is packed with tourist attractions and fun things to do that are guaranteed to please all types of travelers.
Set near the southwest coast in County Kerry, Killarney is a perfect jumping-off spot for nature lovers looking to lap up the beauty of the Irish countryside; kayak through the vast Killarney Lakes; and tour the iconic Ring of Kerry, a picturesque drive that passes through town.
Killarney also serves as the start (and finish) of the spectacular 200-kilometer-long Kerry Way, a walking trail so scenic, you'll wish your camera had more memory space.
The area's beauty and the wide range of recreational activities (like hiking, biking, fishing, and canoeing) make Killarney one of the best places to visit in Ireland. It is, after all, home to one of Ireland's most majestic landscapes: Killarney National Park.
While many of these opportunities lie just outside Killarney, there are many tourist attractions within the town's boundaries. From visiting a historic abbey to shopping in quaint stores to touring a castle, you'll find plenty of fun things to do with our list of the top attractions in Killarney.
See also: Where to Stay in Killarney
Note: Some businesses may be temporarily closed due to recent global health and safety issues.
1. Killarney National Park
Killarney National Park is a wonder so riveting, you'll wish you had longer to explore. Lying just over 10 minutes south of Killarney, this idyllic spot spans a whopping 10,236 hectares, and features ancient oak woodlands and the entrancing Killarney Lakes (Lough Leane, Upper Lake, and Muckross Lake) set against a backdrop of breathtaking mountains.
The park is found just under 16 kilometers from Ross Castle, although the castle and its environs all form part of this national heritage site. There are smaller winding roads and cycle tracks to be explored if you prefer to ditch the car for some exercise. Walking and cycling are some of the most popular things to do and some of the best ways to see the park. All routes afford spectacular views of Killarney's beautiful scenery.
At its heart is the Bourne Vincent Memorial Park, so named after the Bourne family and Senator Vincent from California, who presented the park to the Irish State in 1932. Maps and information are available at the park information centers.
Also located within the park is the Killarney House & Gardens. The house you see today started off as the stable block of the original early-18th-century manor house and was remodeled into the current residence in 1913. A highlight of a visit is having the opportunity to wander the fully-restored gardens, as well as a number of the home's rooms.
Official site: www.killarneynationalpark.ie
2. Tour the Ring of Kerry
Killarney makes for an excellent jumping-off point for explorations of this beautiful corner of Ireland. One of the best things to do in Killarney is tour The Ring of Kerry, a 179-kilometer circular route that's widely regarded as one of the top attractions in Ireland. It runs along the spectacular Iveragh Peninsula, passing sandy beaches, rugged mountains, and ancient ruins along the way. Have your camera at the ready.
Killarney is the most popular starting point for those looking to follow this well-loved route. Not sure you're up for the stress of navigating the winding Irish roads? Leave the driving to someone else so you can truly appreciate the view. Join an organized guided tour, such as the Ring of Kerry Day Trip including Killarney Lakes and National Park. This fun-filled, day-long adventure kicks off in Killarney with hotel pickups, and allows plenty of time to explore the famous "Ring" circular scenic route.
Other points of interest you'll see during the nearly seven-hour trip include the beautiful shoreline of Dingle Bay, MacGillycuddy Reeks, and Kenmare Bay, with plenty of stops to take photographs and check out the incredible views.
Also of interest are the spectacular Lakes of Killarney, three beautiful lakes popular with kayakers and nature lovers. Communities you'll also have a chance to see include Glenbeigh, Waterville, and Sneem, each of which offers a firsthand glimpse into traditional village life.
3. Muckross House Gardens & Traditional Farms
This eye-catching 19th-century Victorian mansion, an easy 16-minute drive from Killarney town center, is in a magnificent lakeside setting in Killarney National Park surrounded by sumptuous gardens and parkland. The house is near the shores of Muckross Lake, one of Killarney's three lakes.
Four successive generations of the Herbert family occupied this location, although the house visitors now see was completed in 1843. Queen Victoria famously stayed here in 1861, and huge improvements to the structure and gardens were made prior to her visit. Touring the beautiful house is a must-do as is a jaunt around the lavish gardens in a jaunting car (pony & trap).
A visit to the traditional farms is also worthwhile. Here, you'll see a very different Ireland, based on rural life during the 1930s and 40s, a time when there was no running water in many countryside dwellings, and electricity wasn't yet available nationwide.
There are three working farms, each with animals (some of which children can pet). The machinery dates back to the farm's origins and operates as it did then, on old equipment often pulled by horses.
Visitors can also explore a Carpenter's Workshop, Labourer's Cottage, and Blacksmith's Forge. The rural schoolhouse is a real treat and particularly fascinating if you're visiting with children. A free coach service circles the site continuously.
Address: Killarney National Park, Muckross, Killarney, Co. Kerry
Official site: www.muckross-house.ie
4. Dinis Cottage and Island
From Muckross Boathouse (close to Muckross House) visitors can take a boat to the cottage, which was built by the Herbert family and looks out over the Middle Lake. The cottage has been variously described as a hunting lodge and woodcutter's hut and dates back to the 1700s. It has been restored in recent years and now operates as a tearoom.
The Meeting of the Waters and the Old Weir Bridge lie a short stroll away. The cottage windows feature the names of many well-heeled visitors who carved their names with their expensive diamond rings; the earliest dates back to the mid 1800s.
5. Visit Dingle and the Dingle Peninsula
The beautiful Dingle Peninsula is another must-visit destination within easy reach of Killarney. Again, this popular attraction isn't technically in town, but touring this gorgeous spot is renowned as one of the best things to do in Killarney. Although easy to get to by car, a popular way to visit this top tourist area is via a guided tour.
Part of the fun is getting here, passing through incredible mountain scenery and visiting stunning coastline along the way. Be sure you've charged your camera.
Highlights include a visit to the Gallarus Oratory, an early Christian church known for its ancient archeological gems and, of course, Inch Beach, popular for its surf.
You'll also have plenty of time to grab lunch (or an ice cream from Murphy's) while exploring the picturesque town of Dingle, which boasts a kaleidoscope of brightly colored shops and restaurants that line its charming, narrow lanes.
6. Muckross Abbey
A drive of just under two kilometers back along the N71 in the direction of Killarney brings visitors to Muckross Park Hotel with access to the ruined friary (a short walk from the public car park). Founded in the 15th century, Muckross Abbey remains remarkably preserved within the boundaries of Killarney National Park.
Formerly known as the Franciscan friary of Irrelagh, Muckross Abbey's most notable feature is its tower, which was added after the initial construction. It is the only Franciscan tower in the country that matches the width of the church itself.
The cloister and other related buildings surround a dramatic yew tree, which some say is as old as the abbey itself. The monks had to abandon the site in 1652 during the Cromwellian campaigns. Today, its graveyard is still in use for modern burials.
Address: Carrigafreaghane, Co. Kerry
7. Ross Castle
Another outstanding attraction set within Killarney National Park, Ross Castle lies nearly 13 minutes on the N71 from Muckross House. This imposing structure was built in the 15th-century by the O'Donoghue clan.
It later came under the possession of the Browne family who became Earls of Kenmare and owned a large part of the lands now comprising Killarney National Park. The structure consists of a tower house surrounded by walls with more round towers.
An old prophecy predicted that the castle would only ever be taken by an attack from the water. In 1652, taking advantage of this, Cromwell's General Ludlow had a large boat launched in the Lower Lake whereupon the defenders, seeing this as a fulfillment of the prophecy, at once surrendered.
Guided tours are available, and two water buses transport visitors along Lower Lake from Ross Pier. Cruises are also available from both Ross and Reen Piers to Innisfallen (Lower Lake) and Lord Brandon's Cottage (Upper Lake).
Address: Ross Castle, Killarney, Co. Kerry
Official site: www.killarneynationalpark.ie/visit-us/ross-castle/
8. Innisfallen Island
Catch a ride to quiet, little Innisfallen Island from the pier at Ross Castle, which lies 1.5 kilometers away. From here, visitors can be rowed along the surface of Logh Leane to the island's main attraction, a 7th-century monastery.
It is rumored that Brian Boru, an Irish king and Emperor of the Scots, studied here. At the beginning of the 13th-century, the Annals of Innisfallen (a major source of early Irish history) were written here and are now in the Bodleian Library in Oxford, England.
On the northeast side is a small 12th-century church of red sandstone. Innisfallen still preserves the old native woodland of Ireland, namely rowan, ash, yew, and holly.
9. The Gap of Dunloe
A drive of 11 kilometers or so takes visitors up through the scenic Gap of Dunloe, a majestic narrow mountain pass carved by glacial ice. This rocky pass separates Purple Mountain and its northern foothills in the western part of Killarney National Park from Macgillicuddy's Reeks and is so outstanding, you'll remember it forever.
The gap is best reached from the R562, which follows the north side of the Lower Lake. From the road to the Gap, visitors can see Dunloe Castle, tucked in a grove of trees, as well as a group of Ogham Stones (National Monument). From Kate Kearney's Cottage, the four-kilometer climb to the pass is usually completed in a jaunting car, on foot, or on a pony.
Those who venture to the top are rewarded with superb views of hills, valleys, and lakes.
Official site: www.gapofdunloe.com
10. Jaunting Cars
When arriving in Killarney, visitors can't help but notice the proliferation of horses and traps, otherwise known as Jaunting Cars. This is the traditional way to tour all the local attractions, out in the fresh air and in the company of a Jarvey (driver and guide) who will tell stories and keep visitors entertained every trot of the way.
Jaunting Cars are available for both groups and those traveling alone. Tours include Ross Castle, Muckross House & Gardens, and other top sites in and around Killarney. Jaunting cars can be booked through hotels and at major tourist attractions, or simply by approaching a driver/guide and taking it from there.
11. Killarney Falconry
One of the top-rated animal experiences in this part of Ireland can be enjoyed thanks to the folks at Killarney Falconry. This fascinating adventure consists of guided walks around Killarney's lakes in the company of a hawk and its handler.
Each tour is personalized and can be tailored to suit groups of all sizes and ages, with each member of the party having the chance to handle one of the magnificent birds themselves (don't worry, falconry gloves are provided). Basic training in bird handling is also offered.
Given the popularity of these "hawk walks," be sure to book well in advance to avoid disappointment.
Address: Bishop Moynihan Crescent, Killarney, Co. Kerry
Official site: www.killarneyfalconry.com/index.html
12. The Church of the Sloes Killarney
St. Mary's – also known as the Church of the Sloes, or "Cill Airne" in Irish – is said to be the building that lent its name to Killarney. A great little church to visit, this beauty was built on a site in the heart of Killarney that has borne a church since the 13th century.
St. Mary's unique acoustics have led to its hosting regular concerts from spring through autumn, timed to appeal to visiting tourists who often stay a night in Killarney specifically to catch a performance.
Typical concerts include performances by touring orchestras and choirs, along with notable local performers, each offering an eclectic choice of religious and classical music. While most concerts are free, donations are always welcome.
Guided tours of the church are also popular, with a focus on its elegant stained-glass windows from across Ireland and Wales.
Address: Kenmare Place, Killarney, Co. Kerry
Official site: http://churchofthesloes.ie/index.html
Where to Stay in Killarney for Sightseeing
The town has many hotels and bed-and-breakfasts, which means there's plenty of places to stay to suit all budgets. We recommend you consider the following delightful hotels and guesthouses for their proximity to the top attractions in Killarney.
- For those seeking a little luxury, consider a stay at The Killarney Park. This charming five-star hotel boasts not only a fantastic location but the kind of old-world elegance we all crave from time-to-time. In addition to a good night's sleep, you'll enjoy spacious marble bathrooms, a wellness spa, a large lovely pool and hot tub, as well as an evening turndown service.
- A superlative luxury stay can also be enjoyed at the Killarney Plaza Hotel And Spa, a classy spot featuring suites and rooms with marble bathrooms, a piano lounge, and a day spa.
- The majestic Great Southern Killarney is another good choice and comes with posh rooms and suites with multiple bedrooms, fancy dining, and tennis courts.
- A good choice in the more modest mid-range price category is Killeen House Hotel. This three-star hotel is set in an attractive Edwardian-style house run by extremely gracious hosts. Add to this the quaint décor, beautiful gardens, and a fun collection of golf memorabilia, and you're all set for a memorable stay in Killarney.
- The Ross is another good quality, mid-range boutique hotel to consider. Located in the center of town, this family-owned establishment offers stylish décor, comfortable rooms, and free use of leisure facilities at its nearby sister hotel.
- The Riverside Hotel Killarney is another contender in this category and features comfortable rooms in a great location with river views.
- On a tight budget? Then Old Weir Lodge is for you. This budget-friendly bed-and-breakfast comes with helpful staff, comfortable beds, and an excellent breakfast.
- Those who enjoy hostel-style accommodations should consider The Black Sheep Hostel, featuring simple dorms and shared amenities, with breakfast included.
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