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10 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in Killarney

Written by Andrew Birbeck
Jul 5, 2019

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Killarney lies near the coast in the southwest corner of Ireland in County Kerry. Nearby are the much-visited and picturesque Killarney Lakes, a series of three lakes that are popular for their lovely scenery and for water sports such as kayaking. The beauty of the surrounding area and the wide range of recreational activities make Killarney one of Ireland's most popular tourist centers.

While it's fair to say that many of Killarney's tourist attractions lie outside the town, the pretty St. Mary's Cathedral and numerous old homes are certainly worth exploring.

Killarney also serves as an excellent base from which to explore other points of interest in Ireland, such as the iconic Ring of Kerry, part of an excellent scenic drive that passes through the town. It's also the start (and finish) of the excellent 200-kilometer-long Kerry Way, a spectacular walking trail that's hugely popular with hikers.

For more great ideas on how to best spend your time, see our list of the top tourist 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 & Lakes

Killarney National Park & Lakes

Killarney National Park is a little 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 preferred. 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. It's also here you'll find the Killarney House & Gardens attraction, a must-visit while in the park.

Also located within Killarney National Park, the Killarney 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. Muckross House Gardens & Traditional Farms

Muckross House Gardens & Traditional Farms

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 and machinery of the day. 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

3. Dinis Cottage and Island

Dinis Cottage and Island

Dinis Cottage and Island | Alice / photo modified

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.

4. Muckross Abbey

Muckross Friary

Muckross Friary | Olivier Bruchez / photo modified

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. A notable feature is the 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.

Surrounding an old yew tree, the cloister and related buildings are complete. The monks had to abandon the site in 1652 during the Cromwellian campaigns.

Address: Carrigafreaghane, Co. Kerry

Official site: www.muckross-house.ie

5. Ross Castle

Ross Castle

Ross Castle

Around 13 minutes' drive on the N71 from Muckross House is the imposing 15th-century Ross Castle. Built by the O'Donoghue clan, the castle 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.

Address: Ross Castle, Killarney, Co. Kerry

Official site: www.heritageireland.ie/en/south-west/rosscastle/

6. Innisfallen Island

Innisfallen

Innisfallen | bea & txema / photo modified

From the pier at Ross Castle, visitors can be rowed out to quiet, little Innisfallen Island, the site of a 7th-century monastery. It's 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.

7. The Gap of Dunloe

Old stone bridge near the Gap of Dunloe

Old stone bridge near the Gap of Dunloe

A drive of 11 kilometers or so takes visitors up through the scenic Gap of Dunloe, a narrow mountain pass carved by glacial ice. This rocky pass separates Purple Mount and its northern foothills in the western part of Killarney National Park from Macgillicuddy's Reeks. It's 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. From the top are superb views of hills, valleys, and lakes.

8. Jaunting Cars

Jaunting cars sign

Jaunting cars sign

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.

9. 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 provided.

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

10. The Church of the Sloes Killarney

Said to be the building that actually leant its name to Killarney, St. Mary's— also known as the Church of the Sloes, or "Cill Airne" in Irish—is a great little church to visit. 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 being on its elegant stained-glass windows from across Ireland and Wales.

Address: Kenmare Place, Killarney, Co. Kerry

Official site: http://churchofthesloes.ie/index.html

Day Trips from Killarney

1. The Ring of Kerry

Kerry Cliffs, Ring of Kerry
Kerry Cliffs, Ring of Kerry

Killarney makes for an excellent jumping-off point for explorations of this beautiful corner of Ireland. One of the best of these easy day trips is to take the Ring of Kerry, a 179-kilometer circular route that's widely regarded as one of the top tourist attractions in Ireland. A great way to make the most of your day is to 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.

2. Dingle and the Dingle Peninsula

Beachside road on the Dingle Peninsula
Beachside road on the Dingle Peninsula

The beautiful Dingle Peninsula is another must-visit destination within easy reach of Killarney. Although easy to get to by car, a popular way to visit this top-rated tourist area is via a guided tour. Lasting a full day, the best of these fun guided tours of the Dingle Peninsula also take in Slea Head—Europe's most westerly point—and Inch Beach, two beautiful areas of the country's southeast coast well worth exploring. Part of the fun is getting there, passing through incredible mountain scenery and visiting stunning coastline along the way.

Highlights include a visit to the Gallarus Oratory, an early Christian church known for its ancient archeological gems, and Inch Beach, popular for its surf. You'll also have plenty of time to grab a lunch (or an ice-cream from Murphy's), while exploring the picturesque town of Dingle itself, popular for its colorful homes and charming streets.

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.

  • Luxury Hotels: 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.
  • Mid-Range Hotels: 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.
  • Budget Hotels: 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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imageFor the Love of Country: Ireland is chock-full of beautiful scenery and postcard-perfect villages, with some of the best vistas to be found within an easy drive of major cities like Dublin and Cork. In addition to touring the Ring of Kerry, a day-long circular route taking in such sights as the beautiful Skellig Islands, there are locations like Sligo, the birthplace of poet W.B.Yeats, which offer the kind of scenery that drives so much tourism to the country: rugged shorelines, rolling hills, and plenty of historic attractions to view. Ireland's "sunny southwest" is where you'll find County Wexford, home to numerous fine old castles, churches, as well as incredible beaches.

imageIreland Travel Ideas: No trip to Ireland is complete without spending a few days exploring the capital city of Dublin, home to no-end of top attractions and things to do, including plenty of great cultural activities. The historic city of Cork is also worth a visit and is home to great shopping and food experiences in places like the English Market and St. Patrick's Street. Attractive Galway offers a completely different travel experience given its smaller size, with great walking tours of its large central square and market.

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