16 Top Attractions of the Ring of Kerry
Kerry is the Kingdom, so the saying goes around these parts, and it's true to say that the magical Ring of Kerry is most certainly one of Ireland's top tourist attractions. The raw beauty of this scenic 179-kilometer-long route is sure to lift the spirits of the most jaded traveler, and the many attractions of the Ring of Kerry will entice them to prolong their visit.
The Ring of Kerry skirts the coastline of the spectacular Iveragh Peninsula. Be prepared for panoramic Atlantic Ocean views, stunning islands, wild sweeping mountains, and many picturesque villages en-route. While the entire journey can be completed in around three hours non-stop, that really doesn't do it justice. For instance, Killarney National Park deserves a minimum of one day of exploration, and you'll want at least an hour to take in the remarkable Gap of Dunloe.
Take your time; you're in Ireland after all, so what's the rush? For more ideas on how to get the most of your visit to this majestic area, be sure to check out our list of the top tourist attractions of the Ring of Kerry.
1. Killarney National Park
Killarney National Park is hands down the top attraction of the Ring of Kerry. Covering 26,000 acres in the lush County Kerry, this vast natural wonderland boasts some of the most spectacular scenery on the Emerald Isle. We're talking sparkling lakes, towering mountains, thundering waterfalls, and dense forests.
Miles of walking trails and a diverse array of wildlife greet visitors who will fall so in love with the park's innate beauty, it will be hard to tear themselves away. The vast Bourn Vincent Memorial Park lies at the center of the park, offering visitors yet another impressive vista to ogle.
Want to be amazed and revived at the same time? Visit the park's spectacular Torc Waterfall, which tumbles about 20 meters to its base. This is best viewed after a rainfall.
Muckross House and Gardens boasts a Victorian mansion dating back to the 19th century. Set on the idyllic shores of Muckross Lake in the park, this is one of the best places to visit on the Ring of Kerry. The grand house is impressive, but the sprawling gardens will really have your camera clicking.
Official site: www.killarneynationalpark.ie
2. The Gap of Dunloe
The Gap of Dunloe is so gorgeous, you'll think you've walked into a postcard when you visit. Nestled between Ireland's highest peaks, the McGillycuddy Reek mountain range, as well as the towering Tomie and Purple mountains, this natural spectacle is one you'll remember always.
One of Mother Nature's most impressive Irish feats, this two-million-year-old marvel has been thrilling tourists and locals alike with its winding trails; massive glacier-carved boulders; and views of the majestic River Loe, which makes its way, beautifully and serenely, through the lush valley.
Hike your way to the stone "Wishing Bridge" to try your luck at having a dream come true. Pack snacks and water (as well as comfy shoes and rain gear) because you'll want to traipse through this wonderland for hours.
Official site: https://gapofdunloe.com
3. Editor's Choice Skellig Islands
After fringing Lough Currane and heading through Waterville, it's well worth veering off the N70 and making for Portmagee. Here, visitors can take a boat trip out to the Skellig Islands, the largest of which, Skellig Michael, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
On the smaller islands, around 23,000 pairs of gannets nest on the ledges, forming the world's second largest gannet colony. On the summit of 218-meter-high Skellig Michael lies a well-preserved 6th-century monastic settlement. The strenuous hike (670 steps) to the summit rewards visitors with panoramic views of the coastline and surrounding Atlantic, as well as the chance to explore the unique monastic settlement with its otherworldly beehive shaped huts.
4. Derrynane House & Park
Around a 30-minute drive farther on, and just southwest of Caherdaniel, is 120-hectare Derrynane National Park. Nature trails with explanatory signboards bring visitors through the sand dunes, which are bordered by a beautiful, long sandy beach. The tiny Abbey Island offshore can be reached at low tide, and the ruins are well worth exploring.
Within the grounds stands a fine mansion, the ancestral home of "Ireland's Great Liberator," the lawyer, statesman, and politician Daniel O'Connell (1775-1847). The building now houses a museum where relics and mementos of O'Connell's career and life are displayed.
Address: Derrynane, Caherdaniel, Co. Kerry
Official site: http://derrynanehouse.ie
Around 20 minutes by car from Killorglin is Killarney with its magnificent National Park, scenic lakes, and world-famous Jaunting Cars. Must-see sights include magnificent Muckross House and Gardens, The Gap of Dunloe, Innisfallen Island, and numerous traditional live music venues. Killarney's considerable appeal lies in the beautiful surroundings, which should be explored at leisure.
Queen Victoria famously visited here in 1861 and was a guest at Muckross House. Apparently she was very taken with the place, and understandably so. The traditional farms at the same location are a time capsule of life in rural Ireland a mere 60 to 70 years ago. How times have changed. The Ring of Kerry starting and finishing point, Kenmare, is a further 35-minute drive away.
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Killarney
Just under 16 kilometers from Portmagee is the small town of Cahersiveen with a magnificent old barracks and, somewhat surprisingly, a statue of Charlie Chaplin who was once a regular visitor. Facing Cahersiveen across the broad Valentia River are the ruins of Ballycarbery Castle.
To the northeast of the castle, reached on a side road that leaves the N70 on the left, are two good stone ring-forts (both National Monuments). Cahergal measures 32 meters in diameter with two stone structures within the walls (you'll learn more about it below), and the hillside fort Leacanabuaile has staircases, chambers within the thickness of the walls, and underground rooms. The N70 continues northeast from Cahersiveen up into the wide valley of Kells.
7. Cahergal Stone Fort
Step back in time to the Iron Ages with a visit to Cahergal Stone Fort. An ancient ring fort, this impressive Ring of Kerry tourist attraction succeeds at feeling ethereal and majestic at the same time. Bring a camera, because your friends back home will have to see this to believe it's real.
A large, four-meter-tall (in some places) stone wall surrounds the circular structure at the center of the fort, which lies just outside Cahersiveen and super close to the entrancing Ballycarbery Castle. While no exact date is known, this impressive fort is thought to have been built in the 7th century.
Today, you'll find it in exemplary condition, as it's been recently restored, and the grassy area above the outer wall serves as a serene setting for a picnic.
Official site: https://cahersiveen.ie
Kenmare, a friendly little seaside resort at the southwest tip of Ireland, lies at the outflow of the River Roughty into the long inlet known as the Kenmare River. The town is noted for its high-quality lace, and also for excellent woollen goods. The principal source of income, however, is tourism. Given that the Ring of Kerry begins here, it's no wonder so many travelers choose to stop in for a bit.
Although tourism makes its mark in Kenmare, the town still has much of the atmosphere present when it originated in 1775. The two main streets intersect at right angles and traverse beautiful scenery. Not far west, on the bank of the River Finnihy, there's a Druid's Circle of 15 standing stones with a dolmen in the center.
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Kenmare
A farther 27 kilometers along the N70 brings visitors to the idyllic little holiday resort of Glenbeigh with excellent fishing. Just two kilometers west is a pristine sandy beach, Rossbeigh Strand. The village hugs the surrounding horseshoe of hills and the Seefin Mountains. The Caragh and Behy rivers flow at either side into Castlemaine Harbour.
As well as magnificent scenery and beautiful mountain walks, fishing, hang gliding, horse riding, bird-watching, and golf can all be enjoyed here.
From Glenbeigh, it's 15 kilometers through an undulating landscape to the little town of Killorglin, where the famous Puck Fair-one of the oldest such events in the country-is held every year in August. The annual three-day event dates as far back as 1613. A goat named King Puck is the festival's main feature, and a statue in town commemorates the creature in question. The goat is paraded through the town on opening day and is put on a platform for the rest of the festivities.
Events during the three days include a livestock sale, as well as informal dances and concerts.
Official site: https://puckfair.ie
Roughly a seven-minute drive along the N70 in the direction of Sneem is Templenoe. It's main attraction is a church dating from 1816. Beyond this, at the ruins of Dromore Castle, is a viewpoint and parking lot.
The valley of the Blackwater with salmon and trout fishing opens up on the right hand side, and the river plunges down to the sea in a deep gorge. From the road here, a footpath leads down through dense, almost tropical vegetation to the shore. A charming little road ascends the valley over a pass scaling 250 meters and leads to Glencar and Lough Caragh.
A little over 16 kilometers from Templenoe brings visitors to the historic, upmarket, and beautifully situated holiday resort of Parknasilla. The mild climate all year-round means, somewhat incongruously, that palm trees, pine, bamboo, and jasmine all flourish here.
There's a world-class golf course set within 500 acres of grounds, as well as miles of walks, tennis, archery, and clay pigeon shooting.
A phenomenally relaxing spa located at Parknasilla Resort features superb views overlooking the ocean and lush landscape. Literature and history buffs may be interested to know that the hotel was a favorite with Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw.
The road turns inland from Parknasilla, coming in at three kilometers to Sneem, a fishing center situated in a narrow inlet. The 16th-century Protestant church has an unusual weathervane in the form of a salmon. There's excellent walking and climbing in the hills to the north and west, which rise to some 660 meters.
At Castlecove, 13 kilometers west of Sneem, a very narrow road leaves the N70 on the right and extends for two kilometers to a large stone fort on a hill between two valleys. This is Staigue Fort (National Monument), a circular structure of dry stone walling 27 meters in diameter and more than five meters high surrounded by a ditch. The walls are four meters thick with staircases on the inside and small chambers in the thickness of the wall.
14. Ross Castle
Whether beginning or ending the Ring of Kerry journey in Killarney, a visit to Ross Castle is a must. Just outside Killarney proper, this centuries-old castle sits overlooking the Lough Leane. It dates back to the 15th century, when it was the home of the chiefs of the O'Donoghue clan. It eventually came under ownership of the Earls of Kenmare. The castle ruins are still in fairly good condition and are open to the public during the summer.
The grounds around the castle are stunningly beautiful and are technically a part of Killarney National Park. Visitors can enter the castle for '5, where they are able to tour the various rooms that have been outfitted with period furniture. Outside the castle, it's common to see kayakers paddling down the stream that leads into Lough Leane.
Address: Ross Road, Ross Island, Killarney, Co. Kerry, V93 V304, Ireland
15. Ladies View
If there's one dramatic vista to capture along the Ring of Kerry, it is Ladies View. A scene of dark blue lakes in the shadow of rolling green hills as far as the eye can see – it's the perfect snapshot of what makes Ireland so dramatic.
The viewpoint sits halfway between Killarney and Kenmare and was named for Queen Victoria's Ladies in Waiting who made the trip with her to Killarney in 1861. With sweeping views in every direction, this is one of the best spots in Ireland to stop and drink in its many shades of green.
The Ring of Kerry is not short on charming villages, and Portmagee is one of its best. The little seaside village is iconic for its colorful coastal homes and endless views of rolling green fields. If you're visiting the Skellig Islands or the Cliffs of Kerry, you will have to make a stop in Portmagee, as this is where the boats depart from.
But even if you're not hopping over to the Skellig Islands or the Cliffs of Kerry, Portmagee is a bustling and vibrant little village worthy of at least a few hours. It is humming with delicious restaurants serving up fresh and fried seafood, sometimes with a side of live music. It is one of the most beautiful small towns in Ireland, for sure, and even though it is one of its most popular with tourists, it manages to retain its vintage seafaring charm.
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Portmagee
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Ireland Travel Ideas: It's pretty difficult (if not impossible) to plan an Ireland travel itinerary without taking in at least a few of the top attractions in the capital city of Dublin. Most flights to the country land at Dublin Airport, and from here, it's a short transit (or taxi) ride to the city center, with its pleasant Georgian architecture and points of interest such as Trinity College and College Green, as well as the Kildare Street Museums and Houses of Parliament. And from Dublin, you're close to other great city destinations including Cork, popular for its excellent markets, shopping, and cathedral, and the medieval city of Galway, famous for its large public square and historic market.