The Ring of Kerry Drive
We’ve driven the Ring of Kerry a few times now and it never gets old. I may not say that in a few years when every single person who visits us in Ireland wants to do a Ring of Kerry road trip but for now, let’s say visiting the Ring of Kerry is an Irish rite of passage.
From Donegal, it is quite a drive and it takes us around 6 hours but we decided upon a few other stops on our road trip. We drive right through Sligo which is one of Ireland’s most underappreciated counties and it is spectacular. From Yeats grave to the beautiful surfing beaches Sligo is sensational.
From Sligo, we headed straight to Galway City where we stayed a couple of days to enjoy the craic and the crowds. Then from Galway, we went onto to Tralee which is where we began our Ring of Kerry epic adventure. We stopped in Tralee for some epic fish and chips at Quinlan’s Seafood Bar absolutely bloody spectacular food so fresh it was practically still flapping.
At Quinlan’s, we also heard for the very first time a true Kerry accent which is quite a thick Irish one. The slang used in Kerry is also different than the rest of Ireland so if someone calls you a “lad” and your female that’s the Kerry way.
By the way, the orange highlighted text means you can click to a new page, but it won’t close this one and read more.
This Ring of Kerry Itinerary will take you from Killarney in a clockwise drive around the full Ring of Kerry. I’ve outlined the 31 places that I think are a must-see on the Ring of Kerry for your trip.
Ring of Kerry Map
What is the Ring of Kerry?
The Ring of Kerry is a scenic drive around the Iveragh Peninsula in southwest Ireland’s County Kerry. Taking you through some of the most breathtaking vistas in Ireland the route is a circular 179 km.
Beginning in the Killarney National Park, which we started from Killarney. Staying in Killarney makes it a grand jumping-off point for the Ring of Kerry and you can easily book a jaunting cart to tour the Ring.
If you are planning to drive the Ring of Kerry I highly recommend the Destination Killarney website as it is loaded with some fabulous events to attend, recommendations for music nights, motorcycle tours, art tours and so much more. You can book your stay through Destination Killarney, find where to eat and the range of things to do in Killarney is pretty amazing.
The Ring of Kerry has an abundance of lovely little Irish towns and villages, great sea views, and is an area where you can take boats out to see Skellig Michael from Portmagee.
Drive the Ring of Kerry clockwise to avoid getting stuck behind the huge tour buses which have to take the opposite route. Or book a Jaunting Cart to see the Ring of Kerry in a slow leisurely fashion.
How long to drive the Ring of Kerry?
The Ring of Kerry drive takes around 3 hours, that is if you don’t stop. However, it’s a guarantee that you will stop many times as the views and landscapes are simply unbeatable. I would recommend perhaps doing the route in at least two days to really see the best of it.
A good idea while driving the Ring would be to stay at one of the smaller villages along the route. Sneem or perhaps Portmagee if you are planning to head out to the Skelligs.
How to get to the Ring of Kerry
From Dublin to the Ring of Kerry
From Dublin to the Ring of Kerry driving takes about 4 hours so it’s a pretty long trip. Although if you plan a road trip around Ireland there are so many places to stay along the route you’d be crazy not to take your time.
From Shannon to the Ring of Kerry
From Shannon airport to the Ring of Kerry is around a 3-hour drive. Along that route, you could stop and check out Bunratty Castle and you will pass through Adare which is truly one of Ireland’s prettiest villages. If you fancy a posh stay book into the Adare Manor you won’t be sorry at spending a night in this kind of luxury.
From Killarney to the Ring of Kerry
From Killarney (which is truly a must-see) you can book a jaunting cart tour for the Ring of Kerry Tour or simply drive it yourself. With the tours, you will get full commentary and the driver will stop at all the viewpoints cost for a full-day tour starts at around €90 per person. Well worth it.
Depending on the season you decide to come to Ireland the Ring of Kerry can be jam-packed and crazy busy in the summer months. In the spring from March to May there probably won’t be the usual hundreds of buses doing the Ring of Kerry but there will be some. What you do need to watch out for is many of the sites on the Ring of Kerry you want to see may not be open.
How long does the Ring of Kerry take?
To drive the whole Ring of Kerry takes around 3 hours but you can forget that, trust me you will be stopping for so many photographs that it will take so much longer to drive the Rings of Kerry than you anticipate. This is why I suggest taking a minimum of 2 days to drive the Ring.
In the summer months when all the tourists are visiting it will take you twice as long as you think and if you want to get great photos without hundreds of other tourists in the frame then you should plan to head to the Ring of Kerry in the spring or fall months. I don’t even mind the winter months for touring as there are virtually no tourists at that time and you can take your time and relax and not worry about the buses and other vehicles on those narrow roads.
Places to stay in Killarney
If you are looking for something outside the usual hotels in the area check out Imagine Ireland where you can book anything from dog-friendly accommodation to large group cottages. They can also arrange fishing holidays, golf vacations and also holidays to keep the kids or teenagers occupied.
Fancy a Castle stay in Killarney then you need to book Ballyseede Castle Hotel which comes with a ghost and a couple of Irish wolfhounds. Located near Tralee this gorgeous hotel Castle will knock your socks off.
Best BnB Killarney
Fuchsia House BnB comes highly recommended there is free parking, it includes wifi and a brilliant breakfast and its 4-star accommodation is just a short walk from town.
Self Catering accommodation in Killarney
Rookery Mews Apartments about a 20-minute walk from Killarney with free parking, wifi and a great little kitchen and there is onsite receptions.
The following accommodations are all centrally located in Killarney some have breakfast included, free wifi and parking but check the accommodation before you book to see what is on offer.
The Laune B&B
This property offers simply decorated rooms and its own lively, traditional pub. Each room at The Laune Accommodations has a private bathroom and a TV. Free WiFi is available.
Simple rooms with en suite bathrooms have traditional furnishings. They include tea and coffee making facilities, satellite TV, and free WiFi. Free Off-street parking is included. Pet-Friendly all pets welcome once they have their own bedding.
A bit of luxury
The 4-star Killarney Plaza Hotel overlooks Killarney National Park. It features a gourmet restaurant, an indoor pool and spa and free parking. St Mary’s Cathedral is a 5-minute walk away.
Killarney Royal Hotel
This boutique hotel has luxurious rooms, a fine dining restaurant and free Wi-Fi.
What to see on the Ring of Kerry
31 attractions on the Ring of Kerry
I’ve started this Ring of Kerry itinerary from Killarney and each attraction is in order of the clockwise drive around the Ring.
My recommendation is to stay in Killarney for the evening and when you are exhausted at the end of the day to stay in either Sneem or perhaps Portmagee if you want to head out on one of the tours to the Skelligs.
Be aware though that the boat tours are dependant on the weather and can get cancelled at the last minute.
Ring of Kerry tour
Ross Castle is located just outside the town of Killarney on the Ross Road and it sits on the banks of Lough Leane looking out on to the lake and Inisfallen Island (home to a 7th-century monastery). It was built in the 15th century for the O’Donoghue Mór.
Legends and folktales say that the O’Donoghue Mór sleeps under the waters of Lough Leane, and on the first of May every 7 years, he awakes and rides a white horse around the lake. Anyone who happens to catch a glimpse of his ghost is said to be guaranteed good fortune for the rest of their lives. Ross Castle is open to the public from the 1st March – 5th November. Ticket fees for adults are €5.00. If you have mobility issues the access can be challenging as it has a very steep hill to get into the Castle grounds.
Killarney National Park
Muckross House and Gardens
Sitting within the Killarney National Park this magnificent Victorian mansion is one of Ireland’s leading stately homes and is incredibly busy during the summer months. It is beautifully furnished and you can see the basement areas where you can see how the “other half” lived.
The Gardens at Muckross House are stunning with absolutely massive azalea and rhododendron bushes. There is a rock garden carved out of natural limestone and an exquisite water garden. The walled garden centre is also home to many skilled crafters who you can watch weaving, bookbinding, knitting and throwing pots.
Many improvements were made to the House for the visit of Queen Victoria and as a result, the estate had to be sold to pay the debts. Muckross House and the estate, which became the Killarney National Park, was donated to the state in 1932 and became the first national park in Ireland.
There is good access for visitors with disabilities, including platform lifts and elevators, but access to the house is by tour only. The house is open year-round and the cost for an adult tour is €9.
The Torc Waterfall is an absolute gem on the Ring of Kerry and you can walk to it from Muckross House if you feel like a good stroll. The walk takes around 40 minutes and is a relatively easy one. If driving it will take around 5 minutes according to Google but don’t trust them and bet on around 15-20 including parking.
The carpark is just of the N71 on the Killarney Kenmare road and then you walk from there for around 10 minutes to the waterfall itself. The waterfall is some 70 to 80 feet high and the Owengarriff river which feeds it rises in “The Devil’s Punchbowl” on nearby Mangerton mountain.
If you want a good viewing point of the lakes then there are 100 or so steps upwards immediately to the left of the waterfall to get some excellent views of the lakes.
Meeting of the Waters
the meeting of the waters is where Killarney’s lakes converge. The Upper lake, Middle Lake (also known as Muckross Lake) and Lower Lake (Lough Leane) all come together at this beautiful spot. It is a little haven of tranquillity and can only be reached by foot or bicycle. Also found in this area are Dinis cottage and “The Old Weir Bridge”.
Ladies View is a scenic point along the N71 portion of the Ring of Kerry, only around 20 minutes or so from the Torc Waterfall unless its summer then its a lot longer.
It is said that Ladies View got its name when Queen Victoria visited in 1861. Apparently her Ladies in waiting loved the spot so much it was named after them.
There is a lovely cafe and gift shop with windows out to the view and an upper floor for even better vistas.
A further 10-15 drive down the Ring you will come to Molls Gap which provides you with absolutely stupendous views of Kerry’s Black Stack mountains that sit within the MacGillycuddy Reeks. The Reeks are the highest mountain ranges in Ireland.
Moll’s Gap is named after Moll Kissane who owned a pub here back in the 1820s when the road was under construction she became famous for her homemade Poitín.
Poitín is traditionally distilled in a small pot still and the term comes from the Irish word pota, meaning “pot”. The Irish word for a hangover is póit.
Kenmare is a short drive from Molls Gap but it shouldn’t be missed as it is a great place to have lunch and admire the quaint Irish shop fronts.
If you have heard of the Irish Plantation, which is when the British attempted to stock Ireland with British protestants Kenmare is an original plantation town. The Irish name is “An Neidin” which translates as “little nest” which comes from the fact that Kenmare is nestled between two mountain ranges. Kenmare though is from the Gaelic “Ceann Mara” which means the head of the sea.
Kenmare is also home to one of the largest stone circles in south West Ireland measuring 17.4 x 15.8m and unlike most other rings, this one is egg-shaped. The locals call it The Shrubberies and it does lie right in Kenmare itself but it can be tough to find so ask at the tourist office for directions.
The drive from Kenmare to Sneem is pretty spectacular you can take the coast road and admire some striking views of Kenmare Bay until you reach Sneem which will take around 30 minutes or so.
Sneem is Ireland’s most colourful village. With its quaint, Italianate church, chequered houses and manicured lawns, it really is picturesque. Sneem means the “knot” in Gaelic and it is presumed the name comes from the way the North and South aspects of the Village unite the water and the mountains of the Ring of Kerry.
Sneem is known for its public art and one of its most popular is “The Way the Fairies Went”. Just to the right of the Catholic Church in town, you will spot some stone “pyramids” which were inspired by the artists walks within the Ring of Kerry.
In November Sneem plays hosts to one of Ireland’s biggest storytelling festivals. There’s storytelling workshops, fireside stories, children’s storytelling, musical storytelling and sessions in the pubs. You know you can’t beat the Irish for a story so head to Sneem.
Sneem is also a great spot for a pint and a snack at any one of the pubs that line the main street.
Staigue Stone Fort
Off the main Sneem Waterville road by about 13 km lies the Staigue Fort. This is one of the finest ring fort ruins in Ireland. It’s located on a low hill with amazing views of Kenmare Bay.
The fort has a massive circular rampart and the wall is up to 18 feet or 5.5 metres high and 13 ft thick it circumscribes a 90 ft diameter circular area.
It is believed to have been built during the Celtic period and one of its outstanding features is a flight of 10 steps that are built in an X shape leading to the top of the ramparts.
Caherdaniel is named after the great Irish Hero Daniel O’Connell. He helped Catholics to win the right to become Members of Parliament. He also wanted Ireland to have its own parliament. He became known as the “Liberator” because he campaigned for rights for the Irish. This is where you will find one of Ireland’s best beaches Derrynane.
Derrynane is a beautiful quiet stretch of beach with incredible views of Derrynane Bay.
You can also visit Derrynane House which sits in 300 acres now known as Derrynane National Historic Park. This is O’Connell’s ancestral home and it can be visited during the summer months for €5.
From Derrynane head towards Waterville which is a great place to stop for refreshments and it’s only around a 20-minute drive. In Waterville, you will see a monument to Charlie Chaplin who apparently loved the place and visited often. Waterville is the only seafront village on the Ring of Kerry.
Often missed by day-trippers is the magnificent Lough Currane, famous for its Salmon and Sea Trout fishing.
This ancient little village is a Gaelic speaking community around 20 minutes from Waterville. The town dates back to the 5th century and was settled by the monks who founded the retreats on Skellig Michael.
Take a walk to Ballinskelligs Castle ruin which was a stronghold of the McCarthy’s back in the 1600s. Legend holds that it was constructed to defend the bay from pirates
The McCarthy’s were tribal Chiefs in the 16th century. It is prominently located and it is in a relatively good state of preservation. A more romantic version of its history is that it was built much earlier, during the l2th and 13th century when battles were taking place between the Gaelic King of Desmond, McCarthy Mór who ruled South Kerry and the Geraldine Earl of Desmond, who ruled North Kerry.
Ring of Kerry Dark Sky Reserve
If you have never heard of a Dark Sky Reserve then this should be a must-do. The Irish skies at night can be simply astounding with a range of stars and astronomical configurations that you have never seen before. A Dark Sky Reserve is free from any light pollution and Sky Tours are arranged so that you can use the supplied telescopes with trained guides to show you the stars.
Contact the Ring of Kerry Dark Sky Reserve to arrange a tour and they will let you know when the best time and date will be for your Dark Sky experience. They supply telescopes and high powered binoculars and an Evening Sky Map for your tour. Cost Per person 15 Euro no charge if the tour has to be cancelled because of the weather.
From Ballinskelligs follow the road signs to the Beach at McCarthy’s Castle one of the most popular stargazing locations.
Half an hour down the road will bring you to Portmagee which is one of those quintessential Irish fishing villages with loads of pubs, cafes restaurants and it gets really busy in the summer months.
You can take the ferry to the Skelligs from here but it won’t be running in March. They celebrate May the 4th be with you in a HUGE way here lol. Portmagee is definitely one of the highlights on the spectacular Ring of Kerry.
This town is your stepping stone to the unique and breath-taking Skelligs. On this headland surrounded by winding seaways and small rocky islands lives this small postcard-worthy town. The main street of Portmagee is lined with rainbow-coloured houses complete with a friendly community spirit.
Drop into the Moorings and have a pint in this traditional Kerry pub. Here you can get some scrumptious fresh seafood, a cold pint and learn more about the history behind the Skelligs and the star wars filming that took place on the Island.
Best place to stay in Portmagee The Moorings
Overlooking the village harbour front where boats ferry visitors to the Skellig tiny island the Moorings is not only one of Portmagee’s most popular pubs it has a great guest house.
Kerry Sea Cliffs
The Kerry Cliffs is the nearest point on the mainland from which to view the Skellig Islands and are situated on the Skellig Ring which is an 18km loop just off the Ring of Kerry.
Kerry’s most spectacular sea cliffs have been a viewing point for generations and a few years ago were developed with fencing, a carpark, coffee shop and camping by the local landowner. The Cliffs are open from 9 am to 9 pm daily at a cost of €4.
The Kerry Cliffs are higher, at 300 metres than the Cliffs of Moher which rise to a maximum height of 214 metres but far less touristy. The walk from the carpark is a bit strenuous if you have some mobility issues but take your time and you will be rewarded with stunning views.
Valentia Island is one of Ireland’s most westerly points lying off the Iveragh Peninsula in the south-west of County Kerry. From Portmagee you can get to Valentia Island on a land bridge known as the O’Neill Memorial Bridge. It is named after a young farmer was executed for republican activities in 1942.
Knightstown is the main village on the Island – a purpose-built town it was constructed in the 1800s and is on a grid pattern. Stop here for coffee and homebaked scones or in the summer months they serve up some great icecream.
Valentia is a great place to get away from it all and during the non-tourist season makes a perfect romantic retreat. You can also get boats to the Skelligs from Valentia.
On Valentia Island, we usually stay at The Royal Hotel because we can get great offers through Groupon. You can actually sign up for Groupon.ie and check it out yourself.
Valentia Island Lighthouse and Cromwell Fort
On Valentia, you can get some spectacular views from Bray Head across the bay to the Skelligs or take a hike up to the Lighthouse and Cromwell Fort. You can explore the lighthouse from April till September and the ticket cost is €5.
Tetrapod Trackway – Valentia Island
One of the most fascinating things to see on Valentia Island is the Trackway. This is of incredible importance in the evolution of the human species. The Tetrapod Trackway is a set of footprints left on the land as amphibious creatures moved from the sea to begin life on dry land. Over 385 million years old this archaeological evidence is of significant international interest as it marks a turning point in evolution.
Geokaun Mountain – Valentia Island
This is a very narrow road from Portmagee you follow the signs for Valentia Island and go over the bridge where you will see Geokaun (pronounced Yow kaan) signposted – it’s around 5km from Portmagee. If you fancy the drive it’s €5 entry to drive your car up the mountain and there are a few stop off points where you can safely park your car and take short walks.
Skellig Michael & Small Skellig lie 13 km from the southwest coast of Valentia Island. Weather permitting you can head to the Skelligs by way of boat. Over 1400 years ago Skellig Michael became home to a small group of men seeking religious solitude and isolation.
You can take two types of tours to the Skelligs. The cruises of the Skelligs are usually 2 hours long & run between April & September. You should book a trip around 6 months in advance but be prepared for the wild Atlantic Way as there is no predicting whether or not the boats can sail.
One will land you on the island where there are absolutely no facilities so go prepared. There are also no “facilities” on the boats so go before you get on board. On Skellig Michael, you can climb the 600 nerve-racking steps that spiral up the rock toward the terraces of the monastery. this is not for the faint-hearted and often the boats are cancelled due to weather.
If you plan to book a boat trip and land on Skellig Michael the tours are now being restricted to preserve the Island so book well in advance. There are also eco-tours that take you around the Skelligs but don’t land which is much better for that environment.
Skellig Michael or Great Skellig is the larger of the two Skellig Islands and a Christian monastery was founded here sometime around the 7th century until it was abandoned in the late 12 the century.
The remains of the monastery, along with most of the island itself, became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1996. Next stop Cahersiveen.
Caherciveen is located on the River Fertha and its Catholic church is the only one in Ireland named after a layperson, Daniel O’Connell. Cahersiveen is a small town that doesn’t get a huge amount of tourist trade relatively speaking.
There is a heritage centre located in a decommissioned Royal Irish Constabulary Barracks. Cahersiveen was where the first shots of the Fenian Rising were fired in 1867.
Just outside Caherciveen, you can visit Ballycarbery Castle which sadly is inaccessible but you can get some great photos from a distance. Situated near the waters edge you will see the remains of the castle with its ivy-covered tower house which was once home to the McCarthy Clan and built sometime in the 15th century. It is probably the largest and most impressive castle built on the peninsula of Iveragh and is still very impressive from a distance. However, it has been forgotten and neglected for 100’s of years.
Cahergal & Leacanabuilt Stone Forts
The Stone forts of Cahergal & Leacanabuaile are located over the water they can be found about 2 miles from Ballycarberry Castle. Nearest the Castle is the stone fort of Cahergal built around 600AD. A dry stone-built fort it is one of the best examples of its kind on the Ring of Kerry. There is a car park here and entrance is free of charge.
Leacanabuile was built in the 9th century & is a smaller fort than Cahergal. The stone walls enclose a circular area of almost 70 feet in diameter. There are steps leading upwards on the inside and the remains of some kind of square house that was built on top of the earlier roundhouses. Archaeologists have uncovered Iron and Bronze age items that they believe suggest an early Christian farming village.
Kells is an old picturesque fishing village on the way to Glenbeigh. Home to one of the finest blue flag beaches it is often called Kells Bay. With its incredible views of Dingle Bay and the Blasket Islands. No this is the Kells where the Book of Kells was found that’s north of Dublin.
Before you get to Glenbeigh you must head to Rossbeigh strand which is a 6 km long, sandy beach and absolute perfection there are no shops, just endless stretches of golden sand. There is a Children’s playground, pony walks and water sports during the summer months. Lifeguards are on duty during the summer and there are toilets and a café can be found towards the southern end of the beach as well as plenty of space for parking. You can get some stunning views of the Dingle Peninsula from Rossbeigh.
The closest village of Glenbeigh is lovely for some lunch is only 2 km from Rossbeigh beach. Glenbeigh is where the Irish legend of Diarmuid and Grainne is said to be set (and not Sligo as other tales will tell).
Gráinne was betrothed to Fionn, leader of the Fianna but she eloped with a Kerryman named Diarmuid Ó Duibhne and it was in a cave were they too shelter. The legend says that Fionn pursued them for seven years. It is also said to be the location where Fionn’s son, Oisin and Niamh took to the sea on their white horse to live in the land of youth – Tir na nOg.
From Glenbeigh, we head to Killorglin with a brief stop at Caragh Lake. The lake developed in a deep valley through which the Caragh River was dammed. It is a great spot for fishing and recreational boat trips, surrounded by the stunning landscape of the McGillicuddy Reeks. The highest mountain in Ireland, Carrauntoohill, is easily photographed from the western side of Caragh Lake.
A short ride to Killorglin is which is a village at the end of the ring of Kerry. Hosting one of Ireland’s most unusual events the Puck Fair. On the 10th, 11th and 12th of August, nobody quite knows when this festival began but it is the oldest one in Ireland.
The stories began with a stampede of wild goats that ran through the town, purportedly warning the locals that Cromwell’s army was coming. So every year the venerated goats are feted and praised during the festival.
And that’s the Ring of Kerry route from start to finish. Now you know why I recommended that you take a full two days to explore there is just so much to see and so many pubs and cafes to stop at and admire the views.
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