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.
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.
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.
In the heart of Killarney National Park, Ladies View has a way of showing that natural beauty is timeless. Back in 1861, when Queen Victoria’s ladies-in-waiting visited this Kerry overlook, they were so enamored with the view of the lakes that the picturesque promontory still carries their regal name today. From this panoramic overlook off of N71, gaze down on the three lakes that sit at the middle of the park, and since the light here is constantly changing, if you simply sit and reflect for an hour you may see rainbows, shadows and beams of light that dance on the surrounding hills. Just up the road from the main overlook, there is another parking area with a small trail that offers views of the upper lake, and when standing here on this windswept ridge gazing out on the view below, it’s like looking through a portal to Ireland’s past—where the raw beauty of the Irish countryside exists in its natural state.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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