The Ring of Kerry encompasses a circular 180km route around the eponymous county and brings in some of the most awe-inspiring natural scenery found in Europe, making it one of the most scenic drives on the planet. Each stopping point brings a new adventure, a new town or village, historic site and the sort of breathtaking imagery you are unlikely to forget in a hurry.
If you have only a short time to spend on the ring of Kerry, then it is advisable to drive along and make stops where you can enjoy short walks at each recommended destination. If you don’t have a car, you might want to think about hiring one. Car hire in Ireland is truly priceless when considering the limitless beauty the Emerald Isle possesses, however, to unlock the veritable greatness of the Ring of Kerry, car hire is a must.
Begin in the famous town of Killarney which boasts a number of historic attractions, shops, bars and restaurants. Muckross House and Gardens are a particular highlight as well as Ross Castle which forms part of Killarney Country Park (see further on).
From Killarney, head in an anti-clockwise direction in order to avoid the route taken by coach trips to avoid any hold-ups, choosing the N72 road towards MacGillycuddy Reeks. En-route you will drive towards Ireland’s tallest mountain – the Carrauntoohill range. Stop here and walk the designated paths towards the peaks for unrivalled views of your surroundings, revealing some of the beauty you are about to discover along the way. The wondrous valley of the Gap of Dunloe is found at the foot of the range.
After taking in the Carrauntoohill, some stop at the town of Killorglin, especially during the middle of August where the town holds the Puck Fair celebrating the Kerry through markets and live music, with the centrepiece being a goat – symbolising “King Puck” – the animal that alerted locals to the looming invasion of Oliver Cromwell’s men.
Glenbeigh on the N70 is also recommended. Here you will find the Kerry Bog Village and Museum, which details local life in the 18th-century as well as a good number of pubs and restaurants. Glenbeigh is in close proximity of Rossbeigh Beach which is a near-untouched stretch of beautiful sand lining the Atlantic Ocean, which provides ample opportunity to walk off your dinner in the fresh coastal air and is popular with fishermen due to the amount of fresh catch found in the waters here. However, from a scenic point of view, nearby Kells is somewhat prettier, where the beach walks provide wonderful views of the Atlantic Coast and Dingle Bay.
Shoppers are treated by Caherciveen – the next town along the route. There is a great year-round market here and a cathedral dedicated to the Irish politician Daniel O’Connell. There are also army barracks that once belonged to occupying British forces.
A side trip can be made just off the designated route by coming out of Caherciveen on the R565 along the coast where Valentia Island lies in wait. The tiny towns of Ballinskeillgs and Portmagee as well as the Skelling Islands can be reached here. These settlements are near deserted, leaving you to simply lap up the greenery and rugged coastal terrain as you please, feeling thousands of miles away from civilisation.
If you are eager to push on, stick to the N70 towards Waterville. Waterville is a town awash with craft shops and pubs and boasts celebrities such as Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods and even Charlie Chaplin (who has his own statue here) amongst former visitors. Angling is a popular pastime in these parts, likewise golf, with the course here ranking as one of the best on the planet.
The next stop on the N70 is a must. Continuing on the N70 towards Caherdaniel, the road takes you across the unmistakable Coomakista Pass. There is a designated viewpoint here – and with good reason. The scenery here is simply majestic as you look across the Kenmare River as well as the Scariff and Deenish Islands. During summer months many also make a stop at Derrynane Beach and House, where Daniel O’Connell once lived.
When back on the N70, watch out for signs for the Staigue Fort. This 2000 year-old fortress has a mystical past, with historians still unable to pinpoint the date it was constructed or indeed its purpose and dwellers. It is an impressive structure nonetheless.
Another charming town along the Ring of Kerry is Sneem. Irish holidaymakers regularly frequent it because of its pretty architecture, but also because of its beautiful blue waters and relaxing beaches.
As you leave Sneem, the small villages of Parknasilla and Templenoe will be passed through as you head towards “The Jewel on the Ring of Kerry” – Kenmare. The town itself mixes colourful houses and buildings with a good number of shops and bars. Walkers are particularly rewarded here thanks to the hills which gaze upon Kenmare, with designated trails into the hills a popular activity all year long.
Some argue that the best is saved until last however, as you take the N71 as far as Molls Gap. A designated viewpoint is signposted where you are able to enjoy the jaw-dropping beauty of the immense MacGillyciddy Reeks mountain range and the often snow-topped magnificence of the Black Valley. Killarney Lakes and National Park are situated close-by as well as the famous “Ladies View” Lake which is simply astounding to gaze upon. If time permits and you have any energy left, take in the Torc Mountains and its waterfall before making the short 8km trip back into Killarney.
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