Driving the Ring of Kerry in Ireland is one of the Top 10 things to do in this country, in my opinion. One of the most iconic drives of Ireland, your eyes are in for a treat on this 179-km loop that starts and ends at Killarney. Well, since it’s a ‘ring’, technically there isn’t a start and end really but Killarney is a good place to begin your journey – one that is going to take you through rugged countryside, the wild and gorgeous coastline, cute and colourful towns and breathtaking landscapes.
Kerry is a county in Ireland which includes some famous Irish towns such as Killarney, Kenmare, Portmagee, Dingle and Tralee (apart from others). The Ring of Kerry covers a part of this county from Killarney, through Kenmare, Waterville, Portmagee, Cahersiveen, Glenbeigh and back to Killarney. There is a lot to explore and see on this route and thus, if you are driving the Ring of Kerry, I wouldn’t suggest you do the entire drive in one day. If you’re really short on time (like I was), I’d suggest you give it at least 2 days and stay overnight in one of the many cozy towns that you’ll come across. We started our trip in Killarney.
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Driving the Ring of Kerry
Starting point: Killarney
- Muckross House & Killarney National Park
If you’re a hiking or cycling enthusiast, you might want to spend a day in Killarney National Park. Mountains, lakes, woods, and waterfalls are what make this rugged mountainous region an absolute pleasure to explore. Some of the best loop walks start from Muckross House and Gardens, a 19th-century stately Victorian house located on the banks of a calm and peaceful lake. A 3-5 hour moderately tough walk around this lake (called the Muckross Lake Loop) will take you through small beaches, rocky paths, ferns, and wildlife such as squirrels, deer, and herons. However, if you’re looking for a shorter but a slightly more tough walk, you can take the detour to Torc Waterfall. Click here to read in detail about these two hiking paths.
Alternatively, you can enjoy a horse carriage ride around the Muckross Estate and Gardens. A ticket costing €15.00 will allow you entry to the house, gardens and the traditional farms. The elegantly furnished house is a great insight into the living conditions of the stately families and their house help during the 19th century.
- Optional: Ross Castle
If you’re spending a night in Killarney, you might have some time to visit Ross Castle. This 15th-century castle is located on the banks of Killarney’s lake - Lough Lean. You can stroll the gardens for free and enjoy the beauty of the site or take a guided tour (which is included in the price of the ticket) of the castle for as less as €4.00. Alternatively, you can take a boat tour (weather allowing) to Inisfallen Island, which is right across the castle and takes only 10 minutes to get to. The island as some monastic ruins from the 12th century. For a detailed list of boat tours available on the beautiful lake, click here.
Pit stop: Kenmare (35 min)
While driving the Ring of Kerry, you will come across some very cute and cozy little towns, one of which is Kenmare. It makes for the perfect snack break on your trip. A French artisan bakery called Maison Gourmet, located at one end of the town, lined with colorful cafes, bakeries, restaurants, and pubs, serves amazing hot chocolate and baked items.
Staigue Stone Fort (drive time: 50 min, exploring time: 15 min)
While driving the Ring of Kerry from Kenmare onwards, you will arrive at a town called Sneem, which is just about 10 km before Staigue Stone Fort. At Castlecove, you will see signs for the fort and a very narrow and curvy road (which lasts for about 5 km) takes you to this 'ring' fort located on the hilltop. On a clear day, you will have a view of miles of green countryside and the Kenmare Bay in the south.
Even though the fort itself may not seem imposing and impressive, the views from here are gorgeous. There is no entry fee to this fort (although a small tip is requested for at the gate to maintain the area). The 18 feet high stone wall can be climbed on top of and it is impressive to imagine that this structure survived the rough and unpredictable Irish weather.
Pit stop: Waterville (drive time: 35 min)
Yet another town which makes for a good short break from the long drive, this is also where you’ll find Charlie Chaplin’s statue by the Wild Atlantic sea, simply because he often came here on his vacation. None of Charlie Chaplin’s films were shot here, nor was he Irish but he was a beloved character in the local community because of which his highly photographed bronze statue was erected here. There isn’t much else to explore except maybe take a quiet walk on the seafront path. Waterville, strangely, is the only town on the Ring of Kerry which is actually on the coast!
Ballinskelligs Castle (drive time: 20 min, exploring time: 30 min)
While driving the Ring of Kerry onwards from Waterville, you need to follow the signs for Skellig Ring Road, an 18-km narrow country road that will take you to Ballinskelligs first. Here, you must visit the ruins of Ballinskelligs Castle, built in the 16th century and more commonly known as McCarthy Mór Castle. This was once a tower house built for the protection of the bay from pirates, more than 3 stories tall. What remains today is minimal. Right across the castle, you will find an abbey which dates further back to the 12th century and is perhaps less eroded by the sea than the castle itself.
Skelling’s Chocolate (drive time: 10 min, experience time: 30 min)
Only about 10 minutes further ahead on Skelligs Ring Road is this company that specializes in artisanal handmade chocolates! The small family owned facility where traditional chocolates are made, is the perfect place to have authentic Hot chocolate with marshmallows available in several flavors. Choose from milk, white or dark chocolate with flavors such as caramel, cinnamon, and others when selecting your hot chocolate drink. You can also enjoy some chocolate tasting before you buy excellent chocolates to take back home with you. My personal favorites were – mint chocolate & strawberry and champagne truffles.
Kerry’s Cliffs (drive time: 15 min, exploring time: 45 min)
Kerry's Cliffs were the highlight of driving the Ring of Kerry. Although we were very unlucky with the weather, I absolutely was in awe of the majestic cliffs jutting out into the ocean. On a cold, rainy and breezy day like the one we encountered, the winds can be very strong and you need to be prepared with your warm clothes, waterproof jackets, good shoes and something to cover your head. A high, strong railing makes the area secure enough to explore despite the strong winds.
A 10-minute walk from the car park (and an entrance fee of €4) brings you to the spectacular cliffs. You have the option of exploring the right or the left side of the cliffs. I found the view absolutely incredible from the left side. A ramp leading to the edge of the cliffs provides an unparalleled vantage point to view the cliffs and the islands across - Skelligs Island and Puffin Island.
Portmagee (driving time: 10 min)
While driving the Ring of Kerry onwards from Kerry's Cliffs, you will arrive at another town called Portmagee. I would suggest spending the night here as this is a fantastic starting point for boat trips to Skellig Michael Island (also known as Sceilg Mhichíl). Listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Skellig Michael is of historical and religious significance as a group of monks settled here, far away from the civilization, in a place that was inaccessible and remote, hundreds of years ago. A monastery was discovered here which dates back to the 6th or 8th century and the well-preserved monastic remains today have made this site a popular pilgrimage.
Boat trip to Skellig Michael
Unfortunately, due to bad weather, we were unable to take this boat trip. Star Wars - The Last Jedi was shot at this spot and this made me want to visit the spectacular place even more! There are two kinds of trips that you can take, depending on the time available to you -
Eco Tour - 2.5 hours
Takes you around both the islands (Great Skelligs and Small Skelligs) but only circles around the islands, bringing you close enough to observe the wildlife and historical sites but does not land at any of the islands. There are multiple departures daily from the marina at Portmagee.
Landing Tour - 5 hours
The landing tour usually takes you to the islands to spend some time exploring the sites on your own. These usually depart early in the morning and return by afternoon.
Unfortunately, the boat tours are dependent on the weather, which is very unpredictable and unstable in Ireland.
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From Portmagee, we moved onto Dingle, thus leaving the Ring Of Kerry at Killorglin, instead of returning to Killarney. Although I have mentioned the driving time for each of the towns and sites while driving the Ring of Kerry, what you also need to factor in is that you might want to stop at several 'viewing points' on the way to enjoy the lovely scenery! The ideal thing to do would be to spend a day at Killarney before starting the drive and to spend a night in Portmagee to be able to take the boat tour to Skellig Islands the next day. Here are some more lovely pictures of the drive itself - so that you know what to expect when you're driving the Ring of Kerry in Ireland.