Ireland’s Ring of Kerry is one of those drives you’ll not want to miss when visiting the Emerald Isle, even if you only drive a portion of the road. On my travels, I focused solely on County Kerry and ended up driving parts of the Ring of Kerry more than once. I also took some alternative routes such as Ballaghisheen Pass, R568, and the Skellig Ring Drive.
The 111-mile road takes you through the heart of Killarney National Park, to the coast passing small towns along the Wild Atlantic Way, and back toward Killarney. There is plenty to see along the route, including small Irish towns, historic forts, and castles, and scenic vista after scenic vista. While the drive can be done in one day, I suggest giving yourself more time and break it up with overnight stops along the way in towns like Kenmare and Waterville as the roads are narrow and in parts windy, which can make driving a little tense. And, if you go during the season, you’ll be passing tour buses on those narrow roads too. Yikes!
Starting in Killarney and working clockwise, here are my favorite experiences along the Ring of Kerry.
1 – Innisfallen Island Boat Tour
At Ross Castle in Killarney, I caught the boat with Charlie Fleming who has lots of Irish charm and character and an adorable dog. On the way to the island, he gave us some history and told some Irish jokes. Once there, we were given 30 minutes to walk around, but I understand that might be one hour in full season. I found 30 minutes to be enough time to explore the ruins, as we (3 of us) had it all to ourselves.
Innisfallen Island is the largest island in Lough Leane. The island is the site of a monastery and school founded by St. Finian the Leper in the 6th century. The monks chronicled Ireland’s history in 39 books called the Annals of Innisfallen. Historians highly value these books, and they are located in the Bodleian Library in Oxford. The ruins on the island are from the 12th century, and there are some trails around the island.
How-Tos: To get to the island catch a motorboat at Ross and Reen pier at Ross Castle. I visited in the offseason and did not make prior arrangements. I just walked up to the boat and asked when the next tour was and had no problems. In the busy summer months, that will most likely not be the case. Be aware that these boats are open to the elements, so if it is raining or windy, you’ll want to have the proper attire. The price depends on how many people are on the boat with you. There were three on my trip, and we each paid €10.
Travel tip: You can also visit Innisfallen Island by a guided kayak tour, a covered waterbus tour (doesn’t land on the island), and private boat rental.
Travel tip: Extend your visit to the lake by visiting Ross Castle, which is one of the town’s main attractions. Visitors can view the restored castle via a guided tour. If you don’t have time to take the tour, there is a room with an exhibit next to the ticket desk.
2 – Kissane Sheep Farm
I drove through Moll’s Gap on the Ring of Kerry a handful of times, and on my way to Kenmare, I noticed the sign for Kissane Sheep Farm and their sheepdog demonstrations. Once I hooked back up to the internet, I researched the farm to see the times and days of the demonstrations. Thankfully, it worked out, as this was something I really wanted to see. Visitors view the sheepdogs from a viewing area on a hillside. The dogs are sent out into the field to round the sheep up while their owners give commands. During the process, there is commentary by one of the owners of the farm who tells you interesting facts about sheep and what the commands mean. Seeing the sheepdogs in action is impressive. They are so smart!
After the sheepdog demo is a sheep shearing demo. They’ll show the process with scissors and an electric shear. At the end of the demo, they stamp a red K on the sheep’s side, so they don’t get mixed up with neighboring sheep. You’ll also learn more about sheep and wool during this demo and have a chance to buy products made with sheep milk and wool.
How-Tos: Demonstrations run from the end of March to the end of October, and the days and times are noted their visitor information page. Click the calendar button at the top right corner of the page. The gates open 15 minutes before the first demonstration, so there is no need to arrive way ahead of time as there is limited roadside parking. Tours are €7 for adults, €6 for students, €5 for children 5 to 11, and under five free.
Travel tip: If you have some time before your demo begins or have a hungry child, Avoca Moll’s Gap (about 8 minutes from the sheep farm) has a store and a cafe. I stopped by for a late breakfast and was pleasantly surprised to find handmade dishes, desserts, and seating with a fantastic view.
3 – Sámas Spa
In Kenmare, I opted to indulge in a spa experience while staying at the Park Hotel Kenmare, and I am so glad I did for it was amazing from beginning to end. The experience lasts three hours in total so be sure to plan accordingly. The first hour includes relaxing in a sauna, under a tropical shower, reviving your skin with an ice bath, or floating in an outdoor pool with views of the water (the pool is co-ed). The second hour is your treatment of choice. And, the third hour, you get to chill in a cozy bathrobe with a blanket and headphones with music in an all-glass room.
How-Tos: If you are staying at the hotel, you’ll most likely receive an email with an invite to schedule a spa experience before your arrival, and it might include a discount as well. If it does, it’s a no-brainer to book right then. If you are not staying at the hotel and will be a day guest, you can book here. For the experience, expect to spend around €150.
4 – Kenmare Guided Heritage Walk
I wrote extensively about the Guided Heritage Walk in my recent post on why I adore Kenmare, Ireland. I thoroughly enjoyed the tour, and Anne-Marie is such an excellent guide. You’ll learn about significant historic sites in the town like Cromwell’s bridge that was built by Franciscan monks, the Stone Circle, which is the largest in Southwest Ireland, and the important places in town in years prior like the market and bridge where women gathered to get water each morning. You’ll also learn how the Irish Famine affected the townspeople of Kenmare. It’s not a pretty story. Many went into debt, were shipped off to America, and so many died. I learned that many died on the ships, and they are now referred to as “coffin ships.” You’ll also learn about some of the key players like the Father O’Sullivan who built Holy Cross Church and the Nun of Kenmare. And, then there is the famed Kenmare lace which Queen Victoria loved!
How-Tos: The tour meets in front of the Kenmare Heritage Centre. From there, you walk to the important locations around town so be sure to wear comfortable shoes and bring your camera. The tour lasts two hours, and costs €10 and includes admittance to the Stone Circle. After the tour, stop by the heritage center as all the information from the tour will help you understand the exhibits. And, be sure to check out the display of Kenmare lace!
5 – Derrynane House and Beach
While driving the Ring of Kerry, I stopped at Derrynane to see its famous beach on the tip of the Iveragh Peninsula. Little did I know that I’d have a valuable lesson in Irish history at Darrynane House, which is the former home of Daniel O’Connell. Known as Ireland’s “Liberator,” he grew up in this house, and throughout his political career, it remained his summer residence. Be sure to watch the video about O’Connell before touring the home as it will help you understand the significance of the rooms and the items in them. One unusual item they had display was his deathbed. Before he passed away in Geona in 1847 he requested his body to go Ireland and his heart to Rome. They fulfilled that request. After my tour, I walked some of the trails on the grounds and then headed to Derrynane beach, one of Ireland’s most famous and loved swimming beaches.
How-Tos: Derrynane House has seasonal houses, and you can check them out here. Cost is €5 for an adult, €4 for a senior, and €3 for a child or student. Guided tours are also available. Give yourself one hour to visit the house, and allow for at one hour at the beach or more.
Travel tip: The tearoom is open from Easter to the end of September.
6 – Skellig Ring Drive
Ireland has so many great driving routes, and the Skellig Ring is one of them. A side route on the Ring of Kerry, the drive is 20-miles, and I highly recommend it. Lonely Planet recommended it too, as it made their best of travel list in 2017. I liked it so much I drove it twice and wrote extensively about why the Skellig Ring drive is a must-do drive and why you’ll want to also continue onto Valentia Island.
Some of the highlights are old castles and churches, an award-winning chocolate factory at Skelligs Chocolates, beaches with surfers and the Skellig Islands in the distance, the impressive Kerry Cliffs, The Skellig Experience Visitor Center where you can see if you are really up to the task of taking a boat tour (seasonal) to climb up and down 600 steps carved into the side of Skellig Michael Island to see the monastery (filming location for Star Wars), dinosaur footprints, an amazing mountaintop view and a historic lighthouse.
Travel tip: The drive is only 20-miles, but you’ll not want to zip through this drive so give yourself enough time. I highly recommend staying close by to give yourself an easy morning start. In Waterville, I stayed at the historic Butler Arms Hotel and the modern Sea Lodge Hotel. Both have a different vibe, and both I’d recommend. Other nearby towns include Ballinskelligs, Cahersiveen, and Knightstown. Boat tours take visitors around the islands and some land on the island. The closest boat tour to Waterville is the Skelligs Force Awakens Boat Tours. Keep in mind, the landing tours only run from April to October.
TWO EXTRA Stops in County Kerry (Not on the Ring of Kerry)
Other stops I recommend in County Kerry that are on the way to and from the Ring of Kerry are Belnnerville Windmill and the Tralee Bay Wetlands.
Tralee Bay Wetlands – Very Kid Friendly
As a nature lover, I enjoyed my visit to Tralee Bay Wetlands. The highlights for me were the guided nature cruise through the marsh and going up into the observation tower to take in the 360-degree view. While this won’t be for everyone, it is a great stop, especially if you have kids as there is an educational and play aspect at the center, which includes educational exhibits on wildlife, paddle boats and those big balls you can get inside of on the water. There is also paved walking paths around the lake, a cafe, and a small gift store. Click here for their hours and admission prices.
Seeing the Blennerville Windmill from the observation tower at Tralee Bay Wetlands peeked my curiosity. Thankfully, I had enough time on my second to last day to check it out. Built in 1800, this wind-powered windmill was restored and reopened in 1990. There are guided tours of the windmill, and exhibits on the mill and emigration. During the Great Famine, many Irish people emigrated from this port, so if you have Irish ancestors from this part of Ireland, you might want to look into this further. The guided tour of the working windmill takes you up all the floors, and they explain what each floor was used for. Unfortunately, my old phone ate the notes I took, but I do have photos! Click for more information.
Car Rentals in Ireland
While Ireland has a fabulous train and bus system the best way to see the sights, and, of course, drive the Ring of Kerry is by car. On this trip, I partnered with Auto Europe and picked up my car at their Shannon Airport Location. Auto Europe guarantees the best Car Rental rates and they work with all major rental companies to get the best deal. Plus, they always find automatics which I needed as I don’t drive a manual. They have lots of great Ireland road trip ideas here.