The Ring of Kerry is one of the most famous touring routes in Ireland, with thousands of visitors each year. The entire 179km route draws a wobbly circle around the Iveragh Peninsula in County Kerry, in the south-west corner of Ireland, and it became a popular tourism route with locals as well as tourists when people realised just how many special places were contained along this relatively small part of Ireland. While the Wild Atlantic Way has been the most popular new driving route in recent years, for many the Ring of Kerry still reigns supreme.
This short guide is Overland Ireland’s attempt to offer some guidance and recommendations to anyone considering a trip to the Ring of Kerry. If we do our job right, we will inform, inspire, and enthuse you — hopefully enough to convince you to add the Ring of Kerry to your next Ireland trip. If you decide you’d like to explore Ireland with us, check out our diverse collection of small-group tours of Ireland!
Visit Muckross House
This has to be one of your stops as you travel the Ring of Kerry! Muckross House is found within Killarney National Park, just on the Muckross Peninsula between Lough Leane and Muckross Lake. Designed by William Burn and built in 1843, this mansion was built in the Tudor style, giving it an even greater sense of historicity than if it had been made in its contemporary Victorian style. The house boasts 65 rooms and has been a prominent estate in Ireland for well over a century — Queen Victoria even visited in 1861. If you love taking in the grandeur and decadence of an earlier time, then Muckross House has to feature on your big Ring of Kerry adventure.
Visit Derrynane House
Derrynane House is one of Ireland’s official national monuments. This is because it is the ancestral home of one of the county’s most important politicians: Daniel O’Connell. Often referred to as ‘The Liberator’ O’Connell mobilised the Catholic population of Ireland, securing Catholic emancipation (removing many of the restrictions imposed by the British). Widely regarded as a national hero who stood up for the Irish people, O’Connell’s home is revered by the Irish diaspora around the world; this alone makes Derrynane House worth visiting. But the house itself is also a treasure-trove of history, with beautiful architecture set against a canvas of lush green Irish countryside.
Visit the Skellig Islands
For Star Wars fans, the Skellig Islands will require very little introduction, as one of them was the set for Luke Skywalker’s hideaway in the most recent trilogy of films. The real location might not house jedi or animals that produce blue milk, but it does offer a large population of roosting puffins instead of the fictional porgs. In fact, the puffin population at Skellig Michael was so large and active that the filmmakers needed to change them in post production, using CGI to transform them into porgs.
There are two Skellig islands: Skellig Michael and Little Skellig. The former is the one that people can visit, grabbing a boat from Portmagee, but the rough seas and treacherous rocks mean that visitors are only permitted to visit between mid-May and the end of September. The island itself looks like a huge rocky boulder that reaches high above the surface of the ocean. The geography of Skellig Michael alone makes it worth visiting, but there is also an ancient monastery from the 6th century and 618 stone steps made by the monks that starts at the water and climbs all the way up to the top of the island. Overland’s Ireland to Island Tour contains a visit to Skellig Michael — read a little about it if this sounds like your kind of trip.
Visit Moll’s Gap
Moll’s Gap is a particularly beautiful mountain pass on the road from Kenmare to Killarney. This is one of the most memorable spots along the Ring of Kerry because it offers incredible views of the MacGillycuddy’s mountain range. Due to the rich supply of iron oxide, the rocks on Moll’s Gap are mostly stained green, giving the place its own unique look and feel. This may be just a small stop on the Ring of Kerry, but it always leaves a lasting impression.
Visit Torc Waterfall
For many, ourselves included, Torc Waterfall is the most beautiful waterfall in Ireland. This alone ought to cement its place on everyone’s Ring of Kerry bucket list. This stunning cascading waterfall is found in Killarney National Park, formed by the Owengarriff River. If you plan to spend any time in Killarney National Park, then Torc Waterfall is a must — just make sure to bring lots of film/memory cards so that you can take plenty of photographs.
Honourable Mention: Valentia Island
While technically not on the official Ring of Kerry route, many people consider Valentia Island to be an honourable member of the club. This island isbeside the Iveragh Peninsula, just off the Ring of Kerry route, and it is accessible via the Maurice O’Neill Memorial Bridge and by ferry. Valentia is the perfect off-the-beaten-path location, offering up all the idyllic Irish island vibes you could want. Despite the relaxed atmosphere, there is plenty to see and do to make your visit worthwhile. Make sure to check out the staggeringly diverse garden at Glanleam House (an estate dating back to the 1770s), Geokaun Mountain, and the Fogher Cliffs.
Walk the Kerry Way Instead
If walking is more your style than driving, you might like to consider the Kerry Way instead of the Ring of Kerry. This is the walking route counterpart to the Ring of Kerry and it runs more or less in the same lines as the driving route, stopping by most of the same points of interest along the way. The Kerry Way is 214 kilometres (133 miles) of idyllic Irish walking paths, with pubs, cafes, and restaurants scattered along the way to help you refresh and refuel. The walking trail was conceived of and built in 1989 and it has been exceptionally popular in the 30+ years since.
That’s your lot! We hope you’re suitably convinced that the Ring of Kerry is an absolute must-see. We also hope you’ve already added it to your Ireland bucket list. If you’d like more travel ideas, check out the Irish Bucket List we wrote earlier this month. If you have any questions about the tours mentioned in this travel guide, please feel free to contact us. What are you waiting for? Your next Irish adventure could be just a few clicks away!