Killarney is located in the heart of County Kerry, the Kingdom County. The origins of the name have been lost, but that doesn’t matter – Kerry feels like a Kingdom. Soaring mountain ranges, desolately beautiful valleys, crystal lakes and a spectacularly rugged coastline alternatively lashed and lapped by the Atlantic Ocean. Kerry has it all.
The town of Killarney, with apopulation of 14,000 is the most popular base for exploring the county,or at least the best known parts of it, Killarney National Park and the Ring of Kerry. The Ring of Kerry refers to a scenic drive around the Iveragh Peninsula. The Dingle and Beara Peninsulas are best explored from the towns of Dingle and Kenmare respectively.
Killarney has been welcoming tourists since the 18th century and the locals have become mighty good at it. It is true there are far too many souvenir shops and hardly any traditional pubs left as they all scramble for the lowest common denominator in entertainment – the singsong. But fear not, Killarney is still a very pleasant, pretty and friendly town. For Kerry people, though stupid and rather ugly – or perhaps because of it – are very welcoming indeed.
1. Killarney National Park and the Gap of Dunloe
Killarney National Park borders the town and can be explored in a myriad of ways. There is much to see beyond the beauty of its lakes and mountains, such as Ross Castle and Muckross House. Here are some options (in order of cost):
- Purchase an Ordinance Survey map from the tourist office in Killarneyand explore the park on foot at your own pace. Bring a packed lunch from Jam Café for an unforgettable picnic.
- Take a 2 hour guided walk of the park. They set off from the funeral parlour opposite St Mary’s Cathedral every morning at 11am
- Do a bike-on-boat tour. Rent a bike and cycle to Ross Castle. Sling your bike onto a boat for a tour of the lakes before cycling through the Gap of Dunloe and returning by road to Killarney. Highly recommended. This can be organised through the Tourist Office or Gap of Dunloe Tours. Allow a full day.
- Take a jaunting car (open topped horse and carriage) to Ross Castle or the Gap of Dunloe. You will have no problem finding a jaunting car. Trust us.
- Do a combination bus, jaunting car or pony and boat tour taking in the three lakes, the Gap of Dunloe,Ross Castle and Lord Brandon’s Cottage.
2. Do the Ring of Kerry
The Ring of Kerry scenic drive is really a circuit of the Iveragh Peninsula. It is deservedly famous. There are fabulous ocean and mountain views almost at every turn. It is just 175km (110 miles) long and so can be easily completed in a half a day. Much better to take your time, stopping as often as possible and letting it all soak in.Here are some Authentic Ring of Kerry tips for extra enjoyment:
- Go clockwise. Head to Kenmare and along the south of the peninsula first. All the coach tours go the other way so you will meet them coming from the opposite direction instead of being stuck behind them.
- Don’t be afraid to stray. Stray off the main road that is. There are a number of roads that criss-cross the peninsula and they are well worth exploring if you have time. The main Ring route can be pretty busy during the summer, but you can escape to a giant unspoiled landscape all on your own if you are a little adventurous and are willing to do some extra miles. The route from Glencar to Sneem is particularly splendid and otherworldly.
3. Climb Ireland’s Highest Mountain
Carrauntoohil at just 1038m doesn’t sound very high but it still makes for a challenging climb. There are a number of routes up Carrauntoohil, the two best known are the Coomloughra Horseshoe, which also takes in the second and third highest peaks and the tough MacGillacuddy Reeksridge trail, which nails six peaks in a day’s walk. You will need to be reasonably fit to tackle either, have proper hiking boots and gear, a good map, food, water and a favourable weather forecast. The routes are described in detail in Best Irish Walks by Josh Lynam.
4. Pick a Lakeside Hotel, any Lakeside Hotel
Not feeling very energetic? Want to check out the scenery but wouldrather not break a sweat. Or perhaps you’ve had a very energetic daybut now want to relax and watch the sun go down. OK, listen up. Killarney has a number of hotels that back on to Killarney NationalPark, many of them luxury 5-star properties. They all make the most of their amazing surroundings and you don’t need to be a resident to enjoy them. This means rear patio bars and restaurants where you can sitoutside with a glass of pinot grigio inthe afternoon or in the evening dine behind floor to ceiling glass asyou watch the sun set over the Lakes of Killarney. Go on, you’ve had along day, treat yourself. There are a number of hotels to choose from and we are happy to book the hotel of your choice in Killarney.
5. Sing the Night Away
Killarney is (in)famous for its singing pubs. Many pubs in Killarney have live music almost every night during the summer. This usually means live bands playing everything from well known Irish ballads and Beatles covers to the latest boy bands. By the end of the night the whole pub is singing along with wild abandon. It is easy to look down ones nose at such ‘entertainment’ but believe me it is far easierto doff your jacket, clear your throat and join the fun.
6. Visit Skellig Michael
The Skellig Islands lie some 10km off the western tip of the Iveragh Peninsula The islands are little more than two large jagged rocks jutting up out of the sea, but one, Skellig Michael, is remarkable in that it was inhabited by monks for almost 500 years beginning in the 7th or 8th century. The monastery they built is still remarkably well preserved and if you take the time out to visit I have no doubt this will probably be the most remarkable and affecting thing you will do while in Ireland.
Boats to Skellig Michael depart from Ballinskelligs, Portmagee andCaherdaniel each day between May and September. Departures are weatherdependant though. Boats need to be booked at least a day in advance andit is a good idea to check weather conditions with the boat operator onthe morning of the tour. Please note even on relatively calm days thereis no guarantee you will be able to land on the island. Dress warmlyand bring waterproof gear if you have it. Not suitable for those proneto seasickness or vertigo! Here are the websites of some boatoperators:
More info on Skellig Michael here: http://www.sacredsites.com/europe/ireland/skellig_michael.html
7. Stop in Caherdaniel
Caherdaniel is the kind of place that one dreams of retiring to. This is even more the case if the sun happens to be shining while you are there. There’s a gorgeous beach, a village with some great pubs (Freddy’s, The Blind Piper) and restaurants (The Scarriff Inn, Iskeroon). There’s also an activity centre specializing in diving, hill-walking and rock climbing.And don’t forget to visit Derrynane House, which was the home of Daniel O’Connell, a towering figure in Irish history. But best of all is the spectacular landscape which, no matter where you are standing, extends from your toes to the horizon in every direction. If you’re looking for someplace to kick back and cool your jets for a couple of hours or months, Caherdaniel could just be that place.
8. Walk or Cycle the Kerry Way
The Kerry Way is a 213km way-marked trail that takes in the best of the Iveragh Peninsula. If hiking is your thing then taking 8 to 10 days to walk the entire Kerry Way is probably as heavenly a vacation as you are likely to encounter anywhere. The walk can be broken into 20 to 30km sections so that you hike from one village or guesthouse to the next each day. Arrangements can be made to have your luggage sent ahead to your next stop. The route follows old ‘green roads’ so you avoid traffic and have nothing but the wilds of Kerry to traverse each day.
The Ring of Kerry Cycle Route naturally must stick to paved roads, but many of these skirt the main roads favoured by most traffic. The route can be cycled in 3 to 4 days.