If you are researching for a future trip to Ireland, you most likely have seen many articles about the Ring of Kerry.
That is because this scenic route is one of the most popular destinations in the country. Its complete loop actually starts inland, at the town of Killarney, runs by the nearby National Park and goes along an outer loop known as the Iveragh Peninsula.
During the loop’s 180 km, visitors can enjoy beautiful beaches, scattered ruins, mountainous landscapes, numerous islands and lakes.
Unlike other parts of Ireland, County Kerry is extremely popular and its beautiful landscapes and coastal towns can be overrun with tourists and coaches.
Tip: To overcome the large crowds and have a relaxing drive, I recommend dividing your route into two days: Start in Killarney to see the inland portion (visit the national park and surrounding areas) and the next day, drive along the peninsula.
Killareny National Park en Route to The Quiet Kenmare
A major stop for tour buses and visitors entering the area, Killarney is the gateway to the Killarney National Park and the Ring of Kerry. Filled to the brim with pedestrians, its streets are great for those who enjoy a good stroll since they are lined with a vibrant local and at times tourist-centered commerce.
We did not spend too much time in Killarney but instead relished the National Park, located just outside of town.
The 11th century ruins of Muckross Abbey and the 600 foot Torc Waterfall are must stops in the park. If you enjoy estate tours than head to the extensive grounds of Muckross House, a 19th century manor lined with horse carts that visitors take for leisurely rides along nearby lakes.
Killarney is also a popular town to spend the night but we opted to drive south to the much quieter Kenmare, located at the edge of the southeast portion of the Ring.
The route from Killarney all the way to Kenmare is part of the inner Ring of Kerry that runs along N71. As you head south, the road elevates into the mountains and viewpoints to soak up the stunning views will appear along the way.
One not to be missed is technically not on the Ring, but along R568. As you reach near a large lookout called Moll’s Gap, follow the brown signs for Black Valley and drive one minute to a small vantage point off the road.
You will be welcomed to a valley that is wide, mountainous, rugged and desolate, with only a few sheep grazing nearby.
Spend the night in Kenmare and wake up early for one the best drives in Ireland.
A Full Day’s Drive on the Outer Ring, N70
The road along this stretch of the Ring follows the open ocean as you go along the Iveragh Peninsula. By leaving from Kenmare, you will be driving clockwise to help avoid being caught behind the couches that normally drive this route counterclockwise.
Located on a hill surrounded by green pastures and herds of sheep is Staigue Fort. A small detour inland from the main route through exceptionally narrow roads, will lead you to this circular dry-stone, Iron Age fort that served as a defensive stronghold.
Near the tip of the peninsula is Coomakista Pass, an all-encompassing lookout offering a two sided view of the region. Once there, you can actually see for miles the vast patchwork of stone walls that divide the area’s green pastures up until the ocean.
Brown signposts should direct you to two ring forts (Cahergal and Leacanabuaile) and the ruins of Ballycarbery Castle as you drive north through the quiet town of Cahersiveen. These sites are located amidst private farmland, but they are free to access.
If you are short on time, at least explore the ivy-filled ruins of the former 15th century castle sitting at the water’s edge.
Back to Killarney or Not
For those who enjoy taking it slow, you can opt to stay in the bed and breakfasts scattered throughout the peninsula or drive back to Killarney ( from Cahersiveen it will take approximately one hour) and complete the Ring.
We spent the night in Portmagee, a small town located in the middle of the ring, at the edge of the peninsula in order to catch the boats that leave from its port and land on the Island of Skellig Michael.
Portmagee is a quiet place, especially at night after the fish boats have docked and the only thing you see are the seagulls fighting each other for leftover fish.
To reach the port town from N70, you can follow the Skellig Ring, an off-the-main-path circuit that has some of the best views of the regions’ landscape.
Tip: Just outside of Portmagee are the stunning Kerry Cliffs. Pay an attendant, walk a few minutes along a dirt path and you will be presented with a long drop and wide views of the entire rocky coast.
Portmagee is also connected to Valencia Island - so large that looks like an extension of the mainland. We spent our evening at the peak of the island’s Geokaun Mountain and Fogher Cliffs and enjoyed stunning views of several sea cliffs and coves that envelop the area.
KEEP IN MIND
The Wrap-Up: Even though it can be teeming with tourists (we went in mid-September which helped to reduce the crowds), the Ring of Kerry should not be missed. It will most likely be one of the highlights of your trip due to its relentless stunning landscape.
The B&B in Kenmare: Avelow House is located just outside of town. Extremely affordable and run by a sweet innkeeper called Pat. He will make you want to stay longer!
The Restaurant in Kenmare: The Coachman’s is located in the heart of town. It is a great place for fish and chips, a pint of Murphy’s and some great traditional Irish Music.
The B&B in Portmagee: Because of our schedule, we needed a hotel right in the heart of town which was not the best. There are plenty of B&Bs right on the outskirts of town which are fairly priced and quite comfortable.
The Eateries in Portmagee: Skelligs Chocolate Factory. The name says it all and they offer numerous samples of their chocolate as you explore the store. It is also a great spot to get coffee and some well-deserved driving rest. This large factory is hard to miss along the Skellig Ring Circuit.
The Heritage Card: It provides free access to all state managed OPW Heritage sites (monuments and historic properties) located throughout the country for a full year. During the time we spent in County Cork and County Kerry, we utilized this card quite extensively since we visited multiple sites in both regions.
- Want to see the full trip and plan your next? Check out our Ireland Two Week Itinerary!