Ireland is known for its endless green rolling hills, flocks of sheep, winding roads, & the ever changing weather! To soak in the absolute best of it all, and to witness Ireland’s most scenic locations, be sure to add driving the Ring of Kerry. into the list of must do things on your vacation! I can not imagine having missed this epic drive, and not making it a MAJOR part of my itinerary. There are many ways to go about driving the Ring of Kerry, however I am going to highlight the route I chose to go, and mention the must see stops along the way!
The Ring of Kerry is roughly 125 miles long full of quaint colorful villages to stop off in for a pint, stunning jagged mountains, endless amounts of green, sheep, cows, ocean views, & cliffs! You will want to set at least one full day aside for driving the Ring of Kerry. However, you can easily make a 2 or 3 day trip out of driving it, stopping to spend nights in the villages, and take your time to see it more thoroughly. I wish my time schedule would have allowed this, but I had one day to pack as much action in as I possibly could. So here is how we drove the Ring of Kerry in one day, about 8 hours start to finish!
Choosing a home base: Seeing as you will be driving all day long, it is wise to have a home base in mind of where you want to spend the night after the long drive. There are plenty of options along the route, however most commonly chosen is Killarney! Killarney was by far the most charming, beautiful town I stayed in during the length of my stay. I would highly recommend it to anyone! The downtown is lined with pubs playing traditional Irish folk music, and overall has a very relaxed atmosphere. We stayed at Killarney Lake Hotel, for non budget travelers, this is by far the most beautiful hotel to stay at in all of Killarney! The rooms were spacious and well equipped with everything we needed, along with a perfect little balcony overlooking stunning views of the lake, snow capped mountains. and lots of wildlife! The hospitality was off the charts, and really lived up to the Irish hospitality that you hear about! We went for my boyfriend’s 30th birthday and upon arriving to our room they had special “30” balloons, and a lovely large painted print of the picturesque scene we got from our balcony of the grounds. It was so thoughtful and really started the trip off on a high note!
For budget travelers, or anyone looking to have a drink in a pub, & meet fellow travelers. Head over to The Súgán Hostel; A Lord of The Rings themed Hostel!
PRO TIP: Book at this hotel in the off season as we did, we paid about half the price and they had packages that included our meals which was TOTALLY worth it!
WHICH DIRECTION DO YOU DRIVE?
There are many differing opinions and recommendations on which direction to start the Ring of Kerry going clockwise or counter clockwise. Both are great routes, and will lead you to see the same stuff, just in a different direction! I chose to go counter-clockwise as this is said to help avoid the massive amounts of tourists and tour buses traveling the winding roads. We did counter-clockwise and ran into zero traffic or stops the whole way through. However, we did visit in the off season and probably would have been fine going clockwise as well. If you are visiting during the peak season, definitely go counter clockwise! We were excited to be off on our journey driving ourselves through the country, as the day before we were on a long bus journey, with Paddy Wagon Tours. You can check out my full review of doing a tour with them HERE! But anyways, we were pretty stoked to get behind the wheel and free drive in whichever way the road lead us!
1. Gap of Dunloe
It is not necessarily the first stop on the Ring of Kerry, but it was the first notable one we wanted to stop at to explore. Much to our surprise. this Gap of Dunloe ended up being one of the major highlights of the whole day, as well as the trip! This place made me feel like I stepped right into a real life fairy tale. Florescent green overtakes the landscape with the scariest and most entertaining roads I have probably ever been down! Seriously there were a few times, I had no clue how we were going to get around the bend, but we did it and so can you! (TIP: If renting a car, rent as compact of a car as you can! Sheep and rams run through the roads and cover the rolling hills for miles! It will be easier to drive the narrows roads in as small of a car as possible!) You’ll have fun spotting little waterfalls running down the sides of the mountain every couple minutes! The very beginning of the drive you reach a stunning bridge, known as the “Wishing Bridge,” be sure to stop at this breathtaking view and take it all in, snap a few photos, and make a wish! The higher up you go, the landscape starts getting more jagged, rocky, and almost volcanic looking. The road leads you into the Black Valley! There is not much going on down in the Black Valley, but it is definitely a beautiful drive, and makes you feel like you’re on another planet!
2. Port McGee
From Gap of Dunloe, we headed straight for the little fishing village, Port Mcgee, also known as the main point for getting out onto the infamous Skellig Michael! (Yes, the awesome place Luke Skywalker goes to hide out in Star Wars is actually a real place!) This town also connects you to driving the Skellig Ring & to Valencia. Port Mcgee was a bit sleepy when we went, as again we were in the off season. However, I could see it being very busy and touristy with lots of tourist boats, and people trying to get out to the Skelligs! Port Mcgee is a good place to stop off for lunch! You must go to the restaurant pictured below, O’KEEFFE’S. I had the best darn clam chowder there of my life! It was full of local Irish swearing fishermen, and served up seafood that was caught and brought to the kitchen right there that day! Don’t miss it!
3. Valentia, Brays Head Trail
Valentia serves as Ireland’s most western point of the Iveragh Peninsula! This little island sits directly across from Port McGee and is absolutely stunning! Continue to drive up the road once crossing over the bridge until you reach a parking lot, and start seeing a whole lot of adorable sheep! This is the parking lot you want to park in to go walk the Bray Head Trail, and trust me this CAN NOT BE MISSED! Next to Gap of Dunloe, this was by far the most stunning and awesome part of the whole day! This walk made me feel like I was one of the only people on the planet, it is a peaceful surreal walk with the best views of Skellig Michael every direction you look! I would definitely recommend walking to the very top, which takes about 45 minutes depending, (I pretty much stopped every 5 minutes to take photos, so you’d probably move much faster!) Once you reach the top there is an old abandoned house that you can go stand in and if you keep walking past it to the top of the mound, all the sudden massive jagged cliffs appear right in front of your eyes!
4. Skellig Ring-
Sadly, we drove the Ring of Kerry about 2 weeks too early before Skellig Michael boat tours started going out! I was majorly bummed we were unable to do this, just based on seeing them from a distance, I KNOW this experience would be incredible so definitely do it if you have the chance! Boats leave daily, but book in advance as the Star Wars movie has now made them one of the most sought after attractions in all of Ireland! Seeing as we missed out on the Skellig, we did the next best thing, which is take a little detour off the Ring of Kerry, and drive the Skellig Ring. The Skellig ring offers views of Skellig Michael the whole way, as well as stunning cliffs, beaches, and towns!
5. Kilarney National Park-
After you finish driving the Skellig Ring, you get back onto the Ring of Kerry and shortly after find yourself making way into the peacefulness of Kilarney National Park! Part of me wishes we started here, but it is probably a good thing we didn’t because I could have explored there all day long! The park is huge! Full of trails, lakes, and streams! The most popular view point is Ladys View, we got to watch a stunning sunset here.
6. Torc Waterfall-
Honestly, I’ve seen some pretty amazing waterfalls in my lifetime, (thanks, Croatia) and while I appreciate them all, I totally thought Torc Waterfall was going to be a take it or leave it kind of place, but boy was I wrong! Immediately upon parking your car, you walk into the most intence green mossy fairyland! Hobbits, and fairies, and gnomes are definitely living out there I just know it. In less than ten minutes you follow a beautiful flowing stream up to the gushing 80 foot waterfall.
7. Ross Castle–
Ahh You’ve made it! Have driven the full ring! The last stop of the tour for us was the charming, Ross Castle! A 15th century castle that stands tall along the lake. They offer tours to view the inside daily for 5 Euros. I highly recommend stopping at this castle and walking the well kept grounds. Once your done, make your way back into Killarney and stop and have yourself a pint. You deserve it after all the adventuring you’ll accomplish in a day! If you are craving one of the best local meals around, and maybe in all of Ireland, with fantastic whiskey flights end your day at the Celtic Whiskey Bar, you’ll be dreaming of the meal for the rest of time, like I currently am while writing this.
So there you have it! Your route to an action packed, fun filled day driving the Ring of Kerry.
Are you going to Ireland soon?
What is your itinerary?
Have you driven the Ring of Kerry before? What were your favorite stops?
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Thanks for reading & keep the adventures rollin’