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What to See on the Ring of Kerry Drive

Ring of Kerry Drive: Parknasilla
The Ring of Kerry drive is one of the most famous road trips in Ireland and one of Ireland's most scenic drives on the Wild Atlantic Way. There are two ways to get to County Kerry from Dublin - by land or by air. We decided to forgo the 4+ hour drive each way in favor of flying from Dublin to Kerry and renting a car there. Our plan was foolproof except for one minor detail: Hertz at the Kerry Airport has a limited supply of vehicles with automatic transmissions and the one we were supposed to get was not returned on time (the previous renters bailed out on the flight they were supposed to be on). Fortunately (Dr J to the rescue!), I know how to drive a stick shift (although I hate to drive and only do so if I absolutely have to). Hertz gave us a zippy red Fiat which partially compensated for the fact that I had to drive. I got behind the wheel (gulp!) and looked down at the controls. Not only was I sitting on the 'wrong' side of the car, but I would be driving on the 'wrong' side as well while shifting with my left hand. Good times. At least the pedals are in the same position as in the US. That could potentially be disastrous otherwise. I managed to get us from the airport to Killarney where we parked and took a stroll through town.
Our fiat for the Ring of Kerry Drive

Around Killarney - Gateway to the Ring of Kerry

Killarney Town sits right at the edge of Killarney National Park. Before embarking on a drive of the Ring of Kerry, check out some of the nearby attractions.

Muckross House

Ring of Kerry Route: Muckross House

First stop? Muckross House where we parked and took an extended hike. I loved the lavender colored berries lining the hedge outside the front porch. We hiked up to Torq Waterfall. The park is pretty damp and mossy so I wasn't surprised to see mushrooms growing on the side of a tree. Jaunting cars (horse drawn carriages) are a common way for tourists to get around the area. As fun as it looks, we decided to remain on foot. We walked along another trail into the forest and climbed up a hill where we ate lunch next to a moss covered wall.
Ring of Kerry Route: A horse-drawn carriage at Muckross House

Muckross Abbey

Muckross Abbey is about a 20 minute walk from Muckross House. Wander the ruined abbey on Lough Leane. Formerly the Franciscan friary of Irrelagh, Muckross Abbey was founded in the mid 15th century. The atmospheric graveyard on the property is still used for burials to this day. While the abbey no longer has a roof, it is otherwise well-preserved including the vaulted cloister. A giant yew tree stands proudly in the center of the courtyard reaching for the sky.
Ring of Kerry Route: Muckross Abbey

Ross Castle

Visit a 15th century stronghold of the Irish Chieftains during your visit to Killarney with a stop at Ross Castle. The impressive tower house sits right on Lough Leane. Be prepared for fierce winds if you take a hike around the grounds. We discovered an impressive old-growth forest offering some shelter from the winds whipping off the lake.
Ring of Kerry Route: Ross Castle

Killarney to Kenmare

It was already Fall when we visited the Ring of Kerry, but there were still berries growing in places. We continued our drive toward Kenmare -- our destination for the night. We stopped at a pristine lake and listened to the small waves lap against the shore. The fields surrounding the lake were dotted with yellow flowers. A ruined castle by the side of the road was an incredible specimen. I just had to pull over when I spotted some escaped sheep! I noticed that farmers tended to put a spot of paint on their sheep. I'm guessing it's to identify who belongs to whom in just these sort of circumstances.
Ring of Kerry Drive: Sheep in the road

Overnight in Kenmare

We arrived in Kenmare and enjoyed a fine dinner (complete with homemade ice cream) at the Lime Tree Restaurant. Before dinner, we took a quick stroll around town and then popped in for a pint of Murphys at Crowley's Bar. This pub definitely boasted some good craic but we were surrounded by Americans. I guess when you're in a tourist town you should expect to see tourists. We called it an early night in anticipation of the big Ring of Kerry drive the next day.

If you have more time to spend in Kenmare, make a reservation at Tom Crean Fish and Wine (we went back to Kenmare on a subsequent trip). While Tom Crean, Irish Antarctic explorer, is most famous for his adventurous exploits and well known for his craft beer, Tom Crean's restaurant in Kenmare not only features lots of photos and memorabilia but also delicate and well prepared seafood.

We stayed at Virginia's Guesthouse, a delightful Bed and Breakfast in Kenmare. Neil and Noreen treated us to comfortable and affordable accommodations. We fortified ourselves for the Ring of Kerry drive with Noreen's specialty -- blue cheese, pears, and bacon on toast.

Ring of Kerry Hotels: Parknasilla

Looking for a cool place to stay along the Ring of Kerry for a few days? Consider Parknasilla Resort and Spa. Stay in a sprawling 18th century manor house overlooking Kenmare Bay. You could easily stay at Parknasilla for 2-3 days and never leave the property. Spend a day relaxing in the spa, play a round of golf, or just hiking the grounds. I took a few really invigorating walks while I was there enjoying spectacular views. Keep an eye out for magical fairy forts hiding on the property. If you aren't content just to wander without a destination in mind, seek out the Parknasilla walled garden. In the evening, grab dinner at the onsite restaurant or curl up in front of the fire in the lounge or bar.
Ring of Kerry Hotels: the grounds of Parknasilla

Kenmare to Sneem

We faced a drizzly morning but couldn't resist stopping in Sneem to see the statue of Steve "Crusher" Casey on the town square. Casey was a renowned wrestler and hometown favorite. Continuing on, we encountered Charlie Chaplin at the side of the road near Waterville. Apparently, Chaplin lived in this area for a while.
Ring of Kerry Drive: Charlie Chaplin statue in Waterville

Detour Onto the Skellig Road

Ring of Kerry Ride: The Skellig Road
We stopped at the Waterville Craft Market and then turned off onto the Skellig Ring to avoid oncoming tour buses (a great tidbit of advice from Rick Steves, a popular travel writer in the United States). The roads grew really narrow in certain areas. Many roads that seemed wide enough for only one direction of traffic were actually two-way roads. We also encountered a pack of dogs walking down the center of the road with their master. Take it slow and stay alert.
Ring of Kerry Route: Man walking dogs in the road

Valentia Island

We crossed over onto Valentia Island which has the distinction of being the site where the first transatlantic cable was launched and made the world a lot smaller than it once was. I recently read A Thread Across the Ocean which recounts the true story of the achievement. Unfortunately, the Valentia Heritage Center which has a lot of memorabilia about the cable was closed.

Seasonally, you can take a boat from Portmagee on the mainland just across from Valentia Island to Skellig Michael. Skellig Michael is home to a monstery that is over 1500 years old. If you are interested in learning more about how a monastery was founded and survived for hundreds of years on a bare piece of rock in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, I highly recommend reading Sun Dancing by Geoffrey Moorhouse. Moorhouse weaves a compelling tale that is part novel part work of true history of what life was like for the monks of Skellig Michael. More recently, Skellig Michael has become even more famous as the setting where Luke Skywalker lived in seclusion in the final Star Wars trilogy.

The boat to Skellig Michael is known to be a rough ride so bring your seasickness medicine if you decide to undertake the trip. Also make sure to build some slack into your itinerary if you plan to travel to Skellig Michael since the boat trips are often cancelled due to inclement weather.
Ring of Kerry Route: Valentia Island
We skipped Skellig Michael this time and drove into Knightstown on Valentia Island and onto the car ferry. Whee! We emerged and reconnected with the Ring of Kerry. Rick Steves' advice was perfect. We didn't see a single tour bus along the Ring.

Ring of Kerry Ancient Stone Forts

The Ring of Kerry is known for various ring forts that are more than 2000 years old. We veered off the main road at Cahersiveen and walked a good 0.5 km from the parking lot to the Cahergal Fort. We passed a variety of adorable livestock en route. We were rewarded with an up close view of the structure. It was amazing to think how old it was and how well-preserved. We decided to celebrate our arrival and the magnificence of the site by eating a strudel we had picked up that morning then and there.
Ring of Kerry Drive: Cahergal Fort

Completing the Ring of Kerry Route

We completed the Ring of Kerry drive and ended up back in Killarney. There was a bit of a family day/music festival going on. We were treated to some jazz from the Two Mikes Band. The highlight of the show was when the Mayor of Killarney actually got up and started to sing a classic Irish tune. It was a bit melancoly (something about mothers and not appreciating them until they were gone) but I give him an A for effort and thanks for serenading the end of our successful weekend trip to County Kerry.

SIDEWALK SAFARI SPOTLIGHT: Are you interested in other Ireland road trip ideas? Have you thought about:

Map of the Ring of Kerry Route

Click on the image of the map below to open an interactive version in Google Maps highlighting the Ring of Kerry drive and points of interest on this Ireland road trip.

Map of the Ring of Kerry Route

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Driving the Ring of Kerry Route in IrelandThe Ring of Kerry Drive in Ireland

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Sidewalk Safari | Part-time Travel Blog: What to See on the Ring of Kerry Drive
What to See on the Ring of Kerry Drive
Discover what to see on the Ring of Kerry Drive. Drive the Ring of Kerry route in Ireland, one of the most iconic Irish road trips.
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