Waterville Ireland is a small village at the far end of the Ring of Kerry Drive on the Wild Atlantic Way and is a popular summer destination. In addition to the stunning views, relaxing atmosphere, and windswept beaches, you'll find a rich history. Did you know that Waterville and nearby Valentia Island are full of landmarks related to the early days of undersea Transatlantic cables? We decamped from Dublin to Waterville to work for a week in September for a change of scenery. Read on for things to do in and near Waterville for a leisurely week in County Kerry.
Where to Stay in Waterville Ireland?
Waterville Ireland Sunsets
It takes approximately 5 hours to drive from Dublin to Waterville if you don't stop at all along the way. Realistically, Waterville is a full day's drive from Dublin if you take your time and stop for lunch at sumptuous Adare Manor en route. That means you'll hopefully arrive just in time for one of Waterville's best features: the sunset.
We walked down to the waterfront (less than a 10 minute walk from the Old Cable Station Office) and timed our arrival for the sunset. Station yourself just across from the Butler Arms Hotel for the best views. I'll admit, I got a little distracted by the adorable birds flying among the rocks and scurrying along the beach. In particular, I saw a cute Northern Wheatear roaming along the beach.
Despite being distracted by Waterville's birds, I didn't miss the sunset after all. We were treated to a cracking sunset on that first night and again later in the week during our stay. The weather sometimes foils the show but if you're lucky you'll see a beautiful sunset over the Ring of Kerry at least a few times on a week long trip.
Waterville Craft Beer
Irish craft beer is on the rise and we love to taste the offerings of different local brewers. McGills Brewery is based in Waterville with a small shop and tasting room along the Ring of Kerry near the turn-off for the Balaghasheen Pass. You'll also find McGills craft beer in the two grocery shops in Waterville. We tried smooth and sweet Skellig Monk Blonde Ale and a smoky Dark Sky Reserve Irish Stout. Supping on a pint at the Old Cable Station Office was a great way to end the day after a long drive!
Waterville Ireland Sheep Herding Experience
The absolute highlight of our trip to Waterville was a sheep herding experience with Hidden Hills Waterville that we booked on AirBnB. Sinead and her dad, Tim, met us at a turn-off onto a tiny local road above Waterville Village. They've been raising and tending sheep on this land for generations. When we arrived on the farm, Sinead gave us tall wellies to keep our shoes clean. We got to learn all about sheep farming and get up close with the herd. We stood with a shepherd's crook in a small pen with 80 sheep while enjoying sweeping views over Lough Currane and Waterville Village beyond. Did you know that sheep are mainly raised for their meat? Despite a surge in crafts and knitting, the wool is basically worthless. We also learned that in Tim's younger days, he'd have to get up at 4 am to herd the sheep to market on foot all the way to Cahersiveen!
We learned about different types of sheep and how dogs are used to round up different parts of the herd for inspection each day. I definitely recommend this experience at Hidden Hills Waterville! It takes about an hour and the farm is just a 15 minute drive from Waterville.
Waterville Ireland Day Trips
Caherdaniel and Staigue Fort
Caherdaniel is a town steeped in history with some spectacular views along the way and was our target destination for the day. Stop to see the sweeping seascapes and rolling hills from the Ring of Kerry carpark next to Beenarourke. You may even be serenaded by a local busker. I dropped 2 EUR in his hat and we had a lovely chat (at a distance of course).
It takes a bit of effort and a white knuckled drive down a very narrow road to get to Staigue Fort. The drive is totally worth it though! For just 1 EUR, you can explore the grounds of this ~2000 year old stone fort. Staigue Fort almost seems to undulate. You can even climb the steps and have a walk around. Mind your head, the entrance is low.
We finally arrived at Derrynane House near Caherdaniel. Why is Derrynane House noteworthy? Built in the early 18th century, this became Daniel "The Liberator" O'Connell's country retreat. Daniel O'Connell is famous for fighting the 18th century Irish Penal Laws that prevented Catholics from holding office. He ultimately won Catholics the right to become Members of the British Parliament two centuries before Irish Independence. Take a tour and watch a short video for 5 EUR per person.
Have a wander through the gardens and church and then hike the Derrynane Seashore Nature Trail. The sand dunes, rolling hills, and brisk wind make for an invigorating walk.
Skellig Ring and Kerry Cliffs
Another fun Waterville day trip is to drive the Skellig Ring and visit Kerry Cliffs. This day out is all about the scenery (although we were surprised by some most excellent food along the way).
Our first stop of the day was Skelligs Chocolate for a tasting and to buy some treats. I think Skelligs Chocolate is probably the most remote chocolate factory/shop in Ireland if not the world. Try some of their truffles. The Skelligs vanilla truffles are addicting. Go for the Skelligs whiskey creme truffles if you are looking for something punchier.
It's a white knuckled ride from Skelligs Chocolate to Kerry Cliffs on a road that winds through the hills with barely enough clearance for a single car. Keep an eye out for pull-off spots in case you encounter an oncoming vehicle. One of you may have to back-up. Thankfully, traffic was really light when we visited. The drive may be harrowing, but the views on the Skellig Ring are worth the drive.
Spend an hour taking in the views at the Kerry Cliffs. This scenic tourist attraction on private land costs 4 EUR to enter. If you're lucky, you'll catch a glimpse of the Skellig Islands including Skellig Michael from Kerry Cliffs. It was hazy when we visited but that added to the mystique of the islands on the horizon.
From here we completed the Skellig Ring drive and stopped at Portmagee and the Smugglers Cafe. We enjoyed a cappuccino made from single origin beans, carrot cake (dessert first!), seafood chowder, and savory kataifi. The kataifi was fish served inside a birds nest crust with a flake like baklava. That meal at the Smugglers Cafe was the best of our entire trip!
For our final stop of the day we popped into the Skellig Experience on Valentia Island. Here we learned about the 1000 years of history of the Skellig Islands without getting on a boat. Park in Portmagee and walk across the bridge to the Valentia Island (10 min). Keep an eye out for birds on the way.
Finish the day back in the Old Cable Station Office with a wee dram of local Portmagee Whiskey.
SIDEWALK SAFARI SPOTLIGHT: Looking for other places to visit in County Kerry or nearby along the Wild Atlantic Way? Why not:
Valentia Island is another great day trip to take from Waterville Ireland. Start the day by hiking the Bray Head Loop. The initial part of the trail is well kept and well marked.
Brace yourself for the uphill climb to the tower. The loop continues past the abandoned tower; onwards and upwards! We went a little further and then turned back, retracing our steps rather than completing the loop due to fog and high winds. The apex of the trail is pretty exposed with sheer drops into the Atlantic below. Hiking the Bray Head Loop definitely builds up an appetite. Stop for a scenic picnic at one of the tables near the car park.
After lunch, we pulled over to check out a few memorials commemorating the landing of the first trans-Atlantic cables on Valentia Island and to marvel in this really impressive 19th century engineering achievement.
Next up, we drove out to the Tetrapod Trackway, the point where the first reptilian-like creatures emerged from the sea 380 million years ago and left a trail ultimately frozen in the rock. The timescale of these events is simply mind-blowing. Make sure to take a moment to admire the simply awesome thatched cottage near the Tetrapod Trackway, The view is best from the hiking trail.
From here, it's a short drive to the Valentia Island Lighthouse. Beware: the road to the lighthouse is STEEP and narrow. Tour the exhibits and climb the tower for 5 EUR. Valentia Island Lighthouse is also a good spot for a toilet break on this drive. When we visited, the toilets were closed due to a water issue so make sure to have a back-up plan.
After a bracing tour of the lighthouse grounds, we checked out the history of Valentia Island at the Valentia Heritage Centre. Located in an old schoolhouse in Knightstown, you'll find detailed history of the area including the laying of the world's first trans-Atlantic cables. Warning: there is no parking onsite and the nearby road is extremely narrow. Make sure to turn those sideview mirrors in!
Knightstown is a sleepy village on Valentia Island and especially so on a Monday in September. Walk the streets and steep in all the colors of this chill Irish village before driving onto the ferry (8 EUR single) bound for Cahersiveen #Ireland.
Exploring Waterville Village
You may be wondering: what is there to do in Waterville Ireland itself if you stay there for a week? The biggest excitement will likely be walking into the village. There are no footpaths and I found it to be a little unnerving to walk down an "N" (national) road on foot. Fortunately for us, traffic around the Ring of Kerry was much lighter than usual when we visited. Even so, consider bringing a Hi Vis vest and flashlight with you for added safety on the road. Aside from the walk into town, here are a few things that make Waterville worth visiting.
Fish and Chips with a View in Waterville Ireland
There are relatively few restaurants in Waterville. We grabbed a seat at Bosca Bia, an outdoor eatery at the Sea Lodge. The fish and chips was amazing and was rendered even more amazing by the spectacular sea views. Bosca Bia was so good that we ate there twice.
Charlie Chaplin and his family were regular visitors to Waterville for over a decade and the village pays homage every summer with the Charlie Chaplin Comedy Film Festival. Year round, visitors can pose for a selfie with a statue of Charlie Chaplin on the waterfront. I enjoyed photographing the Chaplin statue under a variety of weather conditions.
You'll also find a second sculpture on the Waterville waterfront. The sculpture looked like a narwhal when I first saw it, but it turned out to be the bow of a ship harkening back to local mythology.
If you are an early riser and take a walk into Waterville Village, you'll be rewarded with both a colorful door and nautical street art at the Bay View Bar and Hotel. Check it out before the bar opens at noon for best effect.
Waterville to Cahersiveen
Waterville to Cahersiveen takes about 20 -30 minutes by car depending on how comfortable you are driving on narrow Irish roads. Pop into Cahersiveen for a little shopping (lots of cool local crafts) and a visit to the Daniel O'Connell Memorial Church.
Stay for dinner in Cahersiveen with pizza at the Oratory, a restaurant built in an old church. The Diablo pizza washes down well with a glass of Malbec.
Morning Walks in Waterville Ireland
Pick the day you expect the weather to be nicest and drive out to Ballinskelligs Beach on the Skellig Ring which is about a 15 minute drive from Waterville. The early morning light of the sunrise over Ballinskelligs Castle and Abbey is simply magical.
Ballinskelligs Abbey holds a special place in history as the priory where the monks of Skellig Michael came ashore in the 16th century giving up their windswept island life. On the return from Ballinskelligs Abbey, walk out onto the sandy peninsula to the ruins of Ballinskelligs Castle. The views are amazing and you can even climb a crumbling staircase to the top. Just watch your step! Allow an hour in total for a brisk hike to the Ballinskelligs Abbey and Castle.
Waterville Golf Club
No driving is required to access the hike to Waterville Golf Links and the nearby beach. We definitely found it unnerving to be walking on the road but the road to the golf course is a local road with very little traffic at least. The morning walk to Waterville Golf Links is great for birdwatching. We spotted a great tit, stonechat, tree pipit, and mergansers. Take a short walk along the beach and then keep an eye out for curious cows on your return walk to the Old Cable Station Office.
Another popular thing to do in Waterville is visit Lough Currane. One morning, I decided to take a walk to Lough Currane. It takes about 20 minutes on foot to get from the Village to the Waterville Lake Rowing Club.
I was even more excited about the cows living around the lake than I was about the lake itself! I definitely made a few new bovine friends that day.
To be fair, Lough Currane is quite picturesque and moody in the morning especially on a cloudy day when you might catch a ray of sunlight peeking through and glinting off the surface of the water.
Waterville to Dublin
We made the most of the drive from Dublin to Waterville by planning a few detours and stops along the way. We planned to do the same on the return trip from Waterville to Dublin.
The Ballaghasheen Pass
We drove back to Dublin via the Ballaghasheen Pass. The road is super narrow in parts but the views are amazing and the traffic was light. We saw sheep and a cow crossing the road. I recommend the Ballaghasheen Pass for the drive home rather than the drive to County Kerry. If you aren't used to narrow Irish roads, the drive can be exhausting and that is compounded at the end of a 5 hour drive. Better to tackle the Ballaghasheen Pass when your eyes and reflexes are fresh at the start of the journey.
Killorglin is another lovely spot to stop and stretch your legs on your return to Dublin from Waterville. We spotted some fantastic street art. Have a wander around the town and I think you'll be delighted by the colorful creations that you'll find. Killorglin is also a great place to stop for a bite to eat. Jacks Bakery & Deli serves some delicious savory hand-held pastries. Grab and go and then enjoy a picnic along the river before hopping back into the car to speed back to Dublin along the motorway.