2 Day Round Trip Itinerary: Killarney to Killarney
No trip to Ireland is considered complete without a drive around the world-famous Ring of Kerry! Considered the most jaw-droppingly beautiful scenic drive in the country, the route runs approximately 180km around the southernmost peninsula in Co. Kerry, a landscape so craggy that we still call it The Wild Atlantic Way.
Technically, if you were to drive without stopping, you could do the whole drive in about 3.5 hours. But, first of all, there’s no accounting for the Irish traffic (see pic on the left)…
Photo source: http://goo.gl/hUZWEv
And second, what’s your rush? There’s no more beautiful place on God’s good earth, and you’ll want to take the time to soak it all up. That’s why we recommend a leisurely 2-day trip, taking in all the sights and attractions, and breaking your journey up in Waterville.
Day 1: Start at Killarney
Photo source: https://goo.gl/gDNJ0t
Ah, Killarney. Home to some of the most gorgeous lakes in the world, let alone Ireland. If you want to overnight you can get a great value deal from Maxolbreaks.com for the wonderful 4-star Riverside Hotel Killarney. Located a mere 10 minute walk from the lake and Killarney town itself, and a short drive from Torc Waterfall, Ross Castle and Muckross House, you’ll be delighted at the value and convenience it provides (from €32 pp with 2 children under 10 staying for free).
Fuel up before the big trip at Sheahans Maxol Centra on Muckross Road.
Now, there are two ways to do the Ring: clockwise around the loop going to Killorglin or counter-clockwise through Killarney National Park towards Kenmare. We strongly recommend you drive counter-clockwise, because the tour buses all drive clockwise, and 8 hours of clenched fists and ‘are we there yets’ is hardly conducive to maintaining world peace in the car….
Killarney >>> Kenmare: 31.2km (39 mins)
The drive to Kenmare takes you right through the stunning Killarney National Park, where you will enjoy your first glimpse of the Macgillicuddy Reeks, Ireland’s highest mountain range. Stop the car at Ladies View, so called because Queen Victoria’s ladies-in-waiting admired the spot during their 1861 visit to Ireland, and look down at the Killarney lakes spread out before you. Stunning!
Photo source: https://goo.gl/XK7lwm
Out of the national park now and you’re passing into bleak bogland where the beauty becomes a little wilder. Moll’s Gap is a 15.5km stretch along this part of the road, and gives you unparalleled views of Carrantuohill, the highest mountain in Ireland. Moll’s Gap, by the way, is named for a local farmer’s daughter, Molly Kissane, who made illegal moonshine (called Poitin) out of potatoes.
Kenmare itself is a gorgeous little town full of character and charm. Stop off for a quick coffee or for a walk down Main Street to admire the tutti-frutti ice-cream coloured houses of a typical West Ireland town.
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Kenmare >>> Caherdaniel: 48.6 (54 mins)
Sneem is your halfway point on this stretch of the journey, and to get there you’ll drive through Kenmare Bay dotted with tiny, charming little fishermen villages and natural wildlife.
Just west of Sneem is Staigue Fort, a 4km detour off the main road that’s well worth making. Believed by experts to predate the arrival of St. Patrick in Ireland, this rare Iron Age structure is the oldest and largest standing ring fort in the country. Stand behind the 4 metre thick walls, close your eyes, and imagine yourself back in those dark times when such defensive measures were necessary….
Heading now onto Caherdaniel, there are two special attractions you simply cannot miss. First up is the Blue Flag Derrynane Beach/Bay, which you will first glimpse from a position of height up on the road. Stop the car here and take a walk – we guarantee you will be astonished that such a beach exists outside of Polynesia: white sand for miles, an azure sea so clear you can see straight through to the bottom of the sea, and all the personal space you can handle.
Photo source: https://goo.gl/0mxsig
If you can tear yourself away from Derrynane Beach, head up to Derrynane House, the long-time home of an Irish political hero, Daniel O’Connell, who ensured that Irish Catholics got the right to vote in the early 1800’s. The house now hosts a museum, a fairy trail, and an excellent café packing lots of caca milis (Irish for cakes!).
Caherdaniel >>> Waterville: 12.4km (16 mins)
Waterville is a small village with an illustrious past: Charlie Chaplin stayed here with his family for over 10 years, and Charles de Gaulle was also a frequent visitor. Enjoy the spot’s low-key charm for the night, and stay in the popular, family-run Butler Arms Hotel. Anybody in the family a keen golfer? Let them test their mettle on the gorgeous but not at all easy Waterville Golf Links, while you nibble on fresh (and massive!) Atlantic prawns at the popular Fisherman’s Bar in Waterville.
Day 2: Start at Waterville
Photo source: https://goo.gl/uEOBVU
After breakfast, why not take a little stroll around Waterville and say hello to the Charlie Chaplin statue near the water’s edge? Then hop back into the car and off we go to our next destination.
Waterville >>> Ballinskelligs: 20.6km (21 mins)
There is a beautiful Blue Flag Beach at Ballinskelligs, and situated right on an Atlantic bluff, it is windy enough to be legend among surfers. On a good day, you can watch them for hours (or even join in, if you’re the sporty type). But what Ballinskelligs is really famous for is its imposing volcanic sea islands just visible off the coast, the largest of which is Skellig Micheal. Once the site of a monastic settlement, it now plays host to a wild bird conservation area, and recently came to international attention when it was featured in the new Star Wars: The Force Awakens film.
Photo source: https://goo.gl/f9wbuo
Boat trips are available in good weather, but please be advised that this is a day-long affair and you have to be made of stern stuff to tackle these steps….
Photo source: https://goo.gl/Krgbsh
Grab a hot chocolate at the Skelligs Chocolate Factory instead, and observe the islands from a safe distance, that’s what we say!
Ballinskelligs >>> Portmagee: 15.5km (20 mins)
On the colourful little town of Portmagee, you will find yourself climbing up into Coomakista Pass, one of the highest points on this part of the Ring and offering stunning views on either side. Take a minute or two to admire the breathtaking splendor of nature that surrounds you. If your kids allow you, that is….
Portmagee is pretty but the main reason it’s on this itinerary is because of the causeway connecting the mainland to Valentia Island. Now, admittedly, this is a bit of a detour from the main Ring of Kerry, and if you want to go straight onto Caherciveen, be all means do. But, oh, Valentia is so gorgeous we had to include it in this trip. It will only take an hour or so to explore the island from head to toe, but it’s a slice of authentic Irish island life that will linger in your memory for years.
Photo source: https://goo.gl/5NwvXV
Portmagee >>> Caherciveen: 15.6km (16 mins)
Upon arrival in Caherciveen, fuel up at Walsh’s Maxol Supervalu on Valentia Road, and perhaps grab some snacks for the road too.
While you’re check out the fascinating building that is the Heritage Centre, or as locals call it, the Old Barracks. Built hastily in 1870 by a British government desperate to defend the new transatlantic telecommunications cable on Valentia from attacks by rabble-rousing locals and Fenians, the building was in fact burned to the ground fifty years later during the Irish Civil War by a group of local Irish women.
Photo source: https://goo.gl/FOcl7E
Caherciveen >>> Glenbeigh: 26.9km (25 mins)
The road to Glenbeigh takes you through some of the most dramatic scenery you are going to see on this trip, so keep your eyes peeled! Take a wee detour from the main road down to Rossbeigh Beach, an 8km-long Blue Flag beach protected as a natural wildlife preserve – it is bleakly beautiful, long, flat, and more than a little wild, so perfect for anglers, horse riders, windsurfers, and other sportspeople. It’s one of Ireland’s most popular and acclaimed beaches, and with good reason.
Photo source: https://goo.gl/nAMgCS
Turning inland towards Glenbeigh village itself, don’t miss the Kerry Bog Village behind the Red Fox Pub on the main road, where the traditional bog village cottages of the area have been reconstructed and filled with all the implements folks would have used to cut turf back in the day. It’s a fascinating experience. If you have little ones, they will be especially interested in the Bog Ponies, a hardy breed of small pony bred to carry turf out of the bog without getting, er, bogged down.
If you need to re-fuel or stock up on newspapers, sweets, or anything else, there’s a Sheahan’s Maxol station in Glenbeigh.
Glenbeigh >>> Killarney: 35km (36 mins)
Head off towards Killorglin, and if it’s August, make a stop at the town to experience the odd festival that is Puck’s Fair, which culminates in a goat being crowned in the Shakespearean tradition!
Now wind your way slowly back down to Killarney, skirting the edges of the beautiful lake as you do so. As you arrive back in Killarney, smile to yourself at the thought of having completed the famous Ring of Kerry and having collected enough precious photos and memories to last a lifetime.
As we say “as Gaeilge” (in Irish), “Go n-eírí an bóthar leat”, which means may the road rise to meet you!