OK so I announced this trip in partnership with Trivago only a few weeks ago, but in announcing the trip and undertaking it, there are a couple of details and tidbits of information I wish to add.
1. The plan of course did not go to plan. The reality of the road trip was that we travelled far further and saw far more than we first intended. No bad thing at all!
2. In driving further than planned, we actually explored beyond just the Ring of Kerry, and unknowingly undertook 2 additional driving routes known as the Skellig Ring Road and Valentia Ring Road. This post includes sights and attractions along both those 2 additional driving routes and not just the Ring of Kerry itself. However as those 2 additional routes are only really accessible via the Ring of Kerry, I see it as just to include them in this write up. I shall highlight them where possible though.
Now on with the reasons why you too might consider a trip to Ireland, and hiring a car to drive one of it’s most stunning routes.
Let’s begin shall we?
Killarney is a buzzing town and your most likely entry point onto the Ring of Kerry. There is no airport in Killarney, so you would need to travel from Cork or Shannon airport by car to reach Killarney in the first place, but neither is a long journey, and if taken in the morning will allow you to spend at least 1 afternoon exploring Killarney.
And why not? According to Tripadvisor, Killarney is Ireland’s most popular tourist destination of 2105, and ranks an impressive 23rd in the whole of Europe.
Ross Castle is a mere 10 minute drive from Killarney town centre, but a most worthwhile stop off as you begin your drive around the Ring of Kerry.
Built in the late 15th century, the castle is typical of strongholds of Irish chieftains built during the Middle Ages. The central, multi floored tower house had square bartizans on diagonally opposite corners and was surrounded by a square bawn (defensive wall) defended by round corner towers on each end.
You may explore around Ross Castle at your leisure (car parking is free), but to venture inside the castle itself you must undertake a guided tour at €4.00 per adult and £2.00 for children.
To stop again so soon (Torc Waterfall is just another 10 minutes drive from Ross Castle), may feel a little frustrating, but again the Torc Waterfall is another significant reason to visit County Kerry and drive the ring.
Parking is free, and the falls are only a mere 300m walk from the car park. The path/track leading to the fall can get a little muddy, but is essentially wheelchair and pushchair friendly. It can also get rather crowded (as can the car park) owing to the popularity of this stop off with coach parties who are bringing their Ring of Kerry tour to a close.
That’s one benefit of driving the Ring of Kerry at your own leisure – no real time constraints. Whereas people on a coach were in a rush to get to the falls, take their photos and then get back to their coach, those of us in cars were able to explore the area a little more, including walking up approximately 100 or so steps to allow for a better view. There were also a number of walking tracks of various difficulties in and around the walls that could be undertaken if you had the time.
As the road winds upwards, further into the Killarney National Park (designated as a Biosphere Reserve in 1981 by UNESCO), there becomes ample opportunity to take in some stunning views over County Kerry, and in particular the lakes that surround Killarney on it’s western and southern sides – Lake Muckross and Lough Leane.
The name ‘Ladies View’ was supposedly born in 1981, when Queen Victoria’s ladies-in-waiting took a particular shine to the views when visiting the area. I would tend to agree with them, and recommend that Ladies View be a stopping point along your driving route.
Known as ‘The Knot in the Ring of Kerry’, owing to a knot-like swirling is said to take place where the Sneem river meets the currents of Kenmare Bay in the estuary just below the village, Sneem isn’t a big place, but it sure is pretty, and a great place to stop for a bite to eat.
The village is split into two by the Sneem River with the respective sides being known as North Square and South Square. Each square houses it’s own set of shops, restaurants and pubs, making either a great spot for a leg stretching stop off.
I think that if I were to drive the Ring of Kerry again, I might actually make a point of staying the night in or around Sneem, just to sample life in the village a bit longer, and to allow for a more leisurely first days driving. As it were, the fews short hours we spent in Sneem walking alongside it’s colourful buildings and sampling some of it’s delicious bakeries was still a treat.
Blue flag beaches aren’t in particularly short supply along this route, but each has it’s own charm and set of breathtaking views.
Derrynane Beach was no different, and provided a lovely spot to soak up a few rays and splash around in the gentle surf. The golden sands and on duty life guards make it a family friendly spot to chill out and relax … or if you’re the adventurous type, I am led to believe that activities such as wind-surfing can be undertaken on the water, assuming that conditions are right.
7. Ballinskellig Beach/Castle (Skellig Ring Road)
Like I said, a blue flag beach is never too far away.
Ballinskellig is another prime example of the exquisite Atlantic coastline, marked with a blue flag and patrolled by life guards, although this is admittedly one beach of a difference, as you can see below.
The 16th Century Ballinskellig castle, or otherwise known as McCarthy Mór Castle, was once a charged with defending the area against pirates, and collecting taxes from those looking to do business in the area. Today there are no pirates, and the castle has become somewhat eroded. But it is still possible to venture out to the castle and have a look around. Caution is recommended though, as the structure has not been reinforced.
8. Skellig Chocolate Factory (Skellig Ring Road)
Now who here has a sweet tooth? Hands up?
Well how does some free chocolate sound?
Head around the Skellig Ring Road to the Skellig chocolate factory and said free chocolate shall be yours. Of course the idea of the factory is that the free tasters will lead you into buying some of their beautiful milk, white and dark numbers, and that was certainly the case with us. We may have left €10 lighter, but we left with a bag of scrumptious treats for later that evening.
9. Skellig Michael (Skellig Ring Road)
UNESCO Site #757, and first bought to my attention by none other than adventurous Kate and her post entitled – Skellig Michael: Ireland’s Most Striking Destination.
Although I was not as fortunate as Kate to be able to set foot on the island and explore this former monastery (the chosen destination for a small group of ascetic monks who, in their pursuit of greater union with God, withdrew from civilisation to this remote and inaccessible place), I was lucky enough to be able to take in the island and neighbouring Puffin Island from a number of vantage points along the Peninsula, some points of which were privately owned and so required an entrance fee, but no more than €4.00 per person.
Fellow geeks my also be interested to know that Skellig Michael was used as a filming location in the upcoming Star Wars episode 7, and will feature again in episode 8.
10. Portmagee (Skellig Ring Road)
Ah Portmagee, a colourful little fishing village which plays the role of gateway to both Valentia Island and Skellig Michael.
I would argue that Portmagee is the perfect place to bed down for the night having driven the southern half of the Ring of Kerry. That’s exactly what the girlfriend and I did, and we loved it. Although it may be small, its restaurants and bars are top draw, and it’s residents so friendly.
In December 2012, Portmagee was awarded the Fáilte Ireland National Tourism Town Award, the first town to be awarded the accolade.
11. Geokaun Mountain (Valentia Ring Road)
Just a short drive across the bridge from Portmagee lies Valentia Island, and upon Valentina Island sits Ireland’s only mountain accessible by car (or so we were told).
And it is a drive well worth it, as the Geokaun Mountain top allows for 360º views of epic proportions.
Open all year round, such views over nearby Portmagee, Skellig Michael, the Blasket Islands and even the Dingle Peninsula will cost you just €5.00 per car.
12. Ballincarberry Castle
In driving the Ring of Kerry, you’ll have passed no end of coaches touring the same route. Now I appreciate a guided tour if you’re in a hurry, but there are just some sites that those coaches just cannot access. Ballincarberry Castle would be one of those sites, and it would be a huge shame should you miss it.
Now ‘home’ to a number of cows who graze the surrounding fields, Ballincarberry Castle dates back to the 16th Century. It is possible to explore the ruins of the castle, now beautifully ‘decorated’ in green ivy and in some places vines (looking a bit like Angkor Wat to me), but as with Ballinskellig Castle, caution should be exercised.
Yep, another blue flag beach, but another that is not to be missed. From it life guarded shores you can easily see the Dingle Peninsula, and most noticeably Inch Beach, one of our favourite Irish beach spots form 2014.
Touring around Lake Caragh is almost like undertaking another road trip in itself. Leaving the comfort of the N70 heading back towards Killarney, there was more than one moment circling the lake when we both the girlfriend and I thought ourselves either terribly lost, or halfway back to Portmagee.
Fortunately we were neither, but the road around the lake is deceptively long, despite bringing large quantities of enjoyment. Stop off points from which to take in the lake are few though, so if you get a chance to pull over, take it. Or, if you are a keen fisherman, you may wish to spend the night in this part of the world as it is noted for its Salmon.
Personally I know nothing of fishing, and so continued onwards around the ring to one last stopping point …
Yes the pub, for a hard earned pint.
Sorry #15 on this list isn’t an actual sight, but after nearly 215km/146 miles worth of driving, I thought that both you and I deserved a reward, and what is a freshly poured pint of Guinness if not stunning? I’m sure this won’t be the first visit to a pub along this route, but this is one drink you’ve certainly earned.
So plonk yourself down on a bar stool and take a long hard sip on that pint. That was a job/road trip well done.
A big thank you goes out to the guys at Trivago, who along with their mobile app helped with booking our accommodation in both Killarney and Portmage. They helped make this trip exponentially easier, by allowing me to search, filter and find accommodation which could supply not only the essentials in WIFI and parking, but the traditioanl Irish breakfast (minus the black pudding part).
Check out their app which is available on both Android and IOS by clicking the links below
As the world’s largest hotel search, trivago compares over 900,000 deals from more than 250 booking sites daily on our mission to be and remain the travellers’ first and independent source for finding the ideal hotel at the lowest rates.