You know when you’ve heard something many times in your life and it just kind of sticks in your head? Well, that’s how I felt about the Ring of Kerry. I don’t know if I’d heard about it at school or overheard people talking about their visits to Ireland. But when it came time to making my first trip to Ireland, I knew I had to include a Ring of Kerry itinerary.
I didn’t even quite know what to expect. Just what exactly is the Ring of Kerry? So, to be honest, I had to go check out some travel blogs and Instagram pictures to find out what I was fitting into my far-too-short overview of Ireland. Our two-week epic road trip was a whirlwind of visiting popular sites and family history locations throughout Ireland, Scotland, and England. Of the 14 days, Ireland came up short — only three days to see the best of Ireland. It would have to do.
So…what IS the Ring of Kerry?
Well, simply put, it’s a circuitous route through the county of Kerry. The complete loop is 179 kilometres (111 miles), and the entire trip is one beautiful view after another. Rugged coastal views, verdant countryside (of course, it’s very green), and quaint seaside villages are what make the Ring of Kerry so attractive. In fact, it is so popular, about 1.5 million visitors include a Ring of Kerry itinerary in their Ireland visit each year.
Where do you start?
Since it’s a loop route, you can start anywhere, but most people will begin in Killarney, because it makes a great beginning and ending point. But we started in Tralee. We started there to take in a show at the National Folk Theatre of Ireland. With only one day to complete our Ring of Kerry itinerary, we didn’t actually complete the loop because we didn’t need to retrace our steps to Tralee. Here’s the map of our route:
First stop: random viewpoint
My advice is to be flexible enough in your schedule to be able to stray from your Ring of Kerry itinerary just a little. Because you’ll probably see views you’ve just got to stop to enjoy. At least that’s what happened to us. We were driving up a hill, and as I looked out my window, I could see this gorgeous view opening up. So we pulled over, parked, and got out to explore and take photos. What do you think? Was it worth it?
Next stop: Cahersiveen
Our first destination was Cahersiveen, town of the Vatican’s Scarlet Pimpernel, Father Hugh O’Flaherty. We didn’t know that before we went, but now you do! Cahersiveen is nestled right along the Atlantic Ocean at the base of several hills. In fact, it is known as “the town that climbs the mountain, and looks upon the sea“.
We didn’t stay here long, but we did get out the picnic lunch we packed (goodies from the Milk Market in Limerick the day before). Looking around for a good place to enjoy a picnic, we spotted a picnic table in front of the Old Barracks, a fortified police station (now local history museum) that looks like a castle. Views from here of the ocean inlet were stunning.
We explored a little of the town. Besides the Barracks, there’s the Daniel O’Connor church — the only church in Ireland named after a civilian. And there’s a striking mural of Monsignor Hugh O’Flaherty. He’s the man who succeeded in helping over 5000 people, including Jews, escape German occupying forces during World War II.
Before we left Cahersiveen, we headed down to the marina to catch this lovely view:
Checking out Waterville
As we continued on N70, we were surrounded by green countryside until we reached Waterville, a beachside village with a population of about 500. The cliff and beach views are spectacular, so it’s well worth a stop. We parked at a waterfront park with restrooms. There were local families playing games — and there might have been some kind of festival as well. We thoroughly enjoyed a walk along the promenade and many excellent photo ops. Look how brightly colored the buildings are!
A roadside lookout and the Virgin Mary
After Waterville, we continued our counter-clockwise route on N70. Within a few miles, we came across the Ring of Kerry Lookout and carpark with a Virgin Mary statue. From here we could see views of Ballinskelligs Bay and the Atlantic Ocean.
Plan to make this stop, as it is much prettier than my photos show. You’ll be glad you did!
Derrynane Seashore Nature Trail
So far, we hadn’t done much more than strolling on sidewalks or roads. And as the sun was out, fitting in a hike was very appealing. Derrynane Seashore Nature Trail was the perfect place to do that. This was an easy 1.2 km hike, through a meadow and down to the beach, with more lovely views of the ocean. We didn’t lose much time, and it was very peaceful. We nearly had the trail to ourselves!
Passing through Sneem
If you don’t have enough time to stop everywhere, you can at least appreciate the towns you are passing through. One that caught my eye was the town of Sneem. As we drove by, colorful homes and businesses lined both sides of the street. I have noticed that the Irish paint their buildings in colorful shades — sometimes in more than one tone. Perhaps it is to make up for the number of rainy days they have. But I personally think the rich green countryside makes up for any overcast skies.
Kissane Sheep Farm
I learned about the Kissane Sheep Farm from a fellow blogger, Lara Dunning. (Read her post about Ring of Kerry sites here). The farm has public visiting hours for watching sheepdog and sheep-shearing demonstrations. You can also adopt a sheep. In fact, if you do visit, please say hi to the sheep I adopted. His name is Calhoun!
The really cool thing about the Kissane Sheep Farm is that it is family-owned and has been owned by the family for almost 200 years. The mountain sheep that are raised and preserved here are native to Kerry County. Unfortunately for us, we were there on a day the farm was closed, so we were only able to take photos from the road. Hopefully, you’ll be able to time things better than we did!
Killarney National Park, Ladies View
From Kissane Sheep Farm, it wasn’t much further to Killarney National Park. This is rugged mountainous country — in fact, the mountains here are the highest in Ireland. The mountains sweep down to beautiful lakes and woodlands.
We didn’t plan to stay long, but we did want to see some of the beautiful scenery. We were able to park easily at Ladies View, where we only had to walk a few yards to see a lake and lush green valley spread out before us.
Moll’s Gap is the name of the mountain pass between Killarney National Park and Kenmare. We passed by, but noticed a shop and cafe with restrooms. It’s easy to park here and walk around a bit to enjoy the views of the Macgillycuddy Reeks mountains.
And this is where we ended our Ring of Kerry itinerary. We arrived late in the afternoon and checked in to the Laburnum B & B, which ended up being one of our absolutely favorite places to stay during our Ireland/UK trip. We had an elegant spacious room, and the hosts (Raymond and Danielle) were so welcoming.
It was also here that we received tragic news. As soon as we signed into WiFi, we received messages to call home. My mother had had a serious stroke and was not responding to family. My sister wanted me to know, but told me to stay on our trip. It’s what my mother would have wanted. Why have I shared this with you? Sometimes tragedy strikes and there’s nothing you can do about it. Of course I was sad. It definitely ended up changing how I felt about exploring Kenmare. I found myself looking for sources of comfort and strength instead of tourist attractions. And I found them.
It was nice to walk through town (more colorful businesses!) and across a river on an old stone bridge. We explored a few churches and the gardens at the ancient Kenmare Stone Circle. Finally, we sat and watched the sunset on Kenmare Bay. When I look back to this time, I am so appreciative for the solace I found in Kenmare and also at Laburnum B & B, which felt like a refuge. I should add that I did get to see my mother after this trip was completed.
Tips for a Ring of Kerry itinerary
it is possible to see plenty of Ring of Kerry sights in one day. Here are a few tips from our visit:
- We were told to drive the route in a clockwise direction to avoid being stuck behind tourist buses. Some of these roads are narrow, so that could be a concern. However, we were there at the end of August and saw very few buses. We drove a counter-clockwise route and had no problems. Still, don’t expect to drive fast!
- It can’t be stressed enough that you drive on the left side of the road in Ireland. If this isn’t what you’re used to, plan on it taking awhile to adjust and stay alert!
- While I’m sure there are some great cafes and restaurants along the Ring of Kerry, we saved time by packing food with us for lunch and dinner. It was our trade-off. You’ll have to decide what is more important to you.
- There are no large hotel chains on the Ring of Kerry. If you would like to spend the night in a charming B & B, be sure to make reservations ahead of time.