Ireland’s Atlantic coast is breathtaking. It’s wild and unspoilt, dominated by lush green and deep blue colors, impressive sea cliffs, countless seabirds, misty beaches and lovely rural towns. The Ring of Kerry scenic route is one of our favorite sections that offers all of the above. We spent two days exploring it, and we are sharing all you need to know to get the best out of it.
The Ring of Kerry is a popular part of Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way. This coastal road along the Atlantic Ocean stretches to 2500 kilometres. The Ring of Kerry is a 179 kilometres long, circular section of it. It starts in Killarney National Park and runs around the Iveragh Peninsula in County Kerry.
Muckross House, an old mansion in a beautiful national park
So we started our road trip in Killarney National Park, the oldest one in Ireland. It was established when Muckross Estate was donated to the Irish state in 1932. This estate is still an important place in the heart of the national park, though the park has been expanded since then.
It was our first stop and it turned out to be a long one. Muckross House is a 19th-century mansion surrounded by an enormous garden, located on the shores of Muckross Lake. A true Irish countryside mansion surrounded by the kind of landscape I’ve always imagined when thinking of Ireland! How could have we resisted? We didn’t.
We signed up for a guided tour to see the furnished mansion. It was beautiful and interesting, one of the best ones we’ve been to in Ireland. As a bonus we got a guide with a true Irish humour. 🙂
Then we took long walks in the gardens, and also on the shore of Muckross Lake. (They are all free to visit, by the way, except the guided tour in the house). We were amazed by the harmony of the old mansion, the carefully manicured gardens and the surrounding mountainous landscape!
After spending almost half a day at the Muckross Estate, we headed to Ladies View, the first famous viewpoint of the Ring of Kerry. Though it was not the first viewpoint where we stopped, because the Lakes of Killarney offered several scenic stops even before Ladies View.
To make things easier for you, we created a map where you can see the full route:
If you drive a car, you can choose which direction to start the circle. However, we’d recommend taking a clockwise route from Killarney, because tour buses must all do it counterclockwise. (Roads are not that wide, and it would be quite uncomfortable for two big buses to meet, that’s the reason.)
So if you do it like us, you’ll start from Ladies View, then continue towards Molls Gap, Kenmare and Waterville. Skellig Ring Road is a circular scenic route on its own at the very end of Iveragh Peninsula. We were quite relieved that buses are not even allowed to use this section, because the road is extremely narrow. But it’s probably the most scenic section of the coastal road, so it’s really worth including it. Just drive slowly and carefully.
Our favorite viewpoints along the Ring of Kerry
In Killarney National Park, we liked Ladies View and all the other nameless stops at the Killarney Lakes the most. Ladies View is truly a nice goodbye to the park with views above several lakes and the mountainous landscape.
A short stop at Torc Waterfall was another favorite. This lovely waterfall is hidden in a lush green forest. It’s only a short walk from the parking lot, and it was very busy when we arrived.
Then we started the coastal part of the Ring of Kerry. We liked the southern coastal route and Skellig Ring Road the most.
Ballinskelligs Castle was a special stop. This ruined castle towers above a pretty turquoise bay, and all the blooming flowers just added a special charm to the landscape. May was a good time to visit.
Don’t miss the walk at the top of Kerry’s Cliffs
No doubt that we enjoyed the most spectacular coastal views at Kerry’s Cliffs. Located quite close to Portmagee village, these cliffs are 305 metres high, offering views of turquoise bays below, and Skellig Islands and Puffin Island in the distance.
There’s an easy walking path at the top of the cliffs. Also, this is the only stop along the Ring of Kerry where we had to pay entrance fee (it was about 4 EUR/adult in May 2019), but it was well worth it.
Boat trip to a remote and inaccessible paradise: the Skellig Islands
One reason we planned two days for the Ring of Kerry was that we wanted to take a boat trip to the Skellig Islands. Skellig Michael and Little Skellig are two small, steep and rocky islands that are important and protected bird area. Their inhabitants includes puffins, too! Skellig Michael, the larger island is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site with its early Christian monastery. Lately it has become well-known as Luke’s island in the new Star Wars movies.
This half day boat trip turned out to be fabulous and became one of our favorite experiences from the two weeks we spent in Ireland. We’ve already written a detailed post about it – read it here!
Nice detour to the Gap of Dunloe
The other reason we knew that one day won’t be enough for the Ring of Kerry was that we wanted to do some hiking. Not just short walks what we did at several viewpoints, but a real, challenging hike. Okay, I mean challenging for someone in her sixth month of pregnancy like me that time.
So we decided to take a short detour from the Ring of Kerry to visit the Gap of Dunloe. It’s a narrow mountain pass between the MacGillycuddy Reeks and Purple Mountain. A river runs through the gap, and you pass five lakes while descending into the valley.
The gap starts at Kate Kearney’s Cottage and it’s 11 kilometres long. Though it’s a paved road, it’s closed for cars. You can walk or bike, or you can rent a horse cart to enjoy the stunning views it offers. We walked only until a picturesque old bridge called the Wishing Bridge. We needed time for the hike we planned – you know, the more challenging one. 😛
For the adventurous: conquering Strickeen peak
Our choice was Strickeen peak. Rising 440 meters above sea level, it feels ridiculous to call it a mountain hike. Still Strickeen looks like a real mountain. That’s what we like about these wild northern landscapes so much: nothing is ordinary there. Even hills are so bare and rocky that they look like 2000 metres high mountains on our continental climate.
Anyway, the trail to Strickeen peak is relatively easy, but it rewards with fascinating views!
To access the path, we parked at Kate Kearney’s Cottage, and started to walk in the Gap of Dunloe. After about one kilometer, we noticed an uphill path and a sign that indicated Strickeen. This well-worn track took us all the way up to the summit from there.
How much time do you need for the Ring of Kerry?
Pure driving time of the full circular route is about 4 hours. But you can be sure you need much more than that to enjoy this drive. With all the stops and short walks, it takes at least a full day.
We spent two days there, taking a boat trip to the Skellig Islands, visiting Muckross House and hiking to Strickeen peak. But there’s so much to do in this region that you could easily add even more days.
Where we stayed
We stayed in Killarney International Hostel while we explored Killarney National Park, the Ring of Kerry and Dingle Peninsula. Killarney turned out to be a great base, and this hostel exceeded our expectations. It was an old manor house once, located in the middle of a huge park. The building is renovated today, it offers several private rooms to couples and families, as well. We also liked its large and well-equipped common kitchen. And the peaceful, historical atmosphere of the place.
Hostels or not, Killarney offers tons of choices in terms of accommodation. Take a look to find the right fit for yourself here.
Do you like coastal drives? Do you have any favorite one?
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