The Ring of Kerry is one of Ireland’s most popular tourist trails because this 111-mile road trip takes in breathtaking coastal scenery, spectacular mountains, and some of the most charming small towns in the country.
The Ring of Kerry takes you around the best sights on the Iveragh Peninsula, where you can find rugged cliffs, ancient stone circles, dramatic passes and bucket loads of history and nature.
This is a part of Ireland that’s not to be missed, and to help you to plan your trip, here’s our ultimate Ring of Kerry itinerary and guide.
Don’t leave home without: Lonely Planet Ireland (Travel Guide)
Ring of Kerry Map & Location
The Ring of Kerry is a circular route that takes you around the spectacular Iveragh Peninsula in southwest Ireland. The route is 111 miles long, but this doesn’t include any of the many detours you might want to take too.
The circular itinerary starts and ends in the town of Killarney, mostly sticking to the coast as you travel along the peninsula. If you were to drive it nonstop, it would take you roughly 5 hours.
How to Travel the Ring of Kerry
The Ring of Kerry is a classic road trip territory, and the most popular way to travel the route is with a self-drive itinerary. This gives you flexibility and the chance to see the peninsula in your own time.
The main hub for the Ring of Kerry is Killarney, a tourist town that’s well connected and that makes for a great base for your trip to the southwest of Ireland.
The nearest major airport is found two hours south, in Shannon, where you have plenty of international connections. You can rent a car here if you are flying in.
Alternatively, if you don’t want to self-drive, then in Killarney there are lots of companies offering guided tours of the Iveragh Peninsula. Many of these though can be whistle-stop coach tours, and they don’t give you any room for detours.
The Ring of Kerry is also connected by public transport, however, the options are limited, and slow, often with only one connection per day between towns on the route. It’s possible to travel by local bus, but you will need time and patience.
You can complete the whole route in one day – as the tour buses do – but if you really want to enjoy yourself, and see some of the more offbeat destinations, then you’re the best spending at least two days, if not more, on the road.
The traditional route is anti-clockwise from Killarney – as in our itinerary below – however, if you are driving then you may want to consider taking the clockwise route, to avoid the tour buses.
If you are driving, then the Ring of Kerry uses the N70, N71 and N72 roads. If you are feeling really adventurous, and have s few weeks to spare, then you can even walk the Kerry Way, a long-distance, a waymarked hiking trail that traverses the Iveragh Peninsula.
Driving in Ireland
Taking a road trip to Ireland is one of the best adventures you can have but it doesn’t come without some preparation and planning. The roads in Ireland are narrow, twisty and they drive on the left-hand side.
This can be a wake-up call if you come from a country that has big roads and drives on the opposite side, as we do in the USA. It takes some getting used to, but if you drive slow and minimize any distractions, you will figure it out quickly.
Figuring out where to go is simple and we found the roads in Ireland to be well marked. The Ring of Kerry, along with other routes, is popular so the country has gone to great length to put up branded signage.
This means you’ll see the actual Ring of Kerry and Wild Atlantic Way signage through the whole drive. This makes navigation easy, even when the GPS sometimes gets it wrong.
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Best Time to Travel the Ring of Kerry
Ireland is renowned for being one of the rainiest places in Europe, and County Kerry is no exception. This is the wild, windy Atlantic coast, and you can expect rain almost any time of the year, so be prepared for this inevitability when you are traveling.
The best time of year to travel the Ring of Kerry in terms of weather though, is in summer, between June and August. This is when Ireland is at its sunniest, and when you can make the most of the outdoors, go hiking and have less chance of rain.
Summer is also the busiest time of year to visit Ireland, and the Ring of Kerry can be incredibly busy during peak season. Tours can be sold out, accommodation can be full and the roads can be packed with cars and buses. While the weather might be fantastic, things can also be rather hectic in Kerry in summer!
Spring and Autumn can be great times to visit too, particularly if you are looking for things to be a little bit quieter, while if you want the roads to be empty, then head here in winter, but be prepared for cold, wind, rain and short, dark days.
Best Stops – Driving the Ring of Kerry, Ireland
Your journey around the Ring of Kerry starts and ends in Killarney, the hub of County Kerry and a great place to be based. Before or after your journey, take the time to explore the town.
You can visit the local cathedral, eat and drink in the traditional pubs and taverns, wander through the museums and perhaps buy a souvenir or two in the tourist shops.
Killarney National Park
The real highlight of Killarney lies to the south though, and your first stop on the Ring of Kerry will be Killarney National Park.
This is one of the most beautiful national parks in Ireland, and if you have the time then you can easily spend the whole day here, rather than just a pit stop on the way to the Iveragh Peninsula, because it certainly deserves it.
The national park encompasses lakes, waterfalls and crumbling ruins, and it’s an excellent place for both history and nature lovers. There are three lakes within the park, and the most impressive sight is the ruins of the medieval Innisfallen Monastery, which is found on an island in the middle of Lough Leane.
Torc Waterfall is a spectacular natural feature of the national park, while Ross Castle and Muckross House are historic sights that can’t be missed.
Discover the Ring of Kerry on this incredible full-day tour that showcases one of Ireland’s most stunning destinations. Spend time exploring the MacGillycuddy Reeks and the shores of Dingle Bay, and then admire the coastal views of Kenmare Bay on this guided tour of must-see Ireland.
From Killarney National Park, it’s time to head down to the southern coast of the Iveragh Peninsula, and along the way, you’ll pass through Moll’s Gap.
This spectacular road cuts through the MacGillycuddy’s Reeks Mountains and is one of the most scenic parts of the entire drive.
Kenmare is the first town that you’ll stop in from Killarney, on the Ring of Kerry. The small town is found along the coast and offers ramshackle streets and a plethora of nearby natural and historic sights.
Visit the ancient stone circles on the edge of town, a fascinating place that is thought to be thousands of years old. and that’s one of the best examples of early Irish culture and religion in the country.
The next stop along the southern coast of the peninsula from Kenmare is the intriguingly named town of Sneem. Sneem has a population of just 500 people, and this is the epitome of small-town life on the Ring of Kerry.
It’s found in beautiful surroundings, and it’s the perfect place to take a quick break.
Caherdaniel is a rambling, small town that’s almost the perfect picture of Irish life in the southwest. Perhaps that’s because the town is most famous for its most famous former resident, for whom Caherdaniel is named.
This was the home of Daniel O’Connell, an Irish hero who campaigned for Catholic rights in the 19th century. You can visit O’Connell’s former house and also call into the ancient stone fort near Caherdaniel.
Portmagee is a small village with a population of just over 100 residents on the western shores of the Iveragh Peninsula. It’s a picturesque place, and it’s the starting point for boat tours across to the Skellig Islands, which can be seen out in the Atlantic.
If you’re looking to break your Ring of Kerry journey up, then Portmagee is a great place to spend the night, particularly as boat trips to the Skelligs always depart early in the morning.
The Skellig Islands are found off the coast of the Iveragh Peninsula are one of the most rugged and isolated places in Ireland. This is one of Europe’s most westerly points, and for centuries it was the home of monks and hermits looking to escape the world.
In summer, when the seas are calmer, you can join tours that sail across to the islands, where you can climb the rocky steps that lead to the crumbling monasteries.
Valentia Island is on the northern edge of the peninsula, and it’s just a short hop over the bridge from Portmagee. It’s not technically part of the official Ring of Kerry route, but a minor detour will give you the chance to visit the excellent Skellig Experience.
If you don’t have the time to make it over to the Skelligs, then this is the closest you can get, or if you’ve been and you want to learn more about the islands’ history and heritage, then this is an unmissable museum to visit.
On the northern road towards Killarney on the Ring of Kerry, there are several small towns to pass through. One of the most charming to stop at is Glenbeigh.
This historic town is home to the remains of the towering Glenbeigh Castle, and also has some of the loveliest stretches of coastline along the Iveragh Peninsula.
Gap of Dunloe
The Gap of Dunloe is one of the most iconic mountain passes in Ireland and it’s a beautiful feature of the Ring of Kerry. On your way back to Killarney, you’ll pass through the gap, as you’ll follow the winding road through the mountains.
You can stop off at the viewpoints along the way, where you’ll be surrounded by the high peaks of both the MacGillycuddy’s Reeks Mountains and the Purple Mountains.
Where to Stay Along the Way
One of the fun parts to driving around Ireland is staying in the small villages along the way and the Ring of Kerry is no exception. Most people will spend at least one night on the drive but others prefer to spend three to four days taking in the best sights.
While you won’t find any chain hotels on this route, you will find plenty of traditional Irish BnB’s and guesthouses. Some of our recommendations can be found below.
Ring of Kerry Accommodation Recommendations:
- Killarney: The Brehon
- Portmagee: Carriag Liath House
- Caherdaniel: Staigue Fort house
- Cahersiveen: Ring of Kerry Hotel
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