Best Places to See in County Kerry
Voted by readers of the Irish Post as the best county in Ireland in 2015, County Kerry finds its rolling green hills, rugged mountain ranges and glacial lakes nestled next to the Atlantic Ocean.
Thriving on Ireland’s westernmost shorelines, Kerry offers something for travellers of all tastes. Whether you want to chill on a beach, go for a hike or soak up that famous Irish nightlife (as long as you’re not the one driving the next day, of course!), the “Kingdom” should be an essential spot on every traveller’s bucket list.
One of the best and most convenient ways to explore the county is by car. Transport links in the county are either poor or non-existent, especially if wanting to reach some of the more unspoilt locations. Tour buses exist, but they don’t reach the secluded and most beautiful spots. However, if you fancy roadtrippin’ with your friends but don’t want the expense of going to Canada or the States, then Kerry is the hidden gem you’ve been looking for.
Please ensure that the driver is suitably experienced; some of Kerry’s roads are extremely narrow and steep. Car hire is available from all of Ireland’s major airports and the hire fee usually includes insurance for the car. If the driver is under 26 however, it’s likely an extra “young driver’s” insurance charge will be added to your bill. Of course, travellers should also make sure that they have appropriate travel insurance before heading out on such a trip, to cover risks not involved with driving.
Though travellers should be aware that Kerry is extremely unspoilt and as a result underdeveloped in many areas, this is just part of the charm. The Irish county that time forgot is eagerly waiting for your visit, and the following places are the must-see destinations you should go to on your County Kerry holiday.
Seated in the centre of the Kingdom, Killarney is the perfect first stop on any trip to Kerry. The small but bustling town is oozing with Irish charm; colourful buildings, cobbled streets, and plenty of traditional pubs! Killarney’s nightlife will give travellers an authentic slice of the fabled Irish craic. For food, Noelle’s on Old Market Lane is a quirky retro cafe that serves sweet and savoury brunch dishes, including homemade cakes. Highlights include the thick American pancakes and the variety of flat breads.
Killarney National Park
Killarney’s bustling town centre is beautifully contrasted with the earthy scenery of its National Park. A UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, the park boasts an abundance of oak and yew tree forests, mountain peaks and the Lakes of Killarney, complete with lakeside beaches. The three lakes meet at a photogenic spot called “Meeting of the Waters”, crossed by Old Weir Bridge. The best way to see the park is by bike. They can be hired from Killarney town centre or, of course, feel free to bring your own! The bike trail takes a circular route around the park and on your way back, make sure to stop for lunch at the Muckross House tea rooms. The Victorian manor’s gardens have a variety of exotic trees and flowers on display, providing you with more natural beauty while you eat that well-deserved slice of cake!
The Ring of Kerry
One of the most famous spots in Kerry is the Iveragh Peninsula, more commonly known as the Ring of Kerry. Yet whatever one calls the circular route through Kerry’s sweeping valleys and rolling hills, any traveller will find it amazing. Much of the route still centres around the views of Killarney National Park, and Ladies View offers a fantastic panoramic look at the Lakes of Killarney. Other highlights include the Gap of Dunloe, a narrow pass through the mountains. The stunning but precarious passage can be passed through by car or, if you’d rather have a break from the wheel, by a hired horse-drawn cart. The carts are all driven by local men who operate the business on an old rotation system. It’s a great way to sample the everyday life of the natives, as well as to best take in that breath-taking scenery.
A rather ill-fitting name given the fact that the beach is actually four miles long, the stunning sandy strand that is Inch Beach is nevertheless well worth a stop. Winner of a Blue Flag award, the beach hosts a surfing school, a seafood restaurant, and has been the set of a number of films including Ryan’s Daughter. The vast mountains of Kerry can be seen from the beach and cars are also permitted to drive along the sand! Of course, familiarise yourself with tide times and be sure not to drive too far towards the sea, as cars can become stuck in the wetter sand. Furthermore, if you’re taking part in surfing or any other water sports ensure that you are aware of any coastguard warnings – keep on the lookout for the appropriate flags.
It may sound like a cliché, but Dingle really is like a scene from a postcard. Rows of colourful houses adorn the beach front and Dingle Bay is encapsulated by green pastures. One of the town’s most popular tourist attractions is not in the town itself, but out in the bay; Fungie is a bottlenose dolphin who has been spotted living in the bay since 1983, and to this day continues to regularly make appearances. Take a boat trip out to see him for 16 euros – your money is refunded if you don’t!
The town is brimming with restaurants and pubs, and one of the most interesting spots is Foxy John’s, an establishment which is half pub and half hardware store! It’s a testament to how time has really stood still in this part of Ireland; pubs often used to function as shops also. A similar place is Dick Mack’s at the top of the hill. The owners still run a cobbler’s business, while the interior hosts many of the boots and belts made by the late founder Richard McDonnell. For a mighty session of Irish traditional music, the best spot is An Droichead Beag (The Small Bridge). Live music commences from around 9:30 every night of the year and, as the Gaelic name suggests, it’s a great spot for an Irish experience that is truly authentic.
Ensuring you don’t wake up with a hangover, the clifftop drive of Slea Head should be where you “head” to next. Be aware that penalties for drinking and driving are severe in Ireland – more information on maximum alcohol blood limits can be found here. Found to the west of Dingle, the loop road offers some of County Kerry’s most amazing coastal views. On a clear day, you can see as far as the Blasket Islands (a destination that will appear later on our list!). The road itself is peppered with many landmarks including Ventry Beach, a pre-historic fort and Famine Cottage and the Beehive Huts. There are also lots of farms; in the spring, many offer the opportunity to hold a baby lamb or witness a sheepdog demonstration!
Please note that the Slea Head drive is a narrow route, with sharp cliff drops. It should only be attempted by experiences drivers, and not in bad weather. Slow driving is also a must as traffic will be coming both ways.
Like the previous mention, Conor Pass is another of County Kerry’s famous scenic drives. There is a clearly marked viewing area, where you can pull over and admire the vast expanse of green fields and iridescent lakes in the valley below. Just across the road from the viewing area is a steep, rocky climb to Peddler’s Lake. Even if you’re sick of seeing lakes after the trip, this is definitely worth the climb. The large lake, formed from glacial melting in the Ice Age, offers a completely unparalleled tranquil setting. The extremely peaceful spot also allows you to get an even better view down into the valley from above. If there was ever a scene befitting of the “breath-taking view” cliché, then this is it!
As before, only attempt to drive this narrow road if you’re an experienced driver and if weather conditions are good. This is one of the highest roads in Ireland and while this makes for amazing vistas, in some parts there is no fence between the road and the cliff edge!
The Blasket Islands can be seen from the Slea Head drive, and if you fancy visiting the largest of them you can via a ferry service from Dunquin, 22 minutes from Dingle. The ferry operates from April until the 30th September, with ferries every half hour between August and September. Park up and board the “Laird of Staffa”, transferring into a rubber boat to actually land on the island. The harsh but beautiful landscape is no longer populated, though the residents used to be only Irish speaking. Today, it still forms part of the Kerry Gaeltacht (an area in which the inhabitant’s first language is Irish). While humans have left the island, a thriving population of donkeys remain!
By Paige Tracey