Driving the Ring of Kerry is one of the most iconic things to do in Ireland. These sights and scenes will be some of the most memorable that you see. Although there are lots of bus tours that provide transportation, it’s easy to plan your own Ring of Kerry day tour.
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Renting a car in Ireland is the best way to experience all of the top things to do along the Ring of Kerry. You’ll have the freedom to drive wherever you want, whenever you want. In this travel guide, I’ll show you how to plan your own Ring of Kerry drive, including all the best stops on the way.
Driving the Ring of Kerry: Top Tips
Before you venture out on your Ring of Kerry day trip, there are a few things to know before you hit the road. First, it’s easiest to have your own car to make the journey. There are so many things to do on the Ring of Kerry (and the Skellig Ring) where the tour buses can’t go.
Plus, you can stay at each place without time limitations and without the big crowd of people from your bus. Search here for the best rates on rental cars where you’ll be able to compare prices and cars quickly and easily.
Which Direction to Travel on the Ring of Kerry
Driving the Ring of Kerry is fun and it’s easy to navigate. The Ring of Kerry is 179km, or 111 miles, around the Inveragh Peninsula. It’s a big loop where you’ll travel mostly on the N70 (and a little on the N71 and N72). Most people will start in Killarney and this is where we began our journey. It’s a little longer when you add the Skellig Ring to your trip, which I encourage you to do.
Drive the Ring of Kerry in a counter clockwise direction. You’ll be driving in the same direction as the tour buses in case you come across any of them. This means that you’ll avoid having the tour buses coming right at you on the narrow roads. It’s the safest option for you and the bus drivers, especially if you’re not used to driving on the left.
I recommend leaving as early in the morning as you can to avoid being stuck behind any tour buses (especially in the summer). When I traveled to Ireland in October, there weren’t that many tour buses around throughout the day, so we didn’t have to worry about it much.
When to Drive the Ring of Kerry
The Ring of Kerry is open all year long, although it is the busiest during the summer months of July and August. Like many places, I suggest visiting on the shoulder seasons or even the off season. In the spring and fall (March to May or September to November), there are fewer crowds and it won’t be too cold.
October was a great time of the year for driving the Ring of Kerry. Fall is a beautiful season in Ireland and the weather cooperated for the most part. Of course, it drizzles rain in Ireland, but this happens no matter when you visit. Most importantly, the crowds were fewer than usual. We never had a problem finding a place to park our car, and we never came across big groups of people.
Don’t Have a Car? Take a Ring of Kerry Small Group Tour
Although I recommend following this blog post about driving the Ring of Kerry on your own, I understand that there may be reasons why you can’t rent a car to do it yourself. In that case, I suggest booking a small group Ring of Kerry day trip. You’ll have a more intimate experience with a smaller group, and you’ll also visit the places where the big tour buses don’t drive (Valentia Island and Skellig Ring).
Alright, let’s talk about the destinations you’ll see on the way. Here are all of the best things to do on your Ring of Kerry drive, starting in Killarney. From Killarney, head in a counter clockwise direction towards Killorglin. Then, you’ll venture southwest towards the Skellig Ring and Valentia Island. Eventually, you’ll loop back around the south of the Inveragh Peninsula towards Kenmare and back to Killarney.
Exploring Killarney and the Killarney National Park
We stayed overnight in Killarney at the most fantastic holiday home, which I’ll write about in more detail later in the post. I suggest taking a separate day to explore Killarney on its own, including the Killarney National Park. There are lots of things to do in Killarney, including a great nightlife scene at the pubs. However, if you have a limited amount of time while driving the Ring of Kerry, here are some memorable stops at Killarney National Park to visit on your road trip.
Ross Castle is a 15th century castle, built by the local ruling clan, O’Donoghues Mor (Ross). You can explore the castle grounds and view the exterior of the castle for free. To enter the castle, you must schedule a guided tour upon your arrival. The entrance fee is €5.00. The maximum number of people on a tour is 15, and the tour lasts 40 minutes.
Please note that no photography is allowed on the tour inside the castle. While I am sure that the tour is fascinating, including the view from the top of the tower, we ultimately decided to skip the guided tour of the castle.
Even if you opt out of the castle tour like us, it’s still worth a stop when you’re driving the Ring of Kerry. The castle looks quite spectacular on the dramatic backdrop of the lake and the rolling hills. There’s a pretty bridge surrounded by dozens of swans, adding to the picture perfect atmosphere.
Torc Waterfall is one of the most beautiful places to visit in Killarney National Park and it’s a perfect stop while driving the Ring of Kerry. It’s about 20 meters high, and the waterfall looks best after a rainfall. Thankfully, it rains all the time in Ireland!
There are two car parks for Torc Waterfall. One is less than a five minute walk away from the waterfall, and the other is a more vigorous hike (about 20 minutes away). Little did we know, but we parked at the car park that was a farther distance from Torc Waterfall. You’ll walk down a hill to reach the waterfall, but it’s a bit of a trek to get back up to the car park.
If you aren’t looking for a hike, make sure you reach the closer parking lot of the two. However, if you don’t mind a little bit of a hike, it’s quite wonderful to walk through the forest before you reach it. If you’re looking for what to see in Killarney, make sure that Torc Waterfall is on your itinerary.
The Ladies View
The Ladies View is one of the prettiest scenes and one of the top Ring of Kerry attractions. It’s a scenic viewpoint on the Ring of Kerry in Killarney National Park. There are epic views of the Lakes of Killarney and the surrounding mountains. It’s called the Ladies View because Queen Victoria’s ladies-in-waiting adored the view during the Queen’s visit to Ireland in 1861.
There’s a car park near the Ladies View, as well as a small cafe, bar, and gift shop. You can also stop to use the restroom here, too. The open roof terrace is the highest bar in Killarney and offers brilliant views.
Driving the Ring of Kerry: Town of Killorglin
As we chose to use an additional half day to visit Killarney National Park at a slower pace, our first stop on the Ring of Kerry was the town of Killorglin. The town is known as the “first stop on the Ring of Kerry”, and this was true for us.
When we visited, it was pretty early in the morning and it was very quiet around town. Killorglin has a very cute small town vibe, and there some brightly painted murals on some of the walls.
According to Killorglin’s official website, the town comes alive on the weekends at night with over 15 pubs and restaurants to enjoy a pint. There’s even a local beer brewed by Crafty Divils called King Puck, named for their beloved goat.
Puck Fair: Celebrating Goats at This Local Festival
Beloved goat, you ask? I was really curious about why there was a statue of a goat at the entrance to the town. The words “King Puck” are on the front of the statue, and there’s a short explanation of the sculpture, too. I had to find out more about this goat, King Puck, so I asked a local shop owner in town. He completely lit up at the chance to tell me all about the town’s beloved annual fair.
Every August, Killorglin hosts Puck Fair, a local festival that also happens to be Ireland’s oldest. The organizers of the festival choose a mountain goat to be King Puck for three days in August. The goat receives a crown for his head, and even a queen (usually a young girl from the town).
King Puck is elevated on a platform above the townspeople as they celebrate with a big street festival. After 48 hours, King Puck is returned on the third day back to the mountains which signifies the end of the celebration.
No one knows how the festival started, but the citizens of Killorglin have honored a mountain goat as King Puck every year for over 400 years. Concerns over the well being of the goat were raised by animal lovers in the past. The organizers of Puck Fair assure everyone that there isn’t any animal cruelty during the festivities. The mountain goat is acclimated to being around people for three weeks leading up to the festival, and he is checked on regularly by vets. The goat is used to being up in the mountains, so he’s not afraid of heights up on the platform.
I think goats are adorable, so I was instantly drawn to a town that celebrates goats so much. I’d love to attend the Puck Fair at some point in the future to partake in the festivities. It’s unlike any tradition that I’ve seen anywhere else in the world.
Rossbeigh Beach is a picturesque sandy beach near the village of Glenbeigh. You’ll spot it pretty easily while driving the Ring of Kerry, and it’s worth a stop to admire the views. Rossbeigh is part of the Castlemaine Harbour Special Area of Conservation, as well as a Special Protection Area.
It’s also a blue flag beach where you can go swimming in the summer. Rossbeigh Beach is perfect for a day by the sea during the warm weather months. As we made our Ring of Kerry drive in October, it wasn’t exactly swimming season. No matter what, the views are stunning, so be sure to check out Rossbeigh Beach for a pit stop.
Mountain Stage (Scenic Lookout)
The Mountain Stage is a small scenic lookout with a place to pull off to the side of the road. Lots of cars and buses might stop here, but it’s worth a visit. There are some really pretty views overlooking the sea. It’s not absolutely necessary to include it on your Ring of Kerry must see list, but I tend to stop at all of the scenic lookouts on the way for more opportunities to soak up the scenery.
Ballycarbery Castle is a 16th century castle up on a grassy hill by the sea near Cahersiveen. It was once owned by the McCarthy Clan. The castle is in ruins, and there’s moss growing all over the stones. You might spot a few cows grazing near the castle. There’s a small plaque at the front of the ruins with some history about it.
While visitors used to be able to wander the castle grounds and climb among the ruins freely, Ballycarbery Castle is located on private land. The landowner decided to close off public access to the castle. You can admire it from the property surrounding the castle, but you can no longer get up close. Even though you can’t get close to the castle, it’s still worth visiting. It’s such a pretty find, and one of my favorite Ring of Kerry attractions.
Driving the Ring of Kerry: Lecanabuile Stone Fort
Lecanabuile Stone Fort is a national monument and partly reconstructed stone ringfort (also known as a cashel) that you can visit while driving the Ring of Kerry. It’s probably my favorite of all the Ring of Kerry points of interest. Its Irish name means, “hillside of the milking-place” and it once protected the farm of a wealthy landowner. Lecanabuile Stone Fort dates to the 9th and 10th centuries and there were many personal items dating back to this time period when the site was excavated.
The circular enclosing wall is more than three metres thick. There are the remains of a roundhouse inside the fort, one of only several that still exists. There is a square house attached to it. From the top of the walls, you have an amazing panoramic view across the whole countryside.
There’s a second fort right near Lecanabuile Stone Fort, the Cahergal Stone Fort. While it dates back to 600AD, it’s undergone a little more reconstruction than Lecanabuile, but it’s still very impressive to see. We didn’t visit Cahergal as we spent a lot of time at Lecanabuile, but it’s worth a trip if you’d like to see an example of an early medieval stone fort.
Skellig Ring: Valentia Island
As you’re driving the Ring of Kerry at its most western points, you can choose to stay on the N70 or venture off at the R565. The R565 and R566 are also known as Skellig Ring, an additional loop road that you can explore on your Ring of Kerry drive. While there are numerous beautiful stops and sights on Skellig Ring, my favorite place to visit was Valentia Island. It’s one of the most western spots in Ireland, and you can stay on the R565 to drive across a bridge to Valentia Island.
Skellig Experience Visitor Centre
When you cross the bridge, you’ll immediately see the Skellig Experience Visitor Centre. It’s a small visitor centre dedicated to the history of Skellig Michael, a famous island that was featured in Star Wars: A Force Awakens. It’s very popular after its appearance in the film, but Skellig Michael is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site with an ancient monastery at the top of the island.
I didn’t have the opportunity to visit Skellig Michael, but I’d love to go there on a return visit to Ireland. You have to book tickets at least a month in advance as only 180 people per day are allowed on the island. Furthermore, hazardous weather conditions often cancel tours at the last minute. If you don’t have the chance to visit Skellig Michael, pop by the visitor centre to see what all the hype is about.
Knightstown is the main village on Valentia Island, and it’s a cute town that leads down to the water. There are lots of colorful buildings, including The Clock Tower, a historical landmark at the waterfront. You can also catch a ferry back to the mainland here, too.
If you’re craving a coffee, The Coffee Dock is a cute coffee shop where you can get an afternoon pick-me-up. There’s also an interesting historic landmark on Market Street with an old anchor on top. It’s a Knightstown Tidy Town initiative. We stopped at a colorful orange building, Donal & Rosie Walsh’s Foodstore for some snacks. There was a friendly black kitty outside the shop who greeted us. There’s a cat bed at the front stoop, so I’m under the impression that this is one of the cat’s hangout spots.
From Knightstown, we drove up to Cromwell Point to the Valentia Lighthouse. This lighthouse guides boats through the northern entrance to Valentia Island. You can take a tour of the lighthouse if you visit between Easter and September. Unfortunately, as we were driving the Ring of Kerry in October, the lighthouse was closed.
Even if the lighthouse isn’t open, I still suggest that you see the exterior of the lighthouse and its surroundings. The property and views surrounding the lighthouse are spectacular. While I’d enjoy seeing the inside of the lighthouse, I’m not sure that it’s essential for a memorable visit. Drive up to Cromwell Point when you venture around Valentia Island and the Ring of Kerry even if the lighthouse isn’t open.
Before you leave Valentia Island, stop at the car park and trail head for Bray Head. You can walk to Bray Head, the western edge of the island, and it takes about 25 minutes one way. However, even if you don’t make the hike, the scenery from the car park is incredible. You’ll view rocky cliffs, waves crashing against the rocks that protrude from the sea, and distant islands.
Interestingly enough, the first successful telegraph message by underwater cable was transmitted from Bray Head to the village of Heart’s Content in Newfoundland back in 1866. The cable was submerged in the Atlantic Ocean between Valentia Island and North America. There are some historic plaques detailing the ways that world communication completely changed at this point.
If you find yourself short on time or you’re looking for a different way back to Killarney, you can drive through the Ballaghisheen Pass. It’s a lesser traveled stretch of road by comparison to the Ring of Kerry. The scenery of the mountains is so pretty as you make this quiet drive. Most likely, it’ll just be you and the sheep!
Aside from Killarney, Kenmare is one of the most popular towns to visit while driving the Ring of Kerry. Its adorable town center is worth exploring and wandering around. There are lots of cute shops, restaurants, and cafes. Plus, the rows of colorful houses are so charming. If you need to pick up any unique gifts or souvenirs, browse the shops in Kenmare.
Moll’s Gap is a beautiful section of the Ring of Kerry between Kenmare and Killarney on the N71. There are some places to stop your car at the side of the road if you’d like to get out to take some photos or admire the scenery.
Other Notable Places on the Ring of Kerry
There are so many other places to visit while driving the Ring of Kerry. You can easily expand this trip to two or three days if you want to check out all of the Ring of Kerry points of interest. These are the stops that we didn’t have time to fully explore on our Ring of Kerry drive. Feel free to add these ones to your Ring of Kerry itinerary.
Gap of Dunloe
We were all set to visit the Gap of Dunloe as our first stop on our Ring of Kerry drive. However, we reached a point where we saw a sign stating: “Narrow Road. Traffic primarily restricted to Horse & Trap, Ponies, Walkers, Residents, Access to Accommodation & Business Purposes.”
I wasn’t about to hire a horse and carriage ride as I feel as though they are a form of animal cruelty. We stayed for some time and didn’t notice any cars venturing up the road. I looked it up on a map, and walking the Gap of Dunloe could take all day. There is an adventure tour of the Gap of Dunloe that doesn’t involve horses, but we had nothing booked at the time.
As we didn’t want to break any rules, we turned around and continued on the Ring of Kerry without stopping at the Gap of Dunloe. When I started researching to write this article, I discovered that you can drive the Gap of Dunloe. It is a public roadway. If you want to visit the Gap of Dunloe, you can drive it on your own.
The local jaunting car drivers (aka the horse and carriage drivers) will make it seem like you can’t drive it on your own. After all, there is that big sign on the street that makes it seem like you aren’t supposed to go there. They might even give you some strange looks or advise you not to drive there. However, you can drive on this public street. It is perfectly legal. Take care while driving through the mountains and passing cars and carriages.
Waterville is a cute little town in County Kerry on the Ring of Kerry. I’m not sure that there is much to do here, but you might choose to stop for a meal or a coffee. It’s right on the water (hence the name), so I’m sure there are some opportunities to take photos from this seaside village.
Staigue Stone Fort
The Staigue Stone Fort is a ruined stone fort dating back to the Iron Age, between 300 and 400 AD. You’ll find it three miles west of Sneem. It’s a feat of engineering because the fort was built using only undressed stones without any mortar.
Derrynane Abbey are a collection of ruins and graves on Abbey Island. There’s an old cemetery with brilliant views of the ocean. You can reach Derrynane Abbey and Abbey Island from the mainland by walking across to the island when the tide is out.
Ring of Kerry Map
Here’s a map of the Ring of Kerry with all of the attractions placed visually. There’s a list of every Ring of Kerry point of interest and where you’ll find it. If you click the star beside the map title, it will be saved to your Google Maps account. Then, you can access it while you’re driving the Ring of Kerry from your own Google Maps app (it will be listed under “your places” and then “maps”).
Ring of Kerry Vegan Dining Options
Are you following a vegan diet and driving the Ring of Kerry (like me)? There are lots of places to stop for a plant-based meal on your journey. I’m a big fan of packing snacks and even a small picnic lunch for road trips. Then, I’ll typically have dinner at the end of the road trip.
With that said, I have some great vegan food recommendations for your Ring of Kerry day trip. Aside from the spots in Killarney and Kenmare that I’ve mentioned below, there are a couple more spots of note. The Gossip Cafe in Sneem has vegan options, including vegan scones, pizza, and special themed dinner nights that have vegan selections. The Zest Cafe in Killorglin has a vegan section on their lunch menu, and vegan offerings on the breakfast menu.
The Porterhouse Gastropub (Killarney)
The Porterhouse Gastropub is a restaurant that has something for everyone, from omnivore to herbivore. I was delighted to discover that there were a few vegan dishes on the menu. Since I visited Killarney, the Porterhouse has expanded their vegan offerings even more! They now have a special “vegan starters” section of the menu (stuffed pesto portobello mushrooms, homemade potato skins, and BBQ & Cajun cauliflower).
There are three vegan main courses: roasted balsamic beetroot and shallot tart, the red pesto tagliatelle with vegan cheese, and a homemade nut roast. You’ll also spot two vegan desserts on the menu: a sticky toffee pudding and a chocolate cake. I ordered the red pesto tagliatelle and the sticky toffee pudding, and both were so yummy. The Porterhouse Gastropub is also a fantastic option for dinner when you return to Killarney at the end of your Ring of Kerry drive.
Bridge Street Co-Op (Kenmare)
When I visited Kenmare, I had lunch at the most wonderful little stop called the Bookstop Vegetarian Cafe. It was a bookstore and a vegetarian, vegan-friendly place for lunch. I absolutely loved it. Unfortunately, the Bookstop Vegetarian Cafe closed down, but the same owners run the Bridge Street Co-Op across the road. You’ll be able to find light vegetarian and vegan meals and dishes, like soups, pasta, vegan banana bread, and other delights for lunches and snacks.
I only have photos from the meal that I enjoyed at the Bookstop Vegetarian Cafe, but hopefully you’ll see some of the same treats and meals being served over at the Bridge Street Co-Op.
The Shire Bar & Cafe
The Shire was my local hangout spot when I stayed in Killarney. It’s a Lord of the Rings themed pub where you’ll find hobbit hole doorways, locally brewed beer, and delicious vegetarian and vegan food. Head directly to The Shire any night of the week for yummy food and drink, plus fabulous entertainment in a memorable environment.
There’s also a Shire Cafe where you can stop for a coffee, lunch or brunch. When I visited the Shire, you could get coffee at the pub in the mornings, but I’m glad they’ve expanded to an entire cafe now. It might be a good idea to stop at the Shire Cafe in the morning before your Ring of Kerry drive to pick up some coffee for the road.
Where to Stay in Killarney Ireland
If you’re seeking the ultimate in luxury, stay at the spectacular Belmont holiday home by Luxquisite Property Lettings in Killarney. The Belmont house is one of the best places to stay in Killarney. It’s a three-story, 3100 square foot house with an open plan kitchen, dining space, and living space. There are five bedrooms in this luxury rental home, sleeping up to 11 people.
The Belmont is perfect for larger groups or families. It was also wonderful to stay in this modern home with a few of my fellow travel blogging buddies. With the lightning fast Internet, it was the best space to work, too. No need to find a coffee shop to get some work done. One of my favorite things to do in Killarney was simply relaxing in this luxurious home.
The Belmont house is right in town and you can quickly and easily walk all over Killarney from the house. We were content to leave the car in the driveway and walk all over town. Within moments, you’re right in downtown Killarney Ireland where all the action happens.
Looking for a private tour, airport pick-up, or golfing experiences? Allow the amazing owner of Luxquisite Property Lettings, Ollie, arrange everything for you. He’ll connect you with local tour guides and private tour services, as well as airport transfers. Even after reading this article about all of the best things to do in Killarney, there’s nothing like accepting advice from a local. Read my full review of Belmont and be sure to book your stay.
More Amazing Road Trips in Ireland
I spent three weeks driving all over Ireland and Northern Ireland. Here are a few of my top picks:
- Driving from Galway to hike the Burren, and then visiting Ennis, Adare, and Limerick
- The drive from Donegal to Sligo, Enniscrone (for the seaweed baths!) and Ceide Fields
- Driving to Malin Head, the northernmost point of Ireland
- Road trip in Northern Ireland, including Kinbane Castle, the Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge, Ballintoy, the Giant’s Causeway, between Belfast and Derry