Killarney - What You Need to Know

Ireland's Original Tourist Town - With Royal Blessings

Ross Castle, guarding the Lakes of Killarney - from here most boat tours start
••• Ross Castle, guarding the Lakes of Killarney - from here most boat tours start. © Bernd Biege 2016

Killarney, one of the most picturesque towns in Ireland's South-West, is on the list of "things to do" for many visitors. It is the Irish dream in a nutshell. And it has been attracting tourists for literally ages now. So it is also very busy. Should you skip Killarney then? No, not really, it might be brash, costly, and at times overrun (especially when conferences are on). Yet it is worth a day or two.

Though the best time to visit might just be outside the main season, when prices are lower as well.

Killarney's Fabulous Location

Nestling between high hills and large lakes, Killarney is located in the southern part of County Kerry. The landscape is nothing but spectacular, stunning and scenic - also ensuring an interesting drive to the town. This is an area of Ireland where you should heed all tips for driving and be alert at all times, be warned. National roads taking you to Killarney are the N22, the N71, or the N72, though the town may also be reached by train from Cork and Dublin. 

Population and History

Just over 14,000 people live in Killarney, with another thousand or so in the rural fringes of the town proper. Due to a massive number of hotel beds, the perceived seasonal fluctuations in populations are enormous.

The area was already settled for ages, when a Franciscan monastery (built in 1448) and nearby castles elevated it to a local center.

Some mining provided industrial employment, but the tourism industry started off here as early as 1700! Travel writers and the opening of the railway boosted Killarney's influx of visitors even more in the 19th century, and Queen Victoria's visit bestowed royal approval on the original Irish holiday destination.

Her Ladies-in-Waiting also established one of the most spectacular viewpoints ... appropriately named "Ladies' View" even today. 

Killarney Today

Killarney remains one of the top tourist destinations for both Irish and foreign visitors. Tourism is the one factor that basically keeps the town and area alive. Though there is some industry (thankfully on the very outskirts of town, like a crane factory), the hospitality sector and smaller shops dominate the town centre.

What to Expect

Opinions about Killarney differ - it is geared towards tourism and nothing else, the perfect holiday for some, a tourist-trap-nightmare for others. Beauty, as ever, lies in the eye of the beholder. The numerous (and sometimes huge) hotels are necessary to cope with the influx of visitors and make the town itself seem insignificant at times. Yet Killarney has its quiet, unspoilt corners, especially in the National Park.

When to Visit

Whenever you go, Killarney is bound to be busy. It might be best to avoid the town during July and August and any Irish bank holidays. Take note that Killarney can lay claim to having some of the highest prices for overnight stays, especially if you opt for a better hotel - bargains can be had outside the main season, though.

Places to Visit

The town itself is nice enough for a few strolls but has no real major attractions. Just outside the town is the real place to go. Muckross House and Muckross Farm are popular all year around, the typical horse-drawn "jaunting cars" will take you there. Or head for Ross Castle (built around 1420) and from there take a boat trip on the lakes of Killarney, either a tour of the lakes or a round trip to Inisfallen.

On the other side of Tomies Mountain (2,411 ft) and Purple Mountain (2,730 ft) a (careful!) drive, ride or hike through the Gap of Dunloe is a dramatic experience. Coming from Killarney in a car you might be interested to press on towards Moll's Gap, a dramatic mountain pass slightly spoiled by the modern souvenir shop on top. But the views are magnificent and the N71 will take you back via Ladies' View and through several interesting curves and tunnels to Killarney.

Hidden in the woods (but well signposted) is the sixty feet high Torc Waterfall, another must-see.

From Killarney you can also drive the Ring of Kerry, one of Ireland's most famous tourist routes.