In a country made for great road trips, Ireland’s Ring of Kerry manages to stand out as one of the most scenic drives. Cutting through the countryside, along the sea, and through valleys and national parks, the drive offers a glimpse at what makes the southwest, and County Kerry in particular, such a popular Irish destination.
If you were to drive the Ring of Kerry without stopping, the 111-mile (179-kilometer) circuit around the Iveragh Peninsula would take about 3.5 hours to complete. However, planning out the best stops along the route is one of the reasons to get on the road and take the scenic drive in the first place.
A road trip around the Ring of Kerry is best spread out over more than one day in order to set a more leisurely pace, however, it is possible to take a bus tour along the road with a set itinerary. Either way, the most popular place to start is in Killarney. If you are navigating yourself, plan your route to drive counter-clockwise around the Ring of Kerry in order to avoid the traffic with the coach buses traveling in the other direction.
Killarney National Park
You don’t have to travel far outside the town of Killarney before making your first stop in the national park that sits just outside town. Pass through the rolling green fields and take a short stroll while keeping an eye out for deer. If time is short, drive straight to Ross Castle— one of the best castles in Ireland.
The picture-perfect setting on the shore of Lough Leane is a great picnic spot, however, the loveliest structure in the park is not a castle but a Victorian Tudor-style mansion. The stately Muckross House was built in the mid-1800s and was eventually owned by Arthur Guinness. Today it is open for public visits and has a cafe for midday breaks.
The first taste of Kerry’s natural beauty can be found a few miles outside Killarney at Torc Waterfall. The cascade is a five-minute walk off the road at the base of Torc Mountain. While it may not be the largest waterfall in the world, the lush green scenery makes it feel straight out of a fairytale.
On a clear day, it is easy to see why Ladies View is one of the most visited spots along the Ring of Kerry drive. The panoramic viewpoint about 12 miles from Killarney looks out over the fields and mountains of the national park. The lookout takes its name from a historic visit by Queen Victoria in 1861 because it was here that her ladies-in-waiting stopped to admire the gorgeous views the county is famous for.
Gap of Dunloe
The road narrows to pass through the mountains on the road to Killorglin, but the slowing traffic is likely caused by the breathtaking scenery. (Though the horse-drawn jaunting cars tend to bring down the pace as well). Take a break and hike beside the crystal lakes or simply pull over at the marked areas to take in the lush greenery.
The village of Glenbeigh is sometimes known as the “jewel of the Ring of Kerry” but its name really means “valley of the birch trees” in Irish. Surrounded by a beautiful natural setting, Glenbeigh falls between the Caragh and Behy rivers. Nearby Carragh Lake is brimming with local fish and a favorite stop for anglers.
For ocean lovers, Rossbeigh Strand is a Blue Flag beach with 4 miles of golden sand. It makes the village a popular destination for outdoor sports enthusiasts, but it is also an ideal spot to stretch your legs during a brief road trip break.
The village of Cahersiveen can also be spelled Caherciveen and Caherciveen, but however you write it out it is worth a stop on a Ring of Kerry for the simple fact that it is relatively untouched by tourism in one of Ireland’s most popular destinations.
The old market town overlooks Valentia Harbor and is close to the ruins of Ballycarbery Castle. The old stone fortress was once one of the most impressive castles on the peninsula and it still imposing despite its crumbling state.
Cahergal Ring Fort
County Kerry is famed for its natural beauty but the trip around the Iveragh Peninsula also has plenty of opportunities to take in a bit of history. One of the most ancient sites along the drive is the Cahergal ring fort. The Irish stone fort near Ballycarbery Castle dates back to around 600 AD. The fortified homestead has been well restored and is an excellent example of an early “cashel.” Climb to the top of the wall for views of the countryside that stretch down to the sea.
The charming town of Portmagee lures drivers off the Ring of Kerry with its traditional style and plentiful pub lunches. The village is sometimes referred to as "the ferry" because it is the departure point for voyagers setting out for the Skellig Islands. It is also where the Maurice O’Neill Memorial Bridge connects Valentia Island to the mainland.
While a trip to the Skellig Islands would require a boat ride (and thus a significant detour off the road), the rocky islands are clearly visible along part of the Ring of Kerry route. Skellig Micheal, which is sometimes known as Great Skellig, was once prized for its remoteness and became the stunning but stark setting for a monastery.
The religious retreat was built there in the 6th century and used for about 600 years. The fascinating craggy outcropping is one of the best islands in Ireland, so plan to stop in Portmagee to catch a boat if you would like to take a closer look.
One of the prettiest passes on the Ring of Kerry drive can be found between Kenmare and Killarney. The winding road offers a panoramic view the mountains dotted with red sandstone rocks. The viewpoint takes its name from a woman who set up an unlicensed pub in the area when the N71 road was first under construction. While the illegal pub is long gone, the gap is a good place to stop for scones and tea before continuing on.