When you think of Ireland, you probably think of rolling hills of verdant green, a cosy pub filled with the sound of fiddles and Irish pipes, or perhaps a warm bowl of lamb stew with a pint of perfectly-poured Guinness on the side. If you’re looking for these things, Killarney will provide them. But once you start exploring, you’ll realise that Killarney and the surrounding area can provide you with a lot more than just these stereotypes.
Getting to Killarney
Found in County Kerry, and only a short drive from the Kerry airport, Killarney is one of Ireland’s most popular tourist destinations, and for very good reason. The town itself is small enough to get to know quickly, but big enough to warrant a few days of wandering in and out of its pubs, restaurants, and shops. Make sure to get a ride in one of the town’s jaunting cars (horse-drawn carts) which are driven by the local jarvies – it’s a great way to get your bearings. Each building in Killarney is painted a bright colour, pink or yellow or blue, and no matter where you find yourself, you’ll be greeted by a warm welcome.
What to expect in Killarney
Killarney is not the place to simply pass through, however. It is a hotspot of activity, and exploring the surrounding area could keep you busy for weeks. No trip to Killarney would be complete without a visit to Killarney National Park, the first national park established in Ireland. Covering over one hundred square kilometres of land, it is home to a variety of wildlife, including deer, vole, and a diverse range of bird species. And over a relatively small area of land, the landscape changes dramatically depending on where you are, with woodlands, lakes, and mountains making up the terrain. One of the best ways to see the park is by bicycle or by hiking, although it’s possible to drive around the park, too.
Killarney National Park
A few spots that most people make their way to in Killarney National Park are Ladies View and Torc Waterfall. The former is a scenic point along the N71 that gives sweeping views of the park and its lakes. The name was apparently given to the point because Queen Victoria’s ladies-in-waiting were so overwhelmed by the beautiful view during their visit in 1861. Torc Waterfall, found a short walk, bike ride, or janting car away from Muckross House, is approximately twenty metres high and a gorgeous place to rest for a while and snap a few photos. For those who are looking for a longer hike, the path to the waterfall is also part of the Kerry Way walking route.
It’s no surprise that there is also an extensive historical timeline in the park. Most notably, the park is home to Muckross Abbey, founded in 1448 as a Franciscan friary, and Muckross House and Gardens, a Tudor-style mansion completed in 1843. Both are open to the public, though only by paid tour. Ross Castle is also worth visiting, and is set against the dramatic backdrop of Lough Leane. Built in the late 15th century, it was one of the last to surrender to Oliver Cromwell’s supporters during the Irish Confederate Wars. It is also open to the public with a paid tour. Back in Killarney, St. Mary’s Cathedral is another exquisite example of Irish history.
Exploring the Ring of Kerry
And of course, if you are headed to Killarney, you simply must experience the Ring of Kerry. A 179-kilometre loop of County Kerry, it is the best way to see some of Ireland’s most stunning locations. While you can easily hire a car and attempt to navigate the route yourself, there are multiple tour companies that you can join as well, including the Wild Kerry Day Tours (led by fantastically funny and knowledgeable guides). Running clockwise from Killarney, the Ring of Kerry goes through Kenmare, then around the devastatingly beautiful Iveragh Peninsula to Killorglin before heading back to Killarney via the N72.
Even on a rainy or foggy day, there is no denying Ireland’s beauty from the window of your car or bus tour. Here is where you will see Ireland in action, as the scenery changes from endless fields of green, to craggy mountains, to the crashing waves of the Atlantic against the wild shores. Horses, cows, donkeys, deer, and sheep can all be spotted from the road, and make sure to stop for a traditional sheep dog demonstration at the Kells Sheep Centre run by Brendan Ferris. If you’ve hired a car, there are dozens of colourful villages and towns to stop in for some tea or a bowl of that infamous Irish stew (with soda bread on the side, of course). Even while on a bus tour, you will stop often and have lots of time for photos.
Areas near Killarney to explore
From Killarney you can also traverse the Gap of Dunloe, a mountain pass between MacGillycuddy’s Reeks and Purple Mountain. It is popular to take a jaunting cart through the pass due to its winding and narrow roads. Visitors to the Gap of Dunloe will be granted some of the best views of the area, including the five surrounding lakes.
And when you’re back in Killarney, settle in to a local pub – Murphy’s, Courtney’s, and the Killarney Grand are all highly recommended – and bask in the warmth of Ireland. It may indeed be a land of green hills and delicious stouts, but its also a place to relax after a rewarding day of sightseeing, to laugh and share stories over the sound of the fiddles and drums.
Plan your trip to Killarney today
Have you seen enough to put Killarney on your list of places in Ireland to explore more? If so, check out the great accommodation offers available in and around Killarney here.