The Ring of Kerry in Ireland is one of the most popular scenic drives in the country. With its stunning coastal scenery and charming small towns, it’s easy to see why. Nonetheless, if it’s your first time visiting the Emerald Isle, there are a few things you need to know before adding this excursion to your itinerary.
With this in mind, we’ve written the ultimate guide to traveling the Ring of Kerry. We begin with a breakdown of how much time you’ll need to complete this loop drive. Next, we review essential tips for driving the Ring of Kerry and include a detailed map. From there, we cover some of the best stops along the way, including Killarney National Park, Ladies View, and Derrynane Beach.
Finally, we end with a list of the most popular guided tours of the Ring of Kerry (in case you don’t want to drive!). From ancient castles to sandy beaches, there’s something for everyone on this breathtaking route. So, buckle up and get ready for a memorable Irish road trip!
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Table of Contents
What is the Ring of Kerry?
The Ring of Kerry is a 111-mile (179 km) loop drive that winds its way around the Iveragh Peninsula in County Kerry, Ireland. It begins and ends in Killarney, passing through the small towns of Kenmare, Sneem, Waterville, Cahersiveen, Glenbeigh, and Killorglin. Moreover, a large part of the Ring of Kerry follows the same route as the Wild Atlantic Way.
Why is the Ring of Kerry famous?
The Ring of Kerry is one of the most scenic drives in Ireland, traversing breathtaking views of rugged mountains, dramatic coastlines, picturesque villages, and serene lakes. With this in mind, it’s a top-rated attraction for first-time visitors who want to experience diverse Irish landscapes in one remarkable journey.
How long does it take to drive the Ring of Kerry?
If you were to drive the Ring of Kerry without making any stops, you could complete the entire loop in about 3.5 hours. Of course, this estimate is without taking any traffic into account. Plus, not getting out of the car kind of defeats the purpose of visiting this area!
For most people, the Ring of Kerry drive time will be between 6-8 hours. Note that day tours from Killarney are also approximately 7 hours in length. For this reason, we recommend spending at least one full day traveling this route.
If you have the time to spare, two days is even better! This way, you won’t be in a rush and can stop at any attractions that pique your interest. You can also choose to add the Skellig Ring to your itinerary, a popular extension of the Ring of Kerry.
Can you drive the Ring of Kerry in one day?
One question we get a lot is: can you really drive the Ring of Kerry in one day? Well, to be honest, the answer depends on a few different factors. Mainly, you’ll want to consider daylight hours, weather, and the tourism season.
Completing this drive in one day is more feasible if you’re visiting during a season with longer days. For example, Ireland has considerably more daylight hours between April and August compared to the rest of the year. You’ll also want to keep an eye on the weather forecast!
Furthermore, be aware that traffic plays a role in how long it takes to drive this loop route. So, if you’re visiting during the high season (June-August), we suggest waking up early to beat the crowds. With most group tours beginning around 9:30-10:30, it’s a bit of a “you snooze, you lose” situation.
If you can devote two days to the Iveragh Peninsula, use the first day to explore Killarney National Park and visit the Gap of Dunloe. Then, spend the night in Killarney and plan to drive most of the Ring of Kerry on the second day. You may also want to plan for two days here if you’d like to do the Skellig Michael Landing Tour (available mid-May-September).
Tips for driving the Ring of Kerry
Driving clockwise vs. counter-clockwise.
There are pros and cons to driving the Ring of Kerry in a clockwise and a counter-clockwise direction. For example, the tour buses in this area all operate anti-clockwise. With this in mind, you may want to drive clockwise to avoid getting stuck behind these gigantic buses.
Another advantage to driving in this direction is arriving at some of the most popular attractions in the morning. Therefore, you’re less likely to encounter crowds. However, the downside to driving the route clockwise is that you may have to pass a tour bus head-on.
Especially for those who aren’t comfortable driving on the left side of the road, this experience can be nerve-wracking. Therefore, first-time visitors to Ireland will sometimes opt to drive the Ring of Kerry counter-clockwise.
Start your drive early in the morning.
The Ring of Kerry’s popularity also means it can get very crowded, especially during peak season (the summer months). Therefore, if you’re planning on driving yourself, we recommend getting an early start to avoid the worst traffic. However, if you’re staying nearby in towns like Killarney or Kenmare, beating the tour buses is relatively easy.
Most bus tours begin between 9:30 and 10:30 in the morning. So, if you can hit the road by 8:30, you’ll have a much better chance of enjoying a peaceful drive. And even if you don’t beat the crowds entirely, at least you’ll get to enjoy the scenery without having to worry about holding up traffic.
Choose your stops ahead of time.
There are so many possible stops along the Ring of Kerry that it can feel a tad overwhelming. So, make a list of the places you definitely want to visit before you start the drive.
Especially when putting together a one-day Ring of Kerry itinerary, you’ll likely have to whittle down your choices. After all, you’ll need to squeeze them into about 6-8 hours. We also suggest marking each point of interest on Google Maps so that you don’t accidentally pass them!
Book a guided tour if you’d prefer not to drive yourself.
If the idea of driving on the left side of the road feels stressful, consider booking a guided tour of the Ring of Kerry. These experiences include transportation on an air-conditioned bus and a local guide. Furthermore, remember that bus tours travel the loop drive counter-clockwise. Here are our top recommendations for guided tours of the Ring of Kerry:
- The Ring of Kerry Day Trip, including Killarney Lakes and National Park
- Ring of Kerry: Full-Day Tour from Killarney
- Full-Day Ring of Kerry Tour from Killarney
- Ring Of Kerry Tour
- Ring of Kerry: Full-Day Guided Tour from Cork
- From Cork: 9-Hour Guided Ring of Kerry and Killarney Tour
Map of the Ring of Kerry
If you’re planning on driving yourself, we’ve put together a Ring of Kerry map featuring some of the best stops along the way. It’s important to note that we only include the main highlights because we felt it would be overwhelming otherwise. In fact, if we added every point of interest on the Ring of Kerry, there would be over 50 pins on the map!
Let’s be honest; most people spend 1-2 days exploring this circular route. Therefore, you’ll likely have to narrow down the places you want to visit to fit your schedule. However, note that you don’t have to choose the exact stops we suggest on this Ring of Kerry drive map. For example, we include a short additional scenic route on the map above: the Skellig Ring.
Please don’t feel you have to commit to visiting as many attractions as we suggest, either! One of the great parts about driving the Ring of Kerry yourself is that you can pick and choose the specific places you want to see.
Pro tip: You can add this map to your Google Maps by clicking the star to the right of the title.
The best stops on the Ring of Kerry route
Killarney National Park
Killarney National Park is one of the top Ring of Kerry highlights, encompassing almost 26,000 acres (10,200 hectares). Of course, you won’t have time to explore the whole park, but you can see some of our favorite places! Drop by Ross Castle first, situated on the edge of Lough Leane.
This 15th-century fortress was the stronghold of the O’Donoghue clan. Nowadays, Ross Castle is open to the public to explore seasonally (March-November). Depending on how much time you have, you could also choose to take a boat tour on the lake.
Muckross House and Manor is another must-see in Killarney National Park. This 19th-century Victorian mansion was once the home of the wealthy Herbert family. It currently serves as a museum, featuring extensive gardens and even a traditional farm. You can also take a jaunting tour from Muckross House!
Before continuing your drive, make a quick stop by Muckross Abbey. There’s a small car park just off the N71 where you can leave the car and take a short, five-minute walk to see these 15th-century abbey ruins.
Torc Waterfall is another popular stop along the Ring of Kerry drive. This cascading waterfall is 66 feet high (20m) and 360 feet long (110m). Plus, it’s just a quick 5-minute walk from the official parking lot off the N71 (Torc Waterfall Lower Parking). If you’re visiting during the high season, you’ll want to arrive here early in the morning to secure a parking spot.
The short hiking trail to the waterfall is well-marked and suitable for all fitness levels. However, it can be a bit slippery, so wear shoes with good traction! For those looking for a more challenging hike, there are longer trails that wind through the surrounding forest park.
Ladies View is one of the most famous places to take photos on the Ring of Kerry. This scenic viewpoint is named after Queen Victoria’s ladies-in-waiting, who were reportedly impressed by the lookout during a visit in 1861. Today, Ladies View overlooks the Lakes of Killarney within Killarney National Park and offers visitors stunning views of the surrounding mountains and forests.
Visitors typically stop to snap a picture at the Ladies View car park, where they can take in the panoramic views before continuing their journey down the N71 road to Molls Gap. If you need a snack, you can find a gift shop and café directly across the street from the main parking lot.
Moll’s Gap, or Céim an Daimh in Irish (Gap of the Ox), is another popular viewpoint/mountain pass along the Ring of Kerry route. The N71 road winds through the MacGillycuddy’s Reeks mountains here, creating a perfect photo spot. Moreover, easy parking makes it a convenient place to rest and enjoy the view.
You’ll find an Avoca Café directly across the street from the parking lot, where you can grab a bite to eat. We recommend the delicious cakes and scones! All in all, Molls Gap is the perfect place to stretch your legs and take in the stunning scenery of the Irish countryside.
Kenmare is the first of the Ring of Kerry towns you’ll encounter if you travel the route clockwise. This quaint village caters to the many tourists who pass through, featuring cafés, restaurants, and souvenir shops. We chose to stop here and recharge with some coffee at Café Mocha before hopping on the N70 to continue our drive.
After riding on the N70 for about 30 minutes, you’ll drive through the adorable town of Sneem. If you’d like to look for souvenirs to bring home, there are several gift shops here. Plus, you may want to grab a snack or drink at a pub! In case you didn’t stop in Kenmare, we suggest taking a bathroom break here before driving the 30 minutes to our next attraction, Staigue Stone Fort.
Staigue Stone Fort
Staigue Fort is one of the many ancient stone forts dotted around Ireland. Remember, though, that getting here requires a bit of a detour, as it’s located down a narrow road off the Ring of Kerry (N70). Additionally, there’s a small €1 land trespass charge to enter the fort, but it’s well worth the fee.
Apart from the impressive 2,500-year-old ringfort, this site is also home to Roast Coffee Bar and public restrooms. So, you can experience history, coffee, and a bathroom break all in one place! Sometimes the farmer who owns the land will also bring baby lambs out that you can pet.
Derrynane Beach is one of our favorite Ring of Kerry stops. However, you’ll need to drive cautiously and be prepared to give way to passing vehicles on the narrow road that takes you down to the parking lot. This sandy Blue Flag beach is a great place to take a walk, relax, and enjoy the scenery.
If you have extra time to spend in the area, plan to visit Derrynane House. This historic home once belonged to Daniel O’Connell, an Irish political leader in the early 19th century who fought for Catholic Emancipation.
Waterville is another quaint village located along the Ring of Kerry in Ireland. In Irish, the town is called An Coireán, meaning “little cauldron.” Following the N70 road, you’ll pass directly through Waterville, making it a great place to stop for lunch if you haven’t eaten yet!
Skellig Ring Road
If you have the extra time, you may want to drive part of the Skellig Ring while you’re nearby. This 20-mile extension of the Ring of Kerry begins near Waterville and reconnects to the N70 just south of Cahersiveen. You can find some of the most beautiful places in County Kerry along the way, including the Kerry Cliffs and Valentia Island.
On your detour down Skellig Ring Road, keep your eyes peeled for views of the Skellig Islands off the coast. Skellig Michael, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is the larger of these two remote islands. In fact, one of the most popular activities in this area is to take a boat tour to see the historic 6th-century monastery there. Plus, part of Star Wars: The Force Awakens was filmed on Skellig Michael!
Especially for visitors planning to take an Eco Boat or Landing Tour of Skellig Michael, driving Skellig Ring Road is an easy addition to your itinerary. However, even if you don’t have time to see the Skelligs, you may want to head to the Skellig Experience Visitor Centre in Portmagee. Or, at the very least, drop by Skelligs Chocolate for some delicious hot chocolate.
The Kerry Cliffs are a 400 million-year-old natural wonder located along the Skellig Ring. Standing at 1000 feet tall (305 m), these sea cliffs offer spectacular views of the Skellig Islands and Puffin Island. Moreover, there are fences near the cliff edges, so you can safely experience the vista.
Now, you may be wondering: how do the Kerry Cliffs compare to the Cliffs of Moher? Although we think you should budget time to see both on your trip to Ireland, we prefer the Kerry Cliffs! They’re taller, less crowded, and the tickets are cheaper than the Cliffs of Moher.
Portmagee is a small fishing village best known as the departure point for boat tours of the Skellig Islands. Although the smaller island, Little Skellig, is closed to the public, you can take an eco-boat tour to view both islands from the water. If you want the chance to see Skellig Michael up close, make sure to book a landing tour. To do so, check out the official website here.
If you have your heart set on doing a landing tour, you’ll need to book tickets as far in advance as possible. Since these visits are limited and have a short operating season (mid-May through the end of September), time slots tend to sell out quickly. Additionally, monitor the weather the day of your visit because tours can be canceled due to weather conditions.
Valentia Island is one of the westernmost points in Ireland, accessible from the mainland thanks to the Maurice O’Neill Memorial Bridge in Portmagee. This charming island is home to the Bray Head Loop Walk, a popular walking trail that offers stunning views of the Skellig Islands and the Kerry Cliffs.
Moreover, don’t miss Geokaun Mountain and Cliffs while in the area. This attraction marks the highest point on the island, featuring a fantastic cliff viewing deck. If you have additional time, we suggest climbing to the top of the Valentia Lighthouse, which is also home to a small museum and café.
Rossbeigh Beach is the last stop we recommend before you head back to Killarney or continue to your next destination in Ireland. This blue flag beach is a great place to take a walk, relax on the sand, swim, or even go surfing. Plus, there’s substantial parking available here, making it easy to get to and from the beach.
Is the Ring of Kerry worth it?
The answer to this question comes down to two things: how much time you have and the weather during your visit. In our opinion, a Ring of Kerry road trip is 100% worth it if you don’t have to be in a rush and have relatively clear weather. Since most of the activities along this loop drive are outdoors, a rainy day can be limiting! Of course, a drizzle is fine, but a downpour is another story.
If you can spend more time in County Kerry, we highly suggest heading north to the Dingle Peninsula. In our opinion, Slea Head Drive is actually even more beautiful than the Ring of Kerry, and you can drive it in half a day. This lesser-known loop drive features incredible viewpoints, archeological sites, and adorable villages.
Where to stay on the Ring of Kerry
When planning a trip to the Ring of Kerry, one of the most important decisions is where to stay nearby. There are a variety of hotels and B&Bs located near the driving route, each with its own unique benefits. For example, if you plan to travel the entire loop in one day, you may want to stay in Killarney, Kenmare, or Killorglin. On the other hand, if you’re hoping to space out your drive, Sneem or Waterville is ideal for you.
Keep in mind that most tourists in this area stay in Killarney. So, if you’d prefer a more intimate experience, you may want to stay in Kenmare, Sneem, Waterville, or Killorglin. However, if you don’t plan to rent a car, we highly suggest staying in Killarney. This town serves as a departure point for most bus tours and has the most options for restaurants and pubs.
Here are our top hotels near the Ring of Kerry, all within easy reach of the main attractions along this route:
The Lake Hotel (Killarney)
This 4-star hotel sits next to Loch Lein in Killarney and has been family-operated for over 100 years. Even Queen Victoria visited here once in 1861! Today, the Lake Hotel is a popular base for exploring the nearby Ring of Kerry.
The Brehon (Killarney)
Located mere minutes from Killarney National Park, the Brehon is a convenient place to stay for those planning to drive the Ring of Kerry. Moreover, this property is home to the first Angsana Spa in Europe, offering a wide selection of treatments and massages.
Park Hotel (Kenmare)
The Park Hotel Kenmare is a five-star luxury hotel situated in the picturesque town of Kenmare. It was built in 1897 in the Victorian style and overlooks Kenmare Bay. Additionally, the property has a range of facilities and amenities, including a spa, a 16-seat cinema, and an 82-foot (25m) lap pool.
Parknasilla Resort & Spa (Sneem)
Parknasilla Resort & Spa is a 500-acre estate on the shores of Kenmare Bay along the Ring of Kerry. It features a 12-hole golf course, a luxurious spa, and a variety of dining options, including Pygmalion Restaurant. Guests can also enjoy hiking, cycling, and tennis on site.
The Bianconi Inn (Killorglin)
Nestled in the town of Killorglin, The Bianconi Inn is a warm and intimate 15-bedroom hotel that has been in business for over 150 years. Rossbeigh Beach, one of the most popular beaches on the Ring of Kerry, is just a 20-minute drive from the property.
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This article was first published in July 2022 and has since been updated.