Featuring Killarney, Kerry Cliffs, and Miles of Beautiful Scenery
If you haven't driven Ireland before, then when planning your first trip you should seriously consider The Ring of Kerry. This 179-km circular journey goes well beyond what I could cover in two days. It is loaded with mountains, beaches, sheep covered green hillsides, Instagrammable towns, historic monuments that date back to Celtic days, castles, and iconic cliff-driven coastlines.
Let me tempt you with a few photos and locations I enjoyed during my road trip through this area. I started my journey from Baltimore on the coast, so it was late morning when I made my way through here and did the trip in two days. I joined the Ring at a town called Kenmare (a cute little town that might make for an excellent jumping off point if Killarney is too busy for you). From there I drove west along N71 with some twists and turns through a thick forest. Watch out for the occasional cyclist (in their yellow jackets) and for single lane stone bridges that sit at blind curves on the left. After seeing a waterfall on your right and cruising a few more miles, the scenery opens up beautifully.
This little town may or may not get mentioned on travel sites, but I really enjoyed my stop here. I had already been on the road for 3 hours prior to joining the Ring of Kerry, so grabbing a coffee and having a moment to be present with this beautiful scenery was a must.
A fan of murals and creative street art, I found this unique piece of art near where I parked my car. I made my way down to the sign that said the place had "the best coffee." Well why go anywhere else?
Staigue Stone Fort
Above is the pub, B&B and restaurant that is mentioned when you finally reach the Staigue Stone Fort. Use this as a marker to see where the road is you need to take.
Now, the one thing guide books tend to neglect is giving you a feel for what the roads are like that they are going to send you down. I was really nervous about this before my trip. I have to say, Staigue Stone Fort's drive was the worst example of a small country backroad that I found. Yet and it wasn't really all that bad...
Except for the bovine traffic jam. Ahh, but no bother, it was cleared in about 3 minutes. This ride is about 3 km up a small one lane road with very few pull-offs. So keep your eyes far down the road to make sure you don't end up backing up a long ways when someone comes toward you.
At the top you'll find a parking lot, a nice little waterfall, more sheep, and a really nice view down to Kenmare Bay. The gate in front of the fort says you need to pay 1€ per person as a "trespassing fee" for adults (free for children). I've never heard of that before. But there was a coin box on the right side of the gate, so I dropped in my Euro. It's a little further walk up the path to the very well kept, if not simple fort.
Staigue Stone Fort History
Unlike the castles I've visited, it's a little harder to get specifics on this particular fort. You can definitely tell the builder had a good sense of sightlines as it would be hard to sneak up on this structure. It was built in the 4th or 5th century and the stone work is so incredible that it looks like it was just recently built. If you look at the picture above, you'll also notice a staircase that starts to the right that allows the inhabitants the ability to view what might be coming at them from the mountains. It was worth the Euro and the drive up to see this historic craftsmanship. There are other stone forts in the area also if you wish to investigate further, including Caherdaniel, Lohar and Leacanabuaile.
Beach anyone? One stunning feature that Ireland has that snuck up on me is the array of light-colored sand beaches. Not quite white sands, they still yield the most stunning blues in the water that crests to the shore. If you're a caravaner or like to camp, O'Carroll's Cove might be just the spot to anchor to for your Ring of Kerry adventures.
Scarriff Inn View
Scarriff Inn boasts "the best known view in Ireland." I'm used to people overselling things, but this time they didn't. When you round the corner you'll want to just sit there in awe. Beautiful green flatlands far below with islands off the coast. I seriously wish I had more time to just soak it all in, but I had a schedule this particular day and I was falling behind. Don't make that same mistake!
Wood fences and wire hold you back from cliffsides that overlook the greenest greens I've ever seen.
Kerry Cliffs Portmaggee
Be prepared for some one lane roads to get here. There are pull-offs on these roads, so it's not difficult to navigate, even if there was some heavier traffic in and out. There is a large parking lot when you arrive, so hopefully you'll easily find parking. You'll have to walk up to a booth as you make your way up to the cliffs and pay the fee.
The walk is moderate to get to the center of the cliffs. Then you have a choice to walk up to the right or to the left side cliffs which are much higher. Especially going to the left you may find you have to exhude some energy, but the views are priceless and worth the effort. Bring your binoculars or a camera with a physical zoom lens. There is an island referred to as Puffin Island, but my poor little smartphone camera just didn't have the strength to get me a view of a puffin.
If you have time, in Portmaggee there are different cruises you can take to go see the puffin or to visit Skellig Island (way off in the distance in this shot).
The most talked about town on The Ring of Kerry is Killarney. A happening tourist town, you'll find everything you expect, in terms of creature comforts in this area. As a major lodging area and jumping off point for the drive, it can be an excellent place to gravitate to for lunch or dinner. It's attractions will also keep you busy and entertained as well. I'll outline 3 of my favorites and provide links with additional information for the other two.
My Ross Castle Travel Guide (Coming Soon)
As I state in my podcast about the 10 things I learned in Ireland, Ross Castle is an excellent place to take a human guided tour. The 45 minute tour helped me understand not only the Irish and English conflicts, but also how people lived in those days. Or maybe better yet how they died!
For only 5€ (3 for kids) you'll be transported back to the 12th century and you'll learn why stairwells in castles were built clockwise, the reason for doors having spikes and two layers of wood, and why people died so young back then. I really enjoyed my time here and I think kids will have a better sense of what castles are all about after visiting here.
This 19th century home doesn't have the longevity of some of the castles and mansions I had seen on my travels through Ireland, but it does hold the distinction of being the first National Park in the Republic of Ireland. When you walk the grounds you'll get a good sense why.
Within a short 1.5 km walk, you'll arrive at Muckross Abbey, which pre-dates the house by almost 400 years. While the house had a very peaceful and happy existence, this Franciscan friary met with constant raids and heavy damage. It is still remarkably preserved, although a ruin. Check out my Muckross travel guide for more photos and a history of this highly explorable religious site.
Killarney National Park offers a wonderful opportunity to hike and enjoy nature in Ireland. It's proximity to the town of Killarney makes it very easily accessible. Just south of Muckross House and Abbey, you'll find signs pointing to Torc Waterfall. And while the driving and walk might have been easier that way, I would suggest trying another parking lot.
The road that I take you to is in very poor shape and is single lane. Take it slow. But when you reach the parking area, you'll find you're at the high point of the walk to the waterfall. There is a bridge there where the water is making its way from Torc Mountain to the falls. It's a peaceful scene.
There is the option to continue walking across the bridge and up Torc Mountain, but instead, take the path to the right, just before the bridge. I'll warn you ahead of time, this route is called Cardiac Hill. You won't think much about it on the way down, but the way back up will take some effort as you are climbing 180 feet (55 meters) in a somewhat short distance.
The first thing you'll see is a wonderful view of Muckross Lake and the valley below. You might miss this if you're walking up the hill, but it opens right to you on the way down.
Quite a few more steps down Cardiac Hill and finally, the payoff...
You're sure to find a good Instagrammable or selfie spot in front of this lovely waterfall. If you're hiking, you can continue on the trail over to the Muckross House and Abbey, and around the lake. It's a great way to take advantage of some of the best views in Killarney National Park.
The Ring of Kerry is part of my drive up the Wild Atlantic Way.