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A trip to Ireland may evoke the sea, rugged coastlines and some spectacular mountain passes, but if you are also looking for ancient ruins and secluded beaches (yes, beaches!), the Ring of Kerry is a breath-taking oasis where you can enjoy just that! The Ring of Kerry is one of the most popular circuits in Ireland and starts in the spectacular surroundings of Killarney.
Part of our 7 day Ireland itinerary, the Ring of Kerry will always be remembered as one of the most beautiful scenic coastal drives we did while in Ireland. In most parts, the famous Wild Atlantic Way that stretches across the entire Irish West Coast, covers the same route as the Ring of Kerry. While not all of us have time to drive this 3800 km route, we decided to focus on its most beautiful sections. So if you’d like to have a taste of Ireland’s coastline, read on for our suggestions on things to do on the Ring of Kerry!
Ring of Kerry Itinerary and map
We drove the Ring of Kerry on a day-trip from Kenmare, so as always we had to make choices. There are so many things to do on the Ring of Kerry that you simply can’t tick them off in one day. You’ll probably be tempted to stay a few nights in the area to enjoy all the spectacular things along this ring road. If you have time to spare, go for it!
The Ring of Kerry was one of my favourite places I visited during our 7 day road trip through Ireland. The breath-taking views, charming towns and spray-painted sheep will have you wanting more. The Ring of Kerry is truly captivating!
We dedicated a full day to this Ring of Kerry drive from Kenmare, which was our base to explore the area. Often the Ring of Kerry You can find our favorite stops on the Ring of Kerry map below.
Ring of Kerry driving time
The above Ring of Kerry route would take about 4 hours of driving time to complete the 179 km loop. Adding time for lunch and the different sights along the way would mean you’re looking at a full Ring of Kerry day trip. Our favorite Ring of Kerry stops cater mostly to outdoor enthousiast and thus include time for hiking but history and culture buffs can get their fill of ruins and castles along the way as well.
Ring of Kerry: clockwise or counterclockwise?
From Kenmare it makes more sense to start your day clockwise, but strong-minded as we are, we undertook the action in an anti-clockwise direction. See, most of the guidebooks advise to go clockwise so you’re going the opposite direction of the tour buses, which go counter-clockwise. In all honesty, this would definitely have been a test of my mental sanity. 120 miles of risking coming across those big ass buses on a teeny tiny road was not on my agenda.
In high-season, going counter-clockwise and starting a bit later than the tour buses that depart from Killarney (so you aren’t stuck behind them), means you won’t have to navigate traffic going against tour buses coming toward you on narrow roads. We went in April and didn’t have to worry about busses at all, in fact there was not much traffic out and about.
This drive takes an entire day, especially if you stop at many of the sights along the way, so start your day early! Our loop starts in Kenmare, one of the most popular cities (and so adorably colourful) to stay if you are visiting the Ring of Kerry.
Things to do on the Ring of Kerry: 8 stops you can’t miss
The Ring of Kerry is one of the top spots for visitors to travel to in Ireland and for good reason: the scenery is gorgeous thanks to being right next to the coast and there are historic sites, pretty towns, and panoramic lookout points all along the circuit. Our favorite Ring of Kerry stops are mostly of the outdoor kind: the most beautiful hikes, views and beaches!
Stop #1: Moll’s Gap
Departing from Kenmare, we started our Ring of Kerry drive strong with one of the prettiest passes found right between the cities of Kenmare and Killarney. About 10km in this Ring of Kerry loop, we were treated with a panoramic view over he mountains, dotted with red sandstone rocks.
Moll’s Gap viewpoint got its name from a woman who set up an unlicensed pub in the area when the N71 road was newly constructed. While the illegal pub is long gone, the gap is still a good place to stop for breakfast in case you haven’t been able to before the start of your Ring of Kerry drive. Nothing beats enjoying some scones and good cup of tea with this view before continuing on your journey.
Covered distance: 10 km
Entrance fee: free
Location: at the junction of N71 and R568, Killarney, Co. Kerry, Ireland
Stop #2: Ladies View
Within the borders of Killarney National Park, this scenic viewpoint on the Ring of Kerry is on the N71 about 18 km from Kenmare. On a clear day, it is easy to see why Ladies View is one of the most visited Ring of Kerry stops. The panoramic lookout point offers unobstructed views over the fields and mountains of Killarney National Park, reminiscing of Scottish landscapes we saw the year prior. 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.
Covered distance: 18 km
Entrance fee: free
Location: Ladies View, Derrycunnihy, Killarney, Co. Kerry, Ireland
Stop #3: Torc Waterfall Walk in Killarney National Park
You basically start your first part of the day with the highest section of the Ring of Kerry, Killarney National Park (no entry fee). It’s a very beautiful stretch of road which leads over mountain passes and offers sweeping views of lakes embedded in the most perfect piece of nature. We spent a large part of the morning exploring viewpoints in Killarney National Park.
You can easily spend a day just exploring the park, but we since we were limited in time. We chose to stick to the highlights. One of the sights we loved most was Torc Falls. After our trip to Laos the year prior, we were both obsessed with waterfalls. So when we heard there was one in Killarney National Park, we knew we needed to see it. Our morning started with a drizzle, but hey that’s Ireland for you, se we ventured on the 4.5 km Torc Waterfall Walk in the rain.
Even though Torc Waterfall isn’t the biggest set of falls we’ve seen, it’s quite impressive in its own way. It’s it natural surroundings that made it so pretty I think. The moss covered tree branches everywhere made it look like it was part of some fairy kingdom.
If I’m going to suggest one item to bring to Ireland, it would be Hunter boots! I love my Hunter boots and wore them all the time in Ireland. They were especially practical for short muddy walks in Killarney National Park, like the Torc Waterfall Hike and later in the day to explore Derrynane Beach. I have the Orginal Refined ones as they are a bit lighter than the Original and are easier to pack. they come in matte or gloss, I got them in Black Gloss as they still look pretty smart to wear to dinner in the evening.
Did you you can visit Killarney National Park on your own without renting a car?
If you’re traveling around Ireland on public transport, the hop-on hop-off bus through Killarney National Park might be something for you. Catering to all the important stops in the park, you just take the bus and get off at your desired stops. It’s not a guided tour so you have the freedom to choose the stops of your interest.
The shuttle bus starts and ens in Killarney.
The main attraction in the Killarney National Park is in fact Muckross House, a 19th century Victorian mansion. During our visit, we decided to skip the Muckross House since the only way to see the inside of this historic house is by guided tour (€9 per adult). We preferred to spend our time outdoors, exploring the natural beauty of the park, and to avoid the Muckross House entry fee – cheap bastards as we are.
If you prefer history and culture, you might actually enjoy this tour though! The tour lasts about an hour and the guide shares stories about the house and the families that lived here.
Covered distance: 29 km
Entrance fee: free
Location: Torc Waterfall and Hiking Parking, Cloghereen Upper, Co. Kerry, Ireland
Stop #4: Hike to the 5 lakes of the Gap of Dunloe
Irish landscapes are just strikingly gorgeous. Whether we had blue skies and sunshine or the sky was overcast and dreary, we always wanted to jump out of our car every 5 minutes. We really wanted to tack on the Gap of Dunloe onto our Ring of Kerry daytrip and therefore had to forego the opportunity to hike but drive the very, very, very (did I say very?) narrow and windy roads instead. When you’re not used to these road conditions, it might be wise to not drive this section and schedule enough time to hike a part of the Gap of Dunloe instead.
Needless to say, the drive to the top was insanely beautiful!
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.
Covered distance: 55 km
Entrance fee: free
Location: Torc Waterfall and Hiking Parking, Cloghereen Upper, Co. Kerry, Ireland
Stop #5: Relive clan life at Ballycarbery Castle
Our next stop was Ballycarbery Castle, close to the town of Cahersiveen. This small ruined castle looks straight out of a fairytale or saga. You need to do some tresspassing to get to this castle though as it is closed to the public for danger of collapsing. The ruins are filled with hidden passages and staircases but I would warn you not to enter and just admire the ruins from the outside. Since it was closed and you need to drive a super narrow road to get there, it wasn’t packed with tourists, always a bonus!
Stop #6: Get blown away by Kerry’s Most Spectacular Cliffs
When looking for the most stunning view on the Ring of Kerry, Kerry’s Most Spectacular Cliffs is your place to be. Most of the Ring of Kerry’s stops require an entrance fee as most sights are located on private property. Our itinerary manages to avoid most of them but to get to Kerry’s Most Spectacular Cliffs’ lookout it’s about 4€p.p. It’s the only entrance fee you’ll have to pay and it is worth it.
The wind was strong when we visited, causing hats to get caught by the wind and blown away. Walking uphill towards the viewpoint was a constant battle against nature.
For a more unique experience, consider booking a daytrip to Skellig Michael. Skellig Michael is a remote island knows for its sublime landscape and used as filming location for one of the latest Star Wars movies. Ferries to the island only operate in high season though, so we had to skip it. If you’re driving the Ring of Kerry in high season, give it a try!
Stop #7: Enjoy sweeping views of the Atlantic Ocean
From now on, it’s all about the scenic coastal views. After the Gap of Dunloe it cleared up for most of the day and we could even see across to the Dingle Peninsula. The stretch between Kerry’s Most Spectacular Cliffs and Derrynane Beach is simply breathtaking, especially near the town of Waterville. Waterville also makes an excellent stop for a quick afternoon snack or coffee break.
Stop #8: Watch the sunset from Derrynane Beach
Our last major stop of the day was at Derrynane Beach. The wind was strong, and we got a good sandscrub out of it :-), but the sun was shining and it was just so overwhelmingly beautiful. Another perk of driving the Ring of Kerry in counter-clockwise direction was ending up at at Derrynane Beach around golden hour. We couldn’t have planned it any better! A perfect way to end our Ring of Kerry day trip.
I was so happy I wore my Hunter boots that day to just go frolicking in the water. Also, the tides come in pretty fast so I was well prepared in case we got caught by the rising water :-).
Where to stay along the Ring of Kerry
Treat yourself to a cozy Georgian Airbnb in the heart of Kenmare. The Airbnb can fit up to 4 people but it’s more comfortable shared by two. Close to all the shops, restaurants, pubs and the Ring of Kerry. New to Airbnb? Subscribe here and get $40 off your fisrt booking!
If you’re looking for a hotel experience we can highly recommend the Sheen Falls Lodge! Though it is a bit further from the town of Kenmare and the start of the Ring of Kerry drive, it is wonderfully secluded and has that true Irish country feel.
click here to view additional hotels in Kenmare and browse prices
Which is better: the Ring of Kerry or Dingle Peninsula?
If you only have time for one scenic drive during your stay in Ireland, we would pick the Dingle Peninsula over the Ring of Kerry. Both drives are gorgeous but I personally preferred the more nature focussed Slea Head Drive on the Dingle Pensinsula which included much more coastal lookout points. Moreover, the Sea Head Drive in Dingle included more free attractions while several require an entrance fee on the Ring of Kerry. If you prefer history and culture over nature, the Ring of Kerry might be more up your alley.
Driving the Ring of Kerry route
Fair warning, the roads on the Ring of Kerry are very narrow. In many places, the roads are basically just one lane but with two-way traffic. Every now and then you’ll find passing points but the roads are very windy so it’ll be hard to spot oncoming traffic. Oh and remember, they drive on the left in Ireland!
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