A Day Driving Ireland’s Most Visited Destination, Ring of Kerry

No question, Ireland is well known for its soaring cliffs and jaw-dropping seascapes. Coastal sites like Cliffs of Moher, the Causeway Coast (Northern Ireland) and Ring of Kerry attract millions of visitors annually. These sites are popular for good reason- they’re unbelievably beautiful.

Ring of Kerry, in particular, is one of Ireland’s most popular scenic drives. It’s full of quintessential Irish sights- quaint, colorful towns, rolling fields, rocky islands, hundreds of lakes, expansive beaches, ancient ruins, and sweeping cliffs.

On a west coast road trip in summer 2020, I planned on spending two days driving and exploring Ring of Kerry. The first few days of the trip were Irish summer bliss, warm and sunny. But, on the last three, all-day rainstorms were predicted.

It’s no secret the Irish weather can be a bit fickle- normally, if I see rain in the forecast, I pack a raincoat and still set out to do what I’d planned. Most of the time, the rain will be fleeting and easy enough to work around.

Sometimes though, it’s relentless. And, when the storms are non-stop, with gale force winds, low visibility due to fog, showers make leaving home for the simplest of tasks tough.

When we saw severe storms in the forecast, we sped up the first part of our trip in Achill, Kilkee and Dingle. In all those places, we were lucky to experience gorgeous weather. When it was time for Ring of Kerry though, there wasn’t as much luck to be found.

With an hourly forecast predicting 80-100% chance of rain for several days straight, we decided to try driving around Ring of Kerry for a day, and rationalised that if it was truly abysmal, we could rive back to Dublin (only ~3.5 hours). And after a day fighting non-stop downpours, we decided to do just that- grabbing Maccas and hitting the highway.

If we’d been in a non-COVID time, we may have tried to find a cosy hotel to stay in, with a plush lobby and roaring fireplace. But, with restrictions pretty much limiting any stays to in-room only, we decided the last two days of holiday would be better spent relaxing in Dublin, staying in bed and streaming Netflix, without an agenda.

Back to Ring of Kerry.

Whether it looks like you’ll have good weather or not, I’d say plan on giving your visit a go. Irish weather can change so quickly, you could start the day with rain and get lucky with storms clearing.

And, in term of time spent on Ring of Kerry, if you can spare more than a day, there’s certainly enough to do and see. In part because we only saw a small portion of Ring of Kerry, I’m excited to head back and spend more time leisurely exploring.

How to Get There

If you’ve only got a day, that’s just enough time to see the highlights. Most tours to Ring of Kerry are only a day long, which is something you’ll want to consider to ensure you don’t get stuck behind tour buses on narrow, windy roads. With COVID, we didn’t need to worry about tourism traffic, but we’d been advised it’s best to drive the loop counter-clockwise as most tours start the other way, and to start as early as possible.

If you’re self driving, make sure you have GPS- either in-car or via phone hotspot. With so many narrow roads and small towns, you’ll have an easier time if you don’t have to worry about navigating a map.

The outer ring road is called N70, and it’s fairly easy to follow. The route itself is a complete loop, 125 miles in total, starting inland at the town of Killarney and going along the Iveragh Peninsula.

The roads can be a bit tight and windy in a few spots, but generally, the main road is more taken care of (because of tourism volume) than roads in other parts of Ireland. Even if you’re nervous about driving on the left, you’ll likely be fine.

Where to Stay

We’d spent the previous night at a b&b in Dingle, and so, we had about a 45 minute drive to our first stop in Killorglin.

If heading back to the area, I’d try to stay in Killarney or Kenmare, two of the bigger towns along the ring with plenty of amenities. Or, I’d stay at a b&b in the countryside near Killorglin. We quite enjoyed doing the loop counter-clockwise, and I’d definitely do the same again.

If you’re spending more than one night along Ring of Kerry, I’d stay overnight in Portmagee. It’s about mid-way around the ring, and more importantly, the gateway to the Skellig Islands, so you’ll have the chance to venture to the islands if you linger in the area, depending, of course, on the time of year you visit. Best time to visit the Skellig Islands is between mid-May and early October.

What to See

The below itinerary assumes you only have a day to see the best of Ring of Kerry. As I’ve already noted, there are plenty of things to see and do though, so if you’re spending more time on Ring of Kerry, there’s certainly more to explore.

Start the day in Killorglin. It’s a tiny, colorful town that’s nice to stroll, and grab breakfast in before continuing onwards.

Next, drive along to Portmagee. En route, there are loads of places to stop- because of the rain, we drove straight on, but I’m excited to go back and see more. Portmagee is touted as the gateway to the Skellig Islands- Skellig Michael and Little Skellig.

From Wikipedia, the Skellig Islands are two uninhabited, rocky islets off the southwestern coast of Ireland. Skellig Michael is known for its well-preserved early Christian monastery. The site, reached by steep steps, includes stone beehive-shaped huts, oratories and crosses. Thousands of puffins breed on Skellig Michael during the warmer months.

In warmer months (May-October), when the weather is good, you can book a day trip out to Skellig Micheal, which is something I’d love to do one day.

Portmagee is a cute, colorful town, and interestingly, home to one of Ireland’s top toilets. Even though it was nearly raining horizontally when we visited, we still enjoyed walking the main street to check out key bits and bobs. And, in case you were wondering, yes, the toilet was as good as we’d expect- the best public toilet I’ve been to in Ireland.

Stop in Waterville to stroll the seaside. Here, Charlie Chaplin, one of my favorite filmmakers, loved to summer holiday, so you’ll find nods to him throughout town, including an annual festival.

Next up, we stopped in Kenmare. Larger than other towns around the ring, there are dozens of colorful cafes, restaurants and shops to peruse. Here, we stopped to stroll and grabbed a cup of coffee.

If we’d visited in non-COVID times, we may have spent a night here to take proper advantage of the pub scene. Also, in case you need it, there’s a clean public toilet near one of the town’s churches.

Finally, we ended our day with a quick stop in Killarney. We strolled around Killarney National Park for a bit, visiting Ross Castle, before driving through the town and stopping for takeaway before road tripping back to Dublin.

Killarney is, by far, the largest town on Ring of Kerry- if you want to stay somewhere with plenty of options, including large chains, this is it. Although, while being central has its perks, one of the reasons I like traveling around Ireland is to get off the grid, to spend time in a charming b&b in the countryside.

A few other interest points that came recommended, but I’ll need to check out on a return visit:

  • O’Caroll’s Cove Beach: The only beach bar in Ireland
  • Kerry Cliffs
  • Skellig Island day trip
  • Ballinskelligs Castle 
  • Ballycarbery Castle: Nearby two ring forts (Cahergal and Leacanabuaile) and the town of Cahersiveen
  • Derrynane House: More than a beautiful yellow house, also the home of
  • Molls Gap: In the Black Valley, pull off to the side of the road to take in wide, mountainous views
  • Rossbeigh Beach: Relaxed beach with stunning views of the Dingle peninsula
  • Coomakista Pass: A stunning lookout near the tip of the peninsula
  • Killarney National Park: Would love to see more of the park’s trials, as well as Torc waterfall and Muckross Abbey (a traditional mansion)
  • Abbey Island
  • Staigue Stone Fort: One of the largest stone forts in Ireland, Staigue is located on a hill surrounded by green pastures and herds of sheep
  • Reenard Point

Have you ever visited Ring of Kerry in Ireland? Is it on your Irish road trip dream list? 

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