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The stunningly scenic circular Ring of Kerry route that travels around the Iveragh Peninsula in southwest Ireland is a drive of a lifetime. Approximately 111 miles long, it passes through Killarney National Park, numerous small towns and villages while offering access to the wild coast with its golden beaches and soaring mountains. But there’s a lot more to do than drive, you’ll find some great tours that will allow you to explore the famous “ring” more in depth.
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One of the top experiences on the Ring of Kerry you can enjoy is the Skellig Michael Boat tour. Available from late spring through early fall, trips leave from the tiny fishing village of Portmagee, taking passengers to Skellig Michael, the largest of the Skelligs, which lies about eight miles off the Kerry coast. You’ll walk in the footsteps of monks that once lived here in an ancient monastery that was constructed between the 6th and 8th centuries while taking in jaw-dropping sea and island scenery. If you’re a fan of the “Star Wars” films you’ll recognize its rugged natural beauty as it was a filming site in the final scene of “The Force Awakens.”
Explore the ring on two wheels while also getting off the beaten track on a full-day tour that winds along the coastal roads providing jaw-dropping panoramic views of the Atlantic. You’ll travel through one of the prettiest villages in Ireland, Portmagee with its colorful buildings along the harbor and cross the bridge to Valentia Island too. Enjoy time to explore at your own pace, soaking up the endless views of the sea, The Skelligs, Portmagee and Puffin Island. You can even stop to marvel at the Tetrapod footprints, known as the most extensive of the four Devonian trackways on Earth, believed to be between 350 and 370 million years old.
A Jaunting Carriage tour is the ideal way to explore the hidden treasures of Killarney National Park and its famous lakes. It offers an old-fashioned ride back through time, exploring like tourists did in a bygone era. Enjoy highlights like 15th-century Ross Castle, St. Mary’s Cathedral and Killarney House Gardens while keeping an eye out for Ireland’s last native herd of red deer and listening to the stories of O’Donoghue Mor and Oliver Cromwell.
The beautiful lakes of Killarney cover nearly a quarter of Killarney National Park and a kayak tour is a great way to experience its beauty from the water. Family-friendly and available for everyone from first-time paddlers to the experienced, you’ll get a panoramic view over Ross Castle while your guide brings its history to life. Watch for the sea eagles that soar overhead, explore limestone caves and the ancient ruins of Innisfallen Abbey. Once a leper colony, the abbey now serves as the home of many of Ireland’s native red deer.
Put on your comfortable walking shoes for a full day hiking tour that will bring you to explore Killarney’s peaks and valleys, including spots that most travelers miss on the central peak of the MacGillycuddy’s Reeks, Ireland’s highest mountain range. You’ll follow an expert guide on the rugged hiking routes of the over 3,400-foot-high Carrauntoohil where you’ll be able to gaze out at a sweeping vista of dense forest, verdant valleys, sparkling lakes and rocky landscapes that make the challenge well worth the reward.
If you want to combine a variety of adventures, the Gap of Dunloe Adventure is ideal. It all begins with a boat trip from Ross Castle in Killarney National Park. You’ll pass islands and paddle underneath old stone bridges before embarking on a trap and pony through remote Black Valley, said to be the last place in Ireland to receive electricity, and the Gap of Dunloe, a narrow mountain pass forged between MacGillycuddy Reeks and Purple Mountain by glacial flows. Enjoy views of the picturesque lakes and cross the Old Weird Bridge before catching a bus back to Killarney. The tour includes food and drink, a local guide and commentary on the sights.
While many tours bring views of Ross Castle, which sits at the edge of Killarney’s lower lake, if you’re here in the summer when it’s open to the public, it’s worth touring the inside too, with admission paid at the entrance. Built by O’Donoghue Mór in the 15th-century, it eventually fell into the hands of the Brownes who became the Earls of Kenmare who owned a significant portion of the lands that are now part of Killarney National Park. Legend tells that O’Donoghue is still around today, albeit in a deep slumber under the waters of Lough Leane. Every seven years on the first morning of May he’s said to rise from the lake on his white horse to take a ride along the shore – anyone who happens to spot him is said to be “assured of good fortune for the rest of their lives.” You’ll see a large rock at the entrance to the bay called O’Donoghue’s prison.
For the ultimate tour of the Ring of Kerry, book a luxurious private excursion with your own dedicated guide. Leaving from Killarney, Kenmare or Tralee, you’ll travel in style, relaxing and enjoying the scenery while your knowledgeable local guide provides in-depth commentary. The exact itinerary, which covers eight hours, will be created according to your own interests, and you’ll be able to get off the beaten path to explore places that tour buses can’t reach.