K.C. was a featured writer for Yahoo! Travel before joining trips to discover in 2013. She is the author of Best Travel Guide for First Time Visitors to Ireland, an Amazon bestseller every year between 2013 and 2016. She has been a featured expert on Newsweek, Travel + Leisure, Travelocity, among others.
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The Ring of Kerry is a circular drive that traverses about 111 miles around the Iveragh Peninsula in southwest Ireland, passing through Killarney National Park and a number of beautiful small towns while offering easy access to the breathtakingly wild coastline and soaring mountains. Along this often narrow, winding route, these top things to do are an ideal way to take advantage of this scenic landscape and all it has to offer.
Killarney National Park is one of Ireland’s most magical destinations, filled with waterfalls, countless lakes, dramatic mountains, forests and even castles. Hiking is arguably your best best for getting an up close and personal look at all of this jaw-dropping scenery, like the short trek to Torc Waterfall which plunges 60 feet from the Torc Mountains via a river known as the Devil’s Punch Bowl. Another option is to take the walk that begins and ends at Muckross House. This fabulous route involves only a very minimal amount of climbing and you’ll get to see a number of historic buildings and formal gardens too.
Kayaking the Lakes of Killarney is an unforgettable experience. The beautiful lakes cover nearly a quarter of Killarney National Park, and you’ll have the chance to gaze up at sea eagles soaring overhead, check out fascinating limestone caves and ancient ruins. If you don’t want to head out on your own, you can join a tour led by an expert guide through outdoorsireland.com. You’ll start out at the grand 15th-century Ross Castle, paddling into Lough Lein, where you’ll discover wooded islands, limestone caves and local history as well as the ancient ruins of Innisfallen Abbey – once a leper colony, it now serves as the home of many of Ireland’s native red deer.
The largest of the two Skellig Islands, Skellig Michael sits about eight miles off the Kerry coast from the small village of Portmagee. By taking a boat excursion, available from late spring through early fall, weather permitting, you’ll be able to marvel at some of the most jaw-dropping views in the country, and walk in the footsteps of monks that once lived here in an ancient monastery constructed between the 6th and 8th centuries. Its rugged natural beauty was spotlighted in the final scene of the latest “Star Wars” film, “The Force Awakens,” making it an especially popular place to visit.
Speaking of Star Wars, as Portmagee is the closest village to Skellig Michael, when the cast and crew were filming, they made the Bridge Bar their home, with even Hamill himself pulling pints of Guinness behind the bar. Today, the Bridge Bar invites visitors to come chat with the owners, staff and locals about the making of the film and even “take the Force Perfect Pint challenge,” which means you’ll be pulling your own pint of Guinness in the same bar as Luke Skywalker. You can also enjoy the frequent live music, set dancing and award-winning cuisine, and stay overnight at the adjacent Moorings Hotel.
Valentia Island is just a short jaunt off the Ring of Kerry, linked to the mainland by a bridge in Portmagee. It’s loaded with breathtaking natural beauty, including the barren, dramatic cliffs of Bray Head which provide extraordinary views of the coastline as well as lush and colorful vegetation. One of the highlights here is the Bray Head Loop walk, a 4.3-mile trek along the coast with a steady climb up to Bray Tower at the summit where you can take in impressive vistas of the Atlantic, The Skelligs, Portmagee and Puffin Island. Along the Tetrapod Trackway, you can view Tetrapod footprints that are said to be the most extensive of the four Devonian trackways on the planet, believed to be between 350 and 370 million years old.
The Kerry Cliffs are part of a family-run attraction, situated just a short drive from Portmagee. This is one of the very best spots for viewing the rugged cliffs and the Skellig Rocks, in addition to being near Puffin Island, where some 10,000 Atlantic puffins reside. The site also includes a small gift shop and a coffee shop with indoor and outdoor seating.
Skelligs Chocolate Factory is a small, family-run chocolate factory that sits right along the Ring of Kerry at the edge of St. Finian’s Bay. Here you can not only taste delicious samples, but you can watch the chocolate being made and take some back home too. It also offers a coffee shop that serves tea, coffee, and its very own tasty hot chocolate as well as fresh, homemade cakes and other desserts.
Many visitors to Ireland fall in love with Kenmare, with its pretty colorful gardens and stone cottages highlighed by flowers that overflow from window boxes. Often called the “crown jewel on the Ring of Kerry,” just strolling around can make for a lovely afternoon, walking to the pier and exploring the shoreline when the tide is out, where herons can often be seen searching for fish off the rocks. In this “haven of tranquility,” there’s lots of fantastic fare to dine on, golf courses, opportunities for hiking and horse riding too.
Ireland is home to many stone forts, a common element of the archaeological remains here, particularly in the west. Some stone forts are particularly impressive, like Staigue Fort in County Kerry. This large stone fort represents the best examples of non-ecclesiastical monumental architecture that’s managed to survive in Ireland from the pre-Norman period. Walk around the large circular wall with steps, ledges and formidable chambers and just imagine the homes that once stood inside the wall.
Derrynane Beach is a beautiful, long and sheltered white sandy beach with a natural harbor just two miles from the village of Caherdaniel. The Blue Flag Beach is staffed by a lifeguard during the warmer months of the year and is ideal for a refreshing dip. If the water isn’t warm enough for your liking, you can always enjoy a nice stroll across the unspoiled sands instead.