For almost 300 years, the rugged beauty of Ireland’s westernmost County Kerry has attracted holiday-goers from across Western Europe. At the heart of this region known for its fantastic vistas, brilliant hiking, spectacular coastlines, and friendly Gaelic culture is the pretty city of Killarney.
Though quaint Killarney had long been a low-key resort town for travelers-in-the-know, it was not until an 1861 visit from Queen Victoria splashed across the newspapers that this pretty village became a world-class destination. Today, the brightly painted town remains one of Ireland’s most popular holidays, boasting scores of hotels, handicrafts shops, and restaurants right at the center of stunning County Kerry. From the magnificent MacGillicuddy Reeks, a mountain range boasting climbable Carrauntoohil (1038m/3405ft), Ireland’s highest peak; to the ocean views from the famed Lakes of Killarney, there’s no end to the beauty about.
Day 1: Getting to Know Killarney
Begin the day wandering around downtown, with its pleasant shops and cozy eateries offering breakfast for every budget. While most of the sites are scattered around the countryside, there are plenty of pretty buildings in town, including Gothic 1855 Saint Mary’s Cathedral. Or, if you’d prefer to head out into nature straight away, visit Killarney National Park, just outside town. Give your weary legs a break during the Afternoon Killarney Highlights Tour, a coach trip that takes in some of the city’s most famous sites, including Aghadoe, 13th-century Norman ruins with phenomenal lake views; classic Ross Castle, dating from the 1400s; and 19th-century Muckross House, an elegant manor known for its gardens and traditional farm.
Day 2: The Ring of Kerry
Among the most famous attractions in all Ireland, this 179-kilometer (111-mile) scenic loop takes in some of the most magnificent countryside – dramatic peninsulas, untamed mountains, sparkling lakes – in the world. It’s popular, with several options for enjoying the ring’s natural and historical attractions. Cars are not recommended, as the stop-and-go traffic (primarily huge tour buses) can be frustrating; you might as well enjoy the tranquility of a coach. Active travelers can do the loop on a bicycle (the road is lined with rest stops, including Ireland’s only beach pub), or enjoy it on one of the many hiking trails. Small boats head out to Skellig Michael, where the beehive-shaped stone huts of a 6th century monastery are still apparent on the rocky, isolated island.
Day 3: Beaches or Mountains?
Most people prefer either the sea or the hills, and County Kerry offers both. Those who would rather enjoy the epic Atlantic coastline can head to the Dingle Peninsula and Slea Head. There, you’ll find the ancient ruins, soft gray beaches, and wave-crashed cliffs of Corca Dhuibhne, as the peninsula is known in the Gaelic spoken throughout. Or, ascend the glacier-carved sandstone highlands on the famed path through the Gap of Dunloe. Hearty hikers can make the 11-kilometer (7-mile) hike past ancient lakes and impressive mountains, or take the Jaunting Car Ride through the scenery. If you book the tour, you’ll be met by boats on the Gearhameen River either way, for the relaxed return trip to the Killarney Lakes and Ross Castle.