Ah, the Lakes of Killarney.
Regardless of how many times you set eyes upon them, they never fail to disappoint, regardless of the weather.
There are three main Killarney Lakes; Lough Leane (aka Lower Lake), Muckross Lake (aka Middle Lake), and the Upper Lake.
In the guide below, you’ll discover everything from their history to how best to see them!
Some quick need-to-knows about the Lakes of Killarney
Although a visit to the Killarney Lakes is fairly straightforward, there are a few need-to-knows that’ll make your visit that bit more enjoyable.
The lakes themselves are all within the Killarney National Park in the breath-taking County Kerry, in Ireland’s southwest. The park is a staggering 102.9km2 of raw Irish nature, and the closest town is Killarney.
2. There’s three
There are three ‘main’ lakes here; Lough Leane (aka Lower Lake) is the closest to Killarney, Muckross Lake (aka Middle Lake), and the Upper Killarney Lake which is located to the south of the other two.
3. The Meeting of the Waters
‘The Meeting of the Waters’ is one of the most impressive places to visit in Killarney. It’s here that the three Killarney Lakes meet. The location itself is about 15-mins walk from Dinis Cottage, or you can access the same point via a 5km trail from Muckross House.
4. Plenty to see and do
There’s no shortage of things to see and explore near the lakes; climb mythical mountains, hike to ruined cottages, soak in the misty dew from tumbling waterfalls and walk through ancient woodland (find specific things to do below).
About the Lakes of Killarney
Located within the heart of the Killarney National Park, the three main waterways that make up this picturesque part of Ireland are Upper Lake (the smallest and most southern lake), Muckross Lake in the middle, and Lough Leane at the most northern point, and also the largest.
Set in the valley that’s surrounded by the craggy slopes of MacGillycuddy’s Reeks (a sandstone and siltstone mountain range), the basin below is overlooked by several notable ranges including Carrauntoohil, Purple Mountain, Mangerton Mountain, and Torc Mountain, which all range from 535 to 1,038 metres in height.
All three lakes are well known for their outstanding beauty and picturesque nature throughout the year.
Things to do around the Lakes of Killarney
There’s heaps of things to do around the Killarney Lakes, from tours and walks to historical sites and more.
Below, you’ll find a mix of organised tours (affiliate links) and places to visit that offer stunning views of the lakes.
1. Lakes of Killarney Scenic Coach Tour
If you’re limited on time, this tour is a convenient and affordable way to see the lakes and the Iveragh Peninsula.
‘Ring of Kerry: Lakes of Killarney Scenic Coach Tour’ isn’t entirely focused on the Lakes; you’ll also get to see thatched-roof cottages that were common in Kerry during the 1800s, the historic village of Glenbeigh, and beautiful Rossbeigh Beach.
Over the 6-hour tour, you’ll be chauffeured through the area and also explore sites like the Kerry Bog & Famine Village, spectacular scenery of the Atlantic Ocean, Dingle Bay, and of course the three Killarney Lakes.
2. Step back in time at Muckross Abbey
If history is your bag, then you don’t want to miss out on visiting Muckross Abbey! A major ecclesiastical site within Killarney National Park, this Franciscan friary was founded in 1448 and has had a somewhat torrid history ever since.
A site of much violence and restoration, having been reconstructed many times, the original friars were often subjected to raids and were later persecuted by Cromwellian forces.
Since then, the abbey has fallen into ruin; it is largely roofless, although relatively intact apart from that. If you do go, be sure to check out the vaulted cloister, central courtyard, and stunning Yew tree.
3. See the ancient Ross Castle
Ross Castle was built by O’Donoghue Mór, and dating back to the 15th-century, this Tower-House and Keep has a commanding presence over Lough Leane.
It’s been the ancestral home of the chiefs of Clan O’Donoghue. Throughout Irish history, it was one of the strongest and most defensible castles, holding out against all who would besiege it.
That is until the Cromwellian onslaught, and an ancient prophecy; that is that the castle could only be taken from the water, so Cromwell’s forces launched a ship, and the defenders fearing the prophecy was coming true surrendered.
4. Gap of Dunloe & Lakes of Killarney Boat Tour
Take the day and explore both the Gap of Dunloe and the Lakes of Killarney like never before; by both boat and horse and carriage!
This tour runs for around 5-hours and includes a scenic boat tour of the Lakes of Killarney, an optional ‘jaunting cart’ ride, and unbelievable scenery you’ll never forget.
The tour begins at Kate Kearney’s Cottage, where you can choose between a 6-mile hike or a cart ride, before transferring onto a boat at Gearhameen River and your lake cruise through all three lakes back to Ross Castle where you’re free to explore or return to Killarney.
5. Hear the water crash at Torc Waterfall
For those who love a good cascade, you’ll love the magnificent Torc Waterfall! Only 20-metres high, and at its best after a heavy downpour, this waterfall is scenic rather than overbearing.
Only a short walk up from the car park, you’ll see some gorgeous ancient forest as you trek your way up to the waterfall. t
This woodland has been identified as being of international importance, as it contains an abundance of ancient yew and oak, as well as other native species.
6. Killarney Jaunting Car and Lakes of Killarney Cruise
Another tour option is the Killarney Jaunting Car and Lakes of Killarney Cruise (see it here); a short tour that takes less than two hours, you’ll get to experience this national park in ways not possible to those travelling by car.
First, you’ll sail across Lough Lein in a glass-covered boat, so you’ll be warm and dry even if the heavens open up, and once back onshore you’ll hop aboard an iconic Killarney Jaunting Car.
These cars can navigate tracks that are unsuited to cars and will offer you a unique vista of the park, as well as a glimpse into Irish history.
7. Take a tour of Muckross House and Gardens
A 19th-century mansion house, the stunningly beautiful Muckross House towers into view as you approach from the N71, or indeed from either Lough Leane or Muckross Lake.
Built for Henry Arthur Herbert, and was the fourth house that the following generations of the Herbert family inhabited, before ultimately being given to the Irish Free State (Republic of Ireland) in 1932.
Nowadays it’s open to the general public to explore, and with extensive gardens, it’ll take all day to see it all. It’s best to book tickets in advance and arrive as early as possible as it is a popular day trip.
Other things to do near the Killarney Lakes
There’s plenty of things to do in and around the Lakes of Killarney.
Below, you’ll find vantage points offering incredible views including many of the more popular Ring of Kerry stops.
1. Torc Mountain
Give your legs a good stretch as you scale the mighty Torc Mountain. As you climb towards the 535-metre high summit, you’ll be treated to glorious views of the lakes.
2. Moll’s Gap and Ladies View
3. Cardiac Hill
Also known as Huntsman’s Hill, this one-way loop track will take you across the western face of Torc Mountain, and up a significant number of steps! It’s definitely one that’ll get your heart racing.
4. The Ring of Kerry
One of the world’s most scenic drives, the Ring of Kerry is a must-do when visiting Ireland. It’s around 180km long and can be done comfortably over a couple of days – to allow for plenty of photo-taking and sightseeing.
Killarney Lakes FAQs
We’ve had a lot of questions over the years asking about everything from ‘How long are they?’ to ‘Where do they meet?’.
In the section below, we’ve popped in the most FAQs that we’ve received. If you have a question that we haven’t tackled, ask away in the comments section below.
How many Lakes are in Killarney?
There are three ‘main’ lakes in Killarney: Lough Leane (Lower Lake), Muckross Lake (Middle Lake), and Upper Lake.
Where are the best views of the Killarney Lakes?
In our opinion, it’s from Torc Mountain. However, Ladies View offers a great vantage point, also.
Katherine is an food and travel writer with family-roots in Ireland. She enjoys hitting the road at every given opportunity, and can often be found with an atlas and notebook to hand planning the next big trip.