The Ring of Kerry drive is one that I’ve been doing since I was a kid, when we used to go on holidays to County Kerry.
Holidays where it was rarely sunny and the rain regularly poured ferociously.
Over the years, as I started to explore more and more of Kerry on my own, I realised that those that drive the ‘official’ Ring of Kerry route and follow it to a tee miss out on a heap of spectacular natural attractions.
Many of which are just minutes from the main route (hit play on the video below to see what I mean).
In the guide below, you’ll find an alternative route to follow, a map, and all the stops worth seeing!
About the Ring of Kerry Drive
A favourite amongst tourists and arguably one of the best things to do in Kerry (and on the Wild Atlantic Way).
This picturesque loop takes you to wild, rugged islands, along gorgeous sandy beaches and takes you through dramatic mountain passes.
If you just drove the ring (not what we’ll be doing – keep reading), you could complete it in between 3 to 4 hours, but you wouldn’t get to soak up the best of what it has to offer.
Our alternative route is longer and takes in some ‘unofficial’ Ring of Kerry stops.
Our Ring of Kerry map with points of interest plotted
This map roughly outlines the route that you’ll need to follow if you want to see each of the spots below. If you’re stuck for time, adjust the route accordingly.
Where to start and finish the drive
So, it’s advised that you only drive anti-clockwise around the Ring of Kerry. Why, you ask? Well, apparently it minimises traffic problems with tour buses on the narrower sections of road.
The starting point
Kick start your Ring of Kerry drive from Killarney town.
The finish point
I’m going to recommend that you finish in Kenmare and spend the night there.
21 of the best things to do on the Ring of Kerry
OK, let’s get cracking. Below you’ll find a full guide on the best places to see as you spin along the ring.
You can do them all, if you like, or chop and change wherever you feel it’s necessary.
1. Torc Waterfall to hear the water crash and patter
You’ll find Torc Waterfall a handy 7 kilometres from Killarney Town.
You can park the car here (note: this car park gets crazy at certain points of the day, and it’s pretty small) and take the short 200-metre stroll to the waterfall.
Sip your coffee, soak up the music of the water crashing and bask in the knowledge that you’ve another two days of exploring Kerry to go.
2. The outstanding Killarney National Park
When you finish up at Torc, aim your car in the direction of Killarney National Park. There’s a big car park there around near Ross Castle where you can park it up for a while.
You’ll find the park south and west of the town of Killarney, enveloped by rugged mountains, like the McGillycuddy’s Reeks, the highest mountain range in Ireland.
Nestled at the foot of these mountains are the magnificent lakes of Killarney. It’s here, where the mountains meet the lakes shores, that lies the 26,000 acres of Killarney National Park.
3. Muckross House and Gardens
OK, so I’m going to say something that’ll likely anger a fair few people.
Every time I see Muckross House top a list of the best things to do on the Ring of Kerry driving route, it irritates me greatly. Bear with me a minute.
Regardless of whether you’re driving or cycling the route, it’s all about the scenery. To say something man-made is the best thing to check out on the route is madness, in my opinion.
That being said, Muckross House and Gardens is well worth a visit.
This nineteenth-century Victorian mansion is set against the stunning beauty of Killarney National Park, and is just a stone’s throw from the shores of Muckross Lake.
4. Ross Castle for a gander
Ross Castle is a typical example of the stronghold of an Irish Chieftain during the Middle Ages.
It’s located inside Killarney National Park, so it’s a handy journey from stop 2.
Although the date of when the castle was founded is unknown, it’s thought that it was built in the late 15th century by one of the O’Donoghue Ross chieftains.
Head off on the guided tour. It takes 40 minutes and it’ll give you an insight into the history of the castle.
5. Kate Kearney’s Cottage for a coffee
You’ll find Kate Kearney’s Cottage nestled at the entrance to the Gap of Dunloe (the next stop on our Ring of Kerry drive).
Kate’s is a 150 year old family-run establishment where visitors can enjoy the tradition of hospitality made famous by the legendary Kate herself.
Originally a síbín (an unlicensed premises that sold alcohol) where Kate distilled her famous poitín, ‘Kate Kearney’s Mountain Dew’, the premises is now a cafe, restaurant and pub.
Head in for a coffee.
6. A walk through the Gap of Dunloe
After you’ve fuelled up in Kates, it’s time to head for a ramble in the Gap of Dunloe.
In our guide to 48 hours in Kerry, we recommend driving the Gap of Dunloe, as you’ll arrive pre 7am when it’s OK to do so.
Wait, I didn’t think you could drive the Gap of Dunloe? It’s perfectly legal to drive the Gap of Dunloe, but it’s recommend that you avoid doing so during peak hours.
The Gap of Dunloe was formed around two million years ago when Killarney’s ice age took hold, lasting until around 10,000BC.
As the snow and ice was steadily pushed northward through the Killarney Valley, it gave the mountains their distinct, jagged appearance, forming what we now know as the Gap of Dunloe.
7. The Rossbeigh Hill Loop Walk
This is a solid option for those of you driving the Ring of Kerry with some time on your hands.
When you leave the Gap of Dunloe, aim the car in the direction of Rossbeigh Beach Car Park – the starting point for the Rossbeigh Hill Loop Walk.
This walk will take you between 3 and 4 hours depending on your fitness levels, and it offers a magnificent view out over the surrounding countryside. The view of Rossbeigh Beach that you’ll be treated to is worth the trip alone.
8. Head for a ramble at Cahersiveen
The town of Cahersiveen lies at the foot of the Beentee Mountain on the Fertha River. Head to Ballycarbery Castle first.
Ballycarbery Castle was once home to the McCarthy Clan and is thought to have been built sometime in the 15th century. It’s arguably one of the the largest and most impressive castles built on the Iveragh peninsula.
If you have some more time (3-4 hours) the Beentee Loop Walk is well worth doing. Here’s a detailed guide for those of you that fancy giving it a crack.
9. The Skellig Islands (part of our alternative Ring of Kerry route)
I’ve tried on a number of occasions to take a tour to the Skellig Islands, but due to weather, insane bookings and a couple of other factors, I’ve never made it.
There are a number of different tour providers that offer a trip to or around the Skellig Islands, but be warned – BOOK IN ADVANCE.
And even if you do book in advance, there’s still a chance that the tour will be cancelled due to bad weather conditions.
The boat trip to the Skelligs takes 45 minutes and you have around 2 hours to explore the rock, take pictures and appreciate the fact that you’re standing on an island in the middle of the Atlantic that’s bursting at the seams with history.
10. The magnificent Valentia Island (one of the best views on the Ring of Kerry)
Connected to the little town of Portmagee by the Maurice O’Neill Memorial Bridge, Valentia Island is one of Ireland’s most westerly points.
When you arrive on the island, head up to the car park near Bray Head. For those of you that fancy stretching the legs, you can do the Bray Head Loop Walk which offers brilliant views out towards the Skellig Islands.
When you’re done here, make your way up to the Geokaun Mountain and Cliffs (€5 entry fee), and start the steep ascent towards one of the best views on the Ring of Kerry (above).
11. The often missed Kerry Cliffs
When people hear the words ‘Ireland’ and ‘Cliffs’ in the one sentence, they generally think of the Cliffs of Moher.
However, there are several other great cliffs to visit across Ireland. One of which is the Kerry Cliffs.
Expect raw, wild, magnificent scenery, with the jagged outline of Skellig Michael on the horizon rarely far from view.
The cliffs, which are over 1,000 feet (305 meters) high, offer spectacular views of the Skellig Islands and Puffin Island.
12. Coomanaspig Pass (yes, the name is mental)
It’s said that Coomanaspig Pass is one of the highest places in Ireland that you can reach by car.
I never knew this place existed until I randomly ended up here a few years ago.
If you approach from the Kerry Cliffs, you’ll climb a steep hill. It’s at the top of this hill that you can pull in and admire the view that lays as in front of you.
13. The Skellig Ring (one of the best drives on the Wild Atlantic Way)
If you’re visiting Kerry, you need to add a spin along the Skellig Ring to your list. it. Is. Deadly (Irish slang for good).
The Skellig Ring is an extension of the Ring of Kerry driving route and it’s as spectacular and as scenic as they come.
For those of you that add this on to your road trip, expect an unspoiled peninsula with windy roads, gorgeous towns and a backdrop of mountains and islands that’ll make you want to stop the car (or bike) at every turn.
This route takes you down narrow lanes, through tiny villages and up steep and narrow cliff roads, wind-buffeted above crashing seas.
14. Go for a wander around Waterville
I love Waterville. It’s a great place for a stroll, a bite to eat and a pint, if you’re spending the night or have a designated driver.
For those of you that are hungry or in need of a coffee, nip into An Corcan (the steak sandwich is cracking).
Interestingly enough, Waterville was a favourite holiday spot of Charlie Chaplin. He and his family first visited the town in 1959 and came back every year for over ten years.
You’ll see a statue of him in the centre of the village in his memory.
15. The Sandy Shores of Derrynane Beach
Our next stop is a beach that you’ll regularly hear people state to be the best beach in Ireland.
You’ll find Derrynane Beach just two miles north of Caherdaniel (our next stop) on the Ring of Kerry.
The minute you step out of the car and start to soak up the view, you’ll understand why so many people recommended adding it to your Ireland trip itinerary.
It’s reasonably sheltered and boasts a natural harbour, and there’s a lifeguarded on duty during the summer months.
16. Kick back in Caherdaniel (once home to Daniel O’Connell)
Surrounded by rugged mountains and the sandy shores of Derrynane, the village of Caherdaniel is a town that boasts character and scenery by the bucket load.
You’ll find Derrynane National Park close to the village, covering an impressive 300 acres of forest.
It’s here that you’ll find Derrynane House (above), once the residence of Irish patriot Daniel O’Connell, who won Catholic representation in Parliament in 1829.
If history isn’t your thing, you’ll also find plenty to explore in the park, from natural rock pools and sandy coves to diverse landscape that offers ample walking and hiking trails.
17. The gorgeous little village of Sneem on the Iveragh Peninsula
When you’re driving the Ring of Kerry, you’ll encounter a seemingly endless number of quaint little villages and towns.
One of my personal favourites is Sneem on County Kerry’s Iveragh Peninsula.
The views that unravel in front of you as you enter Sneem are worth the visit alone. Expect rolling mountains that appear to fold in upon you from every angle as you enter the village.
18. The bendy road at Moll’s Gap
We’re quickly approaching the end of our Ring of Kerry drive but don’t worry, we’ll be rounding it off with several bangs.
Moll’s Gap is a bendy pass that offers spectacular views of the Macgillycuddy’s Reeks and the surrounding area.
It earned its name from Moll Kissane who ran a Sibin (an unlicensed pub) in the area during the construction of the original Kenmare Killarney road in the 1820s.
She was well-liked in the area. Possibly due to the fact that she sold homemade poitin and whiskey to the men working on the road.
19. Ladies View
Ladies View is one of those places that knocks you a little. If you visit in the winter, like we did in the photo above, you’ll find the area a fine shade of yellow and orange.
The view here is just incredible.
If you’re feeling peckish, or if you just fancy a coffee while you soak up the view above, there’s a new rooftop seating area in the cafe right next to Ladies View.
20. Kenmare for the evening
If you’re driving the Wild Atlantic Way’s Ring of Kerry via the ‘official’ route, you should finish up in Killarney. Personally, I prefer Kenmare, but go for whichever suits your needs.
Chill here for the night and toast a pint to what’s been an unforgettable Irish road trip.
Driving the Ring of Kerry FAQs
I’ve scoured the web to find the most frequently asked questions that you might have.
If there’s something that I’ve missed, just post a comment at the end of this page and I’ll get back to you ASAP.
How long does it take to drive the Ring of Kerry?
So, you could (emphasis on could) drive it in a day. Even with the added alternative route in our guide above, but it’d be a manic day and you wouldn’t really get to appreciate everything there is to see and do.
If you’re stuck for time, fair enough, do what you’ve got to do, but I’d recommend a minimum of two days if you fancy heading off on walks and hikes.
Which direction should you drive around the Ring of Kerry
You should drive anti-clockwise round the Ring to avoid meeting tour buses (of which there are MANY) head on at narrow stretches (of which there are also many).