One of the most scenic drives in Ireland, the Ring of Kerry is a 179 km long route around County Kerry’s Iveragh Peninsula. The road passes through charming and colorful villages into the iconic rolling green hills of Ireland. Admire cliffs towering over the Atlantic, islands with history dating back as far as the 6th century, and the traditions of rural Irish life.
I recommend staying in vibrant Killarney, the gateway to the Ring of Kerry. There are plenty of tour busses departing from here that will take visitors around the Ring in a day. Opting against renting a car, this was how I explored Kerry. But if you have the means to do so, I highly advise driving the route yourself. Take the time to pull off the road and take in the view at your own leisure! Tour busses typically travel in the counter-clockwise direction, so if you are driving I recommend traveling opposite to avoid getting stuck behind any large groups. As I traveled the route counter-clockwise, this itinerary of sites will reflect that!
As you head out of Killarney, you’ll pass through an area known as Beaufort. With the Kerry mountains to your left, you’ll be able to see the Gap of Dunloe, where a pass runs through a valley between two peaks. But more on that later! Continue along the Ring and into the village of Killorglin, famous for their annual Puck Fair. Nearly every village in Ireland has a festival of its own, but some stand out for their more… unique traditions. Every August in Killorglin, a goat is crowned king of the village for three days. The Puck Fair dates back to the early seventeenth century and is just one of the many zany reasons why I love Ireland. There’s even a statue of “King Puck” as you pass through town.
The Kerry Bog Village
Located off the route between Killorglin and Glenbeigh sits the Kerry Bog Village, one of the popular tourist attractions along the way. This reconstruction of a 19th century Irish village offers a glimpse into rural history and lifestyle, complete with thatched cottages (and maybe a roaming wolfhound or pony). And for those not driving, consider kicking your day off with an Irish coffee at the neighboring Red Fox Inn.
Next, pass through the coastal village of Glenbeigh. Known as a jewel in the Ring of Kerry, Glenbeigh is known for the long sandy stretch of Rossbeigh Beach and the surrounding horseshoe of mountains.
Sheepdog Herding Demonstration
One of my favorite experiences during my year in Ireland was attending Brendan Ferris’ sheepdog herding demonstration along the Ring of Kerry. Caitins Pub sits along the route, and out back shepherd Ferris demonstrates how he has expertly trained two dogs to herd his flocks around the hills. He takes time to introduce visitors to a variety of sheep breeds before explaining the series of whistles and commands he uses to lead the dogs in herding. It was a spectacle to watch, and one that truly captured the essence of rural Ireland at that. If you make one stop along the Ring of Kerry, let it be this!
Kells and Cahersiveen
After leaving Caitins, you’ll pass through a region known as Kells. This coast follows Dingle Bay, and across you can see the Dingle Peninsula. The next village you’ll cross is Cahersiveen, where you’ll find a beautiful Catholic cathedral named after Daniel O’Connell, a political leader of the 19th century who campaigned for Catholic emancipation in Great Britain and Ireland. Known as the Liberator (or Emancipator), O’Connell was born in Kerry- you’ll see his name throughout the peninsula. You’ll also pass a mural of Hugh O’Flaherty, monseigneur to the Vatican known as the Scarlet Pimpernel. O’Flaherty saved thousands of allied soldiers and jews during WWII before later retiring to Cahersiveen.
Skellig Ring Road
The Skellig Ring Road is perhaps the most scenic offshoot of the Ring of Kerry. You’re already driving 179 km, what’s 18 more? This route loops from Cahersiveen to Waterville along the Skellig Coast. Highlights of the route include the charming harbor town of Portmagee, where visitors can drive across to Valentia Island or, during the summer, catch a ferry to the famous Skellig Michael rock. You may recognize it for its role in the latest Star Wars franchise, but if not, it’s still worth visiting for its 6th century Gaelic monastery and of course, the puffins. Past Portmagee you’ll find the towering Kerry Cliffs, which rival the Cliffs of Moher in splendor. Finally, the route then loops around to the village of Ballinskelligs, which includes stops like Ballinskelligs Castle and, you know, Skelligs Chocolate Factory.
Waterville, Coomakista Pass, Caherdaniel (Derrynane), and Sneem
Back on the original Ring of Kerry route, you’ll next pass through the colorful village of Waterville – a favorite holiday spot of Charlie Chaplin. The Coomakista Pass offers stunning coastal views of the Scariff and Deenish Islands on the way to Caherdaniel (also known as Derrynane). Daniel O’Connell (I told you he’d be relevant again) was born at the Derrynane House, which is open for visitors. Next, you’ll pass through Sneem, a cozy village situated on an estuary leading to Kenmare Bay.
Kenmare and Molls Gap
Known as another jewel in the Ring of Kerry, Kenmare is the last village you’ll pass by before continuing on to Killarney National Park. The road passes through Moll’s Gap, which offers panoramic views of the Macgillycuddy Reeks mountains.
Ladies’ View and Killarney National Park
In the Ring’s final stretch, the route passes through the heart of Killarney National Park. One of the most scenic panoramas of the Ring is known as Ladies’ View, overlooking valleys and lakes below. It earned its name when Queen Victoria visited in 1861 – her ladies-in-waiting expressed their admiration of the view and its reputation has stuck ever since. The route then passes through the mystic forests of the park. Scenic spots include Muckross House, where Queen Victoria stayed during her visit, as well as Muckross Abbey. Other attractions in the park, although off the route, include Torc Waterfall and Ross Castle. Finally, the road leads back into Killarney.
The Gap of Dunloe
If you have a few days in Killarney to explore the area, then make sure you leave time to visit the scenic Gap of Dunloe as well. This narrow mountain pass forges its way through the Macgillycuddy Reeks and Purple Mountain. The River Loe runs through the valley, and the winding road passes five lakes (Coosaun Lough, Black Lake, Cushnavally Lake, Auger Lake, and Black Lough). From Killarney, drive to the famous Kate Kearney’s Cottage – the gateway to the Gap of Dunloe. Some choose to drive the gap, while others choose to hike or bike. From one end to the other, the road is about 11 km long. This is one of my favorite spots in all of Ireland. We drove through Dunloe the day after Christmas and had the whole place to ourselves – it was pure magic!
Looking to drive the Dingle Peninsula after the Ring of Kerry? Check out my guide to exploring the Slea Head Drive here!
Which do you prefer, driving the Ring of Kerry or Dingle Peninsula?