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A Perfect 2 Day Killarney and Ring of Kerry Itinerary

by Roberto
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The Ring of Kerry drive is a 179 km route through one of the most picturesque parts of Ireland, past mountains, lakes and along the Kerry coast. The Ring of Kerry route is one of the Wild Atlantic’s Ways most magnificent stretches. With a 3 day trip to explore Kerry, we would travel from Killarney to Dingle via the Ring of Kerry. We designated one to the famous circular route. This is our suggested 2 day Killarney and Ring of Kerry driving itinerary.

The Ring of Kerry is a trio of words that evoke great memories in all that have followed its path. At 179 km or 111 miles it’s easily managed in a day. But not without sacrifices. Lonely Planet advises that you spend 4 days on this particular route, soaking up the atmosphere of its towns and views. However dedicating that length of time to just one part, of one county in Ireland, is not usually within the realms of all our possibilities. You may ask is the Ring of Kerry worth it then? It certainly is. If you only have one day for your Ring of Kerry Itinerary though, then you must focus on what you can do.

Firstly, you will need to find a base town before your drive and all roads really do lead to Killarney in this regard. It’s not your only option but its certainly the best. In its own regard its worthy of a few days, so arriving in good time will give you an opportunity to explore this fantastic town.

Staycations are very much on the cards for the summer of 2021 in Ireland. With a road map that sees a return of hospitality, attractions and tourist services from early June, now is the time to start planning your summer trips. Outdoor services and indoor heritage sites have already resumed and hotels will follow from 2nd June. From 7th June bars and restaurants will reopen with outdoor seating. Let’s hope the weather is forgiving this year. Remember to check ahead as not all businesses will open as normal, and pre-booking may be required. If you are short on inspiration these 21 suggestions on how to staycation Ireland in ’21 will surely be of help. Otherwise keep reading on for one of Ireland’s best holiday destinations.


Killarney is the most famed of Ireland’s tourist towns. She sits on the banks of Lough Leane and beneath the watchful eye of Ireland’s biggest mountain range the Macgillycuddy Reeks. Surrounding the town is the Killarney National Park, featuring some of Ireland’s best scenery. The towns population of 15,000 dramatically swells for much of the year in account of tourism. Killarney can be reached by train from Cork and Dublin Heuston Station (timetables here), but this area is best travelled by car as all road trips are. You can also of course book a bus tour, with Get Your Guide a reliable resource for them.

Killarney is 300 kilometres or around 190 miles from Dublin. It’s a relatively swift drive as far as Limerick but that last 100 kilometres is through some primary roads that are prone to tailbacks. This is especially true of the town of Adare, but it’s also the kind of place you’ll be happy to drive slow or even stop to appreciate. It’s surely one of Ireland’s prettiest towns, with its rows of thatched cottages that grace its Main Street.

The drive should take you in the region of 4 hours from Dublin. Killarney’s fame as a tourist town becomes quickly apparent as you approach, it is clearly the biggest industry and every second house it seems operates as a B&B.

Finding a hotel in Killarney

Killarney has one of the highest concentrations of 5 star hotels in the world per capita. If your budget doesn’t stretch there, accommodations range from hotels to B&B’s to holiday homes. I use Booking.com for all my reservations.

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Our choice this time was the Killarney Randles Hotel. It was slightly outside of the town centre but within easy walking distance. The building, the interior, and the bedrooms were all fantastic. The building is a 1906 rectory before been converted to a manor hotel and is classical in style, completely in keeping but maintained to a very high standard. As this was high season rooms were at a premium and we paid €200. But the high standard certainly justified it.

Killarney Randles Hotel

Exploring Killarney Town

After settling in we decided to give our legs a good stretch and walk into the town. It was less than five minutes to the amusingly named central square The Hahah. This is where one can find a jaunting car, the traditional horse-drawn carriages that are a trademark of Killarney. The drivers are known here as jarveys, and a variety of tours into the Killarney National Park are available. The most alluring of these is probably the tour through the Gap of Dunloe, and by boat back to Ross Castle, but only if you have ample time.

The town centre is attractive, colourful and bustling with people. American accents in particular filled the air, so many coming to find their lost heritage. The walk took us past St Marys Church of Ireland, which was basking in the sunlight. We stopped into the Underground Cafe for a few cakes on our stroll around. We can never help ourselves when away.

The Hahah
St. Mart's Church Killarney
Underground Cafe, Killarney

Jaunting Cars

Returning to the Hahah we indulged in that most Killarney of things, a tour on a jaunting car. We picked the tour to Ross Castle: it cost €15, and our jarveys name was John. He was a friendly fella, and give us a bit of info about the town as we passed by St Marys Cathedral and into Killarney National Park. First impressions of the park were beautiful all luscious and green and vast. The horse took us down through a marked road and after fifteen minutes we arrived at Ross Castle.

Jaunting Car, Killarney
Jaunting Car, Killarney
Killarney National Park
Killarney National Park

Ross Castle

The castle has a magnificent location on Lough Leane, and the waters glistened in the afternoon sun. Ducks swam up to the rocky shore and this peaceful inlet on the lake provides a small harbour. I guess this motivated the building of the castle in the 15th century by the O’ Donoghue’s, a ruling clan at the time. Who could blame them. Safe and idyllic. The castle is a tower keep, strategically built to use the water as an extra defence. The castle had a legend attached to it, that it couldn’t be sacked unless it was by water, which no ship at the time could do, due to the shallow water of the lake.

Enter Oliver Cromwell and his army, who after a land siege, built special ships in Kinsale. The sight of the ships spooked the castle dwellers and it soon fell. We didn’t really have time to visit the castle, as our man John the Jarvey was waiting on us, so we just strolled around the grounds for a while, in awe of the beauty of the lake and the setting. It’s an unmissable sight on your Ring of Kerry itinerary.

Ross Castle
Ross Castle
Ross Castle
Lough Leane
Ross Castle

Gap of Dunloe

After returning to the to the town with our jaunting car, we went back to the hotel and to our more conventional car. It was a 20 minute drive around to the Gap of Dunloe. The gap was formed by glacial flows between the McGillycuddy Reeks and Purple Mountain and takes its name from the river Loe which now flows through it.

The start of the gap is noted as Kate Kearney’s Cottage, where bikes can be rented or refreshments got. The gap then winds through the valley for 11km. The road is particularly narrow and its a good drive past a series of lakes with steep sides on the glacial valley. Don’t expect to meet many other cars but there are quite a few horses and bikes using the route. It is recommended not to use a car, but if you are comfortable with narrow single lane country roads then its fine. Highlights along the way include the photogenic wishing bridge and the fine views into the Black Valley at the Head of the Gap.

Ring of Kerry Itinerary
Ring of Kerry

Killarney night life

With 350 kilometres spent at the wheel we gave the car a rest for the evening. It was a glorious evening so we wandered into the town. After traversing up and down the streets a few times looking for somewhere to eat we finally settled on The Porterhouse, where some live music provided a nice background to our dinner of ribs and lamb shank. The music ended somewhat prematurely so after our meal we found Scruffy’s pub, which was just the tonic. Several pints and numerous folk songs later we staggered back to the hotel, for a nightcap of cocktails on the hotel terrace.

Driving the Ring of Kerry

We rose early on the second day of our trip in anticipation of a long day and had a brilliant breakfast to set us on our way. This was our Ring of Kerry one day itinerary. Below is the typical Ring of Kerry drive map.

Map of Ring of Kerry, Co. Kerry
Source Google Maps Ring of Kerry Itinerary map

It was a blistering warm day with clear blue skies. Perfect road-trip weather. We choose to do the Ring of Kerry clockwise as it suited our plan to travel to Dingle and it’s Slea Head Drive. It’s also the opposite direction of Ring of Kerry tour buses and so you have the added advantage of not getting stuck behind. However you will meet them head on and very possibly on some narrow roads. This is an important consideration for anyone attempting this drive. If you aren’t comfortable driving in the British isles I would suggest to travel counter-clockwise.

Will this be your first trip to Ireland? If so please let me allay your fears on driving here with my essential driving tips in Ireland.

Muckross Abbey

Leaving the hotel Beata and I made a quick visit to Muckross Abbey, a 15th century Franciscan Abbey. It’s a little walk from the car park and the abbey is completely free to enter. It’s in ruins but you can take the stairs up to the upper level. Highlights include the vaulted cloister around a yew tree, that is said to be as old as the abbey. A rundown graveyard surrounds the church, which amazingly is still used to this day. Jaunting cars run from here to Muckross House.

Muckross House

The historical Muckross House which is located within the Killarney National Park is only a fifteen minute drive from Killarney. Parking up we limited our visit to a stroll in the gardens and around the house. The grounds border Muckross Lake and as with any of the Killarney Lakes the views are alluring.

The house was built in the 1830’s on the site of earlier houses for the Herbert family, and apparently this is a scaled back version of the original plans. Makes you wonder. It’s a magnificent stone mansion. The gardens which compliment the house were added over the next century. There is a host of activities from tours of the period furnished house which cost €9, to a visit to the traditional farm, as well as various craft demonstrations. We kept our visit limited.

Muckross House
Muckross House- Ring of Kerry
Muckross House - Ring of Kerry

Torc Waterfall

The Ring of Kerry makes an assent above the lakes and before long we had arrived at our next stop, 3.5km away. Torc Waterfall is fed by the Owengarriff River from Torc Mountain above. It’s about 25 metres in height and while not that impressive it’s worth the short five-minute stroll from the car park. There is a viewing deck to stand and practice your slow shutter speed skills. A number of more challenging walks take you alongside the waterfall for an impressive array of views over the lakes.

Torc Waterfall on the Ring of Kerry

Ladies View

The road steadily increases in altitude with intermittent flashes of blue through the trees from the lakes below. Before long it open up to present a viewing point. This viewing point has become known as Ladies View. This refers to the ladies-in-waiting of Queen Victoria, whom expressed delight at the sights when visiting here in 1861. We took a ramble out to the rocks which present the best perspective, through the valley floor and over the Killarney lakes. Photos don’t do it justice, but its a visual treat. It had been over an hour since my last coffee, so the conveniently located Ladies View Industries, a cafe and tourist shop, helped me refuel.

Ladies View on the Ring of Kerry
Ladies View -Ring of Kerry

The ascent in the Ring of Kerry continued and we made an unscheduled stop at Looscaunagh lake. Somehow this little lake seemed more beautiful to us than in the ones in the Killarney floor below. It was our favourite of all the Ring of Kerry stops.

Looscaunagh lake- Ring of Kerry

Finally the road reached Molls Gap which opens up into spectacular views of the valley beyond. From here the route gradually declines to sea level. The Killarney to Molls Gap section of the Ring, is surely its most picturesque. We drove on through the towns of Kenmare and Sneem without stopping, though these towns are good overnight locations with top hotels. Little inlets from the sea break the often wooded scenery along this stretch none more picturesque than the one I featured below.

Ring of Kerry

Staigue Fort

We only made one stop along this section before we reached the extreme west coast. It is reached via the narrowest of lanes which is four kilometres long. Thankfully we didn’t meet anyone else on our way there, I would envisage it being a big problem. Staigue Fort is one of the largest stone forts in Ireland. It was constructed in the early centuries AD.

Ringforts were an early defensive fortification with large walls to protect those who live inside. The walls here were up to six metres high and four metres thick. These can be climbed by a succession of stairs built into the interior. It’s a nice Celtic structure and is one of a number of forts along the route.

Staigue Fort - Ring of Kerry
Staigue Fort - Ring of Kerry

The most westerly part of the Ring of Kerry is also the one with the most distractions. Firstly it’s the springboard to the Skellig islands, including that one that was sold so well in those Disney movie. There is also Valentia Island, the location of the Kerry cliffs and more of the wild views that Kerry is so famous for.

Skellig Michael

If you have additional days on the Ring of Kerry, you might look to spend a night on its west coast and the Skellig ring. Skellig Michael is one of only three Irish UNESCO World Heritage Sights, and is accessed via boat. It lies 11.6 km off the coast and atop this craggy rock, a monastic settlement dating from 588 AD is located. Known for its characteristic beehive huts, the wonder lies in how monks made this their home for 600 years. Is it any wonder so did Luke Skywalker.

Only 180 people per day are allowed to travel to the Skelligs. Boat tours run from the town of Portmagee near Valencia Island. You are at the mercy of the sea, and this being Ireland’s Atlantic coast, the weather is very unforgiving. But if luck is on your side this is one of the highlights of the Ring of Kerry. A number of companies run the trips and a complete list can be found skelligmichael.com.


Derrynane is a town famed as the home of Irish statesman Daniel O’Connell. His birthplace Derrynane House can be visited with many relics from his life on show. We skipped the house and drove down to Derrynane beach, which is one of the most beautiful beaches in Kerry if not Ireland. Returning to the ring road up above you are indulged by scintillating vistas of the beach. Somehow I always prefer to view a beach from far as I’m not a sand between my toes kind of guy. I guess it’s also the contrast between the sand, the sea and the general greenness.

Ring of Kerry
Ring of Kerry

Adventures in food on our Ring of Kerry Itinerary

We were now starving so we decided to eat in the next town that our paths crossed. This happened to be Waterville. Watervilles fame is that one Charlie Chaplin frequented the place many times on his holidays. If this seaside town was good enough for Charlie it was good enough for us. Alas we couldn’t find anywhere open so we plundered on.

It was twenty minutes to Cahirciveen and by that time a hole the side of a moon crater had grown in our tummys. We passed the turn to Valentia island and adventures missed, but a man generally follows his impulses. Food. We picked the first restaurant we found in Cahirciveen, Camos which was thankfully just what we needed. We settled on paninis and big coffees, which were a delight.


Just outside the town of Cahirciveen a bridge crosses the estuary to a headland. Standing guard at the entrance to the bridge is the impressive looking Old Barracks. A British army barracks constructed in 1875 to protect the newly laid telegraph cable between Britain and America, it is fabled that it was built to specifications for a building in India, as the plans got mixed up in haste. It is a little out of place. It now hosts a heritage museum for the surrounding area.

old barracks Cahirciveen Ring of Kerry

The bridge takes us to the ruins of Ballycarberry Castle, and to a couple of more stone ringforts. The bigger of these is the Cahergall stone fort, which was probably occupied up until 1000 years ago, and stood for up to 500 years. The lower walls of an interior building are still intact. The walls can be still scaled on this one too. Keep an eye out for the horseflies, as Beata was climbing the walls she became the victim of one. Its ok though; she survived!

Adjacent to this area is the Leacanabuaile Stone Fort. this one is grassier and with a bigger collection of dwellings inside. Its stone walls are three metres thick. Its worth visiting both as they are drastically different to each other.

Cahergall Fort Ring of Kerry
Cahergall Fort, Ring of Kerry

Falling victim to weather on our Ring of Kerry itinerary

The biggest curse of the West of Ireland, is its a part of the world where time is best spent exploring the wilds of its countryside. And for that you need reasonable weather. And visibility. A thick cloud had started to form since we left our lunch and suddenly it rolled in over the hills until they appeared no more. It was beautiful but it detracted for our experience. It had been 27 degrees earlier in the day (that’s warm in Ireland) but the cloud brought a chill with it. We also lost all views while passing the MacGillycuddy Reeks and the relative might of Carrauntoohill, Ireland’s highest peak.

Ring of Kerry
Weather is the enemy of your Ring of Kerry Itinerary

Rossbeigh Beach

Our planned route had one more stop on it on the Ring of Kerry, to take the R564 road down to the beach at Rossbeigh. The narrow road presents astonishing views over the elongated beach…allegedly. We saw a few metres in front of us, which isn’t the best when navigating a sharp bended country road with steep drops. When we arrived at the beach all the sunbathers were deserting it in their droves so we sadly deserted with them.

The loss of weather and the exodus of beach goers unfortunately brought to light one problem of the Ring of Kerry. Traffic. Even though we had seen much of what we had hoped for, the route near days end, passing through Killorglin and on to Killarney, is one often fraught with traffic jams. It’s something to bear in mind as you take on this most worthy of roads.

From here you can choose to return to Killarney, return to Dublin via Tralee, or continue your exploration of the Wild Atlantic Way with Dingle and the Dingle Peninsula.

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Ring of Kerry itinerary
Ring of Kerry Itinerary

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