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How to explore Killarney and the Ring of Kerry without a car
Make your way around the Ring of Kerry.
Kate DemolderKate Demolder is a Dublin-based freelance journalist. Her work features in multiple publications and she is the 2022 recipient of the Arts Journalism & Criticism Journalist of The Year Award at the Irish Journalism Awards.
Spend even half an hour on the Ring of Kerry and you’ll quickly understand why this is one of Ireland’s most celebrated drives. Wild, beautiful and packed with jaw-dropping scenery, the 179km route around the Iveragh Peninsula also has plenty of historical sites and picturesque villages dotted between rocky coastlines and pretty beaches. A great way to explore it is by guided coach tour, where the guide comes with deep insider knowledge, local understanding and a day’s worth of entertaining anecdotes – while you relax in the comfort of a cushioned seat. Plus there’s a lot to be said for leaving it up to someone who knows the roads — as well as where the roaming sheep are likely to cross at a moment’s notice.

Here’s how to spend a day exploring the Ring of Kerry without a car.

Photo credit: @tadhg_obrien

All tours of the Ring (you won’t hear it referred to any other way, the ‘of Kerry’ considered superfluous) dedicate between four and six hours to the circuit, so they all start before noon. You won’t need a packed lunch but should have a bit of cash in your pocket (no more than €20 is needed) as some of the stops along the way don’t take cards.

One of the best-known operators is Wild Kerry Day Tours (10.30am-5pm), a family-run affair with a popular Ring tour starting from its depot on Ross Road, a 10-minute walk south of Killarney town centre along Muckross Road. Alternatively, you can arrange for a hotel pick up – but you’ll need to specify it when you make the booking. 

Setting off

You’re about to set off on a whole-day tour, so a good coffee might be in order to kick-start your day. A couple of minutes’ walk from the Wild Kerry Day Tours depot is Rí-Rá, which serves terrific coffee (and a tasty iced latte for those warmer summer days) which you can have with one of their excellent chocolate and hazelnut pastries.

Your first stop, about thirty minutes into the drive, is the Kerry Bog Village, an open-air museum dedicated to showcasing how people of the region lived and worked during the late 19th century. Among the period thatched cottages and Famine-era farm equipment you’ll also come across roaming goats and friendly wolfhounds – a nice way to kick off the tour.

A goat grazing in front of a thatched cottage at Kerry Bog Village Museum in County Kerry.

Photo credit: @tadhg_obrien

Say hello to the goats roaming Kerry Bog Village Museum.

As one of the only museums of its kind in Europe, this is a history buff’s dream – and if that isn’t enough of an enticement then the entry fee entitles you to a discount on an excellent Irish coffee at the on-site Red Fox Inn.

Sheep, scenery and Cahirsiveen

After your first Kerry Irish coffee, you’ll follow the River Laune towards Kells and the award-winning Kells Sheepdogs at Caitin’s Pub. Fresh from the awards circuit, trainer, farmer and local legend Tom O’Sullivan will use nothing but a crook, a whistle and a set of eight commands to guide his dutiful Border Collies to move his flock around a mountainous field filled with deep clear pools and mossy woods with bluebells. The whole show is mightily impressive and you’d need a heart of stone not to fall in love with the dogs.

A group of people watching a shepherd and a Border Collie herding a her of sheep at Caitin's Pub in County Kerry.

Photo credit: @tadhg_obrien

Be in awe of the talented trainers and Border Collies at Caitin's Pub.

Back on the bus and it’s next stop Cahersiveen, right on Valentia Harbour in the shadows of Bentee Mountain. The village is steeped in history: it’s best known as the birthplace of the Liberator, Daniel O’Connell, but it’s also where the first shots of the Fenian uprising of 1867 were fired – stories that the guide will bring to life in colourful detail.

About half an hour beyond Cahirsiveen, the scenery really ramps up. The road from Waterville to Caherdaniel is one of the most beautiful stretches in the country, and you’ll stop at Coomakista Pass for a photo op before climbing over the ridge of Beenarourke. (Waterville was home for a time to Charlie Chaplin, and now hosts two world-class golf courses in Waterville Golf Links and the newer Hogs Head). On a clear day there are some breathtaking views, from the islands of Scarriff and Deenish to Dursey and, beyond Kenmare Bay, the hills of the Beara Peninsula.

The Charlie Chaplin statue in Waterville, County Kerry.
Visit the Charlie Chaplin statue in Waterville.

There’s another stop by Ballinskelligs Bay, which according to the 11th century Book of Invasions (Lebor Gabála Érenn) is where Ireland’s first inhabitants came ashore, led by the mythical Cessair, daughter of Noah (yes, the same Noah of the Biblical Flood).

All that mythology and scenery is enough to build up an appetite, and that is well taken care of at the Scarriff Inn, about 9km beyond Waterville. The bus stops for an hour – enough time for you to enjoy hearty offerings of hot Irish stew, fresh fish and chips, seafood chowder and myriad vegetarian options, all with views of Kenmare and Bantry Bay that have earned the inn the tagline of ‘best view in Ireland.’ And if all that scenery doesn’t inspire, the chat in the bar is always excellent, with locals swapping stories of recent GAA matches and gossip they heard along the way. 

More magic and majesty

You’ll need to tear yourself away, though, as the bus needs to move on to complete the rest of the loop. You’ll pass by the entrance to Daniel O’Connell’s ancestral home, Derrynane House, on the edge of Caherdaniel, before the road moves inland until you get to the village of Sneem. Its Irish name, An tSnaidhm, means ‘the knot,’ a reference to the river that twists its way through the heart of the village into nearby Kenmare Bay.

Derrynane House and National Park in Caherdaniel in County Kerry.
Catch a glimpse of historic Derrynane House.

The Ring of Kerry is all about stunning vistas, but two of them are still ahead. At Moll’s Gap you’re at the summit of the pass that will bring you back toward Killarney – and the views of the mountains and lakes are majestic. The spot gets its name from Moll Kissane, the landlady of a síbín said to have supplied poitín to those building the Killarney-to-Kenmare road during the 1820s. That síbín is long gone, but instead you’ll find a branch of Avoca Handweavers here, making it the craft shop with the most idyllic location in Ireland.

From here, the road gets narrower as it twists its way through the mountains. Five kilometres further on and you’ll reach one of the highlights of the Ring at Ladies View. This panoramic point has views over the Upper Lake and the Purple Mountain and is named after Queen Victoria’s ladies-in-waiting, who enjoyed it during Victoria’s 1861 visit. On a clear day, locals claim you can see as far as America. 

A man looking out at Ladies View in County Kerry.
Enjoy unforgettable scenery from Ladies View.

Killarney is only 17km from here; if you visit in early summer, the likelihood is you’ll be dropped off in the middle of town instead of where you were collected (school traffic dictates who is allowed to drive certain roads at certain times).

Where to eat in Killarney

After a day on the Ring of Kerry, an evening sampling Killarney’s culinary treats is just the ticket. Just across from the excellent Killarney House and Gardens (well worth a visit if you have an hour or so), Argentine food market Tango Street Food serves up excellent vegan empanadas, local honey and nduja sausage pizza and the best asado for miles. 

A person holding a pizza on a wooden plater from Tango Street Food in County Kerry.

Photo credit: @tangostreetfood

Pop into Tango Street Food for a tasty pizza.

Alternatively, for something served with a beer, the Taproom at Killarney Brewing Company expertly pairs wood-fired pizza with homemade IPAs. They, too, pay homage to the old and the new of Killarney, specialising in fine craft beers which are all named after local myths and legends. 

Finally, Michelin-starred the Peregrine, in the Killarney Park Hotel, is worth booking ahead for. The owners, the Treacy family, completely renovated the dining space from top to bottom, giving the new digs a Parisienne feel. That feel peppers the menu, too, with langoustine, lamb with hazelnut peas and mint and Irish coffee flambées that feel straight off the Champs-Élysées.

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The great outdoorsSee the lakes of Killarney and the Gap of Dunloe car-free

As a first-time visitor, getting to grips with Killarney can be daunting. Nestled in a valley surrounded by the grand MacGillycuddy’s Reeks and sitting on the edge of nearly 30,000 acres of parkland, the town offers a seemingly infinite number of paths for exploration. But as one quarter of Killarney National Park is covered by its lakes, a boat tour allows you to experience more of Killarney’s woodlands, mountain passes, waterfalls and historical sites in one day than you could from behind the wheel of a car.

The great outdoorsGet out into nature car-free in Killarney National Park

Killarney has been in the business of welcoming visitors for over 250 years, so it knows a thing or two about taking care of its guests. Not only is it the gateway to the Ring of Kerry, but the town and its immediate surroundings are all part of Killarney National Park, the first of its kind in Ireland and one of the most beautiful corners of the country. And the best bit is you don’t need a car to explore any of it. Indeed, half the fun is doing it on foot, by bike or – if you really want to do it the traditional way – by jaunting car.

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