Known as “The Kingdom” for 2,000 years, County Kerry has cozy villages where Irish is still spoken, pubs that are alive with traditional music, legendary clifftop drives, and the brilliant lakes of Killarney. You’ll also find burial tombs, stone circles, and ring forts from the copper and bronze age. Kerry is the most western of Irish counties, and folk customs are abundant. Imagine escaping to a welcoming world where Pookas, fairies, and good luck charms are real.
These are our top 7 County Kerry experiences, each one a joy:
Mansions, Castles, and Chapels
Muckross House is a focal point for Killarney Park. This Tudor-style mansion, with 65 rooms, is a step inside an elegant, 19th century lifestyle. Ross Castle is a 15th century tower house on the banks of Lough Leane in Killarney Park, and the ruins of 16th century Minard Castle are well worth the Irish Sea views.
Gallarus Oratory, on the Dingle Peninsula, is a mystery. This uniquely shaped structure, somewhat like an overturned boat, is thought to have been a shelter for pilgrims or a 12th century chapel. The stones are local, and the construction is the same as the Neolithic tomb at Newgrange.
The Wild Atlantic Way
Explore this rugged coastline and find deserted beaches, islands, and breathtaking vistas. Downpatrick Head, in County Mayo, is where St. Patrick’s church was founded in the 5th century—the ruins still stand. There are only three glacial fjords in Ireland, and one is dramatic Killary Harbour in County Galway.
The legendary Cliffs of Moher, looking across the Atlantic Way, are windy, breathtaking, and a must. Just off the Dingle Peninsula in Kerry are the peaceful Blasket Islands and stories of its lost community. The Old Head of Kinsale is marked by a lovely 17th century lighthouse. After you’ve explored, enjoy world-class golf or Kenmare’s famous cuisine.
Dingle Town and Peninsula
It’s easy to fall in love with Dingle, the heartbeat of the Dingle Peninsula. Shops roll down to the sea, selling local crafts and art. The chapel perched on a hill is lovely. Dive into a local pub for seafood chowder and, in the evening, get into live music. (There are 50 pubs in this town of only 2,000 people.) Head to the marina, watch the boats bob on the water, and do some people watching. Dingle is an ideal base to discover mind-boggling scenery, seaside trails, and Conor Pass, crossing through Ireland’s highest mountain.
Kerry is Ireland’s finest golf destination. The best-known challenging links courses are Ballybunion, Waterville, Dooks, and Tralee. There’s also a championship course in Killarney. There are lesser-known courses and most have something for every player. The Ring of Kerry Golf Club, Killarney Golf and Fishing Club, the Dingle, Beaufort, Killorglin, and Kenmare Golf Clubs are warm and authentic. Throughout the years, Kerry has played host to the Irish Open, the PGA European Tour, and The Curtis Cup.
Killarney National Park
This is the gem of County Kerry. The three Lakes of Killarney, the mountains, soft woods, and castle ruins create an atmosphere of wonder. Start at the Muckross House Visitor Center for an overview, then begin exploring. (Consider renting a bike or hopping on a traditional pony and cart.)
Close your eyes and breathe deeply. The scent of ancient forests and heather moors fills your senses. The Ladies View has a stellar panorama of the three lakes and mountains—it’s said this view even astonished Queen Victoria. Head to Torc Waterfall and then dine in one of Killarney’s romantic restaurants.
Kenmare Town and the Ring of Beara
The Ring of Beara is a local favorite. You’ll find uncrowded countryside and a glorious Irish coastline. A well-kept secret, the 92-mile Beara Peninsula is thought by many to be as gorgeous as Kerry, but without the crowds. The Ring starts in the town of Kenmare, crosses a mountain pass, and winds through colorful towns. The cliffs, outrageous sea, and woodlands lead you back to Kenmare, Ireland’s first heritage town. Known for fresh, gourmet food this is an ideal base to explore the quiet side of Ireland.
The Ring of Kerry
This area gets busy, and there’s a reason for its popularity. The Ring is a road through 10,000 years of Ireland’s history. Through yew and pine forests, to the wild Atlantic Coast, watch for stag, waterfalls, lakes, and bubbling streams. (Perhaps take a private boat across a lake.) Ramble through seaside villages and obscure ruins.
Consider a visit to Skellig Michael, included on UNESCO’s World Heritage list in 1996. It’s a solitary outcropping, the site of an ancient Irish monastery built in the 6th century. After being attacked by Vikings numerous times, it was abandoned in the 13th century, and then used as a place of pilgrimage.