Many thanks to Dr. Jessie Voigts for this incredible Ring of Kerry itinerary! Dr. Jessie Voigts holds a PhD in International Education, focusing on intercultural adjustment for sojourns abroad and acquired disabilities. She co-authored the book ‘Bringing the World Home: A Resource Guide to Raising Intercultural Kids’, publishes WanderingEducators.com, the online resource for global educators, and recently founded the Family Travel Blogger Association.
The Ring of Kerry (N70) is one of the most scenic – and famous – drives in the world. Yes, it’s a little harrowing, with narrow roads bordered by, well, steep cliffs, and tour buses bearing down on you. It’s worth it, though – for the culture, history, and beauty of Ireland that shines out of every corner of this county.
The Ring of Kerry runs along the coastline of Southwest Ireland, and its most famous city is Killarney. But there’s so much more to see and do outside of Killarney – a treasure trove of hidden beaches, famous markets, history, outdoor adventures, and so much culture. Whether it is the historic home of The Liberator, Daniel O’Connell, or the Skelligs Chocolate Company, there’s so much to see and do. 10 days just won’t be enough for you and your family!
Where to stay
As traveling families know, it’s almost always easier to rent a home for stays that are longer than a weekend. We rented a lovely home, Pier Cottage, located near Caherdaniel. It was 45 minutes from Kenmare, and less than an hour from Killarney. It was perfectly situated for a quiet vacation spent exploring. If you prefer a busier place to stay, I’d recommend staying in Killarney. For us, it was perfect – an ocean-front house (think plenty of days spent exploring the tides, beach, and scouting for new treasures from the sea), fireplace (burning the peat is definitely authentic Ireland), and a very helpful assistant, who gave us directions and insight into locals only beaches and travel tips.
Things to do
I’ll start at Killarney and go clockwise! Killarney has a plethora of family-friendly activities, from shopping to visiting Muckross House (and the gardens, and the farm park) and taking a pony trap ride through the Gap of Dunloe. Killarney is the largest city in County Kerry, nestled in the mountains and between the lakes.
Driving southeast, you’ll see Ladies’ View, where Queen Victoria’s Ladies in Waiting stopped and enjoyed the view. I must say, the ladies had impeccable taste. At the junction of Moll’s Gap, head east and drive to Kenmare, often called the “Jewel in the Ring.”
In Kenmare (which is located at the junction of the Ring of Kerry and the Ring of Beara), you can visit Kenmare Lace and Design Center, founded by the Poor Clare nuns and still in existence today. Shop the market or the lovely boutiques, or take advantage of all kinds of outdoor sports, from boating to kayaking, fishing to horseback riding, golf to boat trips to see seals.
West of Kenmare and Sneem is Staigue Fort, one of the best preserved Iron Age forts in Ireland. Pay one Euro at the gate and wander inside, marveling at the building skills of people from so long ago. Kids can climb the walls (gently) or poke around inside the two small inner wall chambers. An extra bonus is the sheep that populate the field – watch your step!
Further west of Staigue Fort is Caherdaniel. Here is Derrynane House, home of Daniel O’Connell, the Liberator of Ireland. Just past Derrynane House is Derrynane Beach – a local gem. Cross the spit of beach at low tide and visit Abbey Island, where old ruins grace the hills, and the locals still bury their families. There’s plenty of space to play and run, climb rocks and hills, and dip your toes (or bodies) in the water.
Right where the Ring of Kerry takes a bend at the mountain (well, a larger bend than usual), you’ll see a pull-off at Coomatloukane. There, you will find a large parking lot, a statue of the Lady of the Wayside (St. Mary), and the most incredible views anywhere on the Ring of Kerry. Looking north, you can see another stone fort and the scenery is quintessential Ireland. If you’re lucky, the ice cream truck will be parked there. This is a perfect place to stretch your legs, breathe in the fresh sea air, and meet some locals.
Keep driving west, and you’ll see the Charlie Chaplin statue in Waterville. Chaplin (and many other celebrities) loved it here.
Keep driving on the Ring of Kerry, or take a detour west on the Skellig Ring. Here you can stop at the Skelligs Chocolate Factory, visit Portmagee and Valentia Island, and the Skellig Islands. Past Portmagee, you can hook back up to the Ring of Kerry and stop at Caherciveen before you drive back to Killarney.
There are many great places to eat along the Ring of Kerry – and, of course, excellent seafood chowder! Killarney and Kenmare have many dining options, and Avoca in Moll’s Gap has fresh, delicious offerings. While you’re driving, there will always be a pub that offers good food. Avoid the roasts and stick with fresh, daily offerings. In Ballinskelligs, stop by the Skelligs Chocolate Factory. Buy your gifts (for yourself and for others) and then get a lovely mochacccino or hot chocolate and sit outside at the picnic tables, watching the surfers in St. Finian’s Bay.
When to go
Ireland is busiest during the summer, because of the great weather. You can still have excellent weather in the shoulder seasons, if you can travel then. Expect some rain every day.
The Perfect 10-Day Itinerary Around the Ring of Kerry (of course, it all depends on the weather):
Day 1: Explore downtown Killarney and Muckross House, but definitely shopping, eating well, and exploring the city. Did I mention shopping?
Day 2: Still in Killarney, take a day trip through the Gap of Dunloe. It’s one of the most beautiful places on the planet. Kids will love being in a pony-trap. Make sure to bring a raincoat and warm clothes (being Ireland, it’s sure to rain). Take the boat back to Killarney – and see how much wildlife you can spot from the boat, on the ride back.
Day 3: Rest and recover. Poke around your neighborhood, play in the yard, eat well. Give your kids a camera and ask them to take photos of your place. Meet locals through Tripping.com and arrange a playdate.
Day 4: If you came in on a Sunday, it’s Wednesday now. Head to Kenmare and buy all kinds of goodies at the Kenmare Market! Make a picnic for dinner! While in Kenmare, check out the library, shop at Quills, visit the Lace Center, and find all kinds of goodness. Bonus: there’s a Tesco in Kenmare (also one in Killarney) – stock up on groceries and discover new yummies (like Pickled Onion Meanies– don’t knock it ‘til you’ve tried it!).
Day 5: Plan for an outdoor day, weather permitting! Explore Staigue Fort, take a boat ride from Kenmare to see the seals, play a round of golf near Kenmare, book a fishing guide near Portmagee on the inland lakes, or head to the Eagle Rock Equestrian Center in Caherdaniel and ride horses on Derrynane Beach.
Day 6: Scenic drive time. Head to the Skellig Ring, stop for chocolates, and tour the gardens on Valentia Island. Lunch at the Moorings restaurant in Portmagee, hopefully outside in their picnic area! Plenty of room dockside for kids to run and play, and scatter seagulls.
Day 7: If the weather’s right, take a trip to the Skellig Islands. You’ll need to book ahead (only a few companies are licensed to take visitors to this UNESCO Heritage site), and be ready to climb. It’s amazing, gorgeous, and a great glimpse of history there.
Day 8: Hike! Be sure to get a good local map (or find a guide), and head out on your own walking tour. There are signs all along the Ring of Kerry, for walkers. Or, pick a beach and dig in the sand, build sandcastles, look for creatures in the seaweed, and play pirate.
Day 9: Drive to Caherdaniel and tour Derrynane House. Once you’ve been amazed there (and learned a lot of Irish history), drive further down that tiny road to the west and visit Derrynane Beach. Swim, if it’s warm enough. Walk across the beach at low tide and poke around Abbey Island. Bring a picnic and make a day of it. (Repeat beach activities!).
Day 10: relax, enjoy the Ring of Kerry, and find some local attractions or restaurants you’ve missed, or revisit one that you loved!
Thanks Jessie for this incredible itinerary! Be sure to click the links for more photos and in depth stories!
© 2012, Jody Halsted. All rights reserved.