Planning a Ring of Kerry drive is one of the top things to do when visiting the Emerald Isle. When it comes to showstopping road trips, few destinations can match up to Ireland. Just when you think you have seen every shade of green, another one awaits around the corner and there are more rainbows than in a box of lucky charms.
One of these iconic scenic roads is the Ring of Kerry drive on the west coast in County Kerry. You will be inundated with natural spectacles, storybook villages, and historical sites that are steeped in legend and mystery.
The road will only take a couple of hours to drive but if you plan it right, you can make tons of captivating stops that will serve up memories that will last you a lifetime.
Planning a Ring of Kerry Road Trip
Driving the Ring of Kerry is by no means a total hidden gem but it has somehow been able to maintain its authenticity and understated allure. Thus, one of the essential things to consider when planning a Ring of Kerry road trip is the road quality. The road is generally well-maintained, but it can be narrow in some sections, especially in the mountains.
It’s important to drive carefully and be aware of other vehicles and cyclists on the road. Imagine the roads that Ed Sheeran describes in “Castle on the Hill” and you will have a pretty good idea of the windy country lanes, lined with hedges, with a noticeable absence of road markings in some sections.
Another thing to keep in mind is the frequency of petrol stations and food stops along the route. While there are several towns and villages along the way where you can find fuel and food, it’s a good idea to fill up your tank and stock up on snacks and water before starting the drive.
The road isn’t exhaustively long but when you have the open road and views to worry about, the last thing on your mind should be finding petrol while on your Ring of Kerry route.
If you need to rent a car for your drive around the Ring of Kerry, then browse Rentalcars.com to compare prices across major companies.
If you’re planning to drive the Ring of Kerry in peak tourist season, it’s advisable to book accommodation in advance. The route is very popular, and accommodations can fill up quickly.
The towns on your Ring of Kerry road trip are small and you will have only a few options like the old-as-time local inn, a few creative AirBnBs, and small but abundantly hospitable guesthouses.
A good plan is to stay in the town of Killarney, which is a good starting-off point for the scenic drive and has a lot of accommodation and other options, as well.
How Long is the Ring of Kerry Drive?
The Ring of Kerry drive is only 180 km/ 110 miles long but you will be doing yourself a great injustice to just speed through. You could also add the Skellig Ring drive to your circular route which adds another 18 km but is worth every inch.
Spoiler alert: there is no leprechaun with a checkered flag waiting at the end, so take your time. In general, expect the drive to take around 3.5 hours without stopping, however, with all of these stops along the Ring of Kerry you will definitely be spending a bit more time than that.
If you don’t want to make all of the stops in one day or want to take your time, it can be a good idea to hit some of the stops closer to Killarney on one day and then drive to the further stops on day 2.
The most common (and honestly, the best) is the circular driving route that starts and ends in Killarney. You will drive on the N71, N70, and N72 if you do drive clockwise. However, many people prefer to drive it counterclockwise to follow the same route as tour buses.
This might sound counterintuitive, but you will agree once you come head-to-head with a bus on a country road. If this doesn’t phase you, head south first so avoid tour groups.
Best Ring of Kerry Drive Stops
Here is a look at the top stops you must add to your Ring of Kerry itinerary. They are listed in driving order if you follow the route clockwise.
Killarney National Park
Killarney National Park is Ireland’s largest national park and is hands down one of the most iconic stops on the Ring of Kerry Road. Allow yourself ample time to enjoy this magnificent destination, or even consider dedicating a day to everything it has to offer.
The park boasts a variety of flora and fauna, including the iconic red deer. Visitors can explore the park’s many hiking trails, bike paths, and lakes.
This is also where you will find Ross Castle, a 15th-century tower house located on the banks of Lough Leane. Here, Oliver Cromwell’s footprints are etched in history and the spirit of the place is palpable.
You can also stroll around Muckross Abbey and visit Muckross House if you have time (make time!) and one of the best ways to explore the length and breadth of the bark is by bicycle.
Although this stop is located within Killarney National Park, it is amazing enough to get its own mention. Torc Waterfall is a stunning attraction that showcases the natural beauty of Ireland.
The waterfall cascades over moss-covered rocks, surrounded by lush greenery, whisking you away to a land of legend and leprechauns with every tumbling drop.
You might want to visit this first when you arrive at the park considering the parking lot next to the waterfall is very small. Alternatively, you can walk from another lot further down the road or cycle to the waterfall.
Now that you have had a good fill of history and nature, it is time to get to the views! Cliché’s like “awe-inspiring” and “breathtaking” come to mind, but are they really cliché if they are true? Ladies View is a scenic viewpoint just 25 minutes from Killarney and it is one of the most popular stops when you drive the Ring of Kerry.
The central focus view is the sparkling blue waters of the lakes of Killarney, surrounded by rolling hills and mountains. The viewpoint is named after Queen Victoria’s ladies-in-waiting, who visited the spot during a royal visit in 1861.
The viewpoint changes its look along with the seasons, though. What is a lush spread of green, fringed by blue skies, becomes an eerie yet equally captivating scene of reds, oranges, and brows when winter comes knocking.
You can enjoy the view for free from your car or you can walk a few meters through the shrubbery for the most epic view or you can have a piping cup of tea from the Ladies View Café if all that driving has tired you out.
Moll’s Gap is a mountain pass located between MacGillycuddy’s Reeks mountain range and Purple Mountain. The pass offers stunning views of the surrounding countryside, including the Kenmare River and the Lakes of Killarney.
There is a large parking area where you can pull over and enjoy the view or you can pop into Avoca Café to take a break from the confines of your car.
Kenmare oozes charm and character and just driving through the colourful main street confirms that. This is a great town to spend the night in if you want to spread your Ring of Kerry itinerary over a few days, giving you time to see the sites and sip a few pints.
Kenmare Stone Circle is a must-see in town and it can be equated to Stonehenge – boulders inexplicably packed in a geometric formation dating back to the bronze age. Kenmare Bay is also home to adorable seals who love to bathe in the timid Irish sun in between fishing sessions.
Sneem is another excellent option for towns to stay in on your Ring of Kerry road trip. It is only about 45 km from Killarney but considering everything you can see between there and Sneem, it is likely your day will be over by the time you reach Sneem (if you do it properly).
Keeping with Irish tradition, you will find pub after pub, interspersed with colourful local traders. Here you can take advantage of the tranquillity of nature and walk along the river.
If you have time to spare it could be well worth taking a little detour to Staigue Stone Fort to see the impressive ruins that date back almost 1,500 years.
Beaches in Ireland might not be a top priority but Derrynane Beach will quickly change your mind. The golden sand and turquoise water seem somewhat out of place but it is by far one of the most beautiful (and sadly underrated) Ring of Kerry stops.
It is just under 30 minutes from Sneem in Derrynane National Historic Park and it is beautiful any time of the year. It is safe to swim in the summer with a lifeguard on duty but the cold water is enough to deter water babies the rest of the year. You can rent kayaks or stand-up paddle boards if you want to take some time and enjoy the watersports on offer.
Walk along the sandy split from the beach to get to the 8th-century Derrynane Abbey perched on the clifftop. The ruins and graveyard offer that distinct Irishness to the whole scene.
Sure, the Cliffs of Moher are cool, but how do weather-worn jagged cliffs with no visitors and a minuscule entry fee sound? If you are of the opinion that nature should not be monetized, the Kerry Cliffs are just right for you.
You will park on private ground, pay a small entry fee to use the car park and then walk an easy 10 minutes along the peninsula to reach the spectacle. The cliffs are on the Skellig Ring drive and you must adjust your route to include this short drive if you want to reap the rewards.
The blackened cliffs with notable striations are in stark contrast to the grassy embankments at the top and the angry Atlantic waters 300 meters below. Take a moment to sit down and breathe in the salty air that engulfs the scene.
Wild spirits might even want to set up camp for the night as there are toilets and a small café that sells locally made goods.
This is another of the Skellig Coast’s best-kept secrets. Drive over the bridge from Portmagee to reach Valentia Island. For the most captivating view, drive up to Geokaun Mountain and the Fogher Cliffs as the sun starts to set.
The sky turns into molten gold in the late afternoon – this could possibly be the fabled treasure of the Leprechauns. There are a few small settlements on the island and Knightstown is the most popular with a few pubs and accommodations.
The last stretch on the Ring of Kerry drive is a little longer than the previous ones but this time on the winding tarmac is perfect to reflect on all the gems you have uncovered thus far. The last leg of the drive is dominated by coastal scenery, cliff walks, and wide open spaces.
Rossbeigh Beach is one of the best beaches in the country and also one of the best surfing spots in the country. If you feel up to it, take a walk along the 7 km-long beach and soak in the neverending splendor of the wild Atlantic.
You can also stop at the quaint village of Glenbeigh which overlooks Dingle Bay (starting point of the iconic Slea Head drive!) and has been plucked out of a postcard with its whitewashed cottages.
Where to Stay in Killarney
Old Weir Lodge – This lovely guesthouse is an excellent place to place to rest your head after long days of exploring the Ring of Kerry and the town of Killarney. They have a number of great rooms available, a hearty breakfast to fill you up each morning and a great location close to the town centre. Click here to see their availability
The Killarney Park – If you’re looking for a bit of luxury when you visit the Ring of Kerry, then this gorgeous hotel in the centre of Killarney might be the choice for you! There are countless plush rooms on offer and all the amenities you would expect to make sure that you’re well looked after long days of exploring Ireland! Click here to see their availability
The Black Sheep Hostel – If you’re trying to save some cash or are a solo traveller looking for a social atmosphere then this hostel in the town centre of Killarney is the perfect choice. Offering both private rooms and dorms, they have a great atmosphere, clean facilities and common areas for meeting other travellers. Click here to see their availability
Not quite what you’re looking for? Click here to browse more Killarney hotels!
The Ring of Kerry Road will undoubtedly be one of the highlights of your Irish adventure. Experiencing the best of Ireland means you must forget about traditional “must-see” landmarks and overrun tourist spots. Instead, swap that in for slow-paced road trips, visits to curious historic locations, and raw natural wonders.
Most of all, open yourself to underrated experiences, stop and smell the Guinness, and chase a few rainbows.
Are you planning to drive the Ring of Kerry? Have any questions? Let us know in the comments!