Kerry is one of Ireland’s most popular tourist destinations. Located on the south-western peninsulas of Ireland, and bordering Cork and Limerick, the rugged coast, rolling hills and dramatic mountains combine with Irish charm, humour and quirkiness at its very best. The Lakes of Killarney, the Ring of Kerry, the Skelligh Islands, and the Rose of Tralee festival are some of the terms synonymous with Irish tourism, and they can all be found in Kerry. Colourful fishing villages welcome tourists in their droves, but despite its popularity, much of Ireland’s south-west remains unspoilt and authentic, and Irish traditions, including the Irish language, are alive and well in ‘the Kingdom’.
Killarney and the Lakes
Tourism in Kerry is very much built around Killarney and the lakes. The three lakes are located within Killarney National Park, a particularly beautiful area of heather-covered hills dotted with the ruins of ancient abbeys and castles. The lakes are particularly beautiful, and a delight for photographers looking to capture light and reflection in the tranquil waters. Popular beauty spots include the Gap of Dunloe, the Ladies’ View and the Meeting of the Waters.
Boat trips are available across Lough Leane, the largest of the lakes, form Ross Castle. Jaunting cars (poney and trap) rides are available around the lake shores. The wise-cracking ‘jarveys’, who operate the rides, personify Kerry humour and charm. Muckross House, a 19th century mansion set in spectacular landscaped gardens, overlooks the lakes. It houses a craft centre and a museum of Kerry Life.
The town of Killarney, which has an obvious tourism focus, is also the starting point of the famous Ring of Kerry.
The Ring of Kerry
Killarney is the idea starting point for tours of the Ring of Kerry, a spectacular and dramatic tour of the Iveragh Peninsula. While driving is the most popular way to explore the ring, many also cycle it, and a few even explore on foot. It takes in the best of Kerry’s mountainous and coastal scenery on its 214 km loop through Kenmare, Caherciveen and Killorglin. It is one of Ireland’s most visited attractions outside of Dublin.
Several tour buses operate daily tours, which take in the main sites, but driving it yourself will allow for full exploration of this beautiful area. All buses run anti-clockwise, as there are many narrow stretches of road on which two buses cannot meet. It is recommended that cyclists travel in a clockwise direction and meet the buses head on. A minimum of two days is recommended if travelling by car.
Muckross Estate includes the 19th century Muckross House, the ruins of Muckross Abbey, and Muckross Traditional Farms which contains reproductions of Kerry farmhouses from the 1930s. Torc Waterfall, a few kilometres from Muckross Estate, is another worthwhile stopping point. Tourists are well catered for in the towns of Kenmare, Caherciveen and Killorglin, and in the village of Caherdainel, popular because of its proximity to Derrynane Strand and Derrynane National Park.
Dingle and the Dingle Penninsula
Dingle is a thriving tourist centre and fishing port in the heart of Kerry’s Irish-speaking area. Despite its remoteness, tourism has put this town well and truly on the map. Fungie, a friendly dolphin who has made Dingle harbour his home since 1983, can be visited on swimming or boat trips. The town is full of brightly painted craft shops and cafes, while seafood restaurants and lively bars dominate the quayside.
Sites of particular archaeological interest on the peninsula include the Iron Age fort at Dunbeg; Gallarus Oratory, a miniature dry-stone church; and Early Christian beehive huts west of Dingle.
The Skellig Rocks, small dramatic rocks off the coast, are among Kerry’s most recognisable sites. Skellig Michael, a 6th century monastic settlement on one of the rocks, is a major visitor attraction. From the distance Little Skellig appears to be snow-capped due to the 22,000 puffins, kittiwakes, gannets and other birds nesting there. Small boats operate trips from Portmagee to the island, but visitors should note that there is no water food or toilet on the island. A small museum on the mainland provides additional information on the history of the monastery.
The town of Tralee comes to life every August with the annual Rose of Tralee Festival. Tralee is the economic centre of Kerry and the largest town in the county. Kerry County Museum is one of Ireland’s largest museums. Blennerville Windmill, located just outside the town, is Ireland's largest functional windmill. Tralee Town Park and Tralee Bay are among the other points of interest. The Kerry Camino walking route links Tralee to Dingle.
Kerry is known as the Kingdom County. And in this beautiful, wild and dramatic wonderland, the Kingdom of Heaven never far away.