Our Ireland road trip continues along the Ring of Kerry and the Skellig Ring, a coastal road that, better than others, summarizes the true essence of the island. There would be many unmissable stops along the way, but in this article we suggest a few that you can easily and leisurely visit in the space of a day and then finish the journey at the Kells Bay House & Garden - a hotel located along the north side of the peninsula - which is certainly worth an overnight stay thanks to its tropical garden, Tibetan bridge and one of the best Thai restaurants on the island.
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Having explored the length and breadth of Killarney, its lakes and National Park, it’s time to set out again to discover one of the island’s best-known and most scenic road routes: the Ring of Kerry. You may have heard of it or read about it during your research on Ireland (and it’s probably also what led you to this page!). The truth is that the Ring of Kerry is one of the most scenic and easily accessible routes on the island and therefore certainly worth a visit. But precisely because it is so famous and scenic, the Ring of Kerry is also one of Ireland’s most touristy areas and, if you are travelling by car, you will inevitably have to contend with the numerous tour buses that shuttle from North to South and make life difficult for you on the relatively narrow roads in this area. So, how best to tackle this enchanting corner of Ireland? By travelling it the right way and choosing the right stops. That’s why in this article we give you some useful tips and point out the must-see sights along the Ring of Kerry!
Arriving by airplane
Most travelers choose to reach Ireland by plane. The island’s main airports are located in Dublin and Cork – in the Republic of Ireland – and in Belfast – in Northern Ireland, part of the United Kingdom. However, the island is well connected to Switzerland and the rest of Europe by several flights of the national airline Aer Lingus, Swiss* and, of course, the low-cost airline Ryanair. Dublin Airport is located about 11 km north of the city. If you have rented a car, the counters of the major rental companies are located in both Terminal 1 and Terminal 2.
Arriving by ship
Ireland can also be reached by ship, a popular option for those who enjoy on-the-road travel with their own car or caravan. Dublin has two harbor areas: Dun Laoghaire Terminal, southeast of downtown, and Dublin Port Terminal, northeast. Many companies connect the city with the United Kingdom. We suggest Stenaline, Irishferries, P&O Ferries. Alternatively, other companies connect Ireland with France (mainly with Cork, southern Ireland): Irishferries and Brittany Ferries.
Drive the Ring clockwise or counterclockwise?
The Ring of Kerry is a road route of about 180 km that runs along the coast of the Iveragh Peninsula in south-west County Kerry. To explore it, we chose to start from Killarney and end the on-the-road tour at a very special hotel along the peninsula’s north coast: the Kells Bay House & Garden (more on this at the bottom of the page).
The road loop can be travelled in either direction, either north to south or south to north. However, although there is no directional requirement for private cars, there is one for tour buses, which traditionally travel the Ring of Kerry counterclockwise. Why are we telling you this? Because if you decide to drive the Ring of Kerry in a counter-clockwise direction – north to south – you may find yourself following huge busloads of tourists for the entire journey, an experience that completely closes off your view of the magnificent coastal scenery of this part of Ireland.
Therefore, our advice is to drive the Ring of Kerry in a clockwise direction. This way, with due caution, tour buses will not be a problem as the road is wide enough to allow one bus and one car to pass at the same time. Just be careful to stay in your lane and not to overtake!
The Skellig Ring (sometimes also known as the Ring of Skellig) is a short diversions of about 30 km from the Ring of Kerry. The route leaves the N70 road just north of Waterville, and returns to the Ring of Kerry, just south of Caherciveen. This is a short stretch of road that is absolutely scenic and very little known and used. The roads here are decidedly narrow, so our advice is to be cautious and watch out for the many cyclists. The good news? Tourist buses do not arrive here! So you can really enjoy the scenery without worries and without unexpected crowds to ruin your souvenir photos!
If, on the other hand, you don’t feel like driving so long and want to rely on an organised tour, our advice is to invest a little more money and opt for a private tour, which is traditionally more flexible, eco-friendly and traveller-friendly.
Skellig Michael: to go or not to go?
We’ll tell you straight away: we chose not to go and in this article we explain the reasons for our choice and give you the pros and cons to help you make your own. Skellig Michael, the largest of the Skellig Islands is certainly the star of the Wild Atlantic Way. This unreal island in the middle of the Ocean is one of the most fascinating and coveted stops on the island, but also probably one of the most inaccessible and unpredictable destinations you can include in a road trip. In fact, the island can only be reached by sea during the summer and part of the autumn. Moreover, for reasons of preservation of the place and its historical remains, only a few small boats are allowed to reach the island by the Irish government! It is therefore necessary to book well in advance. Finally, if you manage to do all this, you are only halfway there! The tract of sea that separates Skellig Michael from the mainland is in fact one of the most unpredictable and capricious on the island: this results in last-minute cancellations and schedule changes. Not to mention the fact that after an unpleasant journey in rough seas (and nausea), you might even find, once you reach the island, that the sea conditions there do not allow docking! In short, the variables are just too many and – from our point of view – barely compatible with a relaxing and carefree road trip.
However, Skellig Michael, declared a Unesco World Heritage Site in 1996, is certainly one of the most intriguing and unreal places on the island! If you decide to go there, you will have access to an untouched and wild corner of land, far off the beaten track of mass tourism. Once on the island, you can reach the top by walking up the steep (and exposed) steps that lead from the dock to the monastic citadel. From here, you can enjoy breathtaking views of the ocean and the Irish coastline. But beware: the route is only suitable for people in good physical shape and free from vertigo!
7 Must-See Places to Visit
There are so many possible stops along the Ring of Kerry and Skellig Ring. Here we suggest a few in our opinion that are not to be missed!
Ladies View: located just above Killarney, the Ladies View is the first viewpoint one encounters when traveling clockwise along the Ring of Kerry. Its elevated position allows a bird’s eye view of Killarney National Park and its lakes from above. The stop will only take you a few minutes, but it is definitely worth stopping for a moment to take a few photos and admire the view, especially if the day is sunny and clear. You will also find a good café-bar here for a snack or hot drink. A few kilometers later, make another brief stop at the viewpoint above Looscaunagh Lough, a small mountain lake nestled in a green valley.
Staigue Stone Fort: Located off the main tourist routes, slightly off the road, this well-preserved fort is a perfect example of an Iron Age circular fort. Built between 300 and 400 CE, its mighty walls still convey a sense of protection and security. Its location in the middle of a picture-postcard landscape makes it even more fascinating. To reach it, you will have to leave the N70 and drive along a narrow country road for about 4 km. The place is unmanned and admission is free, although you can leave a small offering in an honesty-box at the entrance to contribute to the preservation and maintenance of the place. Here you will also find a public toilet and, during the summer, a small truck-bar offering treats and coffee.
Derrynane Beach: This incredible tongue of golden sand is really something you wouldn’t expect to find in Ireland. On a sunny day, our advice is to park your car and follow the path that runs along the beach to reach the ruins of Darrynane Abbey. Alternatively, you can lie on the beach and enjoy some sun and relaxation.
Ballyskellig: Located roughly halfway along the trail, this golden beach is the gateway to the Skellig Ring as well as a good choice for a midway stop and snack. The small beach bar near the parking lot offers sandwiches and snacks. If you feel like taking a stroll, you can easily reach the ruins of the ancient Abbey and watchtower.
Skelligs Chocolate: This chocolate factory is certainly one of the unusual and unexpected attractions along the Skellig Ring. The factory has been equipped for tourist hospitality and has ample parking and a café. The processing and preparation of the chocolate can be seen from the visitor’s room through the large windows, and if you have some time and patience for the line, you can take part in one of the tastings and later buy something to take home with you.
Kerry Cliffs: The smaller sisters of the Cliffs of Moher are a little hidden gem along the Ring of Skellig. These towering cliffs, over 300 meters high, allow you to enjoy – without the hordes of tourists typical of the Cliffs of Moher – a wonderful wilderness with the jagged outline of Skellig Michael on the horizon. You can reach them easily and leave your car at the convenient parking lot. There is an entrance fee of € 5.00 per person. From the parking lot, the path reaches the cliffs in a few minutes, and from here you can opt for the viewing platform to the north or the one to the south. We recommend that you visit both! In some cases, strong winds can be a problem here, so take caution and do not expose yourself to unnecessary risks!
Valentia Island: this small island along the north coast of the Iveragh Peninsula has a long tradition of tourism. Here you will find well-equipped beaches, vital and welcoming towns, and wonderful mountain viewpoints. We suggest a visit to Geokaun Mountain and Cliffs, the highest point on the island, from which there are fantastic 360-degree panoramic views of the Skelligs, Blasket and Dingle Bay islands. Next, we suggest a refreshing stop at Valentia Ice Cream Parlour and Farmhouse Dairy, a farm that makes excellent homemade ice creams. Valencia Island can be reached from Portmagee via a road bridge. After your visit, we suggest instead that you return to the mainland using the ferries – which also carry vehicles – that depart from Knight’s Town and reach Reenard Point.
Kells Bay House & Garden
After a day on the road, we opted to stay overnight at a very unusual hotel along the north coast of the Iveragh Peninsula: Kells Bay House & Garden. This unexpected place is surrounded by one of the most amazing gardens on the island, consisting of a rich collection of tree ferns, palms and other exotic plants, which thrive here thanks to the special microclimate of the place created by the Gulf Stream. The hotel has good rooms that are well furnished and clean, and guests have free access to the garden and park, which can be easily explored on foot. If you decide to spend the night here, our advice is to book a table in its Thai restaurant – which offers really good food – and to walk one of the park’s most fun and popular experiences: the rope bridge “The SkyWalk”!
If you decide to go swimming in the Irish Sea, be prepared for the cold water temperatures and pay attention to the tides and currents! Always choose stretches of beach that are safe and protected by beach guards. Find useful information and tips from the Irish government on safe swimming at this link!
If you decide to travel the Ring of Kerry counterclockwise as the tour buses do, our advice is to delay your departure as much as possible or leave really early so you can avoid rush hour.
Are you planning an on-the-road trip to Ireland? Then read all our articles on the topic and if you have any questions or need additional tips let us know by leaving a comment below. We will get back to you as soon as possible!
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