Stretching along the southwestern coast of Ireland, the Ring of Kerry is a horseshoe-shaped road that winds through breathtaking vistas, ancient stone formations, and areas known for their natural beauty.
Locals and travelers alike flock to the route’s rugged coastline and charming villages year-round, making it one of the most popular road-trip destinations in all of Ireland.
Here, we look at what makes this narrow, two-lane road worth the journey, and spell out everything you need to know before you make the drive yourself.
- Name: The Ring of Kerry (N70)
- Length: 111 miles (179 kilometers)
- Location: Ireland’s Iveragh Peninsula
Although the Ring of Kerry is U-shaped, you can take the N72 to create a full loop around the peninsula, beginning and ending in the town of Killarney. This closed loop covers a total of 133 miles (214 kilometers). Because of Killarney’s location on the N72, it’s a popular base for those driving the Ring of Kerry.
DRIVING THE RING OF KERRY
Renting a car in Ireland is rather easy — in fact, you don’t even need an International Driving Permit to do so. That said, remember that you’ll be driving on the left-hand side of some extremely narrow roads, and although rental agencies do offer automatic cars, they are less common and typically more expensive. If you haven’t already rented a vehicle for your time in Ireland, you can hire a car in Killarney.
While driving, be sure to take your time, and don’t be afraid to make spontaneous stops along the way. In addition to pulling over to admire castles, explore Celtic ruins, and chat with friendly cows, why not take a hike where you can? The paths and roads around the Ring of Kerry are well-marked, with numerous signs directing drivers to turn-offs and scenic destinations along the way.
If you were to drive directly around the ring, you could complete the drive in just three and a half hours. But realistically, you should set aside at least six to seven hours, if not longer, to leave room for plenty of pit stops — they are, in fact, what make the journey memorable. If you want to take side trips or explore all of the sights along the route, we recommend turning the Ring of Kerry into a two or three-day road trip, staying overnight in one of the villages (like Waterville or Kenmare) and venturing to the area’s nearby islands.
Killarney is a small, colorful town that looks like it belongs in the 19th century. But aside from its old-world charm, the town also has an undeniable energy that makes it a lively counterpoint to the stunning landscapes that surround it. While there are several great Ring of Kerry sites within a 10 to 30-minute drive of Killarney — including Ross Castle, Muckross House, and Muckross Abbey — the town itself should not be overlooked. With classic restaurants, pubs, shops, and galleries, it’s an area well-worth exploring.
The Gap of Dunloe
Just 10 minutes into your journey, you’ll enter the part of N70 called Gap Road, or the Gap of Dunloe. The Gap of Dunloe is a seven-mile (11-kilometer) mountain pass between Purple Mountain and the MacGillycuddy’s Reeks that winds through the Black Valley and past five lakes — Coosaun Lough, Black Lake, Cushnavally Lake, Auger Lake, and Black Lough. There is a wishing bridge between Coosaun Lough and Black Lake, so be sure to stop off and make a wish atop the old structure. Since the Gap of Dunloe is such a scenic route, it’s also a popular spot for biking, hiking, and horseback riding.
As you reach the town of Killorglin, note the statue of a goat perched proudly atop a large boulder. This is King Puck. According to legend, he helped save the people of Killorglin long ago when raiders were pillaging the countryside. The “puck” broke away from its herd and appeared in the village, alerting the people of the danger. This story is such a large component of Killorglin tradition that the town hosts a three-day Puck Fair every August, which just so happens to be Ireland’s oldest festival, with official records dating back to the early 17th century.
But if you’re not visiting during festival season, don’t worry — Killorglin boasts a number of hostels, inns, pubs, restaurants, cafés, galleries, and outdoor activities as well (including kayaking, canoeing, sailing, hiking, climbing, and camping).
Leaving Killorglin, head toward Glenbeigh, an area known as “the Jewel” of the Ring of Kerry. Here, you’ll be able to witness the natural beauty that the road is known for — namely, hills, mountains, rivers, beaches, and the wild Atlantic — all in one place. The peaceful village of Glenbeigh basks in the beauty of Rossbeigh Strand and is a popular place for swimming, surfing, hiking, or simply sitting and admiring the horizon.
Known as the gateway to the Skellig Ring, Cahersiveen is one of the westernmost towns in all of Europe. Sitting at the foot of Bentee Mountain, the town is filled with relics of its past, including a seventh-century stone fort, the 15th-century Ballycarbery Castle, and the Old Stone Barracks. If you have time, take a detour along the Skellig Ring, just off the Ring of Kerry, to explore the island of Valentia and the sixth-century island monastery of Skellig Michael, which was featured in “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” and “Star Wars: The Last Jedi.”
As you continue through the craggy coastline along the Skellig Peninsula, you’ll come across a tiny village called Waterville with a population of only 540 residents. Though small, this seaside village is a top destination for hill-walking, cycling, fishing, surfing, golfing, and angling. And if you’re there at night, don’t forget to look up — this part of the island is an International Dark Sky Reserve, and one of only three Gold-Tier Dark Sky Reserves on the planet, so stargazing is a must. If you happen to visit in August, also check out the town’s annual Charlie Chaplin Comedy Film Festival (Waterville was apparently one of Charlie’s favorite vacation spots).
Situated on a green hill above the white sands of its namesake beach, the village of Derrynane is full of historic sites and breathtaking views. Close to the water, the grounds of Derrynane House resemble the setting of a 19th-century novel, complete with a quaint café where you can sit and enjoy a cup of coffee while admiring the woods beyond. Or, if you’re in a curious mood, you can take a 30-minute guided tour of the house, learn about its former resident Daniel O’Connell, and tour the surrounding 320-acre national park. If that’s not your idea of a good time, nearby you can also explore the mysterious Derrynane Abbey, a sixth-century abbey surrounded by a graveyard that is now overrun with plants.
If you have time, head west of Sneem to visit Staigue Fort. One of the largest ring forts in Ireland, Staigue is set apart by its 18-foot walls, some of which measure 13 feet thick. Experts believe that the fort predates St Patrick’s arrival in Ireland and was built in the early centuries A.D.
This small, charming village on the River Sneem has a population of only 600, but, since it’s home to several artists and craftspeople, it’s a great stop for anyone looking for galleries, home-good stores, or craft shops. After you’re done perusing the shops, head to Riney’s Bar in the village square for traditional pub food and atmosphere, or go on a coastal walk along White Strand Beach, Castle Cove, or O’Carroll’s Cove.
Of all the towns along the Ring of Kerry, Kenmare probably offers the most to see and do. With a range of hotels, hostels, bed and breakfasts, guesthouses, and campsites, as well as a handful of knitwear stores, boutiques, antique shops, galleries, restaurants, and old-world pubs, Kenmare is a favorite among locals and travelers alike. Offering an eclectic, laid-back atmosphere, the town is filled with candy-colored storefronts and homes, as well as two important historical sites: the Old Kenmare Cemetery and the Kenmare Stone Circle. The cemetery dates back to the seventh century, while the Stone Circle is said to have been built between 2200 and 500 B.C.
On your way from Kenmare to Killarney, you’ll drive through a strikingly beautiful mountain pass and into an area called Moll’s Gap. The gap is a stretch of curved road along a scattering of lakes near the MacGillycuddy’s Reeks mountain range. Be sure to pull over to fully appreciate the sweeping view and to take in the serenity of the landscape.
Killarney National Park
Continue on to Killarney to finish the full loop of the Ring of Kerry, but don’t forget to stop in Killarney National Park for a bit of last-minute exploration. Killarney National Park boasts the most extensive forest in the country and has the only remaining herd of wild Irish deer. With a varied collection of mountains, lakes, forests, and waterfalls, the 25,000-acre park offers a unique landscape in contrast to the surrounding area.
Regardless of which stops you make or how long you chose to travel along the Ring of Kerry, remember to bring a curious mind, a good camera, and a sense of adventure.