In the southwest corner of Ireland, the rocky, wild Iveragh Peninsula holds its own against Atlantic waves and storms, creating a landscape and a coastline seemingly ripped from a fairytale. Moss-covered forests, cascading waterfalls, craggy beaches, mysterious islands, and the highest mountain peaks in Ireland all await adventurous travelers on this peninsula. A world-famous circular route follows the rocky coast of this wild corner of Ireland, popularly known as the Ring of Kerry.
Many tour companies offer guided coach tours of the peninsula, often as part of a multi-day road trip around Ireland’s coast. These group trips are comfortable, convenient, and economical, but lack the freedom and flexibility of a trip by car. If your trip time and budget are flexible, a rented car from the nearby cities of Tralee, Limerick, or Killarney will let you take in the beautiful Ring of Kerry at your own pace, and allow you access to some of the best sightseeing off the main roads that buses can’t reach.
To successfully and enjoyably drive the Ring yourself, you will need a good map and a good plan. Decide in advance which sights you’d like to see and which detours you’d like to take. It might not be possible to stop and see everything on the peninsula in one day, so prioritize accordingly. If you will be staying mostly on the official Ring of Kerry route (mostly on Irish roads N70, N71, and N72), consider taking the route counterclockwise, staying with the flow of the big buses.
Killarney National Park
Your route may begin or end in the city of Killarney, which is bordered by one of Ireland’s most beautiful national parks. A whole day or more could be spent exploring the hills, valleys, lakes, and waterfalls of this pristine park. If a long hike through the park isn’t on the schedule, stop on your way through to take a short, easy hike to the eighty-foot Torc Waterfall. Look around and listen, you might see one of the wild red deer that roam the park.
Another popular stop on the way out of the park is Ladies’ View, a scenic pull-off, one of many on the Ring. Ladies’ View overlooks the lakes of Killarney in a beautiful valley surrounded by Macgillicuddy’s Reeks, the high, often snow-capped mountain chain covering much of the center of the peninsula.
Ring Forts and Ruins
Along the route, there are a number of ancient Celtic ruins in various states of repair and preservation. The most well-known of these are the ring forts, circular enclosures built more than two thousand years ago by Ireland’s early Celtic tribes. The most-visited ring forts on the Ring of Kerry are Staigue Fort near Sneem and Cahergal and Leacanabuaile Forts near Cahirciveen.
Around the Ring, there are many turnouts on the narrow road for views of the peninsula’s stunning cliffs, islands, and beaches. These are the unspoken stars of the Ring of Kerry, offering once-in-a-lifetime looks at some of the world’s most beautiful scenery. Take full advantage of these for great photo opportunities and to allow traffic—especially buses—to pass.
The Skellig Islands
At the far western tip of the peninsula, you’ll be able to see the two sharply-pointed islands known as the Skelligs. The larger, more distant island, known as Skellig Michael, was once home to a small settlement of early Christian monks who carved out a meager existence on this windswept rock. Recently, parts of Star Wars: The Force Awakens were filmed on these beautiful but treacherous islands.
Where to Go from Here
The Iveragh Peninsula sits directly between the Beara Peninsula to the south and the Dingle Peninsula to the north. Both offer memorable natural and cultural beauty similar to that on the Ring of Kerry, with Dingle being a bit more popular for tourists. Many longer trips around the coast of Ireland connect the peninsulas of Kerry with Cork and nearby Blarney Castle or continue up the west coast to County Clare, the Burren, and the Cliffs of Moher.
No matter how you see the beautiful Ring of Kerry, you’ll leave with lasting memories and a camera full of great photographs. If exploring on your own, plan thoroughly, get an early start, drive carefully, and enjoy the sights, sounds, and people of the Rugged Ring of Kerry.