So you’re considering spending some of your time in Ireland in rural Kerry? You can’t have enough time in the soaring peaks, foggy lakes and stunning beaches of the country’s quirkiest county. Here are the sites we think you really have to get around.
A rural estate that’s home to rugged horse-pulled jaunting cars, fantastic gardens, lake views and craft stores. At Muckross House you’ll get a glimpse into a luxurious 18th-century life at this fantastic, manicured throwback.
A jagged, difficult-t0-access island off the Kerry shoreline, Skellig Michael was once an isolated hermitage and is now almost as well known for its core role in two recent Star Wars movies. To get there, you’ll need good summer weather and your climbing legs, but toiling amid the puffins is well worth it for the rustic housing and glorious views.
Fungie the Dingle dolphin
Resident in the harbour of gorgeous Dingle, Fungie has long been Ireland’s most famous non-human, and he plays to the crowds. Heading out on a boat to meet – or better still, to swim with – this playful mammal is a Kerry essential. Better still, if you don’t find him, you don’t pay.
The highest peak of the McGillicuddy Reeks mountain range, Carrauntoohil is a challenging climb for intermediate-level hikers. It rises to just over 1,000 metres via the dramatic, slippery ‘Devil’s Ladder’. At its peak, you’ll find a huge iron cross and spectacular views across the Kerry countryside.
The Ring of Kerry
Not so much a single site as an entire circuit of rugged, rural beauty, this is the one tour you’ll have thrown at you consistently if you drop in on Kerry. The ‘ring’ takes you around the Iveragh Peninsula, past a host of gorgeous Atlantic views, quaint towns and tiny, enticing (but cold) beaches. If you can go under your own steam, do.
A 15th-century lakeside castle in the Killarney National Park, Ross Castle gives a taste of rural life centuries ago, with its old-world farm. The stark structure contrasts nicely with the gentle lake before it, and you can stroll off into the wilderness with it lighting up behind you along the way.
The Blasket Islands
More uninhabited islands; more great opportunities for exploration. The Blasket Islands once had a thriving Irish-speaking population, but were evacuated due to harsh Atlantic conditions in the ’50s. Jokingly called ‘next parish America’, this spot is as ‘battered west coast’ as you can hope to see. There’s beauty in that.
Kerry Bog Village Museum
A glance at life in Kerry centuries ago, the Kerry Bog Village Museum follows a simple concept, but is a great way to understand some of Ireland’s old difficulties, and explore the way the land was once used. Delve into the whitewashed houses to learn about a way of life that’s long since left the island.
The Fitzgerald Stadium
Sure, Kerry have to play their bigger Gaelic football contests up in the capital, at ‘headquarters’ Croke Park, but Killarney’s Fitzgerald Stadium is the home of Kerry GAA. As Kerry are historically the kings of the sport, it’s a great spot to get to know Ireland’s beloved traditional leisure offering, still going strong.
Uragh Stone Circle
A neolithic stone circle on the Beara Peninsula, this is a worthy detour. Overlooking Lough Inchiquin, it’s easy to imagine how this isolated spot might have integrated into ancient lives as you stand among the towering stones (the largest around three metres) and stare down at the hills and lake that form its backdrop.
The former home of key revolutionary Daniel O’Connell, Derrynane House is a majestic mansion with plenty of historical areas of interest to explore, as well as a surprisingly international garden. Bring a picnic and explore the surroundings: it’s gorgeous, not least the quiet nearby beach.
A tiny village most just pass through on the way to its neighbour Dingle, Annsacaul has one major attraction, but it’s a great one. Twice Antarctic explorer Tom Crean comes from here, and he’s commemorated passionately in the local pub, colourfully dedicated to him, as well as in a new statue. At under 300 residents, Annascaul is the definition of rurual, but Crean even has his own beer.
This Kerry gem is the kind of place to get hold of a car and cruise around. Its backroads are genuinely beautiful, while (as mentioned above) a dolphin lives in the harbour. You’ll want to check out the astonishing dual-use pubs (think hardware store or bicycle rental shop and watering hole), an impressive local cheese store and the famous Murphy’s Ice Cream, too.
A dramatic defensive bastion that was once the last spot in the region to hold out against British rule, Listowel Castle has been restored to its former glory in recent years. Tours are small (book ahead) and take you around the 15th-century fortress and its quirky facilities, from the towers to the old-world toilets.
The Shannon Estuary
Sitting on the border between County Kerry, County Limerick and County Clare, the Shannon River Estuary isn’t commonly frequented by tourists, but it does have plenty to offer. With day-trip experiences from dolphin-spotting estuary tours to boat hire, there’s also some great fishing to be had near the mouth of the longest waterway in Britain and Ireland.
A clunky stone tower overlooking Dingle, Eask Tower is a 19th-century structure that later became a World War II bay guardian. The structure is historically interesting, as lugging the solid stone up the hill provided work during Ireland’s deadly famine in the mid 19th-century. At 184 metres tall, the hike up Carhoo Hill offers far better panoramic views than you might expect from such a modest exertion.
The Gap of Dunloe
A fantastic drive into the Kerry Hills, the Gap of Dunloe is a narrow mountain pass through the McGillicuddy Reeks, a tough trail by car, but easily passable in the popular horse-pulled jaunting cars that are abundant in Killarney National Park. It’s popular to hike or bike the route, with Kate Kearney’s Cottage — a 150-year-old pub-meets-craft-shop — a popular launching spot.
A poorly named spot if ever there was one, Inch Beach is a huge great sandy bar stretching between two hilly peaks. It’s a relatively isolated rural spot that’s perfect for those looking for some proper Kerry isolation. You’ll have to be brave to swim here with the local weather, but yes, you should do it anyway.
The walk to Mount Brandon from the coast is one of a number of walks that now make up ‘The Irish Camino‘, trails even older than the Spanish equivalent. If you’re ambitious about hill walking, we’d highly recommend the Cosán Na Naomh as an approach to the 953-metre peak, an enticing challenge in Ireland’s ninth-highest hill.
Kerry Cliffs, Portmagee
Sure, the Cliffs of Moher, to the North of Kerry in County Clare, are Ireland’s most famous seaside drop-offs,. But Portmagee’s cliffs offer incredible walks, dramatic drops and views out to Skellig Michael. Why are they less popular than Moher, yet 85 metres higher? Because buses can’t get here. In other words, they’re a lesser-known treat. Avoid in strong winds.