Kerry is a rural Irish heartland. Distinct and traditional, the south-western county at the corner of the country juts out into the fierce Atlantic and is home to gorgeous villages, tiny roads, ancient sites, and opportunities to explore the hilly landscape.
Often seen as eccentric and slightly backwards-looking by Ireland’s more urban dwellers, that quirky side of Kerry (and the distinctive accents!) will almost certainly be part of what ends up drawing in visitors. You could drive almost anywhere and be charmed, but a few particular spots truly stand out. Here’s are our favourite corners of Kerry, and some of the activities to get stuck into amongst them.
Unquestionably a favourite Kerry town, this quirky, gentle little place located on the Kerry peninsula that it’s named after has almost endless allure. For a start, a dolphin lives in the harbour (and if you’re prepared to brave the cold, you can swim with him – or just take the regular Fungie-ogling tours). Local ice cream company Murphy’s is legendary even up in the capital, while the local artisan cheese shop is the kind of place that’ll have you dropping in and out regularly just to have a sniff. Then there are the pubs, which are every lovely Irish stereotype imaginable, while somehow managing not to be clichéd. Some of the most popular ones are those that also sell hardware or rent bicycles, or simply – for reasons nobody seems to recall – have endless shelves of shoes and farming implements. In short, this place is otherworldly and wonderful for it.
If you’ve heard of Kerry, this might very well be why. The infamous Ring of Kerry tour is one of Irish tourism’s mainstays for a very simple reason: with its winding roads, Atlantic views, and soaring peaks, it represents the image of Ireland you’ve been sold in the brochures. You can drive the 179-kilometre (111.2-mile) loop of the Iveragh Peninsula, explore it by one of the ample tour buses (which all go the same way round the loop – they can’t fit past each other on the narrow roads) or, for the brave, cycle it over the course of a couple of days. There’s no single standout site, really, just a lot of breathtaking concentrated rural beauty and little villages. Check out the castles, stone circles and gorgeous Valentia along the way.
Yes, Culture Trip is absolutely recommending a gap between two hills. A tiny glacial mountain pass at 240 metres (787 feet), this 11-kilometre (6.8-mile) trip passes five lakes, a bridge that’s become a mainstay for the superstitious looking for a moment (it’s called simply ‘The Wishing Bridge’), and more glorious panoramic views than you can wave a camera at. The pubs at the absolute heights of the gap have sensational views and attract bands of cyclists tackling the passable (for the fit) winding laneways. Stop off at Kate Kearney’s Cottage – a 150-year-old pub meets craft shop – or summit one of the fantastically named MacGillycuddy Reeks.
The highest peak in Ireland, Carrauntoohil might pale in comparison to some of the continent’s greats (it’s only 1,038 metres [3,405.5 feet] high), but it’s a pleasant level of challenge, including – for the most popular route – a scramble up the dusty, slippery gully known as the ‘Devil’s Ladder’. There are plenty of genuinely challenging walks around the peak best undertaken supervised, but Carrauntoohil itself – via the most commonly walked route – is fine in moderate weather for those with hiking experience, with rewarding views from the towering metal cross that marks its peak.
Cosan Na Naomh
Another walk (but hey, they’re one of the best things about the county), this medieval pilgrimage trek towards Brandon Mountain dates back to pre-Christian times, having almost certainly been adapted from Irish pagan rituals. It now forms part of the ‘Irish Camino’, an increasingly popular set of paths around the country that offer a stunning historic glance at ancient Ireland. On this one, you’ll find the delicate stone Gallarus Oratory that’s somehow remained water tight for a century as you pass over a gentle, rugged route. The full path, which has quite a few relics to uncover, goes from the Vartry Strand to the base of Brandon Mountain, covering 18 kilometres (11 miles).
Located in tourist-loving Killarney (where half the town is brimming with movie-like Irish pubs and souvenir shops), Muckross House is both a towering 19th-century mansion set amid the hills and lakes and home to a working farm. For all its internal opulence, the farm aspect of the property is a lovely sideways glance at the Ireland of old, while there are lots of local treats available in the craft shop. The abbey, just down the road, dates back to the 15th century and features an oak tree embedded in the heart of its cloisters that sometimes theorised to date back to the abbey’s very construction. It’s said to be haunted too.
The National Park, Dromyrourk, Killarney, Co. Kerry, Ireland, +353 6 466 70144
An Atlantic Ocean beach (which means that even on a perfect summer’s day, this spot is a push for the casual swimmer), Banna Strand is associated with Irish revolutionary Roger Casement and his rendezvous with a German U-Boat and subsequent capture in 1916. It’s a gorgeous, rugged white-sand spot that’s become a minor surfing destination in recent years, and a great break from the more cultural side of the county – a place where you can simply chill out for a few hours. In short, it’s more great scenery!
KEEN TO EXPLORE THE WORLD?
Connect with like-minded people on our premium trips curated by local insiders and with care for the world
Since you are here, we would like to share our vision for the future of travel - and the direction Culture Trip is moving in.
Culture Trip launched in 2011 with a simple yet passionate mission: to inspire people to go beyond their boundaries and experience what makes a place, its people and its culture special and meaningful — and this is still in our DNA today. We are proud that, for more than a decade, millions like you have trusted our award-winning recommendations by people who deeply understand what makes certain places and communities so special.
Increasingly we believe the world needs more meaningful, real-life connections between curious travellers keen to explore the world in a more responsible way. That is why we have intensively curated a collection of premium small-group trips as an invitation to meet and connect with new, like-minded people for once-in-a-lifetime experiences in three categories: Culture Trips, Rail Trips and Private Trips. Our Trips are suitable for both solo travelers, couples and friends who want to explore the world together.
Culture Trips are deeply immersive 5 to 16 days itineraries, that combine authentic local experiences, exciting activities and 4-5* accommodation to look forward to at the end of each day. Our Rail Trips are our most planet-friendly itineraries that invite you to take the scenic route, relax whilst getting under the skin of a destination. Our Private Trips are fully tailored itineraries, curated by our Travel Experts specifically for you, your friends or your family.
We know that many of you worry about the environmental impact of travel and are looking for ways of expanding horizons in ways that do minimal harm - and may even bring benefits. We are committed to go as far as possible in curating our trips with care for the planet. That is why all of our trips are flightless in destination, fully carbon offset - and we have ambitious plans to be net zero in the very near future.