Traveller's guide: The Ring of Kerry

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

This scenic circuit in south-west Ireland delivers a greatest hits of wild and wonderful sights, says Aoife O'Riordain

The Ring of Kerry is one of Ireland's best-known and most scenic circuits, skirting the edge of the Iveragh Peninsula – the middle and largest of three fingers of land reaching out into the Atlantic on the island's south-west extremity. This 120-mile route takes the N70, N71 and R562 roads and encounters some of Ireland's finest landscapes, a breathtaking mosaic of rugged, storm-bashed coast, steep mountains, velvety green fields, historic sites, slate-coloured glacial lakes and welcoming towns and villages.

Tomorrow is St Patrick's Day, but the celebrations don't stop there because 2013 is the year of The Gathering (thegatheringireland.com), a 365-day initiative to encourage people with Irish heritage to visit. There are hundreds of events taking place all over Kerry and beyond.

The predominately coastal Ring actually starts and ends inland at Killarney (killarney.ie), a historic town set in an enchanting spot within Ireland's oldest protected wilderness, the Killarney National Park (killarneynationalpark.ie). The park is a fabulous tableau of heather-flecked mountains, sparkling, island-dotted lakes, monuments such as the 15th-century Ross Castle and Ireland's only herd of wild red deer.

At the centre of the park is Muckross Demesne, home to a friary and the 19th-century Muckross House, Gardens and Working Farm (00 353 64 667 0144; muckross-house.ie), sandwiched between Lough Leane and Muckross Lake. The estate, which hosted a visit from Queen Victoria in 1861, is open to the public; admission costs €7.50.

From Killarney, the N71 follows a twisting course gently ascending through the sublime scenery. You'll be grabbing your camera for the stunning panoramas of the lakes from Ladies' View – named in honour of Queen Victoria's ladies-in-waiting, who were similarly enthralled.

From Moll's Gap further uphill, the road descends to the coast and the charming heritage town of Kenmare, set on a sea inlet and founded in about 1670 by Sir William Petty. Reputed to be Ireland's first planned town, its streets are lined with boutiques, bars, restaurants and houses painted in a rainbow of colours. This year, Kenmare's inaugural festival of Irish music, the Feile Neidin (00 353 64 664 2268; kenmareirishmusicfestival.com), takes place on 5- 7 April with performances by the likes of the celebrated Kilfenora Ceili Band.

The Ring passes briefly inland through the charming village of Sneem and on to Caherdaniel, overlooking Derrynane Bay. Visit nearby Derrynane House (00 353 66 947 5113; heritageireland.ie), the ancestral home of the 19th-century politician and statesman Daniel O'Connell, known as the Liberator, who championed Irish freedom in Parliament. The lush, sprawling gardens with stunning coastal views and shady paths are enchanting (entry €3).

Waterville, roughly halfway around the Ring, is a town poised scenically between Ballinskelligs Bay and the dramatic Lough Currane, one of Ireland's best spots for sea trout fishing. Overlooking the water is a statue of the silent screen star Charlie Chaplin, who visited regularly with his family. Waterville now hosts the annual Charlie Chaplin Film Festival (chaplinfilmfestival.com), which this year is from 22-25 August.

As the N70 wends northwest, it passes some spectacular vistas towards Bolus Head and Valentia Island, where the first transatlantic cable was laid between Ireland and Newfoundland in 1866. At the bustling town of Caherciveen, you'll find imposing old barracks and pubs lining a quaint main street. From Caherciveen to Glenbeigh you can gaze across the water to the Dingle Peninsula before arriving at Killorglin.

Set on a hill on the banks of the River Laune, Killorglin is home to one of Ireland's oldest street festivals, Puck Fair (puckfair.ie), which is held this year on 10-12 August. The festival is thought to predate written records; traditionally, a wild goat is caught in the mountains and crowned King Puck for a weekend that includes a cattle fair, music sessions, amusements and extended pub-opening hours. From Killorglin, the Ring threads back to Killarney past the haunting MacGillycuddy's Reeks, a mountain range that includes Ireland's highest peak, the mist-shrouded 3,406ft-high Carrauntoohil, where you can also take a detour to see the majestic Gap of Dunloe. For more information see ireland.com.

Try the island life

Visible from several points along the Ring are the Skellig Islands, pictured (00 353 1 647 6912; heritageireland.ie), two almost vertical crags that dramatically poke out of the flinty waters of the Atlantic nearly eight miles off the coast. Vertigo sufferers would need to think twice about tackling Skellig Michael's ancient steps, which ascend steeply up the side of this Unesco World Heritage-listed monastic settlement. Established between the sixth and eighth centuries, it is one of Western Europe's most important early Christian domains, with six well-preserved, dry-built, beehive-shaped cells.

This year, Skellig Michael opens officially between 17 May and 27 September. Several local boat companies offer trips from Portmagee on the mainland, weather permitting. Visitors are also afforded amazing views and sounds of the smaller Little Skellig, with one of northern Europe's most important native and migratory seabird colonies of more than 70,000 gannets, kittiwakes, arctic terns, razorbills, shearwaters and puffins.

Des Lavelle (00 353 87 2371017; skelligboattrips.com) offers trips departing from Portmagee, as does Casey's (00 353 66 947 2437; skelligislands.com) between April and October. Trips cost €45pp, except in July and August when it rises to €50. Booking is essential.

Walk this way

The Kerry Way (kerryway.com) is Ireland's longest and oldest walking route. It begins and ends in Killarney and roughly traces the Ring of Kerry route. At 135 miles, it's a challenge, and normally takes eight to nine days but it can be divided up. Tailor Made Tours (00 353 87 334 4031; tailor-madetours.com) arranges board and luggage transfers. Seven nights cost from €546pp. Celtic Trails (01291 689 774; celtic-trails.com) has seven- and 10-night self-guided Kerry Way tours. A week costs from £740pp, with B&B, some meals, guide pack, luggage transfer and transfer from Killarney station. The Discover Ireland website (discoverireland.com) has a tool listing linear and looped walks on and around the Ring.

Where to eat

The Bianconi (00 353 66 976 1146; bianconi.ie), is something of a local institution in Killorglin. Local seafood such as Cromane mussels and Dingle prawns are served at this convivial old-school inn. Meanwhile, it's no great shock that QC's serves some of the region's best seafood; it has a family-owned fishing fleet to call on (00 353 66 947 2244; qcbar.com). Highlights include calamari fritti and grilled lobster. And try O'Neill's The Point Seafood Bar (00 353 66 947 2165), Renard Pt, Caherciveen.

The great outdoors

In Kerry, you could experience all four seasons in one day. In the sunshine, its beaches can assume a Caribbean-like hue. Rossbeigh Beach, pictured, is one of the most spectacular, a long, golden spit jutting into the sea and where the legendary Finn McCool set off for Tir Na Nog (the land of eternal youth). It's also a popular spot for kite surfers and kayakers and horse rides can be booked locally with Burkes Beach Riding (00 353 87 237 9110; beachtrek.ie; from €25 per hour). Surfing, kayaking, kite surfing, golfing and fishing abound on the Ring. Mor Active (00 353 86 389 0171; activityireland.com) has activities including sea kayaking trips near Caherciveen and coasteering from about €40pp for a half-day. The area is also famed for its golf courses. Killarney Golf & Fishing (00 353 64 663 1034; killarney-golf.com) has three championship courses and has hosted the Irish Open on several occasions. Green fees start at €75 per day.

Travel Essentials

Where to stay

Ard Na Sidhe (00 353 66 976 9105; ardnasidhe.com), pictured, translates from Gaelic as "hill of the fairies" and there is something enchanting about this Arts & Crafts mansion in lush gardens on the edge of Caragh Lake (doubles from €180, B&B). The Park Hotel Kenmare (00 353 64 664 1200; parkkenmare.com) is renowned for traditional hospitality and its fabulous spa (doubles from €430 half board). It has links with Dromquinna Manor (00 353 65 664 2888; dromquinnamanor.com), a collection of luxury safari-style tents on the water's edge outside Kenmare (tents open May to Sep; €150 per night for two). Also on the edge of Kenmare, Shelburne Lodge (00 353 64 664 1013; shelburnelodge.com) is a charming country house-style B&B where doubles start at €100. B&B Ireland (bandbireland.com) has a comprehensive range of properties on the Ring of Kerry, including ones that are ideal for golfers, angler and walkers. For self-catering, Irish Cottage Holidays (00 353 1 205 2777; irishcottageholidays.com), Irish Country Cottages (0845 268 0796; irish-country-cottages.com) and Owners Direct (ownersdirect.co.uk) all offer good selections.

Getting there

Ryanair (0871 246 0000; ryanair.com) flies from Stansted and Luton to Kerry airport (kerryairport.com), roughly 30 minutes' drive from Killarney. Aer Lingus (0871 718 5000; aerlingus.com) has connections via Dublin from several UK airports. Departing passengers must pay a €10 "Airport Development Fee". To avoid it, Cork airport (corkairport.com) is about a 90-minute drive away from Killarney with links on Aer Lingus, Ryanair and Jet2 (0871 226 1757; jet2.com).

Getting around

Car hire is essential for exploring the Ring of Kerry. Most tour buses, which do cause traffic jams in peak season, travel in an anti-clockwise direction, so car drivers are advised to take a clockwise path to avoid congestion. Argus Car Hire (0844 330 2581; arguscarhire.com) offers seven days' car hire from Killarney from £61.

Another great way to get around is on two wheels. The Ring of Kerry Cycle Route is a sign-posted 134-mile trail that roughly traces the main route, but uses quieter roads for some sections. Bike hire is available in many of the bigger towns and villages – some have arrangements where bikes can be dropped off in different towns. Casey Cycles in Caherciveen (00 353 66 947 2474; bikehirekerry.com) offers rentals from €15 per day. Irish Cycling Safaris (00 353 1 260 0749; cyclingsafaris.com) has four-night self‑guided tours, from €445pp, which include bed and breakfast accommodation, cycle hire, luggage transfers and maps.

The Independent travel offers: Discover a world of inspiring destinations

News
i100
News
Netherlands' goalkeeper Tim Krul fails to make a save from Costa Rica's midfielder Celso Borges during a penalty shoot-out in the quarter-final between Netherlands and Costa Rica during the 2014 FIFA World Cup
newsGoalkeepers suffer from 'gambler’s fallacy' during shoot-outs
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'
filmReview: A week late, Secret Cinema arrives as interactive screening goes Back to the Future
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Travel
travel
Arts and Entertainment
Sydney and Melbourne are locked in a row over giant milk crates
artCultural relations between Sydney and Melbourne soured by row over milk crate art instillation
Arts and Entertainment
Adèle Exarchopoulos and Léa Seydoux play teeneage lovers in the French erotic drama 'Blue Is The Warmest Colour' - The survey found four times as many women admitting to same-sex experiences than 20 years ago
filmBlue Is The Warmest Colour, Bojack Horseman and Hobbit on the way
Arts and Entertainment
Preparations begin for Edinburgh Festival 2014
Edinburgh festivalAll the best shows to see at Edinburgh this year
News
Two giraffes pictured on Garsfontein Road, Centurion, South Africa.
i100
Environment
View from the Llanberis Track to the mountain lake Llyn
Du’r Arddu
environmentA large chunk of Mount Snowdon, in north Wales, is up for sale
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    SQL DBA/ C# Developer - T-SQL, C#.Net

    £45000 - £55000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Working with an exciting ...

    Sales and Office Administrator – Sports Media

    £23,000: Sauce Recruitment: A global leader in sports and entertainment is now...

    C++ Software Engineer - Hounslow, West London - C++ - to £60K +

    £40000 - £60000 per annum + Pension, Healthcare : Deerfoot IT Resources Limite...

    VB.NET and C# developer (VB.NET,C#,ASP.NET)

    £30000 - £45000 per annum + Bonus+Benefits+Package: Harrington Starr: VB.NET a...

    Day In a Page

    Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

    Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

    Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
    Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

    Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

    When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
    5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

    In grandfather's footsteps

    5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during WWI. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
    Lifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot ... to take photos of her farm

    Martha Stewart has flying robot

    The lifestyle guru used the drone to get a bird's eye view her 153-acre farm in Bedford, New York
    Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

    Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

    Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
    A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

    A tale of two presidents

    George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
    Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover

    The dining car makes a comeback

    Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover
    Gallery rage: How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?

    Gallery rage

    How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?
    Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players

    Eye on the prize

    Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
    Women's rugby: Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup

    Women's rugby

    Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup
    Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

    The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

    With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
    Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

    How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

    As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
    We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

    We will remember them

    Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
    Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

    Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

    Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
    Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

    Acting in video games gets a makeover

    David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices