The western coast of Ireland is home to some of the island’s most stunning scenery with emerald green pastures, dramatic mountains, and majestic coastlines. Killarney is the perfect home base for exploring the area, a town on the edge of Lough Leane, one of the famous lakes of Killarney National Park. The town itself has quite a bit to offer, from shopping and dining to hiking and cycling, with a lot of Irish history thrown in for good measure. These are some of the best things to do in Killarney that shouldn’t be missed.
*Disclosure: This post may contain affiliate links, which means we may receive a commission if you click a link and purchase something we have recommended. Please check out our disclosure policy for more details. Thank you for your support!
Table of Contents
What to Do in Killarney Ireland
1. Explore the town of Killarney
Killarney is a small town and easy to navigate on foot, but if you want to explore the surrounding area, it is necessary to rent a car, hire a driver, or book a tour.
There are an endless number of restaurants and lively pubs in the city center and along the main street, Muckross Road. Some of our favorite choices for live music are Murphy’s Bar and The Laurels Pub.
Some of the best restaurants in Killarney are Bricín (highly recommend the boxtys and the owners are phenomenal people), Garret’s, Killarney Brewing Company, Stonechat, and Celtic Whiskey Bar.
2. Get lost in nature at Killarney National Park
Killarney National Park is over 26,000 acres of mountains, lakes, and waterfalls. It is a UNESCO biosphere reserve, and one of the most popular things to do in Killarney. The best way to see Killarney National Park is a mixture of transportation.
Killarney National Park encompasses Ross Castle, the Gap of Dunloe, Innisfallen Island, Torc Waterfall, and Muckross House. Plan on spending several days exploring the area to enjoy the park’s spectacular beauty.
Families in Killarney might enjoy going for a boat ride on the lake or taking a ride on a jaunting cart (horse-drawn buggy). There are plenty of trails for adventurous hiking too. Consider cycling or walking the miles of paths throughout the park.
There are e-bikes available to rent in Killarney town at Killarney-Rent-A-Bike. We took a few out for a ride and explored the Muckross Estate, Muckross Lake, and the ruins of Muckross Abbey. This was a great way to see some of the area’s main attractions without a guided tour.
3. Seek out the castles in Killarney
Ross Castle is a 15th century tower house that sits just outside of Killarney. The castle originally belonged to Clan O’ Donoghue, the ruling clan of Killarney at the time.
There is a beautiful view of Lough Leane (the Lower Lake) from the castle as it looks over the lake and out to Innisfallen Island (home to the ruins of a 7th-century monastery). The castle was one of the last to fall to Cromwell’s forces. Visitors need around an hour to explore the castle and its grounds.
If you have time, you can take a quick boat trip to Innisfallen. Just ask one of the local captains for a ride. They are happy to give private tours and they don’t cost much. It’s a short distance by boat and it’s fun to go out on the lake.
There are a few other castles in the area. Castlelough Castle sits on the grounds of The Lake Hotel and is easy to access by foot, car, or bike. It is basically in ruins today, but it belonged to the MacCarthy clan for over 400 years. Parkavonear Castle is also near Killarney, but you will need a car to reach it. It’s the cylindrical ruins of a 13th-century castle with spectacular views over Lough Leane.
4. Take a hike or ride a bike through the Gap of Dunloe
The Gap of Dunloe is a gorgeous hike through “The Gap”, a mountain pass between MacGillycuddy’s Reeks (the highest mountain range in Ireland) and the Purple Mountain. Along the way, you’ll pass five beautiful lakes connected by the River Loe, with spectacular scenery and wildlife on all sides. The hike is somewhere between 10 to 12km (as the crow flies), along a paved path.
Be sure to bring snacks, water, and layers because the weather can change quickly (not a bad idea to throw in an umbrella too as there is no shelter along the route). A bike ride is an option as well, but the path is quite steep at times and might be difficult for some.
I booked a Gap of Dunloe tour through Killarney Day Tour, which delivered me to Kate Kearney’s Cottage (you can purchase water bottles here and there’s a coffee shop). From there I walked to Lord Brandon’s Cottage, and caught a boat across the lake (about an hour ride) to Ross Castle, where a bus waited to return us to our departure point. The trip can be done in reverse as well.
For those who don’t want to walk, bicycle tours are available, and jaunting car (horse-drawn carriage) tours can be booked as well, but note the jaunting cars don’t seem to stop along the route. These need to be booked at the beginning of the journey. The entire journey from beginning to end took about six hours (including the boat ride).
5. Drive the Ring of Kerry and discover a little bit of everything
The Ring of Kerry is one of the most famous destinations in Ireland and Killarney happens to be the perfect starting point for the 110-mile scenic tour around the Iveragh Peninsula.
Along the way, visitors will find castles, charming towns, and breathtaking views. Inveragh Peninsula things to do include the Ladies View, Torc Mountain and Torc Waterfall, Kenmare, Staigue Fort, Derrynane Beach, Portmagee, Valentia, and Skellig Rocks. Expect winding roads, historical sites, and a lot of traffic, but it’s a must-see for all visitors to the area.
6. Step back in time at Muckross House and Gardens
Muckross House and Gardens is a beautiful estate just outside Killarney. Built in the late 1830s for the wealthy Herbert family, the property hosted Queen Victoria on her visit to southwestern Ireland in 1861. The estate was the foundation for the first national park in Ireland, and Killarney National Park expanded on their land.
A self-guided tour provides a detailed look at the various owners of the house and the history of the estate. From spring to fall, visitors can also tour Muckross Traditional Farms, three separate working farms representing Irish life in the 1930s and 1940s.
It’s a fascinating look at agricultural life prior to electricity. The farms have a variety of events and hands-on demonstrations of life on the farm. There’s an on-site cafe, shop, and walking paths to explore as well.
Travel tip: Don’t miss a stop at Dinis Cottage located on Muckross Lake near the Old Weir Bridge. It’s the perfect place for coffee, tea, and snacks.
7. Connect with your inner Jedi at Skellig Michael
Just off the coast, about an hour boat ride from the Ring of Kerry lies the Skellig Islands. Many know them as the home of Luke Skywalker in the latest Star Wars films, but these islands are actually a UNESCO World Heritage Site with the remains of monastic huts from the 6th to 12th centuries.
Access to the islands is seasonal and demand is high so consider booking a tour on your own or go through the Skellig Experience Visitor Centre. A boat departs from Portmagee to the island where visitors proceed to climb 600 steep stairs to explore the beehive-shaped huts and ancient monastery and enjoy fantastic views.
8. Take a day trip to the Dingle Peninsula and see emerald beauty everywhere
We’ve covered some impressive scenery already, but I can’t leave out the Dingle Peninsula. A private tour with Killarney Tour & Taxi was one of my favorite things to do in Killarney. Our driver, Kevin, collected us early in the morning, and we set off to explore. He shared stories along the way and pulled over whenever requested for photo ops.
Along the way, he showed us some of his favorite spots including a view over Killarney Lakes, Inch Beach, beehive huts, Minard Castle, and Dingle town.
We even had an opportunity to hold lambs and feed horses and sheep. The weather was just as you expect, with everything from rain to sun. We were very grateful for the opportunity to have a local show us the ins and outs of the area. If you’re looking for some of the best hidden gems in Ireland, the Dingle Peninsula is the place to explore.
Where to Stay in Killarney
Killarney boasts lodging in all shapes and sizes. Some are located in the heart of town, like Killarney Royal, while others are anywhere from a 5 to 15-minute walk along Muckross Road, such as The Brehon and Cahernane House Hotel.
If you’re traveling with family and want the ideal place to use as a home base, we recommend The Birches. They have a family room that sleeps five, breakfast is included, there’s a car park, and it’s a short walk to town and the train station.
Book Your Flights – You can find discounted fares using sites like Momondo or Skyscanner. If you want to keep an eye on discount fares, we suggest signing up for Scott’s Cheap Flights, a daily newsletter with flight sales around the world.
If you travel frequently, consider investing in a Priority Pass for airport lounge access. It’s nice to have a space where you can relax before your flight.
Book Your Accommodation
We regularly use Expedia.com and Hotels.com to find lodging when we travel. It’s a great way to compare vacation rentals, hotels, and resorts.
If your family knows they want to stay in a vacation rental, we recommend looking at VRBO and Plum Guide.
Book Your Transportation
For rental car agencies, try Rentalcars.com. We tend to use Hertz simply for the quality of service. If you need airport transfers, we recommend Welcome Pickups.
When traveling in Europe, we use AutoEurope to make our bookings. They find the best rates and allow you to compare different car rental agencies. Europcar is another option. If you plan to take the train, we recommend using Rail Europe.
Book Your Tours and Travel Photos
We regularly used companies like Viator and GetYourGuide to book tours when we travel. Both have great communication and a large variety of activities that work for all ages. Other companies to look at include Tours by Locals and Withlocals.
If you’re visiting a city with multiple attractions, be sure to check out a discount pass, such as CityPASS or Go City. Both are worthwhile investments.
Context Travel is another option and they offer more educational-based activities. The former teacher in me loves their tours. For unique, curated activities, check out Headout.
One of our favorite things to do annually is taking photos with Flytographer. They have photographers around the world and we’ve used them on four separate occasions. This is our favorite travel souvenir.
Don’t Forget Travel Insurance
With the state of travel these days, it’s important to have some type of travel insurance to cover any unforeseen accidents, illnesses, threats, or cancellations. We always travel with insurance and would recommend SquareMouth, Travelex, or Medjet as good options. And if you want to compare different insurance options, use Travel Insurance Master or World Nomads to find the best policy for your group.