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 shore 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.
Why Killarney, Ireland Needs to Be Your Next Vacation Destination
*This post contains affiliate links and I may be compensated if you make a purchase after clicking on those links. As always opinions are 100% my own.
1. The town of Killarney is a gem
Killarney is small 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. The heart of town has an endless number of restaurants and lively pubs, mixed with local shops. We enjoyed delicious meals at Bricin (highly recommend the boxtys and the owners are phenomenal people), Stonechat Cafe, and Celtic Whiskey Bar.
2. Killarney National Park has endless opportunities to get lost in nature
Killarney National Park is over 26,000 acres of mountains, lakes, and waterfalls. The best way to see Killarney National Park is a mixture of transportation. 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.
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.
3. There’s a castle to explore: Ross Castle
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 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 and visitors need around an hour to explore the castle and its grounds.
4. Get in touch with nature on a hike or bike ride of the Gap of Dunloe
The Gap of Dunloe is a gorgeous hike through “The Gap”, a mountain pass between MacGillycuddy’s Reeks and the Purple Mountain. Along the way you’ll pass five 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 tour through Killarney Day Tour, which delivered me to to Kate Kearney’s Cottage. From there I walked to Lord Brandon’s Cottage, 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 tours can be booked as well, but note the jaunting cars don’t seem to stop along the route, but 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 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.
A 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. There’s an on-site cafe, shop, and walking paths to explore as well.
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 an 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. The weather was magnificent that day and we were grateful for the opportunity to have a local show us the ins and outs of the area.
Writing this post makes me want to plan a return trip to Killarney because I don’t think a single visit can do the area the justice it deserves.
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 5 to 15 minute walk along Muckross Road, such as The Brehon. For a property with stunning views and amenities, but a bit outside of town, consider The Europe Hotel & Resort.