Follow the Wild Atlantic Way on the Ring of Kerry
The 170km Ring of Kerry hugging Ireland’s South-West coast represents some of the most spectacular seascapes you will encounter anywhere on the Wild Atlantic Way. DON’T leave Ireland with doing “The Ring”.
Killarney is an ideal gateway to the Wild Atlantic Way in the South-West. The riverside town of Killorglin, just 20 minutes drive from Killarney, marks the start of the world-famous route on the Ring of Kerry loop (Alternatively, pick the route up again at Kenmare if you are travelling to the Beara Peninsula and West Cork). The day-long Ring of Kerry has long been regarded as one of the absolute highlights of any visit to Ireland, if not Europe.
In 2016, the Lonely Planet guidebook gurus voted an offshoot of the Ring of Kerry, the Skellig Ring, as one of the world’s top regions to visit.
Do consider branching off on the Skellig Ring on your Kerry adventure. Driving the 18km Skellig Ring overlooking the iconic Skellig Islands is not for the faint-hearted. The narrow road (strictly off limits to coaches) includes dizzyingly steep hills and blind bends but the rewards are awesome.
So, here are some considerations to bear in mind when you plan your Ring of Kerry. If you would prefer to take a break from driving, we will advise you on coach tours that have the advantage of guided commentaries and take in the elemental seascapes of the coast.
If, in the spirit of discovery, you want to meander down some of the side roads and follow the Wild Atlantic Way into tiny villages and remoter coastal sections, go for it. Make sure, though, that you make a very early start because there will be so much extra to fit into the day.
Remember too that all coaches and general tourist traffic circle the Ring of Kerry in an anti-clockwise direction from Killarney to make life easier for everyone. Just think of Killorglin as your first stop on the route to get your head in gear.
What’s worth branching off the Ring for?
Valentia Island, The Skellig Ring, Derrynane Beach and Staigue Fort are our top recommendations. Realistically, you won’t fit all these extras into a single day, so talk to us about making the difficult choices.
Ring of Kerry Route
Leaving Killarney on the N72, the peaks of the MacGillycuddy's Reeks on your left include Ireland’s highest mountain, Carrantuohill, peaking at 1038m (3411ft). The Gap of Dunloe, a break opened in this range by a glacier, is one of the most picturesque glaciated valleys in Europe.
The Wild Atlantic Way officially begins at the town of Killorglin where the N70 takes over from the N72. Look out for the statue of a goat with a crown on your left where the bridge enters Killorglin. The goat or “King Puck” is the focus of Killorglin’s annual festival, “Puck Fair”, which takes place on August 10th, 11th and 12th. This is the festival where the goat gets to be king for three days and the people get to act the goat!
After Killorglin, you will pass on your left the Kerry Bog Village and Museum based on the work and livelihood of people in 18th century Ireland. The next flower-bedecked village, Glenbeigh, is the gateway to Rossbeigh Beach -
a great place to stretch your legs and breath in the Atlantic air.
Back on the N70, where, shortly, the road opens out onto panoramic mountain and sea views across Dingle Bay to the Dingle Peninsula and the Blasket Islands. There are several lay-bys on your right for photo opportunities. A mile later, a slip road on your right drops to the little fishing harbour at Kell’s Bay and to Kell’s Gardens where New Zealand tree ferns flourish out of doors thanks to the benign microclimate of the Gulf Stream. A novelty Sky Walk through the treetops was introduced in 2017.
The town of Caherciveen is the next stop on your travels. A traditional market town, Caherciveen is the town least influenced by tourism on the Ring. It’s the birthplace of Daniel O’Connell, a 19th century political leader and human rights campaigner, who was Ireland’s version of Gandhi and Nelson Mandela. It boasts several interesting cafes and bar and is a good place for a lunch stop. If you’re into quaint Irish bars, check out Mike Murts on your left as you enter town.
Your first option to get off the main Ring route and to discover the remoter charms and adventure of the Wild Atlantic Way crops up on your right-hand side just beyond Caherciveen. We suggest you take the Valentia Island Ferry turn-off. The ferry crossing takes just minutes. Knightstown at the ferry dock, Geokaun Mountain, Bray Head with its views of the Skellig Islands and the Skellig Experience visitor centre are all to be recommended. If time is a consideration and the skies are blue, head for Geokaun Mountain where the views are to die for.
You exit the island via a bridge linking the island to the fishing village of Portmagee (cute village with great seafood) where you can begin the Skellig Ring. Re-join the main Ring just before the town of Waterville.
However, if time or weather is against you, continue your way through Caherciveen and follow directions for Waterville on the N70.
Waterville and Charlie Chaplin
Waterville, sitting right on the Atlantic, was the holiday haunt of Charlie Chaplin and his wife, Oonagh O’Neill, and family in the 1960s. It boasts two outstanding links golf courses and has hosted Tiger Woods, the late Payne Stewart and other golfing luminaries. Again, it’s a good place good place to stop for lunch but can be over-busy between noon and 1pm in high season because it’s a popular coach stop.
Waterville is also a famous game angling resort, it has an 18-hole championship golf links course (one of the top 20 in the world!) and also a fantastic sandy beach. DO get your picture taken at the Charlie Chaplin sculpture.
As you continue your journey on the N70 from Waterville to Caherdaniel, you will rise to the Coomakista (gaelic for field of the treasure) Pass. At the top, get your camera ready – park up, and admire the views of the Kenmare River, the Scariff and Deenish Islands.
If it’s fine day, walk the magnificent Derrynane Beach, and visit the gardens at Derrynane House.
Next on the itinerary must be a visit to the hillside Staigue Fort, a large stone fort, about 4km off the N70. A major archaeological site, it’s thought to be over 2,000 years old. This diversion to the left will take at least 30 minutes because the road is steep.
Next stop is the colourful village of Sneem, a former national Tidy Towns winner that President Charles de Gaulle of France put on the map when he visited in 1969. Sneem is a village for choices. If you have meandered too much and you are running out of time, take the left turn out of Sneem on the R568 road to Moll’s Gap where you will re-join the N71 road back down into the Killarney Valley.
Plenty of time and you’re up for more?
Then, continue straight on the N70 out of Sneem. The regal Parknasilla Hotel on your left, built during Queen Victoria’s reign, is well-worth a visit. Princess Grace of Monaco and the writer, George Bernard Shaw, are among the famous guests who holidayed here. Prepare yourself for more stunning sea vistas on your right as you edge along the shores of Kenmare Bay to the heritage town of Kenmare, which is regarded as the "The Jewel on the Ring of Kerry". Stroll around its charming streets to find out why.
Moll’s Gap and Ladies’ View
Continue north on the N71 to Moll’s Gap for the last leg of the journey. You are now coming full circle on the other side of the mountain range that you passed in the morning. Pull over at Moll’s Gap viewing park on your right and admire the MacGillycuddy Reeks, the Black Valley and the sweep of the Killarney Valley with its necklace of three lakes.
Down the road you will come to “Ladies View”, one of the most beautiful views of the upper, lower and middle lakes, and the National Park. The beauty spot takes its name from a visit of Queen Victoria’s ladies-in-waiting in 1861.
Again, depending on time, you could visit Torc Waterfall and Muckross House and Gardens on your way back into Killarney town. If not, mark them down for the next day along with Ross Castle.
Wrap up a day of driving with a nice meal in one of Killarney's many award-winning restaurants, followed by a lively traditional Irish music session in one of the local pubs. The town has a buzzing nightlife scene and a warm and friendly atmosphere. It offers so much to see and do, so it's easy to see why it is one of Ireland's best-loved tourist resorts.