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Things to Do in Killarney

Tucked away in Ireland’s southwest corner, Killarney is the last major outpost before reaching the Emerald Isle’s Wild Atlantic Way. Despite its small size, the city sees a fair amount of traffic thanks to its strategic location at the starting point for the Ring of Kerry, a scenic drive that loops around the Iveragh Peninsula, taking in the highlights of County Kerry. While a host of leprechaun-themed souvenir shops and hotels have sprung up to satisfy the influx of travelers, Killarney remains unmistakably Irish, and a tour guide can offers a real insider’s perspective. It’s an ideal place to discover Ireland’s pub scene, tuck into a steaming bowl of Irish stew, or listen to some traditional Irish folk music. The area’s top attraction, Killarney National Park, lies just outside of town, boasting a trio of natural lakes overlooked by the Macgillycuddy’s Reeks, Ireland’s highest mountain range. In addition to hiking and biking adventures, visitors can enjoy kayaking and boat tours, marvel at natural wonders like the Gap of Dunloe and Torc Waterfall, and explore historic sites such as Muckross House and Ross Castle. Outside the city limits, there are ample opportunities for day trips, including Cork and Blarney Castle; the Dingle Peninsula and Slea Head; and, of course, the Ring of Kerry.
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Killarney National Park
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Killarney National Park, with idyllic lakes and ancient woodlands backed by the serrated MacGillycuddy’s Reeks mountains, is an area of stunning natural beauty. The park is also historically significant, with two heritage buildings on-site: Ross Castle, a 15th-century fortress-turned-hotel, and Muckross House, a stately Victorian estate.

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Ross Castle
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A vision on the shores of Lough Leane, the 15th-century Ross Castle was built as a medieval fortress for an Irish chieftain named O’Donoghue, and was said to be one of the last strongholds to fall to the brutal English Cromwellian forces in the mid-16th century. The ruin has been restored, and features lovely 16th- and 17th-century furniture.

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Gap of Dunloe (Bearna an Choimín)
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The lake-studded glacial valley known as the Gap of Dunloe (Bearna an Choimín) is wedged between County Kerry’s Purple Mountain and MacGillycuddy's Reeks mountain range. The rugged natural scenery along the 7-mile (11-kilometer) paved mountain pass made it a magnet for sublime-seeking, 19th-century, Romantic writers such as William Thackeray and Alfred Lord Tennyson, who waxed lyrical about its beauty. Despite its popularity, the landscape remains as unspoiled as ever.

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Torc Waterfall
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Experience the natural beauty of County Kerry with a visit to the Torc Waterfall. Located a short walk from the Killarney–Kenmare road, in Killarney National Park, Torc Waterfall is part of the River Owengariff and flows into Muckross (Middle) Lake. The site is a popular spot on the area’s scenic drives and hiking routes.

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Muckross House, Gardens & Traditional Farms
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One of Ireland’s finest stately mansions, the 65-room Muckross House was built for the Herbert family in 1843. Muckross House, Gardens & Traditional Farms sits on the shores of Muckross Lake and is replete with period furnishings and decorative objectives. Three recreated farms on the estate showcase the life of rural dwellers in the 1930s and ’40s.

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Ladies View
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In the heart of Killarney National Park, Ladies View has a way of showing that natural beauty is timeless. Back in 1861, when Queen Victoria’s ladies-in-waiting visited this Kerry overlook, they were so enamored with the view of the lakes that the picturesque promontory still carries their regal name today. From this panoramic overlook off of N71, gaze down on the three lakes that sit at the middle of the park, and since the light here is constantly changing, if you simply sit and reflect for an hour you may see rainbows, shadows and beams of light that dance on the surrounding hills. Just up the road from the main overlook, there is another parking area with a small trail that offers views of the upper lake, and when standing here on this windswept ridge gazing out on the view below, it’s like looking through a portal to Ireland’s past—where the raw beauty of the Irish countryside exists in its natural state.

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Muckross Abbey
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Founded in the 1440s as a Franciscan Friary, the Muckross Abbey, like many religious sites in Ireland, has a long and violent past. Damaged and rebuilt several times, what remains is an intriguing collection of well-preserved mossy ruins. Visitors are drawn to the beloved yew tree, thought to be more than 500 years old, that grows within the Abbey walls.

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Skellig Michael
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Famously used as a filming location in theStar Wars sequel trilogy, the rocky peak of Skellig Michael sits amid the wind-whipped Atlantic off the southwest coast of Ireland, reaching a height of 712 feet (217 meters). A former hideaway for hermit monks between the sixth and 12th centuries, this UNESCO World Heritage Site is now uninhabited, though the remnants of the old monastic settlement, including historic beehive huts, are still scattered across the island.

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Aghadoe Cathedral (Aghadoe Church and Round Tower)
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A historic landmark outside of Killarney, the Aghadoe Cathedral (Aghadoe Church and Round Tower) sits atop Aghadoe Hill. There has been a monastery on the site dating back to the 7th century, but the current ruins date to the 12th. Come for the mountain and lake views, and take advantage of the few on-site benches, ideal for warm-weather picnics.

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Gougane Barra
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When strolling through the trees of the Gougana Barra National Forest Park, and gazing out at the placid waters of Gougana Barra’s lake, you can see why this corner of southwestern Ireland was a place of historical solace. It was here on the island in the middle of the lake, that St. Finnbar—patron saint of Cork—founded a monastery in the 6th century before eventually moving to Cork. When visiting the Gougane Barra today, the most popular site is St. Finnbar’s Oratory on a small island in the lake. With its romantically elegant stone design, this 19th-century, picturesque church is a popular spot for weddings, and it’s also a holy pilgrimage site—where Roman Catholics would hold secret Mass away from the Anglican Church. Behind the lake is the National Forest Park and its system of hiking and biking trails, which pass through woods that are densely forested in Sitka Spruce and Pine. This is also the site of the River Lee—which meanders its way through Cork—and while Gougane Barra is most often visited as a relaxing day trip from Cork, there’s also a small, family-run hotel that’s open from April-October.

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