Situated on the west coast of Ireland, the Ring of Kerry is one of the Emerald Isle's most popular tourist trails. Following three roads a distance of 170 kilometres, the circular driving route takes in the whole of the Iveragh Peninsula. An 8-day walking trail, the Kerry Way, follows roughly the same route, and is the longest walking trail in the country.
There are enough abbeys, churches and pretty little towns along the Ring of Kerry to keep you busy for weeks, but it's the stunning coastal and mountain scenery that really steals the show, and the best way to experience local life is by staying in a traditional Kerry B&B.
The traditional starting point is the town of Killarney, on the shores of Lough Leane. A popular tourist destination for over 250 years, Killarney has plenty to offer the visitor, with a wide choice of shops, restaurants, historical attractions and sporting activities, not to mention direct access to Killarney National Park, a designated UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve, and home to Carrauntoohil, the largest mountain in the Republic of Ireland.
Just a few minutes from the lively town centre is Crystal Springs B&B, a friendly guesthouse with a range of rooms overlooking manicured gardens and the River Flesk. All the rooms of this Killarney B&B are fully equipped with en-suite bathrooms, TVs with DVD, tea/coffee-making facilities and wireless internet access. The comfortable beds and cosy duvets will make sure you get a good night's sleep before you start your journey round the Ring of Kerry.See more Killarney B&Bs
Most people travel the ring of Kerry in an anti-clockwise direction, both to avoid meeting a tour bus coming in the other direction and also to give the driver a better view of the incredible scenery. From Killarney town the route follows the N72 west to Killorglin, a small town whose population increases dramatically each year for the Puck Fair, one of Ireland's oldest traditional fairs.
Spend the night at The Grove Lodge B&B, an elegant country house set on three acres of woodland and mature gardens, bordered by the River Laune. A five-minute walk from the town centre, guests can enjoy a perfect night's sleep in a four poster bed before tucking into an extensive breakfast menu which includes homemade griddle cakes drizzled with local honey.
At Killorglin the N72 meets the N70, and the Ring of Kerry continues west along the northern coast of the peninsula, passing by the Bog Village Museum, a thatched village showing Irish life in the eighteenth century. Just before the road turns south, it passes through Cahersiveen, a small town situated by the River Fertha on the slopes of Beentee Mountain. Points of interest include the Daniel O'Connell Memorial Church, Ballycarbery Castle, Leacanabuaile Fort and Cahergall Fort.
Located on a small point of land just outside the town, Ferryview is a family-run B&B with four guestrooms, all featuring en-suite bathrooms with steam showers and jacuzzi baths. Enjoy a cup of tea and a homemade scone with owners Jim and Mary, stroll around town and soak in the atmosphere of rural Irish life or take the ferry to Knightstown on Valentia Island, one of Europe's westernmost inhabited locations.
Make a slight detour west to take in the traditional village of Ballinskelligs and stay at Rascals The Old School House, a lovingly restored nineteenth century building surrounded by rolling hills and just a mile from a beautiful sandy beach. Guests can relax in front of an open turf fire and share a story or a song with their friendly hosts.
South of the Skellig Ring is the town of Waterville, a favourite holiday spot of Charlie Chaplin and the prime tourist resort on the Ring of Kerry, with mountains, lakes, beaches and a long list of activities available including horse riding, fishing, diving, surfing, canoeing and sailing. Play a round of golf at the Waterville Golf Course, one of the European championship courses, or take a boat trip out to the Skelligs.
While in Waterville, why not stay at Brookhaven Guest House, a country house located just outside the town, overlooking the Waterville Championship Golf Course. Every spacious en-suite room enjoys Atlantic Ocean views, and a full Irish breakfast is included in the rates.
Alternatively, history buffs will enjoy spending a night at The Old Cable House, closer to the centre of town. Dating back to 1866, the historic house traces its origins back to the first transatlantic telegraph cables, and now offers comfy beds and delicious breakfasts to visitors to the Ring of Kerry.
After Waterville, the N70 continues south to the picturesque village of Caherdaniel, before turning back east towards Sneem, the perfect place for a spot of lunch. The last sizeable town before you head back to Killarney through the National Park is Kenmare, a charming market town with plenty of good restaurants, antique shops and an ancient stone circle.
Find out more information about travel in Ireland at DiscoverIreland.com.
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By Eleanor Brown