Killarney ended up being one of our favorite towns of the trip. A small town of under 15,000 people, but large enough to have loads of things to see and do without being overwhelmed by tourists or college kids. Easily walkable, with access to a national park, a castle, an abandoned abbey, and great food and pubs for a pint. The jaunting car, a small horse drawn carriage, is king in Killarney, and you’ll find them throughout town and at all of the major local attractions. Cars aren’t allowed in the national park so jaunting cars often serve as taxis from site to site or for longer tours. There’s also a decent whiskey bar in town which was essential to my ongoing whiskey studies. There’s also a beautiful 111 mile ring road around the peninsula called the Ring of Kerry that offers a day of spectacular views (weather permitting). And it was a great location to get to Portmagee for our attempt at landing on Skellig Michael. I highly recommend visiting if you’re in the southwest of Ireland (and you should be).
Walking around town.
Killarney has lots of character with old world traditional pubs and ornate storefronts, stone churches, and hidden lanes. The town is still active with friendly local residents and it seemed like more of them than visitors, at least while we were there. You’ll find traditional chipperies and Irish comfort food, but also an equal amount of cheap eats, asian food, and health and modern eateries. Most of the action can be found down High street/ Main street and New street or where N71 wraps around the southern part of town.
Our favorite food spot.
This place didn’t make it on to any online lists of places to eat in Killarney but we happened upon it our first evening and ended up going back a few times. It’s self described as “Irish comfort food” and that’s a good enough description. All the standard classics done well and affordable. You could find a queue of locals lunch or dinner, rain or shine. The place had a 50’s kind of diner vibe, a family business, and all of the waiters were older females. Perfect place for a pint and some stew. Probably the best beef stew I had in Ireland.
About a 10 min drive or 40 minute walk outside of town on beautiful Lough Leane sits the 15th century ruined Ross Castle sacked by Cromwell. The setting is pristine and from here you can book small motor boats to nearby locations. There’s not too much to see at the Castle. You can walk around it in about 15 minutes. There’s a 6 person tour of the inside hourly but you need to reserve a spot by phone and we had not. There are trails around the lake and it looked like you could rent a rowboat possibly.
Muckross Abbey and Muckross House
I met up with Katy after her Gap of Dunloe hike and we grabbed a hop-on bus on its last round. We only had about 20 minutes at the Muckross House, choosing the Abbey instead, but the grounds were pretty cool with access to the lake. It’s mostly famous as the location the queen stayed once for a couple of days but apparently that put the town on the map for tourists. We had an hour and a half at the Abbey which turned out to be the right choice. A Franciscan friary built in 1448, the structure though lacking a roof, remains in good condition. It was abandoned after Cromwell also sacked it (apparently Cromwell was quite the douche bag around these parts) but remains an active cemetery. Especially cool is the internal courtyard with ancient yew tree said to be as old as the abbey. There’s a full second floor you can explore along with plenty of rooms and stairwells. There’s a 10-15 minute walk from entrance to abbey but plenty of jaunting cars to take you if you want.
Jaunting car ride
At first I wasn’t sure. These jaunting cars seemed much like the tourist-only buggies driving around New Orleans and the like. I always feel bad for the horses. But jaunting cars are an old tradition here in Killarney and plenty of them. The drivers are often multi-generational and are full of local knowledge (most of it true). Cars aren’t allowed in the national park or along the wooded paths so people use jaunting cars to get from location to location and you’ll find them parked like taxis at most of the major sites. Or you can book a longer tour like we did and see a bit of the park. We started in town, went through the park to the castle, and then back.
Torc is a decent sized waterfall a short walk through a mossy forest on a mostly dirt path. There’s a parking lot at the trailhead which makes it easy to reach but it’s also very popular and was cluttered with families on holiday. Not the best place for a quiet forest experience but the woods were lovely. You can connect with the trail that goes around the lake across the road. There’s no lake access but Muckross House is a couple of miles away along the path.
Tea in the Park
After visiting St. Mary’s Cathedral, we crossed the street and into the national park where we found this great little tea house and cafe called Deenagh Lodge. Great treats and a bit of hot tea on a cold day.
St. Mary’s Cathedral
Started in 1842, the St. Mary’s Cathedral is an impressive structure. It sits just outside of town in a large field near the park. It is open to visitors but when we were there, there were active worshippers, so we tried to be as unobtrusive as possible with minimal photos. It was really quiet, a shutter click sounded like snapping your fingers.
Ring of Kerry tour
One of the main attractions near Killarney is the Ring of Kerry drive, an 111 mile route which circles the peninsula that comprises County Kerry. An amazing drive that includes many of the sites near Killarney that I’ve written about on their own. We decided to book a bus tour as we’d had good luck with tours in Ireland and the weather was supposed be a lovely sunny day. But this tour for multiple reasons turned out to be our worst tour to date. Our driver was friendly but quite old and the tour was essentially seeing the sites with your neighbor’s grandpa. Much of the commentary revolved around his personal life experiences as a child and a point by point discussion of the game that was on last night. Which might have been charming except there were almost no stops and the ones we did have were commercial stops (which the operator was humorously annoyed by). The first was a 40 minute stop at a traditional bog village (for a fee) so we chose to have a few drinks at the pub across the street instead. We stopped briefly for an uninteresting view of Dingle Bay, one of the few places the bus had room to pull over. Then straight down to Waterville for a brief lunch at a specific lunch spot arranged by the tour (not provided). The weather then turned to rain, not the tour’s fault of course, but the rest of the drive was like driving through a cloud with heavy winds and rain. There wasn’t enough time scheduled to eat and see the town and the driver made it clear you couldn’t eat on the bus, so you had to choose food or a few minutes of site seeing, which was rendered moot by the rain anyway. Next we drove to the town of Sneem, which was awesome for the name alone, but we only got 15 minutes before the bus was leaving so we snapped a couple of photos and used the bathroom at a bar, paying customers only, so we did a couple whiskey shots before racing back to the bus. Then one final stop at Ladies View which was supposed to be the tour’s money shot, one good scenic stop the whole ride, but the view was entirely white with a solid rain. Then a silent ride back into town. A full day of pretty much nothing. These are the only photos I managed to take the whole day. I recommend booking a tour with a smaller vehicle, preferably a car, so that stops are possible and double checking locations and commercial stops. It’s a long drive so these can eat up all of your view time.