The Ring of Kerry drive on the Iveragh Peninsula is one of the best known scenic drives in Ireland, if not the world. And for good reason! The views it offers–of the sea, rugged mountains, cliffs, lakes and farmlands–will stay with you for a lifetime.
So it only stands to reason that it is a popular drive. That means traffic and tour buses. Factor in driving on the left, narrow roads, and your understandable desire to gape at each vista, and you can have a stressful driving situation.
Here are some ideas to help you get the most out of your visit to the Ring of Kerry.
A good plan
Give yourself time! Don’t try to do it in a single day. You will get weary of driving and not have a chance to actually stop and enjoy the scenery. You can easily spend 2 – 3 days exploring, especially if you wish to actually spend time doing things outside of your car, like taking a hike or exploring a ruin or art studio off the main road. If you are limited to two days, allot one of them to explore Killarney National Park and Muckross House and gardens.
When booking accommodations, stay close to the ring so you can start your days of exploration early, beating the crowds and tour buses and making the most of each day. Our Ireland Untour is based in Kenmare, a charming town just minutes from the ring. Guests stay for a week, so they can return easily to the Iveragh Peninsula on multiple occasions while avoiding the tourist crowds of Killarney.
Driving and tour buses
The volume of tour buses on the Ring of Kerry is impressive. Don’t be daunted by these behemoths, even as they might be barreling around the bend toward you. A few things to keep in mind as you drive your way around the ring.
- The speed limit of 100km/hour is a joke. For most of the roadway, this speed (about 60 miles per hour) would be reckless and unsafe. Drive the speed that feels comfortable, a speed that is significantly slower than the limit posted on the signs.
- Be certain you are comfortable driving on the left side of the road before you set out on the Ring of Kerry. Follow our tips for driving on the left and be a confident driver before you attempt ring road driving.
- If you are staying in Kenmare, consider exploring the Beara Peninsula first. Its views are similarly breathtaking, and some of its roads and driving conditions present similar challenges to the Ring of Kerry. However, this untouristy peninsula gets less traffic and no tour buses. It is well worth a visit and provides a perfect place to develop skills that will help you on other rings.
- Tour buses tend to follow the ring road counterclockwise, so if you don’t want to be behind them, head in the opposite direction. Do remember, they have the right of way, so be prepared to back up and let them pass. Better yet, approach the narrow sections of the road slowly, and yield to them and other oncoming traffic.
- If dealing with oncoming buses causes you more stress, consider driving counterclockwise with the buses. If you trail a bus, all oncoming traffic will yield to you. It limits your view, but it also slows you down, so you may have a better chance to glance out your side window.
- Take advantage of those scenic pull offs. Pack a picnic so you can find a remote spot to eat and enjoy the views without a motorcoach full of tourists joining you.
- Take the side roads. Detours like the Skellig Ring will take you through some of Kerry’s most picturesque valleys and to some of its most gorgeous peaks. Such narrow roads are unsuitable for large tour buses, so you will have these villages, shores and ruins to yourself.
- Pace yourself. Try to build in some stops so you can get out of the car, stretch your legs, walk around, and enjoy being there, not just passing through. The driver will surely appreciate it, and it will increase enjoyment for all in the car.
- If you are prone to carsickness, bring whatever remedy you prefer to manage it.
Our favorite places on the Ring of Kerry
There is just so much to see and enjoy on the Iveragh Peninsula, it is hard to imagine that anyone “does” the Ring of Kerry in a single day. Don’t miss these gems:
The Staigue Fort
The ancient ring forts of County Kerry are impressive, defensive forts thought to be build during the Iron Age, very roughly 500 – 300 BC. Massive piles of small rocks still standing as protective walls thousands of years later, and without the aid of mortar to hold them together! The Staigue Fort is our favorite one to explore.
The Skellig Ring
Dodge the buses on this scenic loop that takes in the wildest, western-most part of the peninsula. From its heights you can see the Skellig Islands and onwards to the Dingle Peninsula. Favorite stops include charming towns like Waterville, the Skellig Ring Chocolate Factory, and the Cill Rialaig Arts Centre, where visiting artists on retreat show their creations. (Come to admire the center’s thatched roof and stay to dine.) Pick up a local map and venture off to the ruins on the side roads. Or take a boat trip out to Skellig Michael.
Shannon National Park
Green. Green. Green. Highlights include the Torc Waterfall and its surrounding walking trails through moss-covered forest. The Muckross House and gardens are a treasure, as is the historic farmstead on its grounds. If you grow weary of driving, consider forking over some euro to the horsemen and take a scenic horse and buggy ride between them.
Follow the hand-lettered signs on trees by the roadside. Take a turnoff and visit some of the wood carvers and potters who reside in this heavenly part of the world. Art is alive and well in southwest Ireland, as many creatives are drawn to its dramatic views and fertile quiet. The Kerry Craft Trail stretches to this peninsula where gifted artists work and live.
Enjoy your time on the Ring of Kerry! And consider booking an Ireland Untour. Our vacation rental apartments are on the edge of the ring and our local host there can orient you to the sights and driving.
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