10 Free (or Almost Free) Things to Do on the Ring of Kerry
You've spent so much to get to Ireland - and loved Bunratty Castle, explored Dublin, kissed the Blarney stone, drank your Guiness. Your budget needs a break, yet you still want to enjoy Ireland. What to do?
There are tons of free and low-cost things to do on the Ring of Kerry. The Ring of Kerry is one of the most scenic drives in the world! Of course, you will have to buy gas for your car - but it is definitely worth it. Here are our top tips for a few days of extraordinary scenery and adventure by driving the Ring of Kerry. If you'd like to stay on the Ring of Kerry, we recommend the Most Picturesque Home on the Ring of Kerry for a rental!
1) Gap of Dunloe
Starting in Killarney (well, because, who doesn't?), you can bypass the expensive tours and pony traps through the Gap of Dunloe. The Gap of Dunloe is one of the most beautiful areas in County Kerry. The Gap of Dunloe is a narrow mountain pass, meandering between Macgillycuddy's Reeks (a mountain range that spreads throughout the Ring of Kerry) and the Purple Mountain (thus named because of the purple shale that covers the top of the mountain, and a much smaller mountain range). There are five lakes within the Gap (Coosaun Lough, Black Lake, Cushnavally Lake, Auger Lake, and Black Lough) connected by the River Loe. There's a beautiful old arch bridge, called the Wishing Bridge (yes, we made our wishes!) about halfway up. The inner part of the Gap is privately owned, and the outer parts of the mountains are part of Killarney National Park. In Gaelic, this part of Co Kerry is called Bearna an Choimín agus Gleann Dubh.
Did you know you can DRIVE it? Yes! Head to Kate Kearney's Cottage, a small cafe/gift shop where everyone starts their pony cart rides. Drive slowly, and watch for carts, walkers, and bikers. You'll also want to stop frequently to take photos. Once you near the end, at Lord Brandon's Cottage, turn around and head back. Seeing the Gap of Dunloe (while also not getting wet, if it is raining) twice (there and back) is definitely a worthy adventure. (Free)
2) Ladies View
Now, once you're back in Killarney, drive south-west on the Ring of Kerry (N71). You'll pass Ladies View - definitely stop and stretch there. It's got such beautiful scenery! It was named thus because Queen Victoria's ladies in waiting loved to stop and look at the view here. (Free)
At the junction at Moll's Gap, head east on the N71. You'll wind up in Kenmare. It is a picturesque town, with a beautiful library. If you're there on a market day (usually Wednesday), stock up on fixings for a picnic. There's also a Tesco there, if the market is closed. (Free to explore, buy what you need)
Provisions at the Olive Guy, Kenmare Market
Drive west from Kenmare on the N70 on the Ring of Kerry. As with the entire Ring of Kerry, it is a beautiful drive. At Sneem, stop and meander around the small public square where there are several beautiful statues, from around the world. If you need anything, anything at all, head to the Chemist in Sneem. (Free unless you dish out for ice cream at the bridge there, fresh bread at the bakery, need stamps at the tiny post office, or find something at the Chemist's)
5) Staigue Fort
Past Sneem, but before Caherdaniel, you'll see a sign for Staigue Fort. Turn Right/North (you'll pass a visitor centre with films and a cafe) and follow the meandering road to Staigue Fort. At Staigue Fort, there's a voluntary entrance fee of 1 Euro. Head across the creek, up the hill, and behold a large circular stone fort, with a very narrow entrance way. Staigue Fort is an incredible early masterpiece of stone fort building in Ireland. It's one of the largest, and was likely built in the early centuries AD.
Staigue Fort is a circular fort, and the walls are all hand-built of stone with no mortar. The walls go up to about 6 meters, are up to 4 meters wide, and the enclosed area is 30 meters in diameter. There are two small rooms within the walls - entered through tiny doors. (1 Euro entrance fee)
6) Derrynane Beach
Past Staigue Fort, you'll head into Caherdaniel. Take a right at the signs for the Blind Piper, and meander down past Derrynane House, home of "the Liberator," Daniel O'Connell.
You'll wind up at Derrynane Beach. This is a locals beach - since it is so difficult to find! If you go at low tide, you can walk across to Abbey Island, where there are both walking paths and a beautiful cemetery. The water might be cold, but you'll see locals swimming, walking their dogs, fishing, riding horses. Take a walk, or take a dip. Unpack your picnic on one of the huge rocks (love that smoked fish and local cheese) and enjoy! (parking and beach are both free)
Abbey Island at low tide
Abbey Island at low tide
picnic on the rocks, Derrynane Beach
Rocks on the beach, Derrynane Beach
7) Pull-off at Coomatloukane
Right where the Ring of Kerry takes a bend at the mountain (well, a larger bend than usual), you'll see a pull-off. There, you will find a large parking lot, a statue of the Lady of the Wayside (St. Mary), and the most incredible views anywhere on the Ring of Kerry. Looking north, you can see another stone fort and the scenery is quintessential Ireland. If you're lucky, the ice cream truck will be parked there. This is a perfect place to stretch your legs, breathe in the fresh sea air, and meet some locals. (Free)
Coomatloukane - view to the north
Coomatloukane - view to the north - stone circle fort
Ice cream truck, pull off at Coomatloukane
8) Skellig Ring
Keep on the Ring of Kerry (N70) and head up past Waterville (where you'll see a statue of Charlie Chaplin!). Just north of Waterville on the Ring of Kerry, there's a small road marked Skellig Ring. Note: all of the roads will be small - very windy - but the best part is, NO TOUR BUSES. Only cars are allowed on these small, country roads. That is reason enough to step off the Ring of Kerry. So. Drive down these small, country roads. Revel in getting off the beaten path - driving through small villages, winding lanes up and down mountains, the ever-present Atlantic ocean to the left - waves crashing against rocks.
Pass through Ballinskelligs and toward Portmagee, and you'll find St. Finian's Bay. Besides the omnipresent surfers, you'll find the most excellent Skelligs Chocolate Company (artisanal hand made Irish chocolates, free samples. Note the gorgeous Skellig Islands, off to the left. I suggest buying a few chocolates and a mochacino, and then sitting at the beach and watching the surfers. (Free, except for the chocolate delights).
Skelligs Chocolate Company
surfers, St. Finian's Bay. Skellig Islands in the distance
Portmagee is a picturesque fishing harbor (with a bridge to Valentia Island). Stroll the harbor, and enjoy the colors. Get some Irish Smoked Salmon (or fresh fish, if you're renting a home with a kitchen) at Kerry Fish. If you're starving, the Moorings Restaurant has excellent seafood chowder. (Free - except for fish shopping and fish chowder!)
Harbor, Portmagee (looking at Valentia Island)
10) Valentia Island
Valentia Island is known for its sub-tropical gardens. While you drive around the Island, see the mildest microclimate in all of Ireland! There's also a heritage center, a cemetery, and plenty of gorgeous walks, including Bray Head, the Grotto, the Lighthouse, and Altazamuth. (Free)
Valentia Island(from Portmagee)
AND a bonus one for your way back to Killarney...
Another picturesque seaside town! Stop and look at the Barracks - a turreted building on the waterfront. There are two forts - Leacanabuaile Fort and Cahergall Fort. You can climb on these forts, and experience a thousand years of history! (Free)
At Killorgan, head east on the N72 back to Killarney. What an adventure!
Feature photo - looking south at Coomatloukane
All photos copyright Jessie Voigts