Ah, Ireland – a land of extraordinary scenery, friendly people, and culture and history galore. If you’re in Ireland, you’ll definitely want to head to County Kerry, and experience the Ring of Kerry – the most beautiful drive in Ireland – and one of the top ten scenic drives in the world!
The Ring of Kerry (N-70) is a road that circles the perimeter of County Kerry. It truly is one of the most famous drives in the world – known both for its beauty, and the narrow roads (and tour buses bearing down on you). Fill the car with gas and set out on a great day journey (you could take your time and stay overnight somewhere, but it Can be done in a day). Travel tip – by going clockwise, you’ll be facing the tour buses instead of being stuck behind them.
Abbey Island Ruins
Start in Killarney, after having spent a few days visiting Muckross House, going through the Gap of Dunloe (which is itself a hidden gem), shopping, and soaking up the atmosphere. Head south on N70 toward Kenmare. You’ll pass Ladies’ View (where Queen Victoria’s Ladies in Waiting enjoyed the view as they stopped and rested on their way to Muckross House), where you can pull off and also enjoy the view. Make a stop at Avoca, an excellent restaurant (and gift shop) in Moll’s Gap. It’ll provide fresh, tasty sustenance to fuel the next stage of your journey! Be sure to buy enough for a picnic for later in the afternoon. You can turn east at Avoca and drive to Kenmare (where you can learn about the famous Kenmare Lace made by the Poor Clare nuns, shop, and visit the market if it’s Wednesday). Or, you can skip Kenmare and turn west at Avoca and take a shortcut to Sneem.
Just past Sneem (great ice cream), you’ll see a sign on the north (right) side of the road, indicating Staigue Fort – hook a right (there’s a visitor centre there, if you’re interested) and wind your way on very narrow roads, crossing a few streams – just follow the signs. At the end of the road, you’ll park and cross a sturdy footbridge over a rushing stream – be sure to leave your 1€ donation in the box on the gate. Also be sure to close the gate – there are sheep inside! Yes, watch your step. Head up the slight hill and you’ll see history.
Abbey Island Cemetary – Derrynane Beach – Ring of Kerry
Staigue Fort is one of the finest, largest, and most well-preserved examples of Iron Age stone building in Ireland. It’s a circular fort with very thick walls – about 6 meters tall, and 4 meters wide, enclosing a circle about 30 meters in diameter. It was hand built around the first century, BC, and is a place of magic. Duck down and squeeze into the narrow entryway (the better to keep out sheep, and marauders?). You’ll see the large stone walls, 2 very small rooms within the walls, and steps built into the walls. Just for a moment, imagine yourself thousands of years ago, packed in this stronghold of a king, with animals, tents, and a whole clan. You’re protected from both people and the wind, but the rain comes down, as it always will (perhaps even on your visit here, in the future).
After time traveling at Staigue Fort, hop back on the N70 and drive further west. You’ll come into Caherdaniel – turn left (south) at the signs for the Blind Piper pub and Derrynane House. Derrynane House is definitely worth a visit – it’s home to The Liberator, Daniel O’Connell – but that isn’t the hidden gem here. Drive past Derrynane house and head to Derrynane Beach. It’s a locals only (for who would EVER find it?) beach that also offers, at low tide, a walkway to Abbey Island. You can swim, fish, surf, and cavort at Derrynane Beach. Now is the time to bring out your picnic from Avoca and sit on the huge rocks, enjoying BEING in Ireland, in such a special place. Afterwards, you can wander Abbey Island, with its picturesque ruins and still-functioning cemetery. The grassy hills and sense of the sacred will spark your imagination.
Three Crosses – Abbey Island
Hop back on the Ring of Kerry and drive, drive, drive. Marvel at the scenery! Just past Waterville (where you can see the famous Charlie Chaplin statue), look for the sign for the Skellig Ring. Turn left (west) and follow the Skellig Ring – and be happy that the roads are too small for tour buses! Pass Ballinskelligs and continue toward Portmagee (where you’ll have dinner, perchance), and you’ll come across St. Finian’s Bay. You might see surfers here, but you WILL see the gorgeous Skellig Islands. The 3rd hidden gem of the day is on the east side of the road – the Skelligs Chocolate Company. You can head in, watch chocolate being made, SAMPLE some fresh truffles (that is the best part), get some for gifts (including for yourself, and for the rest of the Ring of Kerry Drive), and even get some hot beverages. Might I recommend the mochaccino?
After you’re stuffed with chocolate, finish driving the Skellig Ring (be sure to stop and take many photos) and wind up in Portmagee. This is a picturesque harbor town with a bridge to Valencia Island. Dine at Moorings Restaurant – I recommend the seafood chowder. It’ll be getting dark, so head back to Killarney (or stay the night). You’ve driven one of the most scenic roads in the world – and discovered hidden parts of Ireland that will stay with you for years. Slán abhaile (safe journey home)!
Dr. Jessie Voigts is the publisher of WanderingEducators.com, a travel library for global educators. She founded both the Family Travel Bloggers Association and the Youth Travel Blogging Mentorship Program.