Ireland is known as the Emerald Isle because of its luscious green landscapes and rugged coastline. Several cruise lines offer multi-day pre- or post-cruise land vacations that include a day or two in Killarney Ireland or you can easily visit on your own. Visiting the Killarney area it is a great way to experience authentic old Ireland and explore its beautiful geography.
Town of Killarney
The first settlements in the area began around 650 A.D. with the establishment of the monastery on Innisfallen Island. The monastery was active for 850 years. Over these years, the monks wrote the Annals of Innisfallen chronicling the early history of Ireland. Today you can take a ferry from Ross Castle and visit the ruins of the monastery.
This picturesque town is a popular tourist destination with its rich history and surrounding rolling green mountains. The town is second only to Dublin in terms of the number of hotel beds available. The town is a cozy, quaint town filled with pubs and shops selling locally made crafts. Even if you aren’t a beer drinker, visit one of the many pubs to get a flavor of Irish life. It is easy to walk around and many of the key sights are within walking distance of the town’s center. A unique and entertaining way to explore the town is on a jaunting car (actually a horse pulling a cart or carriage) where you’ll learn the history of Killarney with a bit of blarney thrown in.
Killarney National Park
Next head to Killarney National Park which stretches from the edges of the town of Killarney and encompasses nearly 40 square miles of countryside and includes Ireland’s tallest mountain, Carrauntoohill which rises up 3,800 feet. Killarney National Park was the first national park in Ireland and was created when the Muchross Estate was donated to Ireland. The best way to explore the park is by car. Be sure to grab a picnic lunch in town as there are many scenic spots to eat along the drive.
If you are a fan of Downton Abby, be sure to visit the Muckross House, once owned by beer magnate Arthur Guinness. This beautiful Victorian mansion was completed in 1843. It is 3.6 miles from Killarney town center and sits on Muckross Lake. Inside you’ll find the principal rooms furnished with Tudor period pieces showcasing the elegant lifestyle of the upper class during the 1800s. About a mile away you’ll find the ruins of the 600-year-old Muckross Abbey, originally built in the 15th century by Franciscan Friars. It was abandoned in the 1650s when the monks were driven out by Comwell’s army. Daily tours of the Muckross House are available March through September, and on weekends in October.
Wildlife & Nature
Next take a leisurely drive through Killarney National Park. This stunning rugged and mountainous park is filled with wildlife, rivers, forest, and waterfalls. Look carefully and you’ll likely see one of its most majestic creatures, the Red Deer.
The park contains three lakes: Lough Leane, Muckross Lake and Upper Lake. Along the way be sure to visit the Torc Waterfall at the base of Torc Mountain. The falls are a short 5-minute walk from the parking lot. These 60-foot falls can be thunderous after a rain.
Farther along you’ll come to the Gap of Dunloe, a narrow mountain pass stretching almost 7 miles formed two million years ago by slow-moving ice. Driving through the pass can be tricky and many visitors choose a jaunting car, walk, or cycle to see it.
On the edge of the park you’ll find the 15th century Ross Castle. The castle was constructed in a manner consistent with most strongholds built during this time with five stories. The first floor was for storage. The second floor was where the house attendants and guards lived, typically without any furniture and with only straw for bedding. The third floor held the kitchen, dining and living space for the attendants and guards. The fourth floor held the sleeping and living quarters for the chieftain and his family. This floor had a stone roof unlike the wood beam floors below. The fifth floor housed the great room where the chieftain and his family ate and entertained. It was also the last sanctuary for the chieftain and his family in case of fire since it had a stone floor. Seasonally, guided tours are offered daily. Down at the lake, you’ll find boat rentals where you can explore the lake and enjoy its tranquility and the surrounding picturesque landscapes.
Ring of Kerry
This is one of the best-know driving routes in Ireland and is one of the greatest scenic drives Ireland offers. Avoid taking the drive during July and August or you’ll experience interminable traffic and overflowing restaurants. The entire 111-mile Ring can be done in a few hours but take longer and enjoy all that it offers. Along the way stop at Kissane Sheep Farm, a 200-year-old working family farm where you’ll learn how to shear sheep and watch the border collies round them up.
Best Time to Visit
The high season for tourist is July and August. During these months the town will be brimming with tourist. If you seek a quieter and more relaxed time, May and June, or September and October might be better for you.
We always take pre- or post-cruise vacations. We love taking cruises, but realize there is so much to see beyond port cities. Killarney is one of those areas you should visit when you have a cruise around Ireland.
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Blog author. Former travel editor for Compete Magazine, awarded top 25 travel writing blog 2018 & 2019..