I want to start with a disclaimer. I don't recommend visiting the ring of kerry as a day trip. which I get it - it doesn't make a lot of sense for me to say this since this post is all about doing it as a day trip. the thing is, after doing the ring of kerry in one day, I can tell you that it's perfectly doable, but there's so much to see and do that to really see it all, you should take 2 or 3 days.
our decision to visit the ring of kerry as a day trip happened when we were in castlemartyer. since we spent 5 days and 4 nights at the resort we decided it would be a great opportunity to take advantage of seeing Ireland; hence our previous trips to the cliffs of moher and the villages west of cork. we knew we could fit one more trip in, and while it was a close call between the dingle peninsula and the ring of kerry, we ultimately chose the ring of kerry.
killarney national park/killarney
our first stop on the trip was killarney national park and the town of killarney. our trusty Lonely Planet Ireland guidebook gave us a major pro-tip - follow the flow of traffic, which goes counter clockwise, around the ring of kerry. the reason being that if you remember during my post where I talked about driving in Ireland, I mentioned that the roads are REALLY narrow at times, and the ring of Kerry is no exception. it's better to be going in the same direction as the tour buses than to have to attempt to pass them.
we set our gps for killarney national park but once we got into the park it got a little confusing. one of the main attractions is the muckross house, a 19th century mansion, and while it looked stunning from the outside, and I'd been given rave reviews from friends, we unfortunately didn't have time to tour the house since we only had the day to get through the ring.
from there we went into the city of Killarney and it was jam packed with people and cars. there was not one single place to park and it was so crowded that we had to make the sad decision to continue on our route, but I must tell you that killarney is HIGH on my list to see the next time I go back to Ireland.
our next stop was in killorglin and we decided to have an early lunch in town. our trusty lonely planet guide book noted that this really was the last place to have a decent lunch for awhile, so we parked our car and walked around the main drag, deciding on a cafe/bar/restaurant called Bunkers. we had a light lunch and decided to keep moving; we were really excited to see the countryside and the coast!
the drive to rossbeigh beach was where the countryside started to open up and there were places to pull over and take some good pictures, through it was only the beginning of the beauty we were going to see that day.
to get to rossbeigh beach you can gps or simply follow the 'ring of Kerry' signs, but you'll round a bend and a beautiful rocky beach will open up to the atlantic. and it will take your breath away, no matter how many times you've seen the ocean.
from rossbeigh beach we headed towards portmagee, a small fishing village that is also the passageway to the skellig islands. the drive was gorgeous, with many places to pull off to the side of the road, take photographs, and take in the scenery.
we really wanted to see portmagee for a couple reasons. one, I'm apparently a sucker for a cute fishing village, and two, the skellig michael, one of the two skellig islands, is where Luke Skywalker was found in Star Wars: The Force Awakens. we had did the research before we left to see about touring the island but options are limited. there is a walking tour where they drop you off on the island for 6 hours and you can explore, but the hiking conditions are higher level and we didn't have any hiking gear with us.
the other option was a boat tour around the islands, however the first one was early in the morning (a 3+ hour drive from our resort) and a 2:30 tour. by the time we would have did the tour and got back to our resort we would have missed seeing the rest of the ring as well as our 7:30 dinner reservations.
so in the end the best we could do was drive out and wander around the town, but I'd love to go back and stay in the town and hike the island someday.
derrynane house/derrynane beach
our last stop on the ring of kerry was at derrynane house and derrynane beach. derrynane house was the home of Irish politician and statesman, daniel o'connell in the mid 1800s, but is now an Irish national monument. when we arrived it was very quiet and we could tour the house for a cost, or walk the grounds for free (at least I think you could walk the ground for free - we did!). we wandered the gardens, choosing random forks in the trail which eventually led us back to the parking lot, where we decided to move on an check out derrynane beach.
to get to the beach you follow narrow roads enclosed by trees to a small parking lot behind a large hill of sand and grass. once you climb over the hill (don't worry, it's actually a small hill, just tall enough that you can't see over, and there are stairs to get over it) you'll be at the most beautiful beach. it's not Caribbean beautiful, which is just a different type of beach, but a beach that you could lay out in the sand and in the sun and enjoy the views.
there were people playing frisbee and playing in the ocean, and though I thought it was way too windy for a beach day, it was so beautiful to see and worth the stop.
after derrynane we calculated how far it was to get back to the resort and decided to head back so we would have time to get ready for dinner. it was a good thing we did decide to head back when we did because we encountered construction on the way back and when it was all said and done we had a mere 40 minutes until our reservations - enough time to freshen up, get a drink at the hotel bar, and get to dinner.
castlemartyer > killarney national park > killarney > killorglin > bunker's bar and restaurant > rossbeigh beach > portmagee > derrynane house > derrynane beach > kenmore > castlemartyer = 256 miles, 6 hour, 41 minutes of driving
if you're heading to Ireland and considering going to the ring of kerry I highly recommend it. I don't think we even scratched the surface of what we could see or do, but I'm thankful that we got to see it. if you're going on a day trip to the ring of kerry I highly recommend this route so you can see the highlights!