The gorgeous coves and bays, cliffs and islands and beautiful inland mountains of the Iveragh Peninsula are justly popular. The constantly shifting light, ethereal quality of the landscape and the sweeping vistas attract many visitors to a looped drive known as the Ring of Kerry, which makes its way around the peninsula.
Despite this, we feel that the area is well worth exploring and we have done our best in planning this guided tour to help you avoid the coaches as much as possible and instead discover the untouched local landscape in a unique and rewarding way.
The full-day tour begins in Killarney where your private driver-guide picks you up from your hotel. You'll head north and travel around the Ring of Kerry in a counter-clockwise direction. As you travel out toward the coast you’ll drive through undulating hills and rolling green fields.
You’ll pass through the small town of Killorglin, remarkable only for its annual Puck Fair, during which a wild mountain goat is caught and brought to be crowned King of the town for the ensuing three days in August.
Gradually this farming country becomes bogland as you head toward the spectacular, heather-coated mountains that march down the length of the peninsula and provide the backdrop for most of your journey today. Out to sea, the North Atlantic Ocean glitters as far as the eye can see.
There are plenty of viewpoints as you drive along the north coast of the peninsula, providing excellent panoramas out toward the mountains of the Dingle Peninsula as well as back toward the gorgeous sandy stretch of Rossbeigh Beach. You’ll now start to notice Irish as well as English on road signs, as the peninsula is predominantly an Irish-speaking area.
Portmagee is a small fishing village toward the tip of the peninsula, whose vividly painted houses overlook the water toward Valentia Island. Here, you’ll cross the bridge onto the island, to visit the fascinating Skellig Experience Centre. This has an interesting exhibition about the Skellig Islands, precipitous sea crags located around 8 miles (13km) west of Portmagee, site of an early Christian monastery.
The exhibition has information about monastic life on the islands, the fascinating monastery buildings on Skellig Michael, now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and the various wildlife and birdlife found around the two islands.
From Valentia Island you’ll cross back into Portmagee and set off on the smaller, quieter Skellig Ring, an additional loop which takes you around the westernmost tip of the peninsula and affords you fantastic views toward the Skellig Islands.
All around the Skellig Ring you’ll find fuchsia hedges lining the narrow lanes, adding splashes of vivid pink to the landscape in summer and autumn. You’ll also see ruins of stone cottages dotted about tufty moorland which is blanketed in gorse bushes and offers striking coastal views across to the islands and back over the Iveragh Peninsula.
The Kerry Cliffs are not as well-known as County Clare’s Cliffs of Moher, but are all the more spectacular because of this. A ten-minute, uphill walk brings you to the cliff edge, where you’re treated to magnificent views along the cliffs and out toward the rugged Skellig Islands. During spring and summer the cliffs and the rough waters below are teeming with birdlife.
As you continue around the coast you’ll eventually rejoin the main Ring of Kerry loop, which takes you through Waterville (where Charlie Chaplin holidayed with his family for ten years) and on toward Sneem, passing numerous viewpoints which overlook particularly picturesque spots.
Before you reach Sneem you’ll take a short detour into the rough, bracken-covered hills to reach Staigue Fort. A well-preserved stone ringfort thought to date back to the Iron Age, Staigue offers beautiful views of the surrounding landscape and a glimpse into ancient life in rural Ireland.
Sneem is another vibrantly painted town with a number of cafés, pubs and independent boutiques. You’ll turn inland here to ascend the mountain pass toward the spectacular Moll’s Gap, from where it is a short but incredibly scenic drive back to Killarney.