The Best Things to Do in Killarney – A Complete Guide

Kerry is one of the most beautiful counties in Ireland to visit. And the most visited town is Killarney. In this travel guide, you will find all the information you need for visiting this part of the country along with a list of the best things to do in Killarney.

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When it comes to things to do, Killarney has it all. Kerry is known as the Kingdom of Ireland and with some of the most iconic scenery in Ireland including sea cliffs, emerald green farmland, golden strands and tall mountain peaks, it has become one of the most popular counties in Ireland to visit. And no matter what type of traveller you are, you are sure to find plenty of things to do in this beautiful corner of Ireland. This guide focuses on the town of Killarney and the surrounding area.

Killarney Travel Guide

In this Killarney travel guide you will find all the information you need for visiting this town in Kerry, Ireland, from how to get to Killarney, to where to stay and top things to do in Killarney. But first, a little bit of a story.

It is said that in Kerry “there are only two kingdoms, the Kingdom of God and the kingdom of Kerry”. The origin of the use of “The Kingdom” to refer to Kerry dates back to the 1st century when the O’Connor chieftain took control of the area between the Shannon estuary and the Maine River in the south. The chieftain’s name was Ciar (pronounced keer) and his descendants became known as Ciar-raigh (pronounced keer-ree) which roughly translates to Ciar’s people or Ciar’s kingdom. Ciarraigh was later anglicised to Kerry but was referred to as “The Kingdom” ever since. Hence the name “The Kingdom of Ireland”.

A picture of a river in a valley with dark trees around it on the Torc Mountain

Facts about Killarney

Killarney, Ireland is a town located in County Kerry. Located on the north shore of Lough Leane, it also lies within the Killarney National Park, one of Ireland’s national parks. It is home to some of Ireland’s best tourist attractions and is a great place to base yourself if you want to visit the Ring of Kerry or drive part of the Wild Atlantic Way.

The town has been inhabited since the early Bronze Age and in the 7th century, a monastery was founded on Innisfallen in Lough Leane, ruins of which can still be seen today. The lands around the lough were occupied by the Gaelic clans of McCarthy, Mór and Donoghue’s of Ross, before coming into the possession of the Herberts of Muckross and the Earls of Kenmare. In the mid-18th century, the 4th Viscount of Kenmare began to develop the region as the Irish version of the Lake District in England to attract visitors and new residents to Killarney, and so the birth of tourism to the Kingdom of Ireland was born.

Killarney is a relatively small town with a population of just less than 15,000. It is located in the province of Munster and as mentioned, is one of the most visited counties of Ireland.

How to get to Killarney

Killarney lies in the southwest of the county and is reachable by car, train, bus and plane.

Arriving by car, the distance from Dublin to Killarney is 303 kilometres or 188 miles, travelling along the M7 and N21/22/23. This journey takes approximately three and a half hours. We recommend using Rentalcars.com to find the most competitive car hire prices.

You can also get a bus from Dublin to Killarney and there are several companies you can use including Dublin Coach, Bus Eireann, and Expressway. Many leave from O’Connell Street or Busáras.

You can travel from Dublin to Killarney by train from Heuston Station on Iarnród Éireann (Irish Rail). There is a change of train at Mallow (unless you manage to get one of the two direct train services per day from Dublin) and the first train you will travel on is the Cork/Mallow service. To plan your train journey, use the Eurail website.

If you don’t fancy the bus or train, Kerry Airport is located just 13 kilometres or 7 miles from Killarney Town. You can get regular flights from Dublin and some European airports also fly direct to Kerry. Use Skyscanner to check for flights. There are hourly bus links between Killarney Town and Kerry Airport.

Getting around Killarney, Ireland

Once you arrive in Killarney, it is pretty easy to get around. The town itself is walkable and many Killarney attractions are within walking distance.

You can also hire bicycles to get around which is a great way to explore Killarney and the surrounding area. Try Killarney Rental-a-Bike for your cycle needs.

The Killarney Bus Shuttle runs daily from March to October from the tourist office to all the main attractions including the Gap of Dunloe, the Torc Waterfall and more. You purchase tickets from the driver and a day pass gives unlimited travel on the shuttle buses.

There are plenty of taxis around Killarney and if you are staying slightly out of town, your accommodation can call one if necessary. In town, there is a taxi rank on College Street.

Where to stay in Killarney

Accommodation in Killarney is plentiful. There is something to suit every budget from 5-star hotels in Killarney to guest houses in Killarney. You will also find accommodation on AirBnB and there is a range of accommodation to choose from also on booking.com.

There are several luxury hotels in the area including the Hotel Europe in Killarney located on the edge of the Killarney lakes and one of the best hotels in Killarney. You’ll also find other 5-star luxury hotels such as The Brehon and The Dunloe luxury Irish hotel. Just note that many of the more up-market hotels are located outside the town and are best for those with a car or a budget for taxi hire in and out of town.

However, if you trying to visit Ireland on a budget, there are also plenty of cheap hotels in Killarney that won’t break the bank.

Here are some recommendations for accommodation for different budgets in Killarney.

Hostels in Killarney

For a budget-friendly stay consider the following hostels.

  • Black Sheep Hostel – Located in the centre of Killarney, providing an adults-only accommodation. Has rooms with private bathrooms, or dorms (mixed or single-sex) with shared bathrooms. Click here for more information and latest prices.
  • Neptune Hostel – Located in the centre of Killarney, just a 5-minutes’ walk from the bus and train stations. Has various rooms with private bathrooms. Click here for more information and latest prices.

Budget to Mid-range Hotels in Killarney

For budget to mid-range prices hotels, consider checking in to one of the following.

Luxury Hotels in Killarney

If you want the ultimate luxury and comfort for your visit to Killarney, then book into one of the following hotels.

Tips for booking your Killarney trip: Ensure you book your Killarney accommodation plenty of months in advance, especially if you are visiting during the bust summer months. The best and most central hotels are booked up quickly so book early to avoid disappointment.

And if you fancy something a bit different read my post about glamping in Kerry which includes two options in/near Killarney.

Food and Drink in Killarney

Killarney restaurants, pubs and cafes are ten-a-penny. From simple places to eat to fine dining, like accommodation, there are plenty of options to suit all budgets. Just be aware that in summer, the best places to eat in Killarney fill up fast so book these ahead of time to avoid disappointment.

Many of the cafes in Killarney open early and offer breakfast if it is not included in your accommodation. For lunch options, we recommend popping into one of the many pubs. The lunchtime menu is often similar to the dinner menu but at lower prices.

For dinner in Killarney, there are some amazing places. The Bricin is one of the most popular that serves traditional Irish food. One of the best restaurants in Killarney if you like seafood is Gaby’s Seafood Restaurant. While seafood features, you can also get a juicy sirloin steak or rack of lamb. And for the best pub food in Killarney head to the Celtic Whiskey Bar & Larder where you can line your stomach with delicious food before sampling some Irish whiskies.

If you are looking for somewhere to enjoy some Irish craic and traditional music, one of the best bars in Killarney to go is O’Connor’s. Live music every night in this little pub makes it one of the most popular Killarney haunts at night.

A picture of people walking along the paths of Killarney town in the sunshine

10 Best things to do in Killarney

Now that you know everything there is to planning your trip to Killarney, it is time to turn to the best things to do in Killarney. With transport and accommodation sorted, you need to think about what to do in Killarney so you can plan your time accordingly. What you add to that itinerary will also depend on how much time you are spending in Killarney and whether you plan to stay near the town or are going to take a day trip somewhere else.

Visit the Killarney National Park

The most popular thing to do in Killarney is visit the Killarney National Park. Spanning over 10,236 hectares, it is UNESCO Biosphere Reserve and is a must-visit if you are in the area.

The best things to do in Killarney National Park include visiting historical sites, hiking in nature and enjoying the lakes. The National Park provides a tranquil setting amongst Ireland’s largest area of ancient oak woods alongside views of the country’s highest mountains. Within the park, you could also spot the largest herd of wild red deer in Ireland.

Of the best things to see in Killarney National Park, the lakes, Ross Castle and the Muckross Estate are top of the list (see below). Other activities to enjoy in the park include walking and fishing and you’ll find angling centres where you can hire rods and other fishing equipment as well as permits if they are required, depending on the type of fish you are hoping to catch.

The Killarney National Park is a car-free zone and Muckross Park is at the heart of it. If you are unfit or want to enjoy the National Park at a leisurely pace, consider hiring a jaunting car at the entrance.

A picture of one of the lakes of Killarney National Park in Ireland surrounded by lush green vegetation and rolling green hills

Enjoy the Killarney Lakes

There are three lakes that make up the Killarney Lakes. Lough Leane is the lower lake, Muckross Lake is the middle lake and the Upper Lake, which are all connected. The lake makes up a quarter of the area of the Killarney National Park and are surrounded by oak and yew woods.

The Killarney Lakes have crystal-clear waters rich with life including fish and birds. Visitors can fish on the lakes and feeder rivers (a permit may be required), while you can also visit some of the islands in the lakes by boat.

There are walking trails around the lakes that are suitable for walkers, hikers and even strollers. These are sign-posted and some pass by other Killarney National Park attractions.

Many of the five-star hotels in Killarney are situated on the banks of the lakes and are often the best places to stay in Killarney if it is luxury you are looking for.

Lake-side hotels in Killarney include The Europe, Loch Lein Country House, the Castlerosse Park Resort, the Lake Hotel, and the Aghadoe Heights Hotel & Spa.

A picture of three boats moored on a still lake in the Killarney National Park

Take a boat out to Innisfallen Island

One of the top things to see in Killarney is the monastic ruins on Innisfallen Island. The monastery was founded in the 7th century by Finian the Leper and what remains on the site is the ruins of the 12th-century Augustinian priory and oratory. The island’s fame dates to the 13th century when the Annals of Inisfallen, now housed in Oxford University, were written there. These important manuscripts are a chronicle of the medieval history of Ireland.

To reach the island, which is in Lough Leane you need to hire a boat with a boatman. Innisfallen is the largest of the 26 islands of the Killarney National Park. There are some available from Ross Castle (10-minutes’ journey) or you could hire a rowboat will take you about 30 minutes. Only do this option if the weather is calm.

Climb the Torc Mountain and wonder at the Torc Waterfall

If you love the outdoors, then hiking in Killarney National Park is something you’ll enjoy. Located 7km (4.3 miles) from Killarney town is the stunning Torc Waterfall, a very popular spot to visit near Killarney. The waterfall is sign-posted from a car park off the N71 and there is a short walk to reach it.

The path on which you’ll find the Torc Waterfall is also part of The Kerry Way (see further down). Standing 20m tall, it was formed by the Owengarriff River and it lies at the bottom of the Torc Mountain, one of whose climb is often called “Cardiac Hill” due to the steep steps to reach the viewing point about halfway up the mountain. However, for those fit enough to attempt the climb, the views from the top are reward enough.

As well as the Red Trail (Cardiac Hill Trail) which involved climbing steep stone steps, there are other more gentle trails that loop around the Torc Waterfall. There is also a hiking trail from the waterfall to the very top of the mountain. If you love nature and hiking, this is a Killarney activity for you!

A picture of the stunning Torc Waterfall in Killarney National Park, one of the best places to visit in Ireland

Go back in time at Ross Castle

History fans seeking castles in Killarney flock to Ross Castle. This 15th-century tower house and keep on the edge of Lough Leane was the ancestral home of the Chiefs of the O’Donoghue Clan. The castle changed hands to the Brownes who became the Earls of Kenmare, who owned an extensive portion of the lands which are now part of the Killarney National Park.

Visitors can take guided tours and view the interior of the castle during the months from February to November. Guides are knowledgeable and can answer any questions you might have about the castle. There is a small museum, exhibition and gift shop. The site gets very busy during the summer so be prepared for a wait unless you get there early.

The castle is not very wheelchair accessible as you might imagine. The same can be said for strollers/buggies. However, Ross Castle is still one of the best things to do with kids in Killarney. Let the girls pretend they are a princess and the boys their knights in shining armour.

You can also reach Ross Castle via a leisurely stroll from St Mary’s Cathedral and you might be lucky to spot red deer along the way.

A picture of a blue boat on a lake with Ross Castle in the background, found in the Killarney National Park

Visit the beautiful Muckross Abbey

Another one of the Killarney attractions that is very popular with visitors is Muckross Abbey. Part of the overall Muckross Estate, the Abbey is a well-preserved ruin founded in 1448. This friary was burned by the Cromwellian forces in 1652 and was frequently attacked by marauding groups.

Despite being roofless, the abbey is well-preserved with the central courtyard being the most striking feature thanks to a large yew tree in it surrounded by the vaulted cloister. The tree is said to be as old as the friary itself.

The graveyard surrounding the Abbey is still in use today and is the burial place of local chieftains as well as 17th and 18th-century Irish poets. Of all the remaining friaries in Ireland, Muckross is the only one where the upper floors of the domestic ranges are accessible to the public, giving them a feel for life for the monks over 500 years ago.

If you are looking for somewhere unique to visit, make sure Muckross Abbey is on your itinerary.

A picture of an ancient yew tree in the cloister courtyard inside Muckross Abbey in the Killarney National Park

Stop by Muckross House, Gardens and Traditional Farms

Another of the top things to do in Killarney is visit the other parts of the Muckross Estate including Muckross House, Gardens and the Traditional Farms.

Muckross House is an impressive Victorian mansion teeming with fascinating items, many of which are original to the house. Built for the Herbert family in the early half of the 19th century as a hunting and fishing lodge, it is a must-visit.

Inside the house, visitors can view portraits that sit side-by-side with stag heads and antique Killarney furniture which decorates the house as well as tapestries, rugs and even specially-commissioned china for the visit of Queen Victoria in 1861. It is located approximately 5km south of Killarney town and is well sign-posted. Entry to the house is by guided tour which can get busy in the summertime.

The gardens, which underwent extensive work ahead of Queen Victoria’s visit are impeccably manicured and slope down. Although informal in style, the gardens are recognised internationally for their plant collections, including southern hemisphere species which thrive here in the mild climate.

Adjacent to Muckross House is the Traditional Farms which are reproductions of 1930’s Kerry farms. Visitors will find chickens, pigs, cattle and horses recreating farming and living conditions from times when people lived off the land. Costumes guided bring the farms to life and kids will love the petting area. If you are looking for things to do in Killarney with kids, Muckross Traditional Farms is ideal. Visitors can self-guide themselves around the farms and should allow 2 hours for their visit.

A picture of Muckross House and the landscaped gardens in front of the house

Cycle, walk, kayak or jaunt through the Gap of Dunloe

Many visitors to this part of Ireland also come to visit the Gap of Dunloe. Killarney town is just 12.5km (7.7 miles) from the centre of the Gap of Dunloe, making it ideal to visit.

It is a wild and scenic mountain pass that is nestled between the Purple Mountains and the MacGillycuddy Reeks, to the west of the Killarney National Park. Within the Gap, you’ll find no less than five lakes, all connected by the River Loe.

The traditional way to explore the Gap of Dunloe is via a tour from Killarney. Buses will drop visitors off at the pub at the entrance to the Gap of Dunloe called Kate Kearney’s Cottage, who can then continue on foot or by jaunting car through the Gap to Lord Brandon’s Cottage at the Upper Lake. Visitors can then take a boat to Ross Castle or return back down the Gap.

Despite a sign saying cars are not permitted on the road, it is perfectly legal to drive the Gap. However, it is not advised, particularly during the summer months, as the road is narrow and twisty in parts and is usually crowded with walkers, cyclists and jaunting cars.

If you don’t fancy taking a tour another great way to reach and explore the Gap of Dunloe is by bike. There are places for bike hire in Killarney who you can rent both bikes and helmets from.

Here are some recommended tours for exploring the Gap of Dunloe:

  • Enjoy a pony and trap ride through the Gap of Dunloe before swapping into a boat to sail through the three lakes of the Killarney National Park. Find more information about this tour and the latest prices by clicking here.
  • A reverse of the above tour starts from Ross Castle and passes by Innisfallen Island and on through the Lakes of Killarney national park before changing to a jaunting car to travel down through the Gap of Dunloe. To see this tour, availability and latest prices, click here.
A picture of people crossing a bridge in the Gap of Dunloe in Ireland on a sunny day

Get up close and personal with birds at Killarney Falconry

Why not get up close and personal with some magnificent birds at one of the top attractions in Killarney. Killarney Falconry offers hawk walks, both private and in groups, during which time you get to have a hawk land on your gloved hand.

Each walk is a unique experience with handler and hawk and people of all ages and abilities are welcomed, even kids. Each handler makes its guests feel comfortable with the birds before your time to land a hawk comes. Pre-booking is essential for this once-in-a-lifetime experience and makes for a unique thing to do in Killarney.

A picture of a bird of prey standing on a man's gloved hand

Climb Ireland’s highest mountain, Carrauntoohil

One of the top 10 things to do in Killarney requires a bit of fitness to complete; a climb to the top of Ireland’s tallest mountain peak. Carrauntoohil stands at 1039 metres in height (or 3407 feet) and there are several routes up to the peak. Good hill-walking and route-finding abilities are needed even on the easiest of routes.

Traditionally, the route to the summit was via Devil’s Ladder, a gruelling ascent up a badly eroded gully path southwest of the lakes. However, in recent years it has become dangerously loose and unstable and is now closed. It is recommended that climbers and hikers now take the Brother O’Shea’s Gully instead.

No matter what route is taken now, some level of fitness is advisable and do not set off unless you know the weather is going to remain calm and bright. Take a map and compass, waterproofs, spare water and food. If you are in doubt in any way, hire a guide. Hidden Ireland Tours lead guided ascents of Carrauntoohil on Wednesday and Saturday.

A picture of a bridge over a stream on the route towards Carrauntoohil, Ireland's highest mountain peak

Other things to do in Killarney

As well as the above top ten activities, there are other great things to do in Killarney, Ireland. So, if you plan to spend plenty of time in the town and surrounding area, why not consider adding these to your itinerary.

Visit St Mary’s Cathedral

Built between 1842 and 1855, one of the top things to do in Killarney town is visit St Mary’s Cathedral. It is a stunning example of Gothic revival architecture and retains all its original features including beautiful stained glass windows. Although you won’t spend very long there unless you are attending mass, it is still worth popping inside if you are passing by.

A picture of St Mary's Cathedral in Killarney, Ireland in the sunlight with blue skies overhead

Tour Killarney in a jaunting car

One of the best ways to get around Killarney town and take in the sites is by a jaunting car or pony and trap. The jaunting cars were the traditional mode of transport in Ireland. Drivers are knowledgeable about the local area and can bring you to all the main Killarney tourist attractions. Their horses are also very well looked after.

Within town, there are lots of drivers and horses available for hire as well as at the entrance to the Muckross Estate, the first gate of the National Park and the Torc Waterfall. It is a unique way to travel and the cars can often go where motorised vehicles can’t, giving you access to picturesque areas without having to walk the legs off yourself.

If you don’t fancy a jaunting car ride but still want to tour the town and local attractions, why not get the hop on hop off Killarney sightseeing bus. You can familiarise yourself with the town and learn about the things to do around Killarney at the same time. Book your tickets here for the sightseeing bus!

A picture of a pony pulling a jaunting car through the Killarney National Park

Visit Dinis Cottage and Island

Located on Dinis Island in the Middle Lake of the Killarney National Park is one of the prettiest places to visit in Killarney. Built by the Herberts, Dinis Cottage was a hunting lodge and woodcutter’s hut dating back to the 1700s. One of the things to note is the signatures etched in the glass windows, made by those who carved their names with their expensive diamonds back in the mid-1800s. You can reach it by walking or cycling through the Muckross Peninsula or by boat.

Walk the Kerry Way

Ireland’s longest way-marked footpath is the 214km (133 miles) Kerry Way. Starting and ending in Killarney, it takes approximately 10 days to complete the entire route as you pass through the MacGillycuddy Reeks and around the Kerry coast through villages such as Cahersiveen, Waterville and Kenmare. Although you may not have time to complete the route, it is worth walking some of it if you enjoy the outdoors.

Marvel at Knockreer House and Gardens

Also known as Killarney House, Knockreer house and Gardens is another one of the top places to see in Killarney. Built in the 1870s for the Earl of Kenmare, the current house was rebuilt in 1958 after the original was burned down in 1913. It houses the National Park education centre and while the house itself is not open to the public, the gardens are. You’ll find terraced lawns and a summerhouse with views across the mountains and Lakes of Killarney national park. It is easily reached from St Mary’s Cathedral.

Enjoy the craic in a Killarney pub

And of course, if you are looking for things to do in Killarney in the rain, then why not pop into one of the many pubs to enjoy some craic while sheltering from the rain. There are many pubs in Killarney that will serve meals during the day if you fancy some lunch. In the evenings, many will have live music to entertain you. They’re one of the best places to unwind after a busy day of exploring.

A picture of a green and yellow bistro sign on a traditional stone wall

Best Day Trips from Killarney

There are a number of day trips from Killarney that visitors can take to explore a wider area. You will need to allow a day per tour if you plan on doing any of them.

Ring of Kerry

One of the best things to do near Killarney is to take a trip around the Ring of Kerry. This 179km (111 miles) circular route of the Iveragh Peninsula passes medieval ruins, pristine beaches, rolling emerald green fields, mountains and lakes as it winds its way through pretty villages. It is a popular place to visit in Ireland and the roads, which are quite narrow in places, get very busy during summer with tour buses, cars and bikes vying for space. However, if you are going to be in Killarney, the Ring of Kerry is not to be missed.

Why not book a private tour of the Ring of Kerry which includes a visit to the Skellig Islands. Find out more information and how to book this tour here.

A picture of the coastline along the Ring of Kerry, Ireland

Dingle Peninsula

Another popular day trip to take is one of the Dingle tours from Killarney. The Dingle Peninsula is another area of outstanding beauty and very accessible from Killarney on a day tour. Both it and the Ring of Kerry form part of the Wild Atlantic Way. There are prehistoric ring forts and beehives on the peninsula, picturesque villages and towns and secluded, sandy coves. In fact, some of the best beaches in Ireland can be found on the Dingle Peninsula.

This full-day tour from Killarney visits the Dingle Peninsula and Slea Head as well as Inch beach. Find out more information and book this tour here.

A picture of the colourful building along a street in Dingle, Ireland

Derrynane House and Caherdaniel

One of the best historical places to visit near Killarney is Caherdaniel, the ancestral home of Daniel O’Connell (The Liberator of Ireland). His family made their money through smuggling from their home by the dunes. The Derrynane National Historic Park is where you will find Derrynane House, the home of Maurice O’Connell, uncle of the historical Irish politician. The house is furnished with O’Connell memorabilia where you can learn more about the 19-the century campaigner for Catholic emancipation in Ireland.

Caherdaniel is located along the Ring of Kerry.

I hope you’ve discovered some of the best things to do in Killarney, Ireland in this Killarney travel guide along with some useful tips for planning and booking your visit. There is a lot to see and do in Killarney and the surrounding areas, so if you only have a few days, they will be jam-packed.

Cath is an Irish expat now living in Portugal. She regularly returns to Ireland to explore more of the wonderful island with her family.

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