Located in southwestern Ireland, Killarney is known as one of the gateways to the scenic, world famous Ring of Kerry.
But make no mistake. Killarney, county Kerry, is worthy of a visit on its own right. It is probably one of the prettiest and most interesting Irish towns. A place of friendly people, fascinating culture, dazzling nature, and where time seems to have its own rhythm. A town easy to reach but hard to leave behind.
Already planning your trip? Here’s my list of the top 10 things to do in Killarney to help you make the best of your visit:
#1 Stroll through Killarney’s colorful streets
Killarney is a delightful and picturesque traditional Irish town. You’ll immediately fall in love with its colorful streets and lovely facades.
The town center is pretty small and easy to explore in a couple of hours. Unless you’re anything like me and won’t resist to have a peek at all its cute cafes, exquisite shops, and charming pubs.
#2 Visit Muckross Abbey in Killarney National Park
Killarney National Park is Ireland’s oldest national park, a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve due to its high ecological value, and one of the top things to see in Killarney.
Located at the foot of the McGillycuddy’s Reeks, the highest mountain range in Ireland, Killarney National Park comprises the largest native forest in the country, mountain peaks, woodlands, and the Lakes of Killarney. It is home for many ecosystems and rare species, including the only wild herd of red deer in Ireland. Its stunning scenery attracts thousands of visitors every year.
One of the attractions in the park is Muckross Abbey, a former Franciscan friary dating back to 1448. The abbey is now in ruins, but its beauty remains intact.
#3 Tour the impressive Muckross House and Gardens
I truly can’t say what I liked the most about Muckross House: if its impressive architecture, decoration and works of art, its fascinating history, or its spectacular views of Killarney National Park and Muckross Lake.
Muckross House took four years to build, from 1839 to 1843. It has received a queen, and was bought by a Californian magnate and passed to his daughter as a wedding present. More recently, the Victorian mansion and its land were donated to the Irish nation, becoming the first national park in Ireland, today’s Killarney National Park.
To visit Muckross House you must join a guided tour. Photography and video are not allowed inside the house.
After the tour, explore the peaceful gardens, and take a moment to admire the dramatic views over the park.
#4 Learn about the rural Ireland of the 1930s
Travel back in time and learn all about the rural Ireland of the 1930s, a time before electricity, at Muckross Traditional Farms. This is one of the most fun and educational things to do in Killarney, for kids and grown-ups alike.
During my visit I learnt how to make butter, an important source of wealth back in the day, and even milked a cow with my own hands (not to much success, I should add).
#5 Explore Ross Castle
On the shore of Lough Leane, the largest of the three Lakes of Killarney, Ross Castle reigns over one of the most striking landscapes in Killarney.
Legend says O’Donoghue Mór, who built the fortress in the 15th century, disappeared into the waters of Lough Leane, where he now lives in a palace. Every year, on the first morning of May, he rises from the lake on his white horse and circles the waters. If you’re lucky enough to catch a glimpse of him, you’ll have good fortune for the rest of your life.
Ross Castle is open to the public only during the summer, but it’s worthy of a visit and a look from the outside all year long.
#6 Take a boat trip on the Lakes of Killarney
From Ross Castle, take a boat tour through the Lakes of Killarney with Gap of Dunloe Traditional Boat Tours.
The O’Donoghue brothers, who run the tours for several generations, claim to offer the most famous visitor excursion in Ireland over the last 250 years. Well, they surely have something special going on here.
Our guides were Donal and his dog Charlie. Donal is a passionate young Irish man, who’s traveled the world but can’t hide his immense and contagious love for his home land. His faithful companion Charlie likes to feel the wind on his face and to pose for photos.
That and the spectacular scenery of towering mountains, green forests and mirrorlike lakes makes this experience one of a kind.
If you only have time for one of the activities on this list of things to do in Killarney, make it this one.
#7 Visit Innisfallen island
Boat tours on Killarney Lakes usually include a short stop at Innisfallen island, a small and inhabited island in Lough Leane.
The ruins of Innisfallen Abbey, built on the island in the 7th century, are one of the most impressive archeological sites in Killarney National Park. A monastery was established here for almost 950 years. The Annals of Innisfallen, an important chronicle of early Irish history, were written on the island by the monks.
Today the only inhabitants of this mystic island are the red deer running freely in the park.
#8 Watch Celtic Steps The Show
This was one of the absolute highlights of my visit to Killarney. I had seen some of their performances on video before, but watching it live was something else.
Rated as the top traditional music, song and dance show in Ireland, Celtic Steps features 17 world-champion Irish dancers and several All-Ireland-champion singers and musicians among its cast.
And they sure put together a superb show, filled of energy, rhythm and emotion.
A mandatory thing to do in Killarney. Make sure to pre-book your tickets in advance though, because they sell fast.
#9 Taste the best beer in Killarney
For a taste of the best traditional craft beer in town, head to Killarney Brewing Company and enjoy their range of artisan beers, proudly brewed with the purest water from Mangerton Mountain.
Funny fact: all their beers are named after local myths and legends, like Scarlet Pinpernel, Casey Brothers, or Rutting Red. I’m not ashamed to say I tried them all, and this was some of the best beer I’ve ever had.
They also serve nice pizza baked in wood-fired oven.
If you’d like to learn more about the beer brewing process and Killarney history, take a guided tour of the brewery, which includes a complimentary beer tasting and storytelling.
#10 Hit the pubs
No visit to Ireland, or checklist of things to do in Killarney, is complete without a pub crawl. And as with any Irish town worthy of its name, Killarney has its share of them.
My favorites were The Laurels, a traditional pub and restaurant on Main Street, J.M. Reidys, located in a historical and protected building in the center of Killarney, and The Shire, a Lord Of The Rings Themed Bar. All of them offer live music, a lot of fun, and, of course, a proper pint.
Where to stay in Killarney
During my visit to Killarney, I spent four nights at Castle Lodge, located a short two-minute walk from the town center. This is a small family-run guest house with all the amenities of a hotel. All the common areas are beautifully decorated, and staff is very friendly and helpful. My room was spacious, comfortable, with en-suite bathroom and a great view over the mountains. Breakfast is included in the room rate, and consists of a cold buffet and a cook to order traditional Irish breakfast. I truly recommend Castle Lodge if you’re looking for good value for money for your stay in Killarney.
Have you been to Killarney, Ireland? Are you planning to visit the Emerald Isle? Share in the comments section below.
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