Best Things to Do in Killarney, Ireland

Killarney is one of those places that I visited and immediately loved. Not every place is like this. Some destinations I need a day or so to really warm up to them, but Killarney was instant love for me.

I loved Killarney so much after my first trip to Ireland that I knew when planning an Ireland vacation with my mom, it was a must-visit. It turned out to be her favourite place in Ireland as well. I included Killarney as my first stop on our itinerary to Ireland.

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Planning Your Trip to Killarney lAST mINUTE?

Planning your trip to Killarney? Below are some places to stay, things to do, and more.

Best Tours and Experiences in Killarney
  1. Gap of Dunloe Hike (Don’t miss this while you’re here!)
  2. Dingle Peninsula Day Tour (One of the prettiest places in Ireland)
  3. Ring of Kerry (Very popular tour)
  4. Guided Horse Riding Tour in Killarney National Park (Amazing reviews)
  5. Coasteering South West Ireland (explore the Wild Atlantic coastline!)
Top Hotels in Killarney
  1. Castle Lodge (I stayed here, fantastic location + breakfast)
  2. Abbey Lodge (Gorgeous B&B, great location)

Traveling around Ireland independently? Click here for Killarney rental car rates!

Sheep in a field near the Gap of Dunloe in Killarney National Park, Ireland. The Gap of Dunloe is one of the most spectacular sights in Killarney or Ireland.
Mountain views and sheep near Killarney, Ireland

Getting to Killarney, Ireland

Even though Killarney is located in the very rural County Kerry, it’s super easy to get to, even if you don’t rent a car.

To visit Killarney, I would fly into Cork or Dublin Airport if you are arriving from an international destination, or Kerry Airport if you are flying from somewhere else in Europe.

From Dublin and Cork, the train is generally the fastest, cheapest, and best option to get to Killarney. You do have to change trains at Mallow from either Cork or Dublin to get to Killarney but the change is very straightforward. For me, the change has meant crossing the platform to the waiting train. If you are going to be taking the train, try to purchase as far in advance as possible to get the cheapest tickets. You can check train timetables and prices here.

From Kerry Airport, the fastest and most direct way to Killarney by public transit is to take a Bus Eireann. If you’re planning on driving, this is a great place to pick up your rental car for your vacation.

Itinerary for Killarney

With so many things to do in Killarney, it can be difficult to get an idea of how long to spend in the town. On both of my trips to Killarney, I budgeted for two full days in the town. I could have easily spent longer as Killarney is perfectly situated for exploring the area but Cork city, Kilkenny, and Galway were also calling to me. With two days in Killarney, you can experience the hospitality of County Kerry and see the gorgeous coastline on a day trip and Killarney National Park.

This itinerary can be done without a car rental by making use of guided tours and local transit.

If you have more time in Killarney, do both activities from day 3, each does take up a full day. With even more time, you could consider visiting both the Ring of Kerry and the Dingle Peninsula.

Two Days in Killarney, Ireland

Day 1: Arrive to Killarney in the evening and enjoy a traditional pub and Irish food
Day 2: Drive or join a tour to see either the Dingle Peninsula or Ring of Kerry.
Day 3: Tour the Gap of Dunloe, either by foot, bike, or horse-drawn carriage
Explore Torc Waterfall, Ross Castle, and Muckross House and Abbey
Day 4: Depart in the morning after a traditional Irish breakfast. If you have extra time, explore the part of the National Park that is right next to the town and the Killarney Cathedral.

If you are planning on doing the Ring of Kerry or Dingle Peninsula, I highly recommend planning to do it on your first full day in Killarney. Especially for the Ring of Kerry, you may see some sights close to Killarney like Torc waterfall or the view of the Gap of Dunloe. It will give you a chance to see what you want to revisit and spend more time for your second full day in Killarney.

Getting Around Killarney

By Pony Cart The most popular way to get around Killarney is definitely by pony cart. The sound of horse hooves all around town is something you will hear on your visit to Killarney. There is a horse stand in the town of Killarney in the large roundabout on the edge of the main tourist area. From here you will be able to hire a cart to go to any of the main tourist sights near Killarney. There are also horse stands for the Gap of Dunloe and at Muckross House. It can easily add up in costs so you may want to investigate some other means of getting around to save money.

By Bicycle Killarney National Park is fantastic to bike around. There are plenty of trails close to town and you really can explore almost everything by bike. You can rent a bike in Killarney from O’Sullivan’s Cycles.

On Foot If you prefer hiking, there are lots of hiking trails around Killarney to explore. To save energy you will probably want to combine hiking with using the hop on hop-off bus service. This bus service is mostly in the high season though it does run a reduced schedule in spring and fall. The service does not operate in the winter season (December-February).

Some of the horses and jaunting carts you can employ in Killarney to take you to local sights like Muckross House.
Horse carriages at Muckross House in Killarney

Places to Stay in Killarney

Both times I visited Killarney I stayed in bed and breakfasts just outside the core pub and restaurant area of Killarney. I didn’t mind having a short less than 10-minute walk to my accommodation in Killarney because the town does get quite full of tourists and it can be a bit noisy.

Killarney is a fantastic place to try out a bed and breakfast in Ireland as they serve up phenomenal traditional Irish breakfasts and offer great hospitality. If you want the best deals, book in advance as the highest-rated hotels and B&Bs in Killarney do book up.

Castle Lodge, Killarney– I loved this B&B. It’s at a good price point, has comfortable beds and is a convenient walk to the centre of Killarney. The breakfast here was very yummy. You may have a room that overlooks Killarney House and Gardens. When I visited the receptionist was super friendly and went above and beyond answering questions and even helped with booking onward train travel.

Abbey Lodge– Great alternative if Castle Lodge is booked up. Great location, full Irish breakfast, beautiful rooms.

Where to Eat in Killarney

I’ve fully covered my eating recommendations for Killarney and Ireland in this post on vegetarian dining in Ireland, but some places to keep in mind are:

Murphy’s Ice Cream– for locally produced ice cream with unique Irish flavours.
Caragh Restaurant– Good place for traditional Irish food with some vegetarian options.
Sceal Eile Restaurant– Love the upstairs seating for views over High street, good Irish pub food.

Best Things to Do in Killarney

Gap of Dunloe

The Gap of Dunloe is probably my favourite thing to do in Killarney. There are several different ways you can visit it to see the stunning valley. This narrow mountain pass is situated between the Purple Mountain and Macgillycuddy’s Reeks and it deserves consideration for your time in Killarney.

The mountains here are quite different than what you can see close to Dublin in the Wicklow Mountains and the ones near Killarney are not to be missed.

The road is extremely narrow so it is strongly discouraged to drive yourself. The way it’s talked about you would think it was illegal to drive. It isn’t. But it is so narrow that if you drive you may get stuck behind one of the jaunting carts as it makes its way through. If you do drive, I suggest going either early in the morning or late in the afternoon to avoid the main tourist times.

View of the Gap of Dunloe taking in the mountains and narrow road. It truly is one of the most beautiful sights in Ireland
The Gap of Dunloe near Killarney, Ireland

If you would rather explore the Gap of Dunloe by pony cart, on bicycle, or by foot, the best way to see the Gap of Dunloe is to include a boat tour of the lakes.

By bike or pony cart, you will start your trip to the Gap of Dunloe by catching a boat near Ross Castle. Some of the walking tours start from the other side of the Gap of Dunloe and end with the boat trip. Either way works well and there are a few tours you can get to make things easier. It’s also possible to do it yourself by using the hop on hop-off buses or renting a bicycle.

This Gap of Dunloe tour takes in the Lakes of Killarney by boat and then you hike the Gap of Dunloe.

The option I went with for exploring the Gap of Dunloe was to rent a bicycle in Killarney. I was able to rent a bicycle from O’Sullivan’s Cycles right near the Killarney Tourist Centre. After renting a bicycle, I took it with me on the boat to the start of the Gap of Dunloe and biked through it.

The boat that takes you to the start of the Gap of Dunloe near Killarney Ireland. This truly is one of the top activities in Killarney as it offers amazing sights and is truly beautiful.
The small boat that takes you through the lakes and up the river to the start of the Gap of Dunloe.

The boat I got was a very small boat and it went across the lakes and under a couple of bridges. The lakes are beautiful and you get to see lots of memorable mountain scenery on the way. The boat drops you off near Lord Brandon’s Cottage.

View from a boat tour in Killarney National Park. A boat tour is the perfect activity to explore the sights of Killarney National Park in Ireland
Lakes of Killarney National Park

From the cottage, it’s a bike ride up a bit of a hill (ok it felt like forever) before seeing the Gap of Dunloe when you reach the peak. You can also get a pony cart from here instead. On the way, you get to pass lots of sheep and maybe even baby sheep if you are there in the right season.

The Gap of Dunloe is spectacular, the ride down the hill and through the valley is truly special and one of my favourite travel memories. After going through the Gap of Dunloe, have lunch or a snack at Kate Kearney’s cottage at the end. From Kate Kearney’s Cottage, it is just a short ride back into Killarney. If you choose to boat and bike, it is an all-day activity.

The narrow road that leads into the Gap of Dunloe in Ireland. This is one of the top things to do in Killarney.
The road leading up to the Gap of Dunloe
The road in the Gap of Dunloe. You can drive, hike, bike, or taking a jaunting cart to explore this beautiful location in County Kerry, Ireland.
The narrow road and bridge through the Gap of Dunloe

Ross Castle

Ross Castle, Torc Waterfall, and Muckross House are a great way to experience Killarney National Park. Best of all, if you don’t have a car rental, they are all reachable by using the Big Red Bus hop-on hop-off service. Another popular option for getting to nearby locations is to get a jaunting car. You will see plenty of horses and carriages around Killarney.

Ross Castle in Killarney National Park. This is one of the top activities to do in Killarney
Ross Castle in Killarney, Ireland

Ross Castle is a 15th-century castle ruin that sits on the edge of Lough Leane. It’s definitely worth taking a look at though I only felt I needed 15-20 minutes here. Ross Castle is one of the closer sights to Killarney town so if you felt like it, you could walk here.

Visit Torc Waterfall

Torc Waterfall is set in the beautiful lush forest of Killarney National Park. Walking towards the waterfall feels almost like you are in a rainforest. This 20 m high waterfall is a great introduction to exploring Killarney National Park. It’s only a 5-minute walk from the parking lot. After seeing the waterfall, you can continue hiking up the stairs near Torc Waterfall to get a view of the lakes although you may want to budget an extra 2 hours for the Torc Mountain hike.

Visiting Torc Waterfall is something you can do from Killarney town or its a great thing to do on the Ring of Kerry.
Torc Waterfall in Killarney National Park

If you are using the hop-on hop-off service to get around, you can walk to Muckross House from Torc Waterfall by walking back towards the parking lot and following the trail under the road. This takes you on a path with great views of Muckross Lake and Torc Mountain. There is also a chance to see some native red deer in the fields. It’s only 1 km and can be done in 30-45 minutes.

Muckross House and Abbey

Muckross House is one of the more popular places to visit in Killarney. This massive Victorian mansion has plenty to do, you could spend a whole afternoon here easily. It’s famous for hosting Queen Victoria in 1861. Entry is paid but you can explore the massive gardens, the inside of the house, and visit the traditional farm. It’s a huge area and it’s nice to stroll around the grounds with spectacular views of the lakes and forest.

Muckross House with Torc Mountain in the background. Muckross House is one of Killarney's most popular things to do. It's easy to spend an afternoon on the grounds.
Muckross House, Killarney, Ireland

The highlight for me of the Muckross estate is the Muckross Abbey. The Abbey is free to visit and is about a 1.4 km walk, taking about 30-45 minutes each way to walk there. The walk itself is quite pleasant as for part of it you are next to Lough Leane. It’s also possible to visit the Muckross Abbey by horse-drawn carriage.

The ruins of the Muckross Abbey. This is one of the best things to do when visiting Killarney in Kerry. The Abbey is just a short walk or jaunting car ride from Muckross House and takes you into Killarney National Park.
Muckross Abbey, Killarney

Muckross Abbey was founded in 1448 and has been through a lot of damage and repairs over the years. Currently, it is mostly roofless and one of its most striking features is the yew tree that sits in its courtyard and cloister. Yew trees are associated with longevity as they can live up to 3000 years so you can often find them around Christian sites as a way to mark that it is a religious ground.

The yew tree that grows inside the cloister of Muckross Abbey near Killarney in Ireland. If you're looking for what to do in Ireland, this is a great place to add to your Irish trip.
Yew tree inside Muckross Abbey, Killarney

See Killarney Cathedral

St.Mary’s Cathedral is just on the edge of the main tourist area of Killarney. This spectacular Gothic cathedral was completed in 1855. It’s worth taking a walk around and checking out the inside. The sequoia tree that sits on its front lawn is also a pretty sight to behold.

Killarney Cathedral is located just outside of the main Killarney town and is worth a quick stop to see the cathedral and giant sequoia tree on the grounds.
St. Mary’s Cathedral, Killarney

Explore the town of Killarney

The town of Killarney can be quite touristy but it is enjoyable to explore the shops and restaurants of this town. There are plenty of shops to pick up the perfect Irish souvenir, including wool and traditional candy shops. Because the town is quite small, you don’t need to budget too much time to explore. If you enjoy picking out the perfect souvenir, Killarney was one of my favourite places to shop in Ireland just because it was compact and the prices were in line with the rest of the country.

The colorful streets of Killarney in Ireland. There are plenty of pubs and shops to explore here.
High Street in Killarney

See Killarney House and Gardens

Killarney House and Gardens is easily accessible from the town of Killarney as it is located just off one of the main streets. There’s a great view of the mountains here from the huge lawn and gardens. It’s the perfect place for an early morning stroll before heading out to your main activities for the day. If you have time, you can also tour the inside of Killarney House to see the restored rooms to this historic house. Entry to the house and gardens is free.

Explore the Demesne

The Demesne part of Killarney National Park was part of Knockreer Estates before being donated to the Republic of Ireland. This area of the park is right next to the town of Killarney and you can easily access it from near the cathedral or from Killarney House and Gardens.

Irish cottage in the Demesne area of Killarney National Park, this used to be part of the Knockreer estate and is now conveniently close to Killarney town.
Thatched cottage in the Demesne section of Killarney National Park

This pleasant forested and meadow area is a great place to walk around and take in the Irish scenery. There is also a thatched cottage near the cathedral side entrance to take in. On occasion, you may get a chance to see deer in this park. There are trails that will take you all the way down to Ross Castle if you wish to go for a longer walk.

If you visit in spring, the trails that take in the forested area are a great place to spot tons of wild bluebells that carpet the forest floor.

Bluebells carpet the forest floor of the Demesne or Knockreer Estate in Killarney National Park, Ireland during spring.
Bluebells in Killarney National Park

Day Trips from Killarney, Ireland

There are two main day trip options from Killarney: the famous Ring of Kerry and the slightly less famous Dingle Peninsula. For my travel style, I would recommend picking one or the other to do.

I loved my experience on the Dingle Peninsula but to do both would have been too much time on a bus or in a car. Either option will give you stunning views of the Wild Atlantic Way coastline.

If you are taking a tour make sure to book in advance as they do sell out. I went on this tour for the Dingle Peninsula and was very happy with it, there are also day trips to the Ring of Kerry.

If you are self-driving, check the weather for the area before heading out. The coastline is much more spectacular when there isn’t fog and rain blocking your view. You can’t always avoid the rain in Ireland but do try to minimize it if possible.

I haven’t visited the Ring of Kerry so I asked Cath of Travel Around Ireland to share her experience driving it.

The Ring of Kerry

By Cath of Travel Around Ireland

Killarney is the starting point for many people visiting the Ring of Kerry, one of the best activities to do from the town. This 179-mile circular route weaves its way through quaint little villages, past rugged mountains and the beautiful Atlantic Coast, and is also part of the Wild Atlantic Way.

The best way to enjoy the beauty of the Ring of Kerry is to travel around it yourself, either by car or motorbike. You could cycle it but it’s a long way for just a day. And you can cover much of the Ring of Kerry in one day at your own pace, rather than on a packed bus.

Tour buses go anticlockwise, so when my husband and I visited we went clockwise. From Killarney, you can travel towards Kenmare. Between these two points, you can visit Muckross House and the Torc Waterfall. Continuing on you should stop at the Upper Lake and also Ladies View, a great viewpoint that looks out across the Killarney National Park and the MacGillycuddy Reeks mountains.

View of the Atlantic Ocean while traveling around the Ring of Kerry in Ireland. This day trip from Killarney is one of the best things to do when visiting Killarney town.
View of the Atlantic Ocean while traveling the Ring of Kerry. Photo by Cath of Travel Around Ireland.

After passing through Kenmare, enjoy the views along the coast before you come to Sneem, a lovely little village. Depending on your timing, you could stop for a bite to eat here. From Sneem continue west towards Cahersiveen where you can detour onto Valentia Island via Portmagee to visit the Skellig Michael Visitor Centre or just enjoy a wander around the abandoned traditional buildings and coastal walks. You can also reach the island from Cahersiveen via a short ferry ride.

From Cahersiveen, you will be heading towards Killarney, which will take you about an hour if you don’t stop. However, there is one stop you need to do and that is at the Gap of Dunloe. You can drive through the Gap in a car, although the jaunting car operators would have you believe otherwise. But the road is extremely narrow and dangerous. So, it might be better to walk or take one of the horses and cart rides through it for safety reasons. Yes, it’s touristy but you cannot miss a visit to this beautiful part of the Ring of Kerry, passing by four lakes between the MacGillycuddy Reeks and the Purple Mountain Group. If you are cycling or on a motorbike as I was, you can ride through at your leisure.

And once you’ve visited the beautiful Gap of Dunloe, you’ll have covered most of the must-visit points on the Ring of Kerry and can return to Killarney for a well-deserved pint of Guinness or a glass of wine.

Dingle Peninsula

The Dingle Peninsula is my favourite day trip from Killarney. It was so good the first time, on my second trip to Killarney I visited the Dingle Peninsula again. Both times, I went by tour bus. I went on this tour to Dingle, and was very happy with the quality of the tour.

Start your Dingle Peninsula tour by heading to Inch Beach. This gorgeous 5-km long beach offers up beautiful dunes and beautiful ocean scenery. After stopping at the beach, head towards Annascul. The scenery of the rolling hills of Ireland and the coastline is fantastic in this area. If you’re traveling on a tour bus, there will be plenty of stops for photos.

Inch Beach with the mountains in the background and the sand dunes covered in wavy grasses. This is part of the Dingle Peninsula tour you can take from Killarney, Ireland
The dunes and beach of Inch Beach, Ireland

Drive through Dingle town so that you can begin the Slea Head Drive. Slea Head has some of the most dramatic coastal scenery of the day. It also takes you to see the westernmost point of Ireland and Europe. This area is also known for its early Christian sites and beehive huts like the Gallarus Oratory, an ancient, 1200-year-old dry-stone building.

On the drive, you will see the Blasket Islands, the most westerly point in Ireland. Right after the Blasket Islands is the Blasket Centre. This is a fantastic place to stop if you want to learn about the history of the area, including life on the Blasket Islands. There are multiple stops here worth taking as the views are truly phenomenal.

Stop in Dingle town for lunch and to explore this brightly coloured harbour town. There are plenty of options for food here and lots of cute shops to explore as well. Dingle is Ireland’s largest Gaeltacht town (a region that speaks primarily Irish) so it’s an opportunity to hear locals speaking Ireland’s official language.

After spending time in Dingle town, depending on the size of your tour bus or comfortability driving narrow roads, you can explore the Connor Pass. It’s the highest road in Ireland at 456 m and it offers spectacular views of the landscape and ocean. The road is very narrow however and only worth doing if the weather is clear. Afterward, return to Killarney for dinner.

Visiting Killarney, Ireland

Killarney is a fantastic option to add on to any Ireland itinerary. It’s a chance to experience the rural side of Ireland and a chance to see the beautiful coastline as well as the fantastic hospitality of the bed and breakfasts in Killarney. It’s always the one place I tell people to go if they are considering a vacation to Ireland. There’s so much to do in this area that you could easily stay for longer than two days.

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  1. The castle, the waterfall, the horse carriages and great scenery… all blended with your excellent article!

  2. I can almost feel the crisp, fresh breeze blowing from your beach & dune photos, so wonderful! I love this part of Ireland and I look forward to going back again and checking out a few things you suggested that I missed the first go around. Thanks for sharing!!

    1. I wish that beach was that serene. It’s really beautiful but rather than a crisp breeze it was more like massive gusts of wind with sand mixed in. I’m sure there are serene days though. I’ve been twice and still missed things I want to do in this area! I’m thinking next time I should just spend my whole time in Ireland in county Kerry.

      1. …and when you do visit again, you must tour the Beara Peninsula, the most beautiful peninsula in the southwest, starting in Kenmare. It’s the peninsula below the Ring of Kerry. There are no Coaches or Buses over 8 seaters allowed so it’s much quieter and the villages are so colourful. It’s a lot more peaceful and it’s also a far more accurate reflection of the ‘real Ireland’. If it’s the best coastal views you’re after, this is where it’s at.

  3. What a great guide! I’ve always wanted to visit Killarney, but you’ve really inspired me! All your B&B recommendations sound great too! I would love to visit Ross Castle and the Torc Waterfall!

    1. Thank you! The B&B’s in Killarney really were my favourite in Ireland. They just seem to go above and beyond to make sure you are happy with your stay and to feed you massive breakfasts.

  4. I already knew I loved Ireland, but I have never been to Killarney. I love the greenness and those epic coastal views.

    It’s funny, I feel like I have seen similarly gorgeous views in other parts of Ireland. If I visit, I am pretty sure it’ll feel like going home.

    p.s. Have you been to Connemara too? I am very sure you’d love it.

    1. You’re 100% right, I have been to Connemara and I did love it! Connemara definitely reminds me of the Killarney area in some ways. When I visited I did a few short day hikes on a tour and it was so beautiful I would definitely love to explore for longer in that area.

  5. I loved visiting Killarney during my road trip through Ireland! A lot of things to do and a great brewery scene! Smithwicks is my favorite Irish beer since that time 😉 Great post and awesome pics!

    1. Glad you liked the post 🙂 Killarney definitely has a huge pub and brewery scene. I didn’t explore much of it while I was there because I’m not a huge drinker but the town definitely comes alive at night.

  6. This is great! I’m currently doing my Masters in Edinburgh and definitely want to get in a little trip to Ireland during my time here 🙂

    1. It’s definitely a main mode of transportation for tourists at least. You can’t visit Killarney without hearing the clip clop of hooves, it really adds to the atmosphere of the town.

    1. Thanks Ashley, glad you enjoyed the post. Killarney has a lot of good day trip options and it’s definitely a main reason why it’s such a popular place for tourists to visit.

  7. I enjoyed that very much. Ireland is on my bucket list and I hope to go in the next 2 years. It was also great getting information from someone else to write about the part you didn’t do, that way we get a full picture of what is available.

    1. Glad you enjoyed the post Jean-Marie! Cath provided such a great account of the Ring of Kerry and I knew I couldn’t skip it when it’s one of the most popular day trips from Killarney. I just fell in so in love with the Dingle Peninsula I visited on both trips to Killarney.

  8. Ooh! I have been to Ireland, but we weren’t able to go to Killarney. You’ve given me such wanderlust – I’ll keep this in mind for when we (hopefully) go later!

  9. Killarney looks so beautiful, love the shots! My mom was here in May 2019 and loved it, now I want to go!

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