Killarney Travel Guide
Killarney, Ireland is a traditional Irish town with painted pastel houses, busy pubs, and bustling lanes. What makes the town so extraordinary is its proximity to the stunning lake and mountain landscapes of Killarney National Park. Our Killarney Travel Guide will acquaint you with the town of Killarney’s weather, the best time to visit, what to pack, and where to stay/eat/drink/shop. The article also includes our favorite things to do in Killarney.
Our number one favorite thing to do in Killarney is exploring the ancient woodlands, heaths, and lakes of Killarney National Park. A close second, is visiting the park’s cultural attractions including Ross Castle, Muckross House, and Muckross Abbey. St. Mary’s Cathedral in Killarney Town is another must-see. Finally, it is important to mention that the town is the traditional starting point of the Ring of Kerry.
With so much to do, it is easy to understand why visitors flock to Killarney. At times, the crowds can feel overwhelming. However, crowd avoidance should not be a reason to stay away. Killarney’s central location makes it a great base for exploring Killarney National Park, the Ring of Kerry, and other Kerry County sights. Use our Killarney guide to plan well, and for suggestions on how to escape the masses.
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Killarney, Ireland is a town of around 16,000 residents. The town has been catering to tourists since the early 1700’s when Killarney became popular with painters for its beautiful landscapes and friendly spirit. Over the centuries, the birthplace of Irish tourism has earned the nickname, “the home of the traditional Irish welcome.”
Visitors of Killarney Town gather in the blocks surrounding High, Chapel, New, and Main Streets. In this area there is a high concentration of colorful souvenir shops and pubs giving it a carnival-like feel. There are several pedestrian-only lanes which make meandering fun. The pubs become especially lively at night when music and bright lights wash over the cobblestones.
The outskirts of Killarney are densely developed and heavily trafficked. Route N71 leading in and out of town is lined with hotels, pubs, cycling shops, convenience stores, liquor outlets, and tour operators. In summer, and during holidays and festivals, the region becomes even more crowded. On our last trip there was a motorcycle festival in town. Campers and tents popped up on every spare inch of grass along N71.
Killarney National Park
Bordering Killarney Town is the magnificent Killarney National Park. The vivid blues and intense greens of the park’s hillsides and horizons are more stunning in person than any picture could portray. The 26,000-acre UNESCO Biosphere Reserve encompasses some of the tallest peaks in Ireland as well as the glacial Lakes of Killarney (Lough Leane, Muckross Lake, and Upper Lake).
A great feature of Killarney National Park is the accessibility of the outdoor. If you are traveling with children or seniors, you will enjoy a system of well-maintained paths through the park’s attractions. If you are a hardcore adventurer there are miles of backcountry trails to explore. If you are something in between, just a short distance from the park’s main attractions the crowds fall away and you seem to have the woods to yourself.
In addition to outdoor activities, Killarney National Park offers many must-see cultural attractions such as Ross Castle, Muckross House and Gardens, Muckross Abbey, and the town's famous jaunting cars (pony pulled carts).
The Ring of Kerry
Killarney is a stop on the Ring of Kerry drive, and is known as its traditional starting point. The “Ring” is a 111-mile scenic route that follows the coastline of the Iveragh Peninsula. The drive takes in miles of breathtaking cliffs, white sand beaches, forts, and charming seaside villages.
Since the route is circular, many people use Killarney as a base of travel. In Killarney, folks take advantage of the town’s many lodging and restaurant choices. It is common for travelers to spend a day or two exploring Killarney attractions, and then to drive the rest of the Ring of Kerry.
HOW TO GET TO KILLARNEY
Killarney is in southwest Ireland’s Kerry County (bordering Cork and Limerick). The town abuts the Killarney National Park which encompasses three lakes and miles of rivers, rolling hills, and mountains. Killarney is about 19-miles (30km) from the Irish coast.
You can travel to Killarney by:
Rail: Iarnród Éireann (Irish Rail) provides intercity rail passenger service to Killarney. The Killarney Rail Station is about a 3-minute drive (17-minute walk) from the center of Killarney.
Bus: Bus Eireann (Irish National bus service) provides transport services the town of Killarney. The Killarney Bus Station is about a 3-minute drive (17-minute walk) from the center of Killarney.
Plane: Airports closest to Killarney include Kerry (9-miles), Cork (46-miles), Shannon (52-miles), and Dublin (314-miles). The best flight will depend on from where you depart.
Car: (RECOMMENDED) For most visitors a car rental is the most efficient means of navigating the area. Traveling to Killarney via train or bus can involve multiple connections. In Killarney, and the surrounding area, public transport is sparce and the sights are spread out. To fully enjoy the area, we suggest renting a car (or book guided tours). Parking in Killarney Town is sparse, most attractions outside of town have adequate parking.
Driving in Killarney: In Ireland the roads are narrower than in the US, and drivers sit on the right side. TIP: If you want an automatic vehicle, make sure to reserve well in advance (standards are most common). Also, book a smaller car (road width and parking spaces are smaller).
Ireland has a warm and temperate climate that is influenced by the Atlantic Gulf Stream. Temperatures are stable throughout the year fluctuating between 46-61’ F. The island’s frequent rain and humidity leads to the lush green vegetation for which Ireland is famous.
Summer: End of June to September
Hottest and Coldest Month: July (61’F); January (45’F)
Wettest Month: October (133mm, or 5 inches, of rain)
Most Daily Sunshine: June (7-hours)
BEST TIME TO VISIT KILLARNEY
Early and late summer are the best time of year to visit Killarney. The region becomes quite crowded during the months of July and August when the temperatures are warmest and most Europeans are on vacation. We think the ideal time to visit is in May and early-June when the days are warming, flowers are blooming, the rain is abating, and the crowds have not swelled. Second runner up: September.
WHAT TO PACK FOR A TRIP TO KILLARNEY
In Killarney we spent a lot of time outdoors, and ate most meals in pubs or small family restaurants. When outside, the weather changed frequently. On multiple outings we experience rain, wind, sunshine, and clouds. I recommend packing:
For Day: Hiking sneakers if you are hiking/biking. Travel shoes with good soles for other outings. (There are lots of cobblestones so no spikey shoes.) Short sleeve shirts with a light sweatshirt/fleece and a good rain/wind jacket with hood to layer. Hat and sunscreen.
For Night: Casual dinner clothing with lightweight jacket or fleece. Flat shoes (cobblestones!).
HOW TO AVOID THE CROWDS IN KILLARNEY
Our recommended strategies to beat the crowds include:
Check the calendar for holidays and festivals before you book. There are many in Killarney. A festival can pull in thousands of extra visitors. Depending on the holiday, attendees can influence the atmosphere of the town and make parking, shopping, or getting a dinner reservation much more difficult.
Book accommodations just outside of Killarney Town.
Visit attractions at opening time, or two-hours before closing.
Focus your activities on things to do in the Killarney National Park.
Avoid driving a vehicle into Killarney Town during the afternoon and early evening.
Visit in the months between September and May.
In Killarney you will find a wide range of accommodations ranging from luxury hotels to family run B&Bs. Competition for guests is fierce and standards (cleanliness, comfort, and safety) are generally high. Large resort-type hotels are apt to offer the most amenities (pool, restaurant, bar, workout room, game room, etc.). Smaller lodges and B&Bs will usually offer a private bath, free breakfast, and parking.
In high-season expect to pay in the range of: Budget lodging ($100-150 Euro), Moderate priced ($150 -275 Euro), Luxury ($275 Euro and up). Accommodations outside of high season (June – September) should be less.
WHERE TO STAY IN KILLARNEY
Stay in Killarney Town if you don’t have a car or if you like a lively atmosphere. In town, you can walk to most services (restaurants, pubs, shopping, and tour operators). Staying in town also allows you to walk home after an evening of pub hopping. Book accommodations outside of town if you have a car and prefer a more low-key environment. Just a few kilometers outside of town the woods and farmland close in and the surroundings become much more rural and serene.
Lodging Recommendation: To have easy access to park attractions, and stay in a wooded area; book accommodations along Route N71 between the Flesk River and Torc Waterfall. In this area you will find beautiful lodging such as The Lake Hotel, Muckross Park Hotel and Spa, and Friars Glen Country House. Or, if you don’t mind driving, book a hotel in the quieter nearby town of Kenmare (also a stop on the Ring of Kerry).
KILLARNEY PUBS & RESTAURANTS
Killarney Town has some restaurants featuring international cuisine (French, Asian, and Indian), but gastropubs are its bread and butter (traditional and upmarket). Menu favorites include fresh seafood, Irish Stew, Shepards Pie, brown bead, and Boxty Potato Pancakes.
In Killarney we found we did not want to 'dress up' after a day of hiking or biking. Instead, we preferred the inviting atmosphere of a pub offering home-style food and traditional music. What follows is a list of some well-established Killarney pubs and restaurants:
Courtney’s Bar: (Opened 1800s) Traditional pub. Wood interior. Live music.
John M Reidy: (Opened 1800s) Friendly staff. Attractive interior. Live music.
Murphy’s Bar: Traditional pub with upstairs restaurant. Live music
O’Connor’s Traditional Pub: Friendly pub with loft-styled restaurant. Live music.
The Laurels: Family-owned pub. Adjacent restaurant. Live music nights.
Tatler Jack: Long narrow pub. Jersey lined walls. Serves food. Live music.
THINGS TO DO IN KILLARNEY, IRELAND
Take a walking or cycling tour through the Gap of Dunloe.
Explore the attractions of Killarney National Park: Ross Castle, Muckross House and Gardens, Muckross Abbey, and Torc Waterfall.
Tour the Ring of Kerry.
Cruise or kayak the Lakes of Killarney (Lough Leane, Muckross Lake, and Upper Lake).
Visit St. Mary’s Cathedral in Killarney Town.
Go pub hopping or shop hopping in Killarney Town.
Cycle or walk the paths of Killarney National Park.
Boat to Innisfallen Island to view the ruins of an ancient monastery.
Watch a sheep dog demonstration.
Take a jaunting car ride (pony pulled cart).
Explore the village of Kenmare.
Do a guided climb of Mt. Carrauntoohill (Ireland’s highest mountain).
Go trail riding on horse back through Killarney National Park.
Take a road trip to Ladies' View & Moll’s Gap scenic vistas.
Enjoy a whiskey tasting at Killarney’s Irish Whiskey Experience.
Slán go fóill (Bye for now), Laura and Randy
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