County Kerry, probably the most visited county in all of Ireland, is where you'll find the Ring of Kerry, the Dingle Peninsula and Killarney. We suggest a minimum of three days in the county, which is about 70 mi/113 km from Shannon Airport.
The Ring of Kerry long has been one of the must-sees of Ireland—which explains all the tourists. In summer, the road seems more like a parade of tour buses inching down the highway than a beautiful scenic drive through some of Ireland's most spectacular countryside. Most tours are all-day, 110-mi/175-km circular drives that start in Killarney, skirt the Mountains of Kerry on the Iveragh Peninsula, follow a rugged coastline and pass old monasteries, ruined castles, the third-century Staigue Fort, the Derrynane House, and spectacular valleys and majestic mountains (including 3,414-ft/1,000-m Carrantuohill, Ireland's tallest). The Ring passes through the towns of Glenbeigh, Waterville and Kenmare, then Moll's Gap and near the Black Valley before returning to Killarney.
We recommend taking detours off the main road, too. Almost any small road that goes up and over the Mountains of Kerry on the Iveragh Peninsula will offer spectacular views and eerie highland landscapes. Just an hour or less from the Ring itself are spectacular lonely mountain passes where you might see only a solitary shepherd with his sheep. The Ring can be seen either via rental car or on an escorted tour. It is best to drive counterclockwise around the ring to avoid traffic problems. Other area activities include treks through the hills and lake boat rides. http://www.ringofkerrytourism.com.
The Dingle Peninsula on the southwest coast in County Kerry holds one of the largest concentrations of Celtic and early Christian ruins in the world—more than 2,000 sites. The peninsula is similar to the Ring of Kerry, but smaller. There are mountains, bluffs, beaches and green hillsides divided by rambling stone walls. Inch Beach, on the main road between Dingle and Killarney, was the setting for David Lean's 1970 movie Ryan's Daughter. http://www.dingle-peninsula.ie.
We recommend staying in Dingle Town itself—it's a lively and attractive place with a picturesque harbor, brightly painted buildings and lots of pubs with live music.
Dingle's most famous attraction is in the bay rather than the bar, however: Fungi the dolphin has lived in Dingle Harbor since 1984, and boat tours now do a good business ferrying visitors out for a look. If you'd rather not pay for the boat tour, you sometimes can spot Fungi from land: Walk south along the shore to the mouth of the harbor (the trail starts near the Skellig Hotel). It's a nice walk, even if Fungi never shows. Or visit Dingle Ocean World, an aquarium offering a variety of local sea life such as sea bass, spider crabs, mussels and sharks, as well as artifacts of the Spanish Armada. A touch pool gives visitors an opportunity to have direct contact with several harmless species, including rays. http://www.dingle-oceanworld.ie.
You can see most of the peninsula's historic sights by taking the coastal road west out of Dingle Town and around the tip of the peninsula, then circling back to town. (Be sure to stop by the tourist center in Dingle Town for maps and background information about the ruins—visits to the sites are much more rewarding if you know their history.) Plan on spending most of a day to make a leisurely tour of this circuit by car, though it can be done more quickly. Many people also see it by bicycle, but there's a fair amount of pedaling involved—30 mi/50 km—and you'll have to deal with a lot of cars along the way.
The ruins and scenic lookouts pop up around every bend in the road, but there are a few standouts. Just outside of Dingle, turn off the highway to the left and see the Ogham Stones near Lord Ventry Manor. The lines carved on the stones are a form of early Celtic writing used between AD 200 and 600. Farther on, you'll pass the remains of ancient Dunbeg Fort and beehive stone huts perhaps used by hermits or earlier prehistoric people.
At the tip of the peninsula, Slea Head, you begin to get gorgeous views of the Blasket Islands. For a better understanding of these isolated islands, whose inhabitants were removed to the Irish mainland in 1953, stop by the Blasket Centre museum a little farther up the road. http://www.heritageireland.ie/en/South-West/IonadandBhlascaoidMhoir-TheBlascaoidCentre.
When traveling the scenic Dingle route, don't miss the Gallarus Oratory, a stone building constructed in the AD 800s and seemingly in perfect shape despite 1,200 years of wind and rain. Nearby is the Riasc Monastic Settlement, the remains of a fifth-century monastery and the beautiful Kilmalkedar Church.
Try to make the journey over the high Connor Pass on your way to Dingle Town or as you leave. It's the highest pass in Ireland and offers dramatic views—if it isn't shrouded in fog. The road over the pass from Dingle Town leads to Tralee (at the north entrance of the peninsula). It's worth a visit, though it is not as small or charming as the town of Dingle. It hosts the famous Rose of Tralee Festival each year at the end of August (http://roseoftralee.ie). We suggest a minimum of two days in the area.
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