County Kerry (Contae Chiarraí) is in Southwest Ireland, and historically part of the province of Munster. With a population of 147,707 in 2016, Kerry is one of the most scenic and touristy parts of Ireland, because of its two mountainous peninsulas, Dingle and Iveragh. Jutting into the Atlantic Gulf Stream, these draw not only tourists but cloud, mist, copious rainfall and midges. Kerry therefore has well developed visitor facilities.
- 1 Tralee is the county town, with Kerry County Museum.
- 2 Castleisland has the extensive Crag Cave.
- 3 Killarney is Kerry's main tourist centre, flanked by Lough Leane and Killarney National Park.
- 4 Killorglin has Kerry Bog Village and the lively Puck Festival.
- 5 Caherciveen the birthplace of Daniel O'Connell has a Ruritanian police barracks and two stone ringforts.
- 6 Portmagee on the "Skellig Ring" is the usual route to Valentia Island and for trips to Skellig Michael.
- 7 Kenmare, famous for its lace, is near several Iron Age and other ancient structures.
- 8 Dingle has many well-preserved ancient sites and wild Atlantic views.
- 9 Cloghane together with Brandon is the main settlement north side of Dingle Peninsula.
- 10 Annascaul has a famous pub and is near a surfing beach.
- 11 Listowel is the main town in the north of the county.
- 1 Blasket Islands are six little islands off the Dingle Peninsula, uninhabited since 1953. Boat trips visit, and you can stay on Great Blasket the largest island.
- 2 Scariff and Deenish are the two islands seen west of Derrynane on the Ring of Kerry. Scariff is the larger and further island, 7 km off Hog's Head. They're grazing land and nowadays uninhabited.
- 3 Skellig Michael 12 km out in the Atlantic has the remains of a medieval monastery and is a UNESCO World Heritage site. You need to be lucky with the weather to get here.
Tourism has a 250-year history in Kerry. From 1747 Viscount Kenmare tried to improve his estate by promoting a tourist trade, but this didn't get very far in an era when very few people could enjoy the luxury of leisure travel, and travel within Ireland was especially tedious. That changed with the arrival of the railway in 1853: tourists flocked, and hotels and other amenities sprang up. The north of the county around Tralee and Listowel is agreeable enough, but the best of the scenery and the concentration of facilities are around the two-and-a-bit rugged peninsulas to the south.
Dingle Peninsula below Tralee is the north one. Its chain of mountains culminate in Mount Brandon, with scarps and tumbling waterfalls. The chain continues out into the Atlantic, forming the Blasket Islands.
Iveragh Peninsula is in the middle, and the Ring of Kerry is the 214 km circuit of its main highway N70. Cyclists need several days but it's usually done by car or tour bus as a day-trip, starting from Killarney and going anti-clockwise through Killorglin and Caherciveen. There's a subsidiary "Skellig Ring" loop on minor roads, which most buses miss, via Valentia Island, Portmagee and Ballinskelligs to rejoin the main highway at Waterville. The Ring of Kerry then continues through Derrynane, Kenmare and back to Killarney. Independent travellers can spend as long or as little as they please in these places. Boat trips to Skellig Michael or other islands, and the "Gap of Dunloe" circuit near Killarney, are both full day trips in their own right.
Two areas of Kerry are in the Gaeltacht, where Irish is the main language: Cloghane and Brandon on Dingle Peninsula, and Ballinskelligs on Iveragh Peninsula. Everyone speaks English but signage there is in Irish. These pages give English equivalent names even when those have no official standing, simply to help anglophones find places like Prioreacht Bhaile an Sceilg, the ruined abbey at Ballinskelligs.
1 Shannon Airport (SNN IATA) north across the Shannon estuary is a major portal of entry into Ireland. It has many flights from Europe, UK and the United States, with US border pre-clearance, and in summer from Toronto. The largest operators are Ryanair and Aer Lingus. There are several car rental agencies.
2 Kerry Airport (KIR IATA) is midway between Tralee and Killarney. It has daily flights from Dublin, and year-round from London Stansted and Luton, Manchester, Frankfurt-Hahn, plus seasonal Med destinations.
Trains run from Mallow every couple of hours to Killarney and Tralee. One or two per day start from Dublin Heuston or Cork, but usually you change at Mallow.
Dublin Coach M7 runs hourly from Dublin Burgh Quay and Red Cow Luas station via Limerick, Adare, Newcastle West and Abbeyfeale, where it branches for either Tralee or Killarney, taking 4 hours 20 min. From Dublin airport take their bus for Portlaoise, Waterford or Dundrum and change at Red Cow.
Bus Eireann 40 treks cross-country every hour or so, from Rosslare ferry port via Wexford, New Ross, Waterford, Dungarvan, Youghal, Cork, Macroom and Ballyvourney to Killarney and Tralee.
Bus 14 runs four or five times daily from Limerick to Castleisland and Killarney.
In July and Aug Bus 282 crosses the Beara peninsula between Kenmare and Glengarriff (for buses from Bantry). Getting between County Cork and Kerry for most of the year means doubling back through Cork city.
The Shannon Ferry plies between 3 Tarbert in County Kerry and Killimer in County Clare on the north bank, both on Highway N67. It sails hourly Sept-May and every 30 mins June-Aug. Fare is €20 for a standard car with all passengers, €5 for a foot-passenger, cyclist or motorbike. If you're touring the Atlantic coast, this saves a lengthy detour inland through Limerick. Watch for dolphins on the 20-min crossing.
Buses radiate from Tralee to Killarney, Dingle and Listowel, with a bus every hour or two. Other routes are very sparse, for instance Cloghane only has a bus on Friday. There is no public bus around the Ring of Kerry, consider joining an organised tour - operators include Wild Kerry, Deros and Paddy Wagon. The bus south from Kenmare to Glengarriff in County Cork only runs in summer.
Most travellers bring their own car. There are car rental desks in Kerry Airport, Tralee and Killarney. Their fleets are small so you ought to book ahead.
The highways are in good repair but can be very congested in summer, especially the single-track minor roads. Only light vehicles are permitted on the Conor Pass route between Cloghane and Dingle, or through the N71 tunnel between Kenmare and County Cork.
There's bicycle rental in the main towns.
Boats only ply to the islands in summer, including the car ferry to Valentia Island, which is also reached by road. The other sailings are basically boat trips rather than ferries, in rinky-dinky boats for foot passengers only. These other islands are uninhabited and lack harbours, so you may have to transfer boats to something even rinkier and dinkier that even St Brendan the Navigator would have jibbed at, and scramble ashore up the beach. At the beginning and end of summer livestock are moved to and from island grazing in a similar way, bleating almost as loud as the tourists.
The "jaunting car" - pony and cart and garrulous blarneying "jarvey" or driver - was once a common conveyance in rural Ireland but is nowadays confined to Killarney.
The steam-punk monorail alas no longer runs between Listowel and Ballybunion.
- County Museum in Tralee is a good introduction to the area.
- Killarney is the tourist capital of Kerry. It's got the lot: a well-repaired castle by the lake, an atmospherically shabby abbey, grand gardens and a museum of country life, Ogham stones inscribed with runes, and Ireland's highest mountains rearing up to the west.
- Prehistoric remains are common in the less-populated areas. The main concentration is west of Dingle.
- Early and medieval Christian sites are dotted about, with a good example at Ardfert near Tralee. The most remarkable, thanks to its remote setting, is on Skellig Michael.
- Castles: the best preserved is Listowel. Many others are just scenic stumps, such as Carrigafoyle perched at the water's edge on the Shannon estuary. Ballycarbery near Caherciveen could be mistaken for prize topiary, while the Disneyesque schloss in Caherciveen is the old police barracks.
- Bird life: the rugged coasts plus Killarney National Park have the most. See Kerrybirding for specific locations and recent sightings.
- Gaelic games: Kerry GAA the county team play football in Killarney and hurling in Tralee. There are about 80 club teams across the county.
- Dingle Way is a long distance hiking trail, starting from Tralee, looping the Dingle peninsula and returning. The whole route is 162 km, taking 8 days, but you can access it anywhere for a shorter or longer walk. For facilities and sights along the way, see Tralee, Castlegregory, Cloghane, Dingle and Annascaul.
- Kerry Way is a 200+ km trail round Iveragh Peninsula, following the Ring of Kerry but mostly off-road. You could do it all in 9 days but two dozen shorter stages allow more time for sight-seeing.
- Surf: Banna Beach near Tralee and Inch Beach near Annacaul are the two main spots, with surf shacks for lessons and equipment.
- Go to the races: Listowel is the main horse-racing track and Killarney has a regular calendar. Tralee and Dingle have only occasional events.
- The Wild Atlantic Way is a long-distance motoring and cycling route along the entire western seaboard of Ireland. You arrive from County Clare on the Shannon Ferry, unless you've decided to include Limerick city. The north Kerry coastline is pleasant enough but if time is limited, short-cut to Tralee. From there head onto Dingle Peninsula via Camp, Castlegregory, Cloghane and Brandon, then over Conor Pass to Dingle and the tip. Head back via Annascaul then turn towards Killorglin to join the Ring of Kerry circuit of Iveragh Peninsula. Visit Killarney also, before continuing south through Kenmare onto Beara Peninsula and County Cork.
- Learn Irish: Coláistí Chorca Dhuibne (Dingle Peninsula College) run distance and residential short courses in summer. They're designed for those already at Junior / Leaving Cert standard, not beginners.
- Don't squish a slug unless you're sure it's not the rare, protected Kerry slug Geomalacus maculosus, found only in this area and around Finisterre in Iberia. No less than the European Court of Justice leaned down from its august height in 2005 to reprimand the Irish government for paying insufficient regard to the survival and slimy happiness of such slugs. The woodland version is brown, those on boggy open hillsides are dark grey, both with yellow spots. Habitat loss is their main threat - they don't like rhododendrons - but mind where you tread.
- Killarney as the main tourist centre has the widest range.
- Lots of fish & chips takeaways and kiosks, but Cable & Co in Knightstown on Valentia Island is a shocking pink food truck.
- Sneem Black Pudding is a protected-origin specialty from near Kenmare.
- South Pole Inn in Annascaul was opened by the explorer Tom Crean. It's full of Antarctic memorabilia.
- Lots of pubs in all the settlements, which are often the best option for food.
- There are breweries in Killarney, Kenmare, Portmagee, and Ballyferriter near Dingle. There are distilleries in Dingle and Caherciveen, and one a-building in Portmagee.
- Hostels and camp sites mostly didn't open in 2020 or 2021 and caravan sites had limited facilities. It's not known how many will resume in 2022.
- No chain hotels, all the accommodation providers in Kerry are independent family businesses. Lots of B&Bs and pubs with rooms, again their prospects for 2022 are not yet clear.
- Upmarket places have more space and "bio-security". Top picks are Ard na Sidhe in Killorglin and Sheen Falls Lodge in Kenmare.
- South, the Beara peninsula takes you into County Cork. Bantry is a good base for exploring this area.
- East you cross the hills into lowland County Cork on the road to colourful Cork city.
- North you can take a ferry over the Shannon to County Clare, or swing inland to the historic city of Limerick.