Trip and Wellness

12 Best Things to Do in Killarney, Ireland

12 Best Things to Do in Killarney, Ireland

Nestled among towering hills and sparkling lochs, Killarney stands as an idyllic destination for those eager to immerse themselves in Ireland’s history and charm. As a favored Irish travel destination, this delightful town offers a plethora of tourist attractions and enjoyable activities that cater to a diverse range of travelers.

Located near the southwest coast in County Kerry, Killarney serves as an ideal starting point for nature enthusiasts seeking to revel in the beauty of the Irish countryside, engage in kayaking adventures on the expansive Killarney Lakes, and embark on the iconic Ring of Kerry drive, a scenic route that passes through the town.

Killarney is also the beginning and end point of the breathtaking 200-kilometer-long Kerry Way, a picturesque walking trail that offers such stunning scenery that you will find yourself wishing for extra memory space on your camera.

The region’s natural beauty and the array of recreational activities, including hiking, biking, fishing, and canoeing, position Killarney as one of the premier destinations to visit in Ireland. It proudly hosts one of Ireland’s most majestic landscapes: Killarney National Park.

While many of these opportunities extend beyond Killarney’s borders, the town itself boasts numerous tourist attractions. From exploring a historic abbey to shopping in charming stores and touring a castle, there’s no shortage of enjoyable activities to discover with our curated list of the best things to do in Killarney.

1. Killarney National Park

Lakes of Killarney along the Ring of Kerry
Lakes of Killarney along the Ring of Kerry/ @istockphoto

Killarney National Park is a captivating wonder that will leave you longing for more time to explore. Situated just over 10 minutes south of Killarney, this enchanting area covers an expansive 10,236 hectares, showcasing ancient oak woodlands and the mesmerizing Killarney Lakes (Lough Leane, Upper Lake, and Muckross Lake) set against the backdrop of awe-inspiring mountains.

The park is located nearly 16 kilometers from Ross Castle, and the castle, along with its surroundings, is an integral part of this national heritage site. For those who prefer a more active approach, there are smaller winding roads and cycle tracks to be discovered, offering an opportunity to explore the park on foot or by bike. Walking and cycling are among the most popular activities and provide some of the best vantage points to appreciate Killarney’s stunning landscapes.

At the heart of the park lies the Bourne Vincent Memorial Park, named after the Bourne family and Senator Vincent from California, who gifted the park to the Irish State in 1932. Visitors can find maps and information at the park’s information centers.

Within the park, you’ll also discover Killarney House & Gardens. The present-day house originated as the stable block of the original early-18th-century manor house, transforming into its current form in 1913. A highlight of any visit is the opportunity to explore the fully restored gardens and several rooms within the house.

2. Dinis Cottage and Island

Dinis Cottage
Dinis Cottage

From Muckross Boathouse, situated near Muckross House, visitors have the option to embark on a boat journey to the cottage, constructed by the Herbert family, offering picturesque views of the Middle Lake. The cottage, believed to have served as a hunting lodge or woodcutter’s hut, dates to the 1700s. Recently restored, it now functions as a charming tearoom.

A brief stroll away, visitors will find the Meeting of the Waters and the Old Weir Bridge. The cottage’s windows bear the inscriptions of numerous affluent visitors who engraved their names using their precious diamond rings, with the earliest markings tracing back to the mid-1800s.

3. Innisfallen Island

Innisfallen Island
Innisfallen Island

Take a short journey to the serene Innisfallen Island by boarding a boat at the pier located 1.5 kilometers away from Ross Castle. From there, visitors can be ferried across the surface of Lough Leane to the island’s primary attraction, a 7th-century monastery.

Legend has it that Brian Boru, an Irish king, and Emperor of the Scots, pursued his studies at this location. In the early 13th century, the Annals of Innisfallen, a significant source of early Irish history, were authored here and are currently housed in the Bodleian Library in Oxford, England.

Situated on the northeast side is a diminutive 12th-century church constructed from red sandstone. Innisfallen continues to preserve the ancient native woodlands of Ireland, featuring rowan, ash, yew, and holly.

4. Visit Dingle and the Dingle Peninsula

Street in downtown Dingle
Street in downtown Dingle/ @istockphoto

The stunning Dingle Peninsula is another must-visit destination easily accessible from Killarney. Although not technically within the town, exploring this beautiful area is considered one of the best things to do in Killarney. While it is easily reachable by car, a popular and enjoyable way to experience this top tourist spot is through a guided tour.

These engaging guided tours of the Dingle Peninsula typically last a full day and include visits to Slea Head, Europe’s westernmost point, and Inch Beach, renowned as one of Ireland’s best beaches.

The journey itself is part of the adventure, taking you through breathtaking mountain landscapes and offering views of the stunning coastline. Make sure your camera is fully charged.

Highlights of the tour include a stop at the Gallarus Oratory, an early Christian church celebrated for its ancient archaeological treasures, and a visit to Inch Beach, known for its surfing opportunities.

Ample time is also provided to enjoy lunch or indulge in an ice cream from Murphy’s while exploring the picturesque town of Dingle. The town features a vibrant array of brightly colored shops and restaurants lining its charming narrow lanes.

5. Tour the Ring of Kerry

Ring of Kerry
Ring of Kerry

Killarney serves as an ideal starting point for exploring this picturesque corner of Ireland. One of the best things to do in Killarney is embarking on The Ring of Kerry, a 179-kilometer circular route renowned as one of the top tourist attractions in Ireland. This scenic journey winds along the breathtaking Iveragh Peninsula, showcasing sandy beaches, rugged mountains, and ancient ruins. Ensure your camera is ready to capture the beauty.

Killarney stands out as the most popular launchpad for those eager to experience this beloved route. If navigating the winding Irish roads seems daunting, relinquish the driving responsibilities, and fully savor the scenery by joining an organized guided tour, such as the Ring of Kerry Day Trip including Killarney Lakes and National Park. This day-long adventure commences in Killarney with hotel pickups and offers ample time to explore the famed circular scenic route of the “Ring.”

Throughout the nearly seven-hour excursion, you will encounter notable landmarks like the picturesque shoreline of Dingle Bay, the towering MacGillycuddy Reeks, and the scenic Kenmare Bay. Multiple stops provide opportunities for photography and taking in the extraordinary vistas.

The Lakes of Killarney, three enchanting lakes popular among kayakers and nature enthusiasts, also feature prominently. The journey includes visits to charming communities like Glenbeigh, Waterville, and Sneem, offering firsthand glimpses into traditional village life.

6. Kenmare

Colorful shops in Kenmare/ @istockphoto

If you commence your journey in Kenmare, it serves as the endpoint of the Ring of Kerry. However, these two towns are relatively close to each other when traveling directly. This proximity allows Kenmare to be an excellent day trip from Killarney, offering an alternative to completing the nearly 200-kilometer driving loop (although the loop is certainly worthwhile!).

This delightful village is a highly sought-after tourist destination, and rightfully so. The main road is adorned with brightly colored shops offering a variety of items, from crafts and art to outstanding restaurants. The streets themselves boast a charming ambiance, making it an easily navigable village where one can enjoy a delightful afternoon stroll.

Established in the 18th century, Kenmare was originally built for ironwork, mining, and fishing. Many of the village’s structures have been meticulously preserved. A visit to the Reenagross Woodland Park is also recommended, as it stands out as one of the most scenic areas for walking near Kenmare Bay.

7. Ross Castle

Ross Castle
Ross Castle/ @istockphoto

Situated within Killarney National Park, another remarkable attraction is Ross Castle, located approximately 13 minutes away on the N71 from Muckross House. This formidable edifice was constructed in the 15th century by the O’Donoghue clan.

Subsequently, it came under the ownership of the Browne family, who later became the Earls of Kenmare and held a significant portion of the lands that now form Killarney National Park. The castle comprises a tower house encircled by walls with additional round towers.

An ancient prophecy foretold that the castle could only be conquered through a waterborne assault. In 1652, capitalizing on this prophecy, General Ludlow, a commander under Cromwell, launched a large boat in the Lower Lake. Upon witnessing this, the defenders, interpreting it as the fulfillment of the prophecy, promptly surrendered.

Guided tours of Ross Castle are available, and two water buses facilitate the transportation of visitors along Lower Lake from Ross Pier. Cruises are also offered from both Ross and Reen Piers to Innisfallen (Lower Lake) and Lord Brandon’s Cottage (Upper Lake).

8. The Gap of Dunloe

The Gap of Dunloe
Old stone bridge near the Gap of Dunloe/ @istockphoto

Covering a distance of around 11 kilometers, visitors can journey through the breathtaking Gap of Dunloe, a magnificent narrow mountain pass sculpted by glacial ice. This rugged pass separates Purple Mountain and its northern foothills in the western region of Killarney National Park from Macgillicuddy’s Reeks and leaves an indelible impression on those who experience its beauty.

The most convenient route to the gap is from the R562, which traces the north side of the Lower Lake. Along the way to the Gap, travelers can catch sight of Dunloe Castle nestled among trees, as well as a collection of Ogham Stones (a National Monument). Starting from Kate Kearney’s Cottage, the ascent to the pass, spanning four kilometers, is typically undertaken via a jaunting car, on foot, or atop a pony.

9. Torc Waterfall

Torc Waterfall
Torc Waterfall/ @istockphoto

Located just a brief stroll from Killarney, within a picturesque, wooded area, lies one of the most captivating natural attractions in all of Ireland. Cascading down the slopes of Torc Mountain, Torc Waterfall is a must-see destination and ranks among the top activities in Killarney.

With a height of 20 meters and a length of 110 meters, the waterfall originates from the Owengarriff River, flowing out of the Devil’s Punchbowl Lake. Easily accessible, it’s a short walk from the entrance to Muckross House. Following a night of heavy rainfall, the views are sure to be spectacular.

It’s worth noting that the parking space is limited, making it advisable to arrive early in the morning to secure a spot. Alternatively, you can opt to rent a bike in town and enjoy a stress-free ride to the base of the waterfall.

10. Muckross House Gardens & Traditional Farms

Muckross House and Park
Muckross House and Park/ @istockphoto

Situated in the stunning lakeside setting of Killarney National Park, just a short 16-minute drive from the town center, this captivating 19th-century Victorian mansion is surrounded by lush gardens and expansive parkland. Nestled near the shores of Muckross Lake, one of Killarney’s three lakes, the house has a rich history, having been completed in 1843 and inhabited by four successive generations of the Herbert family.

Notably, Queen Victoria herself stayed at the mansion in 1861, prompting significant enhancements to both the structure and the gardens. Exploring the exquisite house is a must, and a jaunt through the opulent gardens in a jaunting car (pony and trap) adds to the experience.

A visit to the traditional farms on the estate is also highly recommended, offering a glimpse into a bygone era of Irish rural life during the 1930s and 40s. The farms feature authentic working conditions, with machinery and equipment from that period, some operated by horses. The experience includes interactions with animals that children can pet.

Various structures such as the Carpenter’s Workshop, Labourer’s Cottage, and Blacksmith’s Forge provide insights into the daily life of the time. The rural schoolhouse, especially captivating for visitors with children, offers a glimpse into historical education. A complimentary coach service circulates continuously throughout the site for added convenience.

11. Muckross Abbey

Muckross Abbey
Muckross Abbey/ @istockphoto

A short drive of just under two kilometers back along the N71 in the direction of Killarney leads visitors to Muckross Park Hotel, providing access to the well-preserved ruins of Muckross Abbey (a brief walk from the public car park). Established in the 15th century, Muckross Abbey is a testament to history nestled within the confines of Killarney National Park.

Originally known as the Franciscan friary of Irrelagh, the abbey is distinguished by its tower, an addition made after the initial construction. It stands out as the sole Franciscan tower in the country that matches the width of the church itself.

Encircling a striking yew tree, believed by some to be as ancient as the abbey, the cloister and associated structures contribute to the abbey’s dramatic setting. The monks had to vacate the site in 1652 during the Cromwellian campaigns, but today, the graveyard continues to be utilized for contemporary burials.

12. The Church of the Sloes Killarney

Church of the Sloes
Church of the Sloes/ @istockphoto

St. Mary’s, also known as the Church of the Sloes or “Cill Airne” in Irish, is believed to be the edifice that bestowed its name upon Killarney. A charming church to explore, this architectural gem stands on a site in the heart of Killarney that has been home to a church since the 13th century.

St. Mary’s distinctive acoustics have made it a venue for regular concerts held from spring through autumn, strategically scheduled to attract visiting tourists who often plan an overnight stay in Killarney to attend a performance.

These concerts feature a diverse array of musical performances, including those by touring orchestras, choirs, and accomplished local artists, offering a rich selection of religious and classical music. While most concerts are complimentary, donations are always appreciated.

Guided tours of the church are also well-received, focusing on its exquisite stained-glass windows sourced from various locations in Ireland and Wales.


Q: What is the best time to visit Killarney?

A: The best time to visit Killarney is during the spring and summer months when the weather is mild, and outdoor activities are in full swing.

Q: Are there family-friendly activities in Killarney?

A: Absolutely! Killarney National Park, Muckross House, and boat tours on Lough Leane are perfect for family outings.

Q: How can I experience traditional Irish music in Killarney?

A: Visit local pubs and venues, especially in the evenings, to enjoy live performances of traditional Irish music.

Q: Is the Ring of Kerry suitable for a day trip?

A: While a day trip is possible, consider taking your time to fully appreciate the stunning scenery along the Ring of Kerry.

Q: What unique souvenirs can I find in Killarney’s markets?

A: Killarney’s markets offer handmade crafts, local artwork, and traditional Irish goods, providing unique souvenirs to take home.