Travel guide to what to see in Killarney, Ireland and make the most of a stop in this charming and welcoming town.
The town of Killarney, in Co. Kerry, features as a prominent stop on most Ireland itineraries.
Pretty and well served, it is in an enviable position just at the entrance of the Kerry peninsula and is the unofficial starting point for one of the most famous drives in the whole of Ireland: the Ring of Kerry.
People flock to Killarney as a starting point for their driving itinerary but the city has attractions of its own and it is worth a stop even if you happen to have your base for the night in a different location.
Here are some of the best things to see in Killarney and tips for visiting.
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How to get to Killarney
Killarney is a small town in Co Kerry, in the West of Ireland.
It can be easily reached by car or bus from Dublin, Cork and Shannon and their respective international airports.
If coming from Dublin, you can drive to Killarney following the Motorway to Limerick and then the N21 to Killarney Town
From Cork, you can follow the N22 or the longer and scenic N71
From Shannon, you can follow the National Road N18 and then join the N21 in Limerick
If you are visiting Ireland without a car, you can also reach Killarney by train.
The station is walking distance for the city center, making this an excellent option if you do not wish to drive in the area and explore Kerry by train + bus instead.
What to see in Killarney
Killarney is a small town and its biggest attractions lie both in the town center and in the area immediately outside.
I was in Killarney twice in the last two years, once with kids and once without, and the following are my favorite things to see and do in the area.
Killarney’s photogenic town center
Killarney is a lovely town so the first thing I recommend doing here is to take a stroll along its colorful streets.
Killarney is well known to tourism and its town centre is full of souvenir shops selling from tat to warm Aran sweaters.
However, its old charm still shines through and a walk across its tiny streets is pleasurable and offers some good photo opportunities.
The town is full of traditional pubs with flower pots hanging outside their doors, old shops with cute signs.
My favorite way to enjoy its buzzy center is to plan a stop here at lunchtime, grab a seat by the restaurant window and watch people go by.
Sample the local food
Killarney is full of cute restaurants and all you need to enjoy the local food scene is to choose one that picks your fancy.
Traditional pubs tend to serve warming, earthy food such as lamb, boxty dishes (a traditional Irish pancake) and seafood but specialized restaurants and even international ones abound.
Personally I found myself recently in Quinlan Seafood bar (amazing fish and chips, super fresh!) and the traditional The Laurels, and found them both excellent.
If you like fish and seafood this is a good part of Ireland to indulge as the fresh catch from the Atlantic truly is something special.
Kids will be pleased to know Killarney has some lovely ice cream shops with both traditional and less traditional flavors (sea salt ice-cream anyone? It is surprisingly nice!).
Explore Ross castle and his haunted grounds
Immediately outside the busy Killarney town center sits ancient Ross castle.
You can reach it with a short drive or you can make your way there by bike, renting one from one of the several bike rental shops around town.
Ross Castle sits on the edge of Killarney’s lower lake and was built in the 15th century by O’Donoghue Mór.
This is a name you may want to remember as legend says he still inhabits the area and pays regular visits to the castle grounds!
According to the local stories, he now resides in the depths of the lake in front of the castle and every day at sunrise circles around the lake on horseback. Visitors lucky enough to get a glimpse of him will be guaranteed good fortune so if you are an early riser you may want to head to Ross castle at the start of your day!
The castle is now in ruin and it is open to the public.
The location of the castle is beautiful and the short stroll to its ruin easy and with good photo opportunities. This is a stunning stop and one of the best things to see in Killarney if you want to experience the charm of an abandoned Irish castle.
Visit the Killarney National park
Killarney sits at the edge of the Killarney National Park and is the perfect base to explore this beautiful stretch of Irish nature.
The park entrance is immediately outside the town and can be easily reached by car or bike.
Inside, the park has a large car park and a visitors centre and several facilities for visitors including restrooms, souvenirs and snack shops.
The Killarney National Park is vast but if you are only here for the day you can enjoy it easily following the walking trails recommended at the park entrance.
Personally I am fond of two stops, Muckross Abbey and the lake-side walk leading from the abbey to Muckross house.
Visit Muckross abbey
Muckross Abbey is an abandoned abbey inside the Killarney National park.
The abbey is a short walk away from the main car park and it is striking. The main building is now in ruins and has lost its roof but the remains are incredible.
The abbey has kept its full height and perimeter and is open to visitors.
Walking in, you can still appreciate the size of the complex and identify the several rooms that made up the abbey and its living quarters
Worth visiting is its cloister and the impressive tree in its centre, which makes you feel like you stepped into an out of time world of moss, stone and bark.
For a bird-eye view over the surrounding lakes, make your way to the second floor, accessible by stone stairways on both sides of the cloister.
Peek inside Muckross house
If you like elegant stately homes, Muckross House is a treat.
Sitting beside the lakes in Killarney National Park, it is a Nineteenth-century Victorian mansion designed by Scottish architect William Burn in 1839.
The house is now open to the public and its complex comprises of the house itself, old school buildings, traditional farms and tourism amenities such as cafes and shops.
Take a local tour
Killarney is exceptionally well equipped to welcome visitors and part of its offerings are tours of the area by land and water.
These can be fun alternatives to longer tours should you find yourself short of time or want to take it easy locally after a long day of driving.
Before booking, please check details and suitability of each activity for your party following the links provided.
Experience a traditional Irish pub
No day in the West of Ireland would be complete without an evening stop at the local pub.
Killarney has many of them and they cater for all tastes: some offer music, some have outdoor seating areas and some have that cozy and snug feel that makes Irish pubs so pleasant when temperatures drop.
Some pubs are large and serve food and, in that case, kids are often welcome until about 9 pm, when they will be asked to leave the premises.
Pubs serve both alcoholic and not alcoholic drinks and many also nowadays serve cocktails so you don’t have to be a beer or Guinness drinker to enjoy them.
More things to do in Killarney
Killarney is a great base for local exploration.
You can explore the area by car of, if you don’t feel like driving in the notoriously narrow West of Ireland road, you can take one of the many local tours available.
Where to stay in Killarney
Killarney has a large selection of hotels to suit most needs and budgets. Our favourites are:
Old Weir Lodge: a traditional guesthouse and B&B with homely welcome, well kept rooms and good breakfast offering. Free parking on site. Check availability and prices here.
Killarney hotel: elegant and conveniently located near Killarney train station, the hotel has a restaurant onsite and large family rooms. This hotel is regularly featured as one of the best family hotels in Ireland. You can check availability and prices here.
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I hope you enjoyed our overview of what to see in Killarney. Safe travels!