Killarney is a small town in County Kerry in the southwest of Ireland. Its prominent location along the Ring of Kerry and stunning natural landscapes make it a top travel destination for lovers of nature.
Although Killarney only has a population of about 15,000 people, the town has a fascinating past to learn about. Religious settlements in the area played a strong role in early Irish history, and the town was significantly involved during the Irish War of Independence.
Only an hour and a half from Cork, you should not miss stopping into Killarney to be swept away by its charm and natural beauty. In fact, Killarney was named the Best Kept Town in 2007, as well as Ireland’s tidiest town in 2011. Interested in seeing just how pristine it really is? Here are 18 things to do in Killarney, Ireland.
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The 15th-century tower house and keep known as Ross Castle is one of Killarney’s top attractions. The structure sits on the edge of Lough Leane in Killarney National Park and is built in the style of a typical Middle Ages stronghold.
There are five inner storeys, as well as the roof. The stairs were designed unevenly to throw off potential attackers, and the front entrance features a “murder hole” for defenders to attack anyone below.
Previously the home of the O’Donoghue family, the castle is now operated by the Office of Public Works. Ross Castle is open for seasonal visits during the warmer months, typically from around April until November. A guided tour will take about 40 minutes, although you may experience long wait times during the peak of summer.
St Mary’s Cathedral
One of the most marvellous attractions in Killarney is St Mary’s Cathedral. The Gothic Revival beauty is found in the west of Killarney in County Kerry. It was built with limestone between 1842 and 1855, with construction ceasing several times due to the great famine. The 87-metre-high great tower and spire make it the tallest structure in the city and an important feature of Killarney’s skyline.
The cathedral is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday, and 10 a.m. until 1 p.m. on Wednesday. You should avoid visiting during mass times (which can be found on the Killarney Parish website) unless you intend to participate.
The Lakes of Killarney
The Lakes of Killarney are a group of three distinct lakes: Lough Leane, Muckross Lake and Upper Lake. Found within Killarney National Park, they sit in a low valley 20 metres above sea level surrounded by the scenic mountains of MacGillycuddy’s Reeks.
Lough Leane is the largest body of water, taking up 19 square kilometres and containing tiny forested islands. To the south is Muckross Lake, also known as Middle Lake, which is separated by a small peninsula and a stone arched bridge. At certain parts, the lake reaches 75 metres deep, making it the deepest lake in Ireland. Hiking the 10-kilometre paved trail circling the lake is a popular activity when the weather is nice. The smallest and southernmost lake is actually the Upper Lake, separated by a 4-kilometre winding channel.
If you don’t have time for a hike around the banks of the lakes, you can still see the sights on a relaxing one-hour Killarney Lakes cruise. You’ll pass by historic structures like Ross Castle and the Innisfallen Monastery, and get the chance to spot some magnificent wildlife like white-tailed eagles and red deer.
The grandiose Muckross House is a beautiful mansion among the mountains and woodland of County Kerry. Built in 1843 and designed by British architect William Burn, the Tudor-style estate has 65 rooms. The interiors are intricately decorated with original antiques and furnishings. Informative and entertaining guided tours are available upon entrance.
Although Muckross House is open daily, the exact opening hours depend on the time of year. Be aware that the last admission is typically an hour and a half before the scheduled closing time. Admission to the house costs €9.25 for adults, with discounted tickets for students, seniors, families, children and large groups.
In addition to the house itself, the stunning landscaped gardens are a delight to walk around. If you plan ahead, you can enjoy a picnic by the lake.
Muckross Traditional Farms
Also on the grounds of Muckross House are the Muckross Traditional Farms. Step back in time to see what life was like in regional Ireland during the 1930s and 1940s. Electricity was yet to become available and all activities on the farms were done using traditional machinery and horsepower.
Visit three working farms of varying sizes to see accurate and authentic dwellings, as well as a blacksmith’s forge, a carpenter’s workshop, a labourer’s cottage and a schoolhouse. On each farm, you will also get to see the animals and poultry.
The farms have shorter opening hours than the house, though tickets cost the same at €9.25 for adults. If you plan on visiting both, you can save by purchasing a joint ticket costing €15.50.
Killarney National Park
Killarney National Park was the first national park in Ireland. Since 1932, the area has been expanded to over 102 square kilometres. It is listed as a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve and a Special Area of Conservation. Within the park are the only red deer remaining in Ireland, as well as the most diverse old forest growth in the country.
Ensure you beat the crowds and see all of the best sights within the park on an affordable walking tour. You can pick a start time that works for you and even extended the tour from its recommended two hours. All the guides are locals with a love of their home, so you can expect an informative and fun experience.
The park is well maintained and therefore easy and enjoyable for first-time visitors to explore Killarney. While there, appreciate the rare plant species exclusive to the area, such as the strawberry tree, the Killarney fern and the Killarney whitebeam shrub. A highlight is getting to spot some of the 700 or so adorable native deer who reside in the park.
One of the most breathtaking sights in Killarney is the Torc Waterfall. 20 metres high and 110 metres long, the cascading waterfall lies at the base of Torc Mountain in Killarney National Park. It is formed by the Owengarriff River atop the Mangerton Mountain. The name Torc translates to wild boar and is associated with local legends of magical boars.
The tranquil area is surrounded by luscious green trees and moss-covered stones. There is a paved pathway to reach the waterfall and several loop trails for avid hikers. You can find the waterfall seven kilometres from central Killarney or 2.5 kilometres from Muckross House. Stopping for a peaceful moment and taking in the sounds of the crashing water is without a doubt one of the top things to do in Killarney National Park.
Killarney Brewing Company
One of the most fun things to do in Killarney is a visit to Killarney Brewing Company. The Irish craft brewery in Killarney proudly uses natural and locally sourced ingredients, so why not stop by and support this independent business?
All of their core and seasonal ranges are named after a local myth or legend from the area, which are fascinating to learn about. Their Devil’s Helles Lager, for instance, comes from the legend of a battle between Thor and the Devil. The result of this clash allegedly filled up the basin on Mangerton Mountain with water, which became known as the Devil’s Punch Bowl.
Brewery tours typically run from March to October and can be easily booked online for €12.00 per person. The one-hour tour includes a tongue-in-cheek introductory film, a guided walk around the brewery, a chance to meet the brewer, and a complimentary beer tasting and storytelling session. It’s definitely a memorable experience, as well as something different amongst all the outdoor sightseeing activities in Killarney.
You can also stop by the brewery’s Taproom for a laid-back brew with a delicious wood-fired pizza. The Taproom is open from mid-afternoon until 11 p.m. each day.
Jaunting Car Tour
Want to experience Killarney the old fashioned way? See the city on a horse and carriage ride! Better known as a jaunting car, this mode of transport was popular throughout Ireland during the 19th and 20th centuries. On your journey, you’ll hear of tales of the Gaelic chieftains and find out about the area’s history.
The ride takes one hour, stopping for photos outside of Ross Castle and heading into the national park. There are multiple departures each day from outside the Malton Hotel, so you can turn up whenever you feel like.
Spend an entertaining night out watching Celtic Steps The Show. This award-winning show is performed at Killarney Racecourse by some of the country’s best Irish dancers, who hold 27 World Champion Dance Titles between them.
Celtic Steps brings together classic Irish songs like Raglan Road and Siuil a Run with popular Irish dances, such as the Kerry Polka and the Brush Dance. It’s a great introduction to Irish culture and a fun evening all in all. You can book your tickets online at €30 per adult or €20 for under 16s. Arrive early, as the good seats fill up quick.
A must see in Killarney, Ireland is the Muckross Abbey. The structure was founded as the Franciscan friary of Irrelagh in 1448. Due to its violent history of raids and frequent damages, the abbey is now mostly without a roof. Despite this, the interiors are surprisingly preserved.
The central courtyard surrounded by a vaulted cloister walkway is a highlight. It features a large English yew tree in the centre, which is allegedly as old as the abbey itself. There’s a slightly eerie atmosphere to the area, but this only adds to the charm and appeal. The open graveyard surrounding the abbey, which is still in use, definitely contributes to this feeling.
The remains of the abbey are open year-round for visits at no cost.
The perfect way to explore Innisfallen Island during the summertime is on a three-hour-long kayaking tour. Drift through the gentle waters of Lough Leane on this mesmerizing adventure as your guide leads you to explore the ancient settlement on Innisfallen Island.
Parts of the impressive archaeological ruins date back to the sixth century, although many additional structures were constructed in the 12th and 13th centuries. Walking around the island, you may encounter a few sika deer.
The experience of a lifetime awaits you at Killarney Falconry. On a group or private hawk walk, the staff at the falconry take their time to make you comfortable around these incredible birds. With a special glove on your hand, a hawk will fly down from the treetops to land on your fist. The handler will even offer to take photos and videos for you to capture the moment. It’s a perfect activity for all ages and guarantees a day you’ll never forget.
The Gallery 21 Fine Art Photography
To fill in any spare time in Killarney, pop into the Gallery 21 Fine Art Photography exhibit on Plunkett Street. Photographers Evelyn and Keith Woodard showcase their contemporary works, including unique and remarkable landscape shots.
You can purchase a framed print to take home with you as a keepsake from your trip or to give as a gift. Evelyn and Keith will help you find the perfect piece according to your budget, colour scheme and preferred theme. The gallery is open between 11 a.m. until 6 p.m. from Tuesday to Saturday.
Killarney House and Gardens
Killarney House is a charming Irish country home at Kenmare Place. Designed in a French chateau style, it resembles a residence you’re likely to find in Normandy or Brittany. While originally constructed in the 1720s, a larger red brick mansion was built to replace it in the 1870s.
Following a fire in 1913, careful restorations returned the house to its former beauty. It is now open for tours where you can see the historic rooms for yourself. Give yourself some extra time to wander the beautiful, expansive and perfectly-landscaped gardens as well. Open seven days a week, the house is completely free to visit. While the house closes at 5:30 in the evening, the gardens are open until eight o’clock.
Ring of Kerry Day Trip
One of Ireland’s best day trips is the Ring of Kerry coach tour. This seven-hour tour is packed with value and allows you to check off so many highlights. Departing from Killarney, discover more natural wonders and historic sites throughout County Kerry. This scenic route takes you through the towns of Kenmare, Killorglin, Sneem, Waterville, Cahersiveen and Glenbeigh.
The list of major attractions along the way is seemingly endless. You’ll stop at points of interest like Ladies View, Moll’s Gap, Ballymalis Castle, Derrynane House, the Staigue stone fort and more.
Gap of Dunloe
A half-day tour from Killarney to the Gap of Dunloe is a must while in the area. Appreciate the astonishing landscape of the countryside on this 11-kilometre adventure. The tour includes a cruise down the Gearhameen River and a stop at Ross Castle. If you’re feeling active, you’ll have the opportunity to hike the heavenly mountain pass. If not, sit back and take a jaunting car ride instead. You won’t regret taking the time to witness this breathtaking scenery.
Muckross Park Hotel and Spa
Ready to book your trip? Stay at Muckross Park Hotel and Spa for the ultimate Killarney experience. This luxury five-star hotel is set amongst the serene Killarney National Park with views of the picturesque mountains and lakes. As the oldest hotel in Killarney, the 18th-century style is blended seamlessly with 21st-century hospitality and amenities.
From the Victorian Wing Deluxe Rooms to the opulent Superior Suites, the extravagant interiors and attention to detail are sure to please even the most particular of tastes. Unwind after a day of sightseeing and exploring at the hotel spa. Soak your body in the soothing Vitality Pool, release your toxins in the herbal sauna, and relax while you receive an organic facial treatment.
You won’t need to worry about where to eat during your time here. Treat yourself to an award-winning gourmet meal at the Yew Tree Restaurant, or dig into some comfort food at the Major Colgan’s gastropub. You can also stop by Monk’s Lounge for afternoon tea, a fancy evening cocktail, or a light lunch catered to your dietary requirements.
Recommended tours in Killarney
- Full-Day Tour of the Dingle Peninsula, Slea Head, and Inch Beach
- Ring of Kerry Private Tour from Killarney
- Jaunting Car Tour to Ross Castle from Killarney
- Gap of Dunloe Half-Day Tour and Boat Ride from Killarney
- Killarney Super Saver: Dingle and Slea Head Day Trip plus Ring of Kerry and Killarney Lakes Day Trip
- Ring of Kerry and Valentia Island day tour from Killarney
- Killarney National Park and Lakes of Killarney Boat Tour
- Guided Killarney National Park Walking Tour
- Experience A Magical Evening At Celtic Steps The Show
- Killarney Kayaking Tour Including Innisfallen Island