The next leg of our trip brought us from the rugged coastline of the western county of Galway to the ports, peninsulas, national parks, and islands of the Southern counties of Kerry and Cork. These two counties, though right next to each other, have completely different sights and attractions.
County Kerry hosts one of the most scenic drives in all of Ireland, the Ring of Kerry. Large green, rolling hills covered with diverging rock walls covered with shrubs and valleys that seem to dip down below sea level, all set against sparkling blue skies; County Kerry will take your breath away, bring you peace, and excite you all at the same time. This area is also known for its pockets of Irish-speaking citizens, which is unique to this county as most Irish only speak English instead of their native Irish Gaelic. Also, keep your eyes and ears out for the fairies, elves, and of course leprechauns; county Kerry is known for its folklore.
County Cork, while still scenic, has docks and ports as well as factories and shipyards making this county much more industrial than that of Kerry, or even Galway. However, its architecture, while classified as neo-gothic due to the time in which the structures were built, rings true of the rest of the country. Known by many as the last port of call for the Titanic’s, Cobh is located in Cork. Cobh has the second largest natural harbor, a geographic phenomenon especially considering how narrow the passageways are. Today the port sees around 50 cruise ships a year, bringing millions of people to the town of around 12,000 people. The town of Cork is also located in the county of the same name and is dubbed the food capital of Ireland. With the attractions like the English Market and a lively shopping scene, this city combines the industrial feel of Cobh with modern day luxuries.
At this point in our trip, we were a little nervous. We were leaving the young city of Galway with all of its nightlife and restaurants which appealed to our foodie souls – we were now headed to the smaller, more rural locations of the country. Luckily for us and much to our surprise, this leg of the trip offered day excursions to the Ring of Kerry and the Dingle Peninsula with amazing food options. For the most part, we were also smack dab in the middle of the hustle and bustle in Killarney and Cork, though both stops also allowed for some much-needed relaxation.
Keep reading for our take on Southern Ireland!
- Bring a rain jacket and a scarf. This area of the country was a little colder than the rest. On many occasions, we were bundled up in thick flannels with our waterproof layer exposed to the weather and it was still not warm enough. Be prepared for anything when traveling to the south of the country.
- Rent a car. Dingle, the Ring of Kerry, and Killarney National Park cannot be missed, all of which is located at least a 30-minute drive from any major town or city. At times, we wished we were allowed to hop off the tour bus and hike around for a bit, especially once we found out that one of the most majestic waterfalls in all of Ireland was only a mile hike from one of the access points to Killarney National Park. Renting a car allows for this flexibility.
- Pop into local shops. Considering these locations are a little less touristy than the Cliffs of Moher and even Galway, support the locals by buying coffee, a scone, or a small trinket where you can.
Where to stay:
Full disclosure, because we were traveling through a tour/travel company we didn’t get to choose these hotels.
Killarney Towers: The highlight of this hotel, besides the fact that it is located smack-dab in the middle of Killarney’s hustle and bustle, is that the sauna and whirlpool. These options helped take the chill out of our bones after excursions to Dingle and the Ring of Kerry. The Towers are considered one of the luxury hotels in town so it also has an amazing restaurant within its walls as well as an amazing pub where you can grab a pint and watch the tourists and locals dance. Killarney Hotels, the management company for Killarney Towers, is always putting together great packages for travelers so be sure to check them out before booking.
The Kingsley: If nothing else, the views of the River Lee while eating your evening meal or drinking your morning coffee are completely worth a one-night stay here. This four-star hotel is a bit on the pricey side, but it’s immaculate and frequented by VIPs all the time. What we will knock it for is how far away its location is from downtown. Cork was our second favorite city because of the English Market, the dozens of restaurant options, and the liveliness of the crowds. But we had to be shuttled back and forth from the hotel, or even take a longer cab ride just to get to dinner and/or lunch.
Where to eat, drink, and be merry:
Murphy’s Bar: There are a few of options for a pint in the modern, quaint downtown of Killarney, but this one caught our eye. A typical Irish pub with all of your favorites on tap and great traditional food, this establishment is also a family-owned restaurant.
Mary Anne’s Tea Room: If you get the chance to stop at the amazing Kerry County Museum in Tralee, be sure to visit this dainty tea room. Their scones are buttery, thick, and full of delicious fruit. We still have dreams about them.
The Boat Yard: Looking for the popular Irish fish and chips while in Dingle? This eatery has an amazing decor focused on the sailing history of the Irish as well as a patio which hosts summer crowds. Yet, it’s known for its variety of fried fish, the perfect way to finish (or start) your drive around the Ring of Kerry.
Amicus: Cork is not dubbed the food capital of Ireland for no reason, there are countless restaurants to choose from. We were drawn to Amicus, with all of its bright purple lights and the looks of the tables inside. Located in a historic building with exposed beams, the rest of the decor was contemporary and eclectic, representative of its ever-evolving menu. We recommend this place off-hours (early dinner or late lunch) to ensure the complete attention of the waitstaff. With that in mind, it was a great date night location!
What to do:
Take a jaunting cart through the outskirts of Killarney National Park: Take a trip back in time and explore the hidden lakes of Killarney National Park in this historic form of transportation, a jaunting car, or a horse-drawn cart. This portion of the park is home to wild deer and other wildlife as well as several lakes, the largest being Lough Leane.
Drive the Ring of Kerry: Known as the most scenic drive in all of Ireland, this roughly 110-mile circular drive weaves its way through landmarks like Killarney National Park, Ladies View, the seaside town of Waterville (the summer vacation spot of Charlie Chaplin), and the Iveragh Peninsula, harboring Skellig Michael, a famed Star Wars VII filming location.
Kerry County Museum: If looking for some Irish history or the folklore of yesteryear, stop by this amazing interactive experience. This is the perfect stop for families looking for a way to work off some built-up energy.
Visit Tralee: This picturesque town is not only famed for its international pageant, the Rose of Tralee, but it is also home to Blennerville Windmill, the tallest windmill of its kind in all of Europe. Be sure to give this town a little love on your way out to Dingle.
Travel to Dingle: This peninsula is known for its historic memoirs and Clocháns (or stone huts). But the views of mountains looming over rough seas are what draws visitors to this location. Be sure to hike up Mount Brandon if it’s a clear day to see unobstructed views for miles and miles.
Head out to Dinner and a Drink: Known as the food capital of Ireland, this town is full of amazing options to eat, drink and be merry. It was hard to choose just one place with options like small eateries, multi-floored restaurants and the largest market in Ireland! We highly recommend creating your own food tour or taking one of the ‘official’ tours. Either way, come to Cork with empty stomachs.
Kiss the Blarney Stone: Yes, this is one of the most ‘touristy’ things you can do while on the Emerald Isle. But a little corny fun and superstition are worth it, especially when conducted against the Blarney Castle backdrop. This castle alone is worth the visit, even if you don’t plan to kiss the stone. This amazing structure oozes history and eerie feeling of being watched by those from the other side…
Visit Cahir Castle: This lesser-known castle, while not as grand as Blarney is still an amazing sight to behold. Home to one of the only working portcullis in all of Ireland, this castle is just outside County Cork in County Tipperary and is worth the visit and a short climb to the second and third floors, the views of the small Cahir town below are charming.
Looking for more about Ireland? Check out our Ultimate Guide to Galway, Ireland.