When you look at the southwest of Ireland on a map, it almost looks like the battered hand of an old fisherman and each peninsula like a weather-beaten finger grabbing at the vast Atlantic Sea. One of those fingers is the Iveragh peninsula in Co. Kerry, a corner of Ireland that boasts one of the most famous drives in the world and marks one of the last frontiers in Europe before reaching the Americas.
The drive round the peninsula is better known as the Ring of Kerry, a circuit that covers almost 180km (if you stick to the main roads!) and takes visitors through valleys, over mountain passes and along some of the most beautiful coastlines in Ireland.
Driving the ring can be quite daunting and it's difficult know the best pitstops for food and where to take a quick detour for the hidden gems if you've never been down that way before. To give you some ideas for your own trip, I've detailed the route of our last drive round the peninsula in the map above and suggested some stops below. This route took us about 5 hours but you could easily spend days on the peninsula and you would still have more to explore - it's the gift that keeps on giving!
Let's get to it!
Stop 1: Gap of Dunloe
The road through the Gap of Dunloe cuts through the MacGillycuddy Reeks mountain range and is the most stunning way to start the day's drive. Grab refreshments at Kate Kearney's cottage and ignore the calls of the horse and cart tour guides who will likely flag you down as you drive up the mountain. The road is open to the public and is accessible by car but as it's also a popular hiking route, it's important to drive slowly and be mindful of pedestrians.
Cross over the Wishing Bridge, past mountain lakes and up the windiest road that eventually gives way to spectacular views over Black Valley.
Stop 2: Moll's Gap
Named after Moll Kissane who set up an illicit still in the gap back in the 19th century, Moll's Gap offers more beautiful views of the Gap of Dunloe. It's also a great spot to grab a cup of tea and some sweet treats at Avoca Café (note: the café is currently closed due to COVID-19, please check the website for up to date opening times).
Stop 3: Derrynane Beach
Once you pass through Sneem, you'll start to the see the sparkling water of the Atlantic ahead and no doubt you'll be ready to stretch the legs on some soft, white sand. Derrynane beach is the perfect spot to do just that and with it being awarded the Blue Flag and having lifeguards overlooking the beach, it's also perfect for swimming too.
Make sure to take a walk round the corner to the harbour to spy some fishing boats bobbing in the turquoise waters around the tiny islands scattered in the bay.
Stop 4: Waterville
The drive to Waterville is one of my favourites and the village itself provides a good pitstop for food. We ate in An Corcan, a small restaurant that served the most delicious Cajun chicken burger and gave us the chance to sit back and mark the halfway mark of the drive.
Stop 5: Kerry Cliffs / Skellig Ring
This little detour is a bit of a hidden gem on the Ring of Kerry but is well worth the extra few miles. Take off the main road towards Portmagee and keep along the coastal route until you see the jagged outlines of the Skellig islands piercing their way out of the Atlantic. The dramatic landscape is breathtaking and it really does feel as if you're on the edge of Europe here; it's no wonder Lonely Planet rated it as one of the best travel destinations in the world!
After you think you've seen the best the drive has to offer, stop off at the Kerry Cliffs for another feast for the eyes. We weren't prepared for just how incredible the cliffs would be and at 300m in height, they're taller than the more well-known Cliffs of Moher.
We were incredibly lucky with the weather on the evening we visited the cliffs but regardless, they would strike awe in even the hardest to please. I might even dare to say they're more impressive than the Cliffs of Moher just because they feel like a hidden secret and there are panoramic views regardless of where your head is turned.
Stop 6: Valentia Island
To finish the day with a bang, head to Valentia island to watch the sun go down on a beautiful day on the road. You can hike along Bray Head if you've time but if you are like us and are pretty knackered by this stage, pay the 5 Euro to take yourselves to the top of the Geokaun Mountain for views right across to Dingle Bay.
The setting sun turned the landscape gold on our last visit there and offered the chance to reflect on the amazing day we just had. It's the perfect way to close out one of the best road trips you'll ever have.
You really are spoiled for choice on the Ring of Kerry and while it's difficult to cram it all in, a day spent in this part of Ireland is a day spent well. If you have any of your own suggestions, feel free to share them in the comments below! You might just tempt me to make another trip back soon!