The ancient town of Killarney boasts some of the most magnificent scenery in the country, if not all of Europe. The South West’s dramatic Atlantic coastline gives way to challenging, awe-inspiring mountains and tranquil lakes, providing unique experiences for the walker, the surfer, the mountaineer, the explorer, the cyclist and the naturalist, to name just a few. There is a whole host of things to do in Killarney, and especially for anyone who appreciates being out and about in the glorious countryside, which is why it has become one of the most visited destinations among people enjoying holidays to Kerry, the county in which it can be found.
Killarney National Park, covering 41 square miles, was the first national park in Ireland, dating from 1932, and is one of the most obvious reasons to visit County Kerry. With so much ground to cover, take a ride in one of the horse-drawn jaunting cars which are available all year round and driven by knowledgeable guides.
About a quarter of the park is covered by lakes and these are surrounded by a mountain range known as McGillycuddy’s Reeks. The tallest peak is Carrauntuohil. At 1,038m, it is also the highest in Ireland and best climbed with a local guide. Never attempt it alone.
Ancient woodlands such as Tomies Wood sprawl over the slopes of the park and an incredible 60 acres of one of Europe’s only remaining pure yew woods can also be found here. Take your binoculars and see if you can spot the red deer - you won’t find them anywhere else in the country - and look for white-tailed eagles around Eagle’s Nest.
There are plenty of other things to do in Killarney National Park as well, such as booking a guided tour (for a maximum of 15 people at a time) of Ross Castle, thought to have been built in the late 15th century by Chieftain O'Donoghue Mór. Local legend has it that he rests under Leane Lake – more later - rising on the morning of May 1st every seven years to circle the lake on a white horse. Much of the castle is in ruins but two wings remain intact and house a collection of furniture dating from the 16th century.
Muckross House was once owned by the Guinness family and is particularly renowned for its wonderful display of rhododendrons which flower between April and June. The house is relatively modern compared to Ross Castle, as it was completed in 1843 and welcomed Queen Victoria when she visited in 1861. It stands close to the shores of Muckross Lake, providing stunning views across the water, and is an ideal place to stop for refreshments. Visitors are also invited to look around the working farms so redolent of local agricultural life in the 1930s - bearing in mind that they are closed in the winter months.
About three miles northeast of Muckross House lie the ruins of Muckross Abbey - technically a friary but known as an abbey - which was founded in 1448. It is where the tombs of the McCarthy Mòr chieftains can be found, as well as an ancient yew tree which is said to date from the beginnings of the settlement (yews are well known for their longevity).
Dinis Cottage, on Dinis Island, is a historic lodge and provides another beautiful setting to enjoy some refreshments. Check out the windows, which are adorned with the etchings of Victorian ladies’ diamond rings (it was all the rage once). Walkers and cyclists can reach Dinis by crossing the Muckross Peninsula, walking along the lakeshore almost four miles from Killarney itself, or taking a boat trip from Muckross House.
For those historians who wish to experience the unique atmosphere of Innisfallen Island, then taking to the water to visit it is one of the very best things to do in Killarney. There is no alternative way of getting there, but you will be pleased to hear that boats leave from Ross Castle regularly. This is where St Finian founded a monastery in 640AD. It is famous for producing the first history of Ireland, the Annals of Innisfallen, which chronicle the nation as it was known to the monks who lived there. The annals were written in a mixture of Latin and Irish and took several hundred years to complete. The island became known as a centre of learning, hence the name of its lake, Leane, which means ‘learning’; it is also where King Brian Boru, a famous high king of Ireland, was educated. The island was home to the monks for nearly 950 years.
Even the most stunning scenery can cause children to fidget after a while, so a visit to Kennedy’s Pet Farm should be considered when you are thinking about things to do in Killarney that the whole family can enjoy. This attraction is home to all manner of farmyard and other animals, including deer, pigs, horses, goats, donkeys and more! As well as its outdoor areas, Kennedy’s also has plenty of things to see and do under cover (including a great play area), meaning that even the most excitable of visitors will be kept happy, whatever the weather.
Meanwhile, Buddies Play and Party Centre features a pirate ship and a castle, as well as providing opportunities for bungee jumping, trampolining and lots of other things to do.
Should it be the adults who need a break, then top entertainment is provided at Killarney INEC, an auditorium which is the second largest venue in Ireland outside Dublin and hosts a variety of world-renowned artistes, thanks to its state-of-the-art technology.
There are also numerous pubs around Killarney which will provide a warm welcome and a chance to experience the craic, along with a pint of the black stuff and the toe-tapping skirl of the Irish pipes and drums.
From taking boat trips around the Kerry lakes and enjoying a round or two of golf at Killarney Golf Course to discovering waterfalls and ancient ruins or watching deer and a vast array of seabirds, there are plenty of things to do in Killarney but, whatever your choice, make sure you take a camera!