Killarney has been welcoming travellers since at least the mid-1700s. And while not a great deal is known about Killarney’s nascent tourism sector, we do know that visits to the area really began to kick off about a century later, fuelled by a visit from Queen Victoria in 1861, which thrust the town into the global spotlight. Today, tourism is Killarney’s largest industry and after Dublin is home to more hotel beds than any other Irish destination.
Summer is peak tourist season, with travellers from the United States and Europe flocking to the Irish countryside. But whenever you visit, you’re certain to find something to do. Much of the town’s allure lies in its historic landmarks and cultural gems, such as traditional pubs and restaurants, and even more uniquely, the ‘jaunting cars’ (horse-drawn carts) parked near every popular attraction, tempting tired feet to take a ride.
In fact, if riding around in jaunting cars isn’t your thing, it would be wise to rent your own car during your stay, as most attractions are a fair distance apart and public transport and taxis are scant.
Things to Do
Whether you’re a nature lover or not, Killarney National Park (Muckross) is a must-see. The oldest national park in Ireland spans more than 25,000 acres and boasts a range of landscapes, from lakes to mountains, all set alongside the most extensive native forest in the country. Here, catch a glimpse of the only red deer herd on the mainland. Or if you don’t fancy a hike through the picturesque terrain, there are plenty of other attractions within to catch your fancy.
For example, Muckross House (2F9W+68 Dromyrourk) is the focal point of the park. The historic home was built in 1843 in the traditional Tudor style, featuring 65 rooms, some of which hosted Queen Victoria when she visited in 1861. At one point, the home was owned by Arthur Guinness (yes, that Guinness). It was eventually presented to the Irish government following the First World War. Even if you stop in for just a few minutes, be sure to check out the mammoth elk rack in the entryway, from the now-extinct Irish elk – a vast beast of an animal. Also, take a stroll about the abbey for some gothic spooks.
The Lakes of Killarney (Lough Leane) are another interesting stop within Killarney National Park. Popular spots include the Ladies View, which, according to folklore, Queen Victoria’s ladies-in-waiting dubbed the most beautiful spot in Ireland. The largest of the three lakes is Lough Leane, home to Ross Island, where interesting tidbits like prehistoric metalwork can be found.
The island is also home to Ross Castle (Ross Island), a 15th-century fortified tower open for guided tours during the summer. The legend surrounding the castle says that the original builder, O’Donoghue Mór, sleeps beneath Lough Leane, just feet away. Every seven years, during the morning hours of 1 May, Mór purportedly rises from the lake and circles it on a white horse. If you see him, you’ll be furnished with good luck for the rest of your life. Whether or not you believe such tales, visiting Ross Castle is well worthwhile. The exterior is a beautiful remnant of history and the adjacent lake provides scenic views.
If you feel up for a short hike, the very popular hiking trail to the rugged Torc Waterfall (Rossnahowgarry) is traversable in just minutes. The waterfall is a stop on the Kerry Way Walking Route – and for good reason. Travellers stop routinely to photograph the lush greenery, slippery rocks and secluded, rushing streams, just 100 steps or so off the main highway.
Accommodation in Killarney range from traditional hotels to boutiques to charming bed and breakfasts, all laced with a touch of Irish hospitality.
For the former, Innisfallen Hotel (Fossa) has spacious guestrooms, including suites for families. The on-site bar and restaurant provide a convenient dining option given that the hotel is a little outside the heart of Killarney. A stay also comes with a nice Irish breakfast in the hotel’s formal dining room, served in an upscale setting, with the added bonus of mountain views.
For a dash of luxury, stay at the Great Southern Killarney (Town Centre Avenue). Built in 1854, the historic property sits on six secluded acres and offers travellers traditional European-style hotel opulence (think palatial decor and furnishings). Though the style is a touch old-fashioned, the property still provides all the amenities modern travellers would desire.
If you seek something smaller, family-run and right in the city, Eviston House Hotel (97 New Street) may well fit the bill. Guests are within walking distance of Killarney’s best pubs and shopping, but there’s also an on-site pub. With its large fireplace, flagstone floors and timber beam ceilings, the hotel’s Legendary Danny Mann Pub has a long history and cozy feel.
Like a Local: Restaurants, Bars & Cafés
The Porterhouse Gastropub (26 Plunkett Street) is an updated twist on the classic Irish pub. Instead of cozy, old-fashioned interiors, diners enjoy roomier, more modern facilities – though not lacking in charm. Rather than a simple menu of fish and chips, burgers and shepherd’s pie, the gastropub offers international flavors and unique options that incorporate regional ingredients, like Kerry Mountain lamb.
A traditional pub through and through, The Laurels (Main Street) serves up not only mouthwatering comfort food, but live music and traditional Irish dancing as well. The dinner menu specifically highlights The Laurels Fish Platter, which contains a cornucopia of seafood, including poached mussels in a coconut and lime curry sauce, roast monkfish in basil pesto, grilled king prawns in garlic butter, roast salmon, roast cod, crab claws in saffron cream and breaded calamari.
Fáilte Bar and Restaurant (College Street) is an award-winning, Old Irish restaurant that’s long been a staple of the Killarney dining scene. The authentic eatery recently updated its interior, but did not change the best offerings on its menu. Locally produced, grown and raised ingredients make up their renditions of Irish favourites, like full Irish breakfasts, oysters, fish and chips, and more.
A favourite for both visitors and locals alike, O Donoghues Public House (College Street) sits within Killarney Towers Hotel. The restaurant combines its varied menu with live music, performed seven nights a week. Many dishes have an Asian twist, from the local mussels in a red Thai cream sauce, Thai green chicken curry and vegetable stir-fry to tiger prawns in a teriyaki and ginger sauce.
Bricín Shop and Restaurant (26 High Street) opened more than two decades ago and has been thrilling travelers ever since. The eatery takes its name from a word related to “delicious food” – exactly what you’ll find on the menu. The house speciality is the ‘boxty’, a traditional Irish potato pancake, fried and served with your choice of filling — chicken and vegetables in a tarragon sauce, ratatouille, or lamb and vegetables in a curry sauce.
Quills Woollen Market (Market Cross) offers a range of handcrafted Aran knitwear, including fisherman sweaters made here in Killarney by local “knitting ladies.” If you’re not in the market for a sweater, you can still find cashmere and lambswool products of all kinds, alongside Irish tweed.
If you pay a visit to Muckross House, stop off in the adjacent Mucros Craft Shop (Muckross) as well. The large shop is filled with Irish-inspired gifts, in addition to clothing and outerwear that you might find you need when dealing with the temperamental Irish weather.
Quills Irish Gift Store (5 High Street) is a family-owned store, serving travellers since 1938. Search through thousands of Irish-made products and gifts, including Ireland’s largest Guinness merchandise department.