Killarney National Park is technically part of the famous Ring of Kerry, but you can easily spend a day just here. It is a national park for a reason, the scenery is stunning. You have gorgeous lakes and dramatic mountains like you might expect. In addition, there are also historic sites that you should not miss.
In this post, I will share the top seven things to do in Killarney National Park and some logistical information to help plan your visit.
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Killarney National Park is located less than five miles southwest of the town of Killarney in County Kerry in southwestern Ireland. It is open year around and there is a visitor’s center at the Muckross House. The park covers over 25,000 acres, so you have plenty of areas to explore.
In 1932, Killarney National Park was created when Muckross Estate was donated to the Irish Free State. It was the first national park in Ireland. In 1981, the park was named a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve.
Top Things to Do in Killarney National Park
Within the park, you will find mountains, lakes, and even waterfalls, but Killarney National Park is more than just a place to admire the natural beauty. The history of the park is interesting too. There is something for everyone!
Tour the Muckross House
The main attraction in the park is Muckross House, a 19th century Victorian mansion now owned by the state. During our visit the Muckross House was undergoing renovations, so parts of the outside of the house was covered in scaffolding and some of the gardens were closed off.
The only way to see the inside of this historic house is by guided tour (€9 per adult). The tour lasted about an hour and was fascinating. I really loved the stories that our guide shared with us about the families that lived in the house. It was interesting to learn that Queen Victoria along with her husband Prince Albert stayed at the Muckross House in 1861 during their trip to Ireland. They celebrated Prince Albert’s 42nd birthday there and then, unfortunately, he died a few months later.
The family went all out for the Queen’s visit, hoping to get something in return. Unfortunately, with the timing of Prince Albert’s death, Victoria was distracted and the family ended up going bankrupt.
Unfortunately, no pictures are allowed inside the house, but I would encourage you to visit. The inside is decorated like it would have been in Victorian time. Plus, from inside the house, there are fabulous views of the lakes and the gardens.
After our tour, we went to explore the gardens. Unfortunately, it was only a few minutes before it started raining pretty hard so we didn’t even get to see all of the garden that was open. There is no admission charge to visit the gardens.
Explore the Muckross Abbey Ruins
Muckross Abbey was founded in 1448 as a Franciscan friary for the Observantine Franciscans. It has been damaged and rebuilt several times throughout its history. I knew Muckross Abbey was ruins but I was really surprised how much of the abbey was actually intact. You can even climb the stairs to explore the second floor. The courtyard is dramatic with a large tree growing inside it. There is also a graveyard.
I didn’t get to explore as much as I would have liked because it was rainy and windy, but the abbey is definitely an impressive ruin. Muckross Abbey is about a 20-minute walk from Muckross House or you can drive there since there is a parking lot a short walk away.
Hike to the Torc Waterfall
After our trip to Isle of Skye, we are both obsessed with waterfalls. So when we heard there was one in Killarney National Park, we knew we needed to see it even though it was raining! If we would have had better weather, we would have done the 4.5 km Torc Waterfall Loop Hike.
I had read the falls were only a five-minute walk from the parking lot, so we figured we could do that in spite of the weather. Well, somehow I think we parked in the wrong spot because it was more than a 20-minute hike, which was not easy given the weather conditions. Still, it was definitely worth it, the Torc Waterfall is impressive. It is hard to convey the size in a picture, I should have braved the weather conditions to pose in front of it.
Take a Boat Ride on the Killarney Lakes
The lakes in Killarney National Park are stunning. We took a walk around one of them, but I think it would have been better to do a boat tour like this one. The ride lasts an hour, and if you are lucky, you might even spot some red deer or a white-tailed eagle. The boat is covered and heated so it can be fun even when the weather is bad.
The more adventurous travelers can explore the lake on a kayak with this tour. The water is calm so the tour is suitable for all kayaking levels.
See Ross Castle
Unfortunately, we did not have time to visit Ross Castle, so it is another item on the list for next time. This Castle was estimated to be built in the late 15th century by one of the O’Donoghue Ross chieftains and it is located on the Lower Lake (Lough Leane) in Killarney National Park.
According to a local legend, O’Donoghue still sleeps deep under the waters of Lough Leane. On the morning of May 1st, every seven years he rises from the lake on a white horse and circles the lake. If you can catch a glimpse of him, you will be assured of good fortune for the rest of your life.
The castle is furnished in the style of the 16th and 17th century and guided tours (5 € per adult) are available from March to November. Unfortunately, due to steep inclines, it is not easily accessible for visitors with mobility issues.
To get to Ross Castle take boat across the serene lake or it is possible to drive. From Killarney town, there will be a sign on N71 marking the right turn. If you prefer, it’s also a leisurely 2.6km walk or bike ride southwest of the St Mary’s Cathedral pedestrian park entrance.
Take in the Ladies View
Ladies View is a scenic lookout point that we stopped at while we were driving the Ring of Kerry. It gets its name because Queen Victoria’s ladies in waiting liked the view here. It is a pretty impressive view, so I definitely recommend that you stop and take a few pictures.
Explore the Park by Bike
Some of the hiking trails in Killarney National Park are also ideal for biking. It’s a great option because you will be able to cover more ground than by walking. You can rent a bike from Killarney and ride to the park.
Then, you can follow the Muckross Dinis Loop, which is mostly flat and paved. It takes you by some of the popular attractions in Killarney National Park like Muckross Abbey, Muckross House, and Torc Waterfall.
Is it Free to Visit Killarney National Park?
It depends on what you want to do. There is no admission fee to enter the park, but some attractions (as mentioned below) only allow you inside on a guided tour which they do charge a nominal fee for.
How to Get to Killarney National Park
The park is huge so it’s probably wise to drive there. The parking lots at the major attractions are free.
For those without a car, the best option is to do the hop-on-hop-off bus from Killarney Shuttle Bus. It takes you from Killarney to all the main attractions in Killarney National Park. Get more information and book your hop-on-hop-off bus here.
A jaunting cart, which is a type of horse-drawn carriage, may look like a nice traditional way to experience the park, but I am not sure I would try it after reading about what happened to fellow blogger Angie Away.
If your lodging is close enough, you could walk but it will be hard to get around to all the different attractions. We stayed at the Carrilgea House, which is a charming bed and breakfast right across the street from the park. (If you are looking for accommodations, here are some more recommendations for places to stay along the Ring of Kerry). One morning before breakfast, we walked over to one of the lakes and enjoyed the sunrise. It was definitely worth getting up early for!
We tried to not let the rain stop us from seeing the park, but we got soaked. I would love to go back and do some more hiking, visit Ross Castle, and maybe even try the jaunting carts. Have you visited Killarney National Park? What were your favorite parts?
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Expert Tips for Visiting Killarney National Park
- You can easily spend a whole day in Killarney National Park, as there is plenty to see.
- Take the guided tour so that you can see the inside of Muckross House and learn all the history.
- There are several different hikes that you can do to see the Torc Waterfall.
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