LAST UPDATED: 2023
You will need two things before you explore Killarney National Park. The first is Dramamine. The second is a sword. Yes, you read that right. You will need a sword on your Ireland family vacation. If you don’t have kids, well, a sword is still the best way to explore the national park and Killarney lakes, and one of the best things to do on the Ring of Kerry.
I don’t know what possessed me to fly to Dublin by myself with my two boys, ages five and eight at the time. We were originally going to hang out for a day or two in Dublin with my parents before heading south, but thanks to a freak spring snowstorm, our flights got screwed up.
Our plans changed. I headed south the day after we landed.
I just needed to get out of the city. This was going to give us more time to get over our jet lag in Ireland. We’d also have more time in Killarney, which I’d been trying to figure out since I wanted to be in the national park, but also drive the Ring of Kerry.
Killarney National Park definitely deserved more than a sprint through it, and even with a full day, we barely saw a quarter of the park.
Before we dive into the park, let’s get the planning logistics out of the way…
Table of Contents
Killarney Ireland Planning Guide
How to get to Killarney
Are there any flights to Killarney?
The nearest airport to Killarney is Kerry Airport, which is about a 20-minute drive away. Ryanair and Aer Lingus operate regular flights to Kerry Airport from major cities in the UK and Europe.
Alternatively, you can fly to Shannon, Dublin or Cork and then take a train, bus, or car to Killarney. In general, the bus and train are the most convenient and cost-effective options for getting to Killarney.
International Flights to Killarney
If you are coming from the United States to Ireland or from another country, you should fly into Shannon Airport. Dublin Airport is another option, especially if you are already flying on Aer Lingus and have a stopover in Dublin. Chances are your layover will be longer than it takes to drive, plus flights tend to be cheaper to Dublin.
Driving to Killarney
If you have access to a car, you can drive to Killarney. It is about a 3-hour drive from Dublin, 1.5-hour drive from Cork, and 2-hour drive from Limerick. There are several car rental companies available at the major airports and cities in Ireland.
Dublin to Killarney
You can rent a car at Dublin Airport and drive to Killarney. The journey takes approximately 3.5 hours via the M7 and M8 motorways. However, driving in Ireland can be challenging for those unfamiliar with the roads and traffic conditions.
Shannon to Killarney
You can rent a car at Shannon Airport and drive to Killarney. The journey takes approximately 1.5 hours via the N18 and N21. Driving in Ireland can be challenging for those unfamiliar with the roads and traffic conditions.
Cork to Killarney
You can rent a car in Cork and drive to Killarney. The journey takes approximately 1 hour and 15 minutes via the N22. Driving in Ireland can be challenging for those unfamiliar with the roads and traffic conditions.
Taking the Bus to Killarney
There are regular bus services from major cities like Dublin, Cork, and Limerick to Killarney. Bus companies such as Bus Éireann and Dublin Coach operate regular services to Killarney.
Bus from Dublin to Killarney
Bus Eireann operates a direct bus service from Dublin Airport to Killarney. The journey takes approximately 4.5 hours and runs several times a day. You can purchase tickets at the bus station or online.
Bus from Shannon to Killarney
Bus Eireann operates a direct bus service from Shannon Airport to Killarney. The journey takes approximately 2 hours and runs several times a day. You can purchase tickets at the bus station or online.
Bus from Cork to Killarney
Bus Eireann operates a direct bus service from Cork to Killarney. The journey takes approximately 1 hour and 45 minutes and runs several times a day. You can purchase tickets at the bus station or online.
Taking the Train to Killarney
The nearest train station to Killarney is Killarney Station, which is serviced by regular trains from Dublin, Cork, and Limerick. Irish Rail operates regular train services to Killarney.
Train from Dublin to Killarney
You can take a train from Dublin Heuston Station to Killarney Station. The journey takes approximately 3.5 hours and there are several services per day. From Dublin Airport, you can take the Aircoach bus to Dublin Heuston Station or a taxi.
Shannon to Killarney by train
You can take a train from Limerick Station to Killarney Station. The journey takes approximately 1.5 hours and there are several services per day. From Shannon Airport, you can take the Bus Eireann shuttle bus to Limerick Station or a taxi.
Cork to Killarney
You can take a train from Cork Station to Killarney Station. The journey takes approximately 1 hour and 30 minutes and there are several services per day.
Private Transfer to Killarney
Shannon to Killarny by private car
You can also arrange a private transfer from Shannon Airport to Killarney with a car service or taxi company. This option can be more expensive but offers convenience and comfort.
Dublin to Killarney by Private Transfer
You can also arrange a private transfer from Dublin Airport to Killarney with a car service or taxi company. This option can be more expensive but offers convenience and comfort.
Cork to Killarney By Private Transfer
You can also arrange a private transfer from Cork to Killarney with a car service or taxi company. This option can be more expensive but offers convenience and comfort.
Accessing Killarney National Park
Driving through Killarney National Park
If you have access to a car, you can drive to Killarney National Park. The park is located about 4 kilometers from Killarney town center. You can enter the park via several entrances, including the main entrance at Muckross House and Gardens, which is located off the N71 road.
Getting from Killarney to Killarney National Park by Bus
There are regular bus services from major cities like Dublin, Cork, and Limerick to Killarney town. Once you reach Killarney town, you can take a local bus or taxi to the park.
Killarney National Park by Train
The nearest train station to Killarney National Park is Killarney station, which is serviced by regular trains from Dublin, Cork, and Limerick. Once you reach Killarney station, you can take a local bus or taxi to the park.
Biking or walking in Killarney National Park
If you are staying in Killarney town, you can cycle or walk to the park. There are several cycling and walking routes that will take you through the park.
Renting a Car in Killarney National Park
While I’d recommend booking a car at the airport, there are a few places to hire a car in Killarney. You can grab a rental car from the Kerry airport (KIR Airport), but will need to take a taxi to pick it up. For a bit more, you can pick up a rental car in Killarney City Centre.
When you rent a car in Ireland, make sure you read our handy guide on HOW to rent a car in Ireland and all of the added insurance, etc. you will need to make sure you have on the car.
Ireland is very strict about having a specific type of insurance (CDW), so don’t get stuck paying more than you have to when you go to pick up your car.
KILLARNEY NATIONAL PARK HOTELS
When you want to visit Killarney National Park, you have two options for lodging- you can stay right in town or you can stay on the outskirts. A third option would be to stay in the town of Kenmare on the Ring of Kerry, but most people don’t opt to set up their entire trip from there.
Hotels in Killarney
- Killarney Plaza Hotel and Spa
- The International Hotel Killarney
- Killarney Royal Hotel
- The Fairview Boutique Hotel
- Great Southern Killarney
- Muckross Park Hotel & Spa
Hotels near Killarney National Park
If you don’t want to stay in town, there are plenty of beautiful hotels (many with a pool) that you can book just outside of town. You will still be close to plenty of restaurants and walking distance to a few attractions.
Old Weir Lodge Killarney
- Muckross Rd, Dromhale, Killarney, Co. Kerry, Ireland.
On our first trip to Killarney and the Ring of Kerry, we stayed at the Old Weir Lodge, just outside of Killarney National Park and the town of Killarney. We were literally five minutes from many of the sites in the park.
Our family room was massive, especially by European standards.Large family rooms and a full breakfast made this the perfect hotel to call home during our visit to Killarney and while we drove around the Ring of Kerry. Family rooms include a queen bed plus two twin beds, a small table with chairs, desk and bureau. The bathroom is even large enough for a family of four to all brush their teeth at the same time.
Restaurants were an easy walk or drive away. Downtown Killarney was also an easy distance, although we never actually got there. We were too busy visiting the natural beauty that Ireland had to offer.
Breakfast includes a cold buffet of assorted fruits, pastries and cereals. Hot items can be ordered off the menu from the wait staff, along with coffee, tea and hot cocoa. Oh, and get ready for your kids to be doted upon. The wait staff is ready to adopt your kids as their surrogate nieces, nephews and grandkids.
Hotels in Kenmare
Kenmare is southeast of Killarney, and about a 40 minute drive from Killarney to Kenmare. Now, if you get stuck behind a Killarney tour bus or stop a bunch, it can take you much longer, but if you just want to get to your hotel, you can drive straight through and then go back to visit all of the spots you saw in the park along the way.
Keep in mind that most of the Kenmare hotels are actually vacation rentals. This is great if you want a little room to spread out, especially if you are a family in Scotland, but you won’t get all of the hotel amenities. Many do have access to a pool, so at least the kids will be happy.
PACKING FOR KILLARNEY NATIONAL PARK
Yes, you need to pack when you go into a national park. Just like when you visit U.S. national parks, there are a few things you want to bring with you. There isn’t a convenience store every five minutes, although there are little rest areas and cafes at various points along the route.
You will want water and snacks for those hungry kids. Make sure your camera batteries are charged as well.
Pack up that rain gear for any weather that will blow through, as well as sweatshirts. You will be going up in elevation and it will get chilly.
Dramamine, or an anti-nausea/ motion sickness medication, is a must for adults and children who may get car sick on the small, winding roads that take you through Killarney National Park. My oldest gets car sick, and more than once he complained about his stomach acting funny. Even his little brother had to have one children’s Dramamine tablet to keep from throwing up on the drive.
KILLARNEY NATIONAL PARK WITH KIDS PACKING LIST
- Plastic Sword (like this one)
- Dramamine (motion sickness medication)/ Children’s Dramamine
- Sweatshirts/ coats
- Waders/ Rain boots (love these lined ones for kids)
- Hiking shoes (we love these waterproof ones)
*Note: If you are driving, PLEASE do not take Dramamine or a motion sickness medication. It can and will make you drowsy. You can take these ginger tablets to help settle your stomach though. They will not make you nod off on the road.
WHERE TO BUY SWORDS IN KILLARNEY NATIONAL PARK
You will have to go to the town of Kenmare to pick up swords. While there are a few shops in Killarney that carry them, it is more of an adventure to grab swords down in Kenmare.
This will also get your kids out the door and excited to explore. If they just can’t wait, drive straight to Kenmare and then backtrack to see all of the sights in Killarney National Park.
How to Plan YOUR TIME IN KILLARNEY NATIONAL PARK
It is actually pretty easy to explore Killarney National Park. Like many other national parks, it requires some driving to get to each hike. There are great maps in the free Killarney tourist books. Y
our hotel will be able to point out the family-friendly trails, pus how to explore the three lakes in Killarney National Park – Lough Leane, Muckross Lake and Upper Lake.
We did a few hikes and gazed out at the lakes, but more often than not. I just pulled over and the boys would start to climb rocks when we saw a magnificent view.
Since Killarney National Park is on the Ring of Kerry, it is very easy to get sucked into driving the Ring, when all you meant to do was explore the park. With that in mind, I knew that the farthest we would go was Kenmare our first day.
We had to find swords, so we had our destination in mind. We timed it out so we would be headed back to our hotel by mid-afternoon. I wanted to be off the road by dark. It was only my second day driving in Ireland. I wasn’t so sure I wanted to be driving on the opposite side of the road with tour buses quite yet.
Read all about driving in Ireland with a U.S. License
KILLARNEY NATIONAL PARK ITINERARY
Drive from Killarney to Kenmare with these major stops in mind. You may not be able to hit everything, so leave the closest stops for another day in case you run out of time. Personally, I’d drive to Kenmare and then backtrack to make sure you have time to see and do it all. Or pick one or two stops along the way and hit the rest on the way back.
- Ross Castle
- Muckross Abbey
- Muckross House and Gardens (aka Muckross Estate)
- TORC Waterfall
- Old Weir Bridge
Things to do in KILLARNEY NATIONAL PARK
Now that you have an overview of your drive from Killarney to Kenmare, it’s time to dive into the major sites as you explore Ireland’s first national park (established in1932), as well as Ireland’s oldest national park. While each stop could be a day trip all its own, you can spend an hour at each stop too. Just know that this will be a gloss over visit. You will have to skip some tours, and not every attraction can be visited in one day.
Spots closer to Killarney can be saved for another time when you want to stick close to your hotel.
Kerry UNESCO Biosphere Reserve
Formerly known as the Killarney unesco biosphere reserve, the Kerry Biosphere is just south-west of Killarney. The reserve is made up of the mountains and woodlands surrounding Lough Leane Lake, plus the adjacent smaller lakes, moorlands, parks and gardens.
Killarney National Park is the caretaker of this reserve, which is home to a wild herd of native red deer. According to UNESCO, “ three main woodland types can be distinguished: it is woods of sessile oak (Quercus petraea) with holly (Ilex aquifolium) in the understorey on sandstone; a yew (Taxus baccata) wood growing on almost bare limestone; and carr forest dominated by Alnus glutinosa in places along the north-east shore of Lough Leane and in other poorly-drained areas.”
As always, human impact has brought in non-native species, such as Rhododendron and Sika deer, who are overgrazing and could disrupt the genetic makeup of the Ireland red deer.
Ross Castle in Killarney was originally the home of Irish Chieftain O’Donoghue Ross in the late 15th Century. While the castle is only open to the public April through October for a fee (includes guided tour), you can still wander the grounds throughout the year. Views of Lough Leane are quite pretty, and you can get a peek at Inisfallen Island. Boat tours around the lakes of Killarney are also available and go near Ross Castle if you just want to catch a glimpse.
The ruins of Muckross Abbey is a nice site to wander with the kids, as there is no guided tour or entry fee to worry about. You can wander through the ruins of the Franciscan friary from about the 15th century. The Cloisters are still in great shape, and you can climb a few stairs to get a view of the lakes beyond. There is an active graveyard, where locals are still being buried today (no ghosts that we know of are wandering about. That is not what makes it “active.”)
Keep in mind that the parking lot is a bit of a walk from the Abbey and just off the N71 road. Bundle up the kids if it’s chilly. Put on your rain boots as the path can be muddy once you get to the Abbey. Most of the path is paved, so if you have a stroller, you can use it for younger children until you get to the Abbey.
Jaunty car rides are available in the parking lot if you would rather hop in a horse and cart for a tour.
Start planning your first trip to Ireland with our handy checklist
MUCKROSS HOUSE AND GARDENS
Muckross House is open year round to the public, and accessible via guided tour throughout the day. Even if you don’t tour the home, the grounds within Killarney National Park, sitting on Muckross Lake are worth visiting. However, you won’t have access to the incredible gardens design for a visit from Queen Victoria. The Sunken Garden, Rock Garden and the Stream Garden will be worth the price of admission.
This is one attraction that you could spend all day visiting. There are multiple pieces to the property, including Muckross farms, the house, gardens, a garden restaurant, and both weavers and potters on site.
Muckross Traditional Farms
Just down the road from Muckross House you can learn about local farm life at Muckross Traditional Farms. The Farm Animal Petting Area and bouncy castle allows children to get hands on after being so good in the Victorian home you made them tour. Three working farms are available to tour, so you and your family can learn what life was like in Ireland during the 1930s and 1940s in rural Ireland.
Inisfallen Abbey on an island in Lough Leane
Like Skellif Micheal off the tip of the Ring of Kerry, Inisfallen Abbey was a sanctuary for monks in early Christianity (as early as 640 AD) who craved solitude and peace. Over 300 years, the monks of Inisfallen Abbey wrote the Annals of Innisfallen, a history of early Ireland written in Irish and Latin that is still studied today.
Visitors can tour the island and grounds, but must have tickets to access the island through Visit Innisfallen Island. There are only 12 seats on the boat, which leaves every hour on the hour, from Reen Pier (near Ross Castle) 10 am – 5 pm daily. The boat ride is a quick 15 minutes, and you will get a history of the island and abbey from your tour guide.
You can then wander the 12th century ruins of the Augustinian Priory & Romanesque Church. The boat then takes you back to the pier. In total, the trip is about 90 minutes long, andwell worth the trip out.
Killarney National Park Education Centre
Head over to the Killarney National Park Education Centre located inside of Knockreer House, the last of the Kenmare mansions. It’s near the town of Killarney, so easy to pop into and explore.
They do provide programming for the general public, but mostly host school group, tour groups and youth groups. Their website does have printable pages for parents to use as a guide on walks that tackle math and science (like pollinators you might see in the park), which can really come in handy when you are trying to engage your kids’ brains on a trip to Ireland.
Stop at Torc Waterfall in the morning if at all possible. You will be driving on the left, so the pull off will be easier to make. The crowds will not have gathered yet either. Afternoons see the parking lot filled with tour buses, however, if you get there late enough, you may miss the buses. It’s kind of the luck of the draw.
Park in the lot and make your way down the path. It’s very clearly marked. You can bring a stroller, but it is much easier to pop the baby in a carrier and walk in. Let the kids run along the Owengarriff river path, while you stroll along taking in nature’s beauty.
The waterfall is at the base of a set of steps. Climb up the steps for views of the lakes and valley below, but remember you have to climb back down those steps. If the kids’ legs start to get tired, you might want to turn around, especially if you have just started your journey. You have a long way to go.
Entry is free, and there are restrooms at this stop. Take advantage of the restrooms before you get back in the car.
Old Weir Bridge
For those who have the time, the Old Weir Bridge is a fun hike to do, even with kids. It is about a 25-minute hike (for adults) from the parking lot of N71. It is not clearly marked, so make sure you ask the front desk at your hotel or B&B for a map with directions. Everyone in town knows this hike. Follow the path to Dinis Cottage. It is the closest landmark to the bridge.
Why are you going to this bridge? Well, it is picturesque, in the middle of the woods, and a nice hike for the family. It is also one of the oldest structures in Killarney, and a special spot in the park. You just have to find it to know what we mean.
Gap of Dunloe
The Gap of Dunloe isn’t technically inside of Killarney National Park, but it is worth a mention. You can reach this scenic area by car in about 15 minutes from downtown Killarney. It’s the perfect spot for a hike if the kids still aren’t worn out for the day, plus its easy to tack onto your Ireland road trip, especially if you love gorgeous views– Gap of Dunloe is between MacGillycuddy Reeks and Purple Mountain.
The main road is paved, but it is generally filled with people walking, biking or jaunty carts taking people for a ride. Do NOT drive on this road during the day if you can help it, especially in the summer months. It’s much better to take a short walk or make it longer.
The easiest way to explore the Gap of Dunloe is to head to the car park near Kate Kearney’s Cottage and walk to Lord Brandon’s Cottage and back. You can also take a boat trip to Lord Brandon’s Cottage and explore from there.
KILLARNEY NATIONAL PARK DARK SKY PRESERVE
Did you know that there is a Killarney National Park Dark Sky Preserve? Yup! What does this mean? It means that light pollution is kept to a minimum so that stargazing can be possible.
If you do decide to stay until dark, you can stop here on your way back to Killarney from Kenmare. Pull over and get ready to gaze at a sea of stars you might not glimpse at home if you live in the city.
SNACK STOPS ALONG THE RING OF KERRY
Even though you are exploring Killarney National Park, you are still driving the Ring of Kerry. This has its benefits, mainly in the form of a few snack stops and pull offs along your route. It also means you will have restroom access as you drive. Take advantage of these stops as some are far between each other.
Leprechaun’s Crossing is the sign you will notice as you cruise by this little café and gift shop. Don’t worry, there is a spot to turn around about 3 minutes down the road. And you will want to turn around.
The views from here of the lakes below are worth a look. Let the kids climb over the rocks across the street from the café for a bit. Take your photos, and even do some hiking. If it is raining, be careful; the rocks are slick.
Avoca has a shop at this stop, so get ready to try on a few things and load up on Irish goods. It’s hard to resist. Sheep are also a big draw for the kids as there are pastures right out front. A cafe is also inside if you need to grab a bite for lunch.
WHAT TO DO IN Kenmare
Once you arrive in Kenmare you will wish you had booked a night in this cute town teaming with restaurants. By this point you have already had lunch and probably want to turn around before dinner. You will be kicking yourself because the dinner menus at the restaurants are amazing.
Don’t fret. Grab some ice cream and start walking the town.
While your kids eat ice cream outside, pop into the boutique shops, pick up Hunter rain gear we just don’t see in the U.S., and wish you had a larger suitcase to bring home sweaters, furniture and antiques.
Still LOOKING FOR A KILLARNEY HOTEL? CHECK OUT THE FOLLOWING!
- Old Weir Lodge– Large family rooms, great staff.
- The Lake Hotel– #1 Best Value on TripAdvisor
- Muckross Park Hotel and Spa– Spa and a pool, what more could you want?
- The Fairview– Boutique-style hotel in the heart of the city
- Killarney Royal– Walkable to many town attractions
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Killarney National Park FAQ
What is Killarney National Park?
Killarney National Park is a national park located in County Kerry, in the southwest of Ireland. It covers an area of 102.89 square kilometers and is known for its stunning landscapes, including mountains, lakes, and forests.
What are the main attractions in Killarney National Park?
Some of the main attractions in Killarney National Park include Muckross House and Gardens, Torc Waterfall, Ross Castle, and the Lakes of Killarney. There are also numerous hiking trails and scenic drives throughout the park.
How do I get to Killarney National Park?
Killarney National Park is located approximately 20 kilometers from the town of Killarney. The park can be accessed by car, bike, or on foot. There are also several bus and train services that run to Killarney town.
Is there an admission fee for Killarney National Park?
There is no admission fee for Killarney National Park. However, some of the attractions within the park, such as Muckross House and Gardens, may have an admission fee.
What activities can I do in Killarney National Park?
There are many activities to enjoy in Killarney National Park, including hiking, cycling, fishing, boating, and wildlife watching. There are also guided tours available of the various attractions within the park.
What is the best time of year to visit Killarney National Park?
The best time of year to visit Killarney National Park is during the summer months, from June to August, when the weather is warm and dry. However, the park is open year-round and each season has its own unique beauty.
Can I camp in Killarney National Park?
Yes, there are several campsites located within Killarney National Park. However, advance booking is required and there are restrictions on the number of nights you can stay.
Are there any guided tours available in Killarney National Park?
Yes, there are several guided tours available in Killarney National Park, including hiking tours, boat tours, and horse-drawn carriage tours. There are also audio-guides available for some of the attractions within the park.
1 thought on “KILLARNEY NATIONAL PARK: 15 Brilliant Experiences In for Your Ireland Trip”
Killarney national park was the first national park of Ireland created in 1932. We spent amazing two days here. We rented a car from Dublin for a few days. I drove the car and my son was the navigator. We planned our itinerary well and enjoyed visiting all sites, and museums. It was difficult driving to the left initially but it was fun thereafter. If you are not used to the left-hand driving, try visiting during a weekday when it not very busy. I would recommend visiting The Ring of Kerry as well.