If you’ve ever been tempted to skip Killarney because you thought it was too much of a tourist trap, it’s time to dig a little deeper. True, Killarney has more experience with visitors than any other town in Ireland, but this does not mean you will be assailed with neon leprechauns, overpriced accommodation, or inedible “Irish” food on your arrival. The simple reason why the tourist industry is so developed in Killarney is that few other places in the world offer such an incredible wealth of things to see and do. Here are some reasons for you to start packing:
Killarney National Park
Even locals are surprised by what they discover in their backyard. The 26,000-acre Killarney National Park is a wonderland of mountains, rivers, lakes, bogs, woodlands, and trails of varying accessibility. Take a gentle stroll or tackle a mountain – the choice is yours in this enormous playground. Spend the day in the company of herds of native wild deer with white-tailed eagles circling overhead. Go pony trekking, boating, fishing, or cycling – without a plastic leprechaun in sight.
The Killarney Races
If you thought the only horses in Killarney were the plodding beasts that pull the jaunting cars, think again. The Killarney Races, run at the racecourse on Ross Road, provide 11 exciting days of racing every year, with an accompanying programme of great entertainment. Have a flutter, dress up for Ladies Day, take the kids along for the family-themed events, and meet friends old and new at one of the most beautiful racecourses in the world. Race meetings take place in May, July, and September.
Killarney was named the Tidiest Town in Ireland in 2011 and has featured prominently in the national competition since its foundation. It was also shortlisted for the special “Tourism Town” award in 2012. On the international front, Killarney Town was won the International Challenge (Large) category of the 2012 Edition of Communities in Bloom.
No other town in Ireland has such a concentration of breathtaking spas. The panoramic views from the luxury 5-star Aghadoe Heights Hotel and Spa Resort are enough to relieve your stress immediately, but the indulgent treatments will have you floating to new levels of relaxation. The Hotel Europe was named the best resort hotel in 2012 at the National Hospitality Awards, and its Espa facility offers a standard of treatment designed to reflect the purity of the lakeside setting. The Brehon Resort and Spa offers authentic Thai massage and treatments in bliss-inducing surroundings, and the Cloisters at Muckross Park Hotel (a world luxury spa award winner in 2011) offer a tranquil interpretation of luxury. And that’s just a few of Killarney’s spas…
Queen Victoria is partly responsible for turning Killarney into a magnet for visitors. She arrived here in 1861 and stayed at Muckross House. Indeed, preparations for her visit bankrupted the owners of the house, and it was later donated to the state. The Queen visited Ross Castle, spent a day on the Lakes of Killarney, toured Dinis Island and Torc waterfall, and also visited Muckross Abbey. Take inspiration from her trip for your own stay in Killarney. (You might have to give the stag hunt a miss, though).
It’s not just British royalty who love Killarney, Hollywood royalty feel at home here (literally) too. Actor Michael Fassbender (Inglourious Basterds, X-Men: First Class, and Prometheus – to name a few) moved here with his family from Germany when he was two years old and spent his childhood in Fossa, about 5km from the town.
Continuing the movie theme, Ireland’s first talking film, The Dawn, based on a War of Independence story was scripted and filmed in Killarney in 1933.
Gap of Dunloe
Venture off the well-worn Ring of Kerry, just a few miles outside Killarney, and you will discover an ancient natural masterpiece. The Gap of Dunloe is a narrow pass between the Purple Mountain and the MacGillycuddy Reeks created by the force of a massive glacier thousands of years ago. Walk through it, cycle it, take a jaunting car ride, or just marvel at its dramatic magnificence.
So Many Beds
If you are fussy when it comes to where you stay, Killarney is the place for you. No other place in Ireland outside Dublin has a bigger choice of accommodation. In fact, outside of the capital, Killarney has more hotel beds than anywhere else in Ireland. So, whether you’re after budget basics or five-star luxury, you won’t be disappointed.
Castles & Copper Mines
From little children with visions of Rapunzel or crocodile-filled moats in their heads to grown-ups with dreams of grandeur, everyone loves a castle. Ross Castle, perched right at the edge of the Lower Lake in Knockreer Estate (the part of Killarney National Park nearest the town), offers history, views, and even a cannon or two. Constructed in the 15th century, it was ruled by the O’Donoghue Ross chieftains in the middle ages. Take a guided tour, or just watch the swans float serenely past.
Just a short walk from the castle, but rarely visited by tourists, the mining trail is a scenic reminder of the days when copper was mined in Killarney. Copper mined from this island was the first metal to be used in Ireland, more than 4,000 years ago, and large shipments of copper ore were also delivered to British smelters during the Industrial Revolution.
Lest you think entertainment in Killarney revolves around ballad sessions and storytelling for tourists, the INEC (about 2km outside the town on the main Kenmare road) offers something completely different. Ireland’s biggest multi-purpose events and conference centre, this 3,000-seater facility brings acts of all genres to Kerry, from hip-hop to rock and cabaret to comedy.