Killarney is the Irish town you dreamed of.
You know, that quaint Irish town complete with cozy pubs, stunning landscapes and the best damn fish and chips around. The one with lovely Irish men and their lovely Irish accents. A place where that Gaellic magic seeps into your soul.
Ok, I really liked Killarney.
Our day in Killarney was without a doubt the highlight of our week long Ireland road trip. It’s the kind of place you could easily spend a little longer. Or ya know, contemplate uprooting your life to move to.
But if you only have one day in Killarney that’s still enough time to get a taste of what the town, and surrounding area, has to offer.
You may not have enough time to drive the Ring of Kerry, but you’ll still be able to get your driving fix going through the terrifying (but beautiful) Gap of Dunloe. You’ll get to explore the lesser-known Dunquin Harbour, a site arguably more impressive than the Cliffs of Moher. A trip to Killarney wouldn’t be complete without a quick trip to Killarney National Park, and Ross Castle is a great place to end your day.
Honestly, you’ll be left wanting more. But one day in Killarney is a good place to start. Go on, dive straight into this guide to discover the top things to do in Killarney if you only have one day.
GETTING AROUND KILLARNEY
If you rent a car anywhere in Ireland, make it Killarney. While the town itself is small and easy to get around on foot, if you want to make the most of your time you’ll need a car to explore.
Cars in Ireland drive on the left, so make sure you’re comfortable driving on the left side of the road. I recommend hiring a compact car (as Ireland’s country roads are quite narrow). If you drive automatic book your car early as the majority of hire cars in Ireland are manual.
To learn more about hiring a car in Ireland check out my post on planning a 7-day Ireland road trip.
Top Things to do in Killarney If You Only Have One Day
Honestly, we didn’t have too much planned for our day in Killarney. I mean, me being me, I did have a few places saved to my Google Maps.
So when an Australian guy in our dorm recommended we check out Dunquin Harbour, we decided to make it the first stop on our 1-day Killarney itinerary.
And wow. Located on the Dingle Peninsula (around 1.5 hours from Killarney), Dunquin Harbour was everything we imagined the Cliffs of Moher to be. As in, we were the only ones there, there was no damn gift shop, and it was breathtakingly beautiful. If you have to choose between the two, Dunquin Harbour was by far my favourite.
To get to Dunquin Harbour take the Slea Head Drive route from Dingle. Take care, as part of the cliff road is very narrow and single lane only.
On your way back from Dunquin Harbour make a pitstop in Dingle. Though we didn’t spend much time in Dingle, there was something surprisingly charming about this small port town.
If it’s a nice day you could wander the pretty streets and snap a pic or two of the colourful harbourside houses. Head to the beach to see if you can spot Fungi, Dingle’s resident bottlenose dolphin, or grab an ice cream at Murphy’s.
While you could probably spend a little longer in Dingle, especially in summer, it also makes for a great quick visit if you’re short on time and only have a day based in Killarney.
Drive the Gap of Dunloe
The Gap of Dunloe was one of those places I had read about somewhere, and saved as a starred point on my Google Maps. Honestly, I didn’t really do much research beyond that. If I had, I probably wouldn’t have taken it on.
Because driving the Gap of Dunloe is a little scary.
But it’s worth it, because the scenery in this narrow mountain pass is out of this world. Despite the swearing, nervous laughter and tight grip on the steering wheel (and I wasn’t even driving), driving the Gap of Dunloe ended up being one of the highlights of our one day in Killarney.
Ok, a little info.
The Gap begins at Kate Kearney’s cottage, and then the road descends into the Black Valley. You’ll drive past five lakes and cross a number of old stone bridges before coming out the other end at Lord Brandon’s Cottage. From there you can hop on the Ring of Kerry and head back to Killarney, or even take a boat ride across to Killarney from the cottage.
The Gap of Dunloe is 11kms in length and in many places is very narrow and a single lane road. There are passing places throughout, but it can be a challenging drive, especially if you’re not used to driving on narrow roads. You can also hike the Gap. It takes around 2.5 hours to hike one way.
Alright, now you’ve safely made it through the Gap of Dunloe, it’s time to make your way back to Killarney National Park. You’ve only got one day in Killarney, after all, so you’ve got to make the most of it.
One of the main attractions of Killarney National Park is Torc Waterfall. Ok, I’m a little anti-waterfall. Well, not anti-waterfall. But I come from New Zealand, and often waterfalls overseas just aren’t as impressive as those in my backyard. #sorrynotsorry
Still, Torc Waterfall is fairly impressive, and the mossy green glade it runs through is straight out of an Irish fairytale. It’s also easy to visit for those short on time, as the waterfall is only 200m from the car park. Torc Waterfall is 7km from Killarney town so walking is possible.
From Torc Waterfall head a short way up the road to one of Ireland’s most picturesque castles.
Ross Castle is a 15th-century tower house perched attractively on the edge of Lough Leane in Killarney National Park. The castle was built by the O’Donoghues clan, and rumour has it that the original O’Donoghue jumped from a window at the top of the castle into the lake below. So if you see a ghost on your visit, give him a wave. He’s said to be friendly.
Today, the castle stands in good condition and you can take a guided tour of the interior (only available during summer).
Dinner at The Laurels Pub
You know it’s good if it’s recommended by a local, right? Well, our dinner at The Laurels Pub turned out to be one of the best meals of our entire Ireland trip.
This local establishment offers typical Irish pub grub in a cosy setting. Think crispy golden fish and chips, oysters, and Guinness beef stew. Wash it all down with a pint and soak in the ambience of a Legit Irish Pub.
If you’re on a backpacker’s budget it can be a little expensive, but hey, you’re only in Killarney for a day, and it’s worth the splurge.
Have a Pint at Courtney’s Bar
You’ve come to the end of your epic one day in Killarney, so why not raise a glass at popular local haunt, Courtney’s Bar?
This classic Irish bar has been run by the Courtney family since the late 1800’s, and is today one of the best places to go for a drink in Killarney. Grab a Guinness, or opt for an Irish whiskey, sit back and relax. Courtney’s Bar often has live music on a Friday and Saturday night. You might even find a lovely Irish man with a lovely Irish accent.
Read More: The Ultimate 7-Day Ireland Road Trip
Things To Do in Killarney If You Have More Than One Day
Drive the Ring of Kerry
The Ring of Kerry is one of Ireland’s most popular drives, and should be on every Ireland road trip bucket list. Killarney is a great base to drive the route, but you’ll definitely need more than one day.
The Ring of Kerry drive is 179km long and takes around 3-4 hours without stops. But you’ve got to make the stops. I mean, that’s the whole point.
Tour buses driving the Ring of Kerry drive counterclockwise, so beat the hordes of tourists by driving clockwise, and make sure to get up early. To read more about driving the Ring of Kerry check out this great post.
Climb Carrauntoohil Mountain
Feeling adventurous? Why not climb Ireland’s highest peak, Carrauntoohil Mountain?
Located a 45-minute drive from Killarney town, Carrauntoohil is a challenging hike that offers stunning views of the surrounding Irish countryside. There are several routes up the mountain, and the most popular is the ominously named Devil’s Ladder. This route takes around 6 hours to complete (round trip).
For more info on hiking Carrauntoohil Mountain check out this advice from Kerry Mountain Rescue.
One of Killarney’s top rated attractions is a visit to Killarney Falconry. If you have a little extra time in Killarney why not head to this bird of prey centre for a unique animal experience?
The tour consists of a guided walk around Killarney’s lakes in the company of a hawk and it’s handler. Each ‘hawk walk’ is personalised and they can cater to groups of different ages and abilities.
Stay: Black Sheep Hostel is one of the best hostels I’ve ever stayed in. It’s a little expensive – we paid approx. €30 per night for an 8-bed mixed dorm. But it’s SO worth it. The hostel – voted the best in Ireland by Hostelworld in 2019 – is charming, colourful, and a little bit hippy. Plus, they offer a free breakfast.