Things to see in Killarney Ireland – County Kerry’s charming town bursting with historic and natural attractions you can’t miss when exploring Ireland!
Candy Colored Buildings
Ireland is known for two things – rain, and brightly colored buildings.
I’m here to dispel rumors – but I can confirm that Killarney’s reputation for both the rain (there are over 300 days a year with some rain, however it’s often a drizzle and comes in waves throughout the day) – and the color – are in fact very well deserved.
Maybe it’s because of often grey and bleak skies, but Killarney seriously delivers in bringing the bright, beautiful country charm Ireland is known for.
In the middle of the town of Killarney, there are bright buildings dotting the winding roads under softly billowing flags that only heighten the town’s unmistakeable charm.
If you’re looking for pretty, picturesque, and stereotypically bright Irish buildings – you can’t miss Killarney!
Where to see Candy Colored Buildings in Killarney
If you’re looking to take in Killarney’s best buildings, and snap some great photos for yourself, head immediately into town, regardless of where you stay.
The two larger streets of Killarney, High street and Plunkett street, are full of fantastic photo opportunities – as are all the smaller roads and alleys branching off them.
Killarney is an incredibly walkable town – with somewhat tricky parking when in high tourism months. Head to the lot across from the outlet mall, or next to the Mexican restaurant, for a sure bet (the underground lot offers credit-card parking, other lots require euros) – or try your hand at parking in town (though parallel parking in a right side road was a bit trickier for me than normal – which is pretty remarkable since I can only very barely parallel park as is.)
Don’t be afraid of smaller alleyways – there are some adorable and quaint doorways just begging to be explored in Killarney. Even very very late at night (or possibly very early in the morning depending on your mindset at 3am) I felt incredibly safe walking by myself, even in dark alleys.
Killarney is a small, friendly town – and to be perfectly honest, so long as you’re not completely drunk and without usual caution, the more unsavory characters you’d ever encounter in Killarney will be the tourists!
As ubiquitous as Candy Colored buildings are in Killarney, jaunting cars are also synonymous with the cozy lakeside town.
Jaunting cars in Killarney are operated much like taxi services – shuttling tourists to an fro, even on the main roads in town!
While in many towns horse-drawn carriages are a bit cheesy, slow, and over-priced – in Killarney, they are really worth the extra Euros (hot tip – if you don’t have euros on hand, many jaunting car operators will also accept other popular currencies. Just ask if you don’t have euros, the worst they can say is no) as they are not only fun and much longer – but they often go quite fast, are a bit more authentic feeling, and come with some of the best Irish wit and charm around.
While in many cities, operations like these are run by big corporate interests, in Killarney the jaunting car operators are strictly licensed – and all run by families. Getting a jaunting car license isn’t a quick or easy process, so they are mostly handed down through families.
This doesn’t just make for a feel-good “support the locals” storyline – it also helps ensure proper care and respect for the tourists, the environment, and the horses. Families often have one – maybe a couple- of carts (we were told the “biggest” family operator has 8 carts), and a handful of horses. These horses are their livelihood – and very, very expensive. Keeping them happy, rested, and healthy is a top priority!
Every horse is rotated every third day, to be sure they are well rested and cared for. Horses also get to take the winters off when tourists aren’t flocking to Killarney – and during working hours are treated to
Find a Jaunting Car in Killarney
When visiting Muckross House or Ross Castle, it’s very easy to find the jaunting car operators – as they will usually approach you and ask if you’d like to head for a ride with them as you walk in.
There are often many lined up, but I never felt too pressured to hop in a car (though you will always be asked, sometimes in an extra-ordinarily “Only the Irish” way that is overly enthusiastic without being threatening or uncomfortably pushy).
In town, there is a big circle full of jaunting cars at Muckross road and Kenmare place. You can’t miss it!
Tips to a Great Jaunting Car Ride in Killarney Ireland
Once in the car, some of the fun is up to you – drivers are all innately fun and outgoing, have a TON of great information (they are amazing tour guides, though at times, I needed to double check some of the facts I got as legends in Ireland are sometimes more important than actual history), and can liven up any trip. If you don’t have an absolute blast in a jaunting car, some of it is on you!
Make jokes, talk to the driver, find out their story and things they love – and you’ll have a new best friend. (I even ran into one driver I had in a pub one night, who insisted on buying me a round and chatting for a while, even remembering my name from a short trek from Muckross to Torc Waterfall, where I wasn’t even sure I gave him my name!!) Some of my favorite memories- and my kids favorite memories- of Ireland come from the back of a jaunting car, and all of the hearty belly laughs we shared in it!
Shopping in Killarney Town Center
Killarney has so many shops to pop into – from impeccably neat and gorgeous woolen mills featuring unique designs from the Aran Islands, to antique shops, to quirky bookstores and music shops.
Shopping in Killarney is definitely geared towards the large crowds they welcome year-long – but isn’t incredibly more expensive for it. There are deals to find all over Killarney, especially in shops not peddling gas-station-style Irish heritage named license plates and family crests. Look for local wool, whiskey, mead, and crafts – and you’ll be delighted at the treasures you can find!
If you’re looking for a bigger shopping setup, head to the outlet mall where you can find all sorts of clothes and goods to bring home from Killarney!
If you love Downton Abbey, you’ll love Muckross House. It’s a dreamy, gorgeous estate home well worth the visit into the National Park to stroll around.
There is a cafe, a fantastic shop (I actually snagged a bright yellow jacket there that I absolutely love and adore), and lots of tour options available from the visitors center.
If you’re looking for a free visit, you can walk the grounds of Muckross house, stroll through the gardens, and walk along the lake. It’s a perfect place for a picnic, photoshoot, quiet moment to yourself, or just a nice country stroll!
Just be sure to mind closing time – the gates to Muckross close automatically at night, and your car will be left inside if you’re not out by then! The time is posted clearly, so plan accordingly.
When at Muckross, note the lack of taxis (at least in non-peak tourism months that aren’t in the summer). Have the number of a taxi company handy, as there is no Uber in Ireland – and there are no other transport options at the ready unless you know of the bus schedule in advance. Be prepared!
Also note – there is no ATM at Muckross, so have cash ready.
Torc waterfall in Killarney is an absolute must-see in the National Park.
While Torc is incredibly easy to get to – it is also easily overlooked – as it’s a bit tucked away into the forest.
To get to Torc, you can either drive past Muckross, and turn on the road towards the Gap of Dunloe, parking at the small lot by the waterfall – or take a jaunting car (not available in winter from November-March) along the loch from Muckross. Either way is great – but the jaunting car is obviously the most charming.
Both options are a short and easy five minute walk through the woods to the waterfall – don’t worry about signs you will see talking about a strenuous 1-2 hour hike – those are to the top of the waterfall. While I’d love to do those some day, I’ve never had the time – but I am told they provide the most amazing view of Killarney. If you’re just there to take in the falls, it is a very, very short and easy walk.
Ross Castle, with it’s gorgeous tower overlooking the lake, is a highlight of visiting the National Park in Killarney.
As you head to Ross Castle, you’ll pass a gorgeous channel with adorable rowboats (which are a truly authentic activity in Killarney I have yet to get to do myself), and past a long row of jaunting cars. We took one with my kids here last summer- and it is to this day one of their favorite memories, ever. They even asked if I went to hug our horse (Tommy, who they nicknamed “Tommy the tooter”, after the poor horse’s proclivity to flatulence).
While visiting Ross, you can walk around the castle grounds free – or pay for a tour. You can also book a boat ride around the lake (which I highly recommend) from the castle, which loops around the lake and to the islands full of early Christian landmarks and monastery ruins.
I suggest taking a jaunting car around the park, and then walking to the boats, finishing your tour through the national park at Ross Castle – where you can also grab tea or a coffee to warm up from your journey!
Killarney National Park
Killarney National Park is a heaven for outdoor lovers – there are a ton of gorgeous, beautiful, fun, an thrilling options to take on in the national park – from hiking and biking, to kayaking, canoeing, climbing, and more!
There are tons of trails, places to fish, explore and discover – and Killarney’s constantly changing, incredibly dramatic weather make it never the same, minute to minute.
The National Park at times feels like a rainforest similar to the moss and ivy covered rainforest in Washington State, at times is reminiscent to a windswept beach in northern California with it’s grand cyprus trees and rugged cliffs along the lake, and like a high rockies forest above the trees in rocky desolation. It’s truly inspiring – and totally unique!
There are a number of great, affordable tour operators in town who offer a lot of ways to get out and experience Killarney National Park to the fullest – just be sure to book far in advance when in the busy summer tourism months.
McCarthy Mor Castle Ruins
McCarthy Mor isn’t a destination you’ll likely hear much about – but it is one of my all-time favorite spots in Killarney!
I actually found this ruined castle by happy accident while on a stroll with my dad… we were staying across the street in the Killarney Holiday Villages, and went for an evening walk, where we found the castle tidily tucked behind the Lake Hotel, a short stroll on a well-lit and maintained walkway away.
McCarthy Mor is a small, beautiful ruined castle – with one of the absolute best views in all of Killarney. You can tour the whole thing in a matter of minutes (be careful when standing on the rocks jutting out into the loch – the water is very deep and stones can be quite slippery in the rain) – but I love McCarthy Mor at sunrise or sunset for the most amazing views in all of Killarney. Spend a few moments in silence watching the light change here – you’ll emerge a whole new person!
The castle ruins are literally outside the window of the Lake Hotel – and a short walk from the INEC and Gleneagle Hotel or the Breton Hotel.
It is a public attraction, but as you do stroll through Hotel property, be courteous and respectful of those staying at the hotel, stick to posted parking areas (better yet- walk there, as the views up and down the driveway are lovely), and maybe thank them for their maintenance of this hidden gem by buying a cup of coffee or pot of tea in the gorgeous restaurant.