An itinerary of the Ring of Kerry by bicycle
all you need to know to plan your Ring of Kerry cycle tour
The Ring of Kerry is one of the most visited areas of Ireland, its epic coastline and rough mountainous interiors make it also a prime cycling destination in the Irish island, and in the whole of Europe.
The Ring of Kerry is how people often call the Iveragh Peninsula, a peninsula on the western coast of Ireland and its part of the super-scenic Wild Atlantic way, an itinerary that follows the whole northern an eastern coast, the ultimate cycling trip.
The popularity of the ring of Kerry though is also its weakness, so many people on rented cars and caravans drive these roads all year round, but especially in summer. Add this to the fact that the roads are narrow, with no side lanes, and not really well maintained, and you’ll see why some Irish people we’ll think of you as a suicidal if you want to ride the ring on a summer weekend.
The Ring of Kerry has been made famous also by the charity cycle race which takes place every year in July. Over the past 36 years, they raised almost €16 million for 160 charity organizations through the annual support of participating cyclists and volunteers.
Besides the Ballaghisheen pass, which we will discuss in detail further on, the whole Ring of Kerry is mostly flat, with only a few small uphills. that though doesn’t mean it is an easy ride, weather can be harsh even in summer and strong winds can make riding difficult.
Best season to cycle the Ring of Kerry
Ireland is famous for its unpredictable weather, even in summer temperatures can drop quickly from hot to quite chilly, a downpour can suddenly wash you out from a previously clear sky, and winds can be strong.
Summer is also the most touristic season, thus the main road around the peninsula will be often quite busy. If you want to cycle in Summer, consider getting up very early.
Winters can be very harsh but the roads will be empty, so if you like winter cycling you might consider it a suitable season.
Overall I would say the best season to cycle the Ring of Kerry is late spring/early summer, in the months of May and June, which are the driest and sunniest times of the year. Nights can still get pretty chilly so if you plan to camp gear-up accordingly.
Roads in Kerry County
Roads in the county of Kerry, and in Ireland in general, are particularly narrow, especially along the coast. Moreover, the sides are often bumpy and constellated in potholes, so be really careful, The speed limits are also quite crazy in Ireland, often around 100km/h even on these narrow lanes.
We found local drivers pretty considerate though, compared to many other countries in Europe, most of them will wait for the good opportunity to pass you wide… tourists on rented cars and, as usual, coach drivers are the most dangerous.
Coastal roads are definitely the busiest, while some calm can be found in the interiors, which is also our favorite area to ride in the Ring of Kerry.
Cycling routes in the Ring of Kerry (the Iveragh Peninsula)
The county Kerry encompasses also the peninsula of Dingle in the north (which we’ll discuss in another blog post), the Ring of Beara in the south, and a wide area of countryside in the interiors. The first two are very interesting places where to ride your bicycle, while the interior can actually be a bit boring.
What is properly defined as the Ring of Kerry (Morchuaird Chiarrai in Irish) is a 179km route that goes around the Iveragh Peninsula with only two considerable hills, one near the hamlet of Caherdaniel, south of Waterville (180msl), and another one near the beautiful Killarney National Park (250msl).
These are really nothing for even an amateur road cyclist, overall a decently fit person can cycle the whole ring in a single day. If you’re visiting Ireland though, we would advise to take it easy and explore properly the beauty of this peninsula.
The classic circular route
Starting from the nice touristic town of Killarney and proceeding counterclockwise, the first section is a bit boring, along the N72 to Killorglin. Killorglin is a small colorful town crossed by a river, a perfect stop for stocking in groceries or having a beer in a local pub. There’s also a good accommodation choice here but no camping. Check here the prices of guesthouses in Killorglin.
From here you’ll follow the N70 to Glenbeigh, where indeed there’s a campsite. This section is boring with no special view and a lot of traffic in Summer.
After that, the road finally hits the coast (you can take a short detour on the R546) for a short time before climbing a small hill and arriving in Cahersiveen. Cahersiveen is another medium-sized town with all the facilities you might need, including a campsite near the water, it lacks the charm of Killorglin but has some nice views over the bay.
From here the N70 turns inland across a nice but absolutely not-spectacular countryside until Waterville, the next nice place along the way. Nice beach, restaurant, and supermarkets.
From Waterville the road climbs up a bit, giving you some of the best views along the coastal route. The next hamlets are Caherdaniel, Westcove, and Castlecove… the road stays not-exciting until the colorful town of Sneem (nice stream for a quick dip).
From Parknasilla, the road follows the coast very closely but you’ll actually never see the sea because of the many properties protected by tall trees and fences, we were very disappointed because the coastline is actually gorgeous here.
We absolutely advice getting off the N70 and on the R568 from Sneem (check the Suggested Route map). We took it from Blackwater Ridge, cycling a nice and shaded road that goes along the river.
The R568 brings you all the way to Molls Gap through a scenic and quiet road, very nice. There’s though an even better option, which is going around the mountains in the Black Valley. The road .here is unpaved with some steep stretches, but has some of the best landscapes in the Kerry.
From Molls Gap (the highest pass on this “traditional” route), the cycling becomes absolutely spectacular. The mountains and lakes around make you feel like you’re 3000 meters above the sea, while you’re actually only one-tenth of that. It reminded us of the rugged landscapes of Kyrgyzstan.
You can reach Molls Gap also by following the main road (as in the map above), which is called N71 from Kenmare, but the R568 is nicer and quieter.
You’re now cycling the Killarney National Park, and this is one of the greatest routes in Ireland, cycling at its best. The several lakes inside the park are all connected and make for a stunning kayaking day, if you have the time do it!
Near Killarney is the small but nice Torc Waterfall, and in town is the nice and relaxing Castle Park. Killarney also has a well-equipped campsite. Another very nice place to visit in the area is the Muckross Abbey, founded for the Observatine Franciscans about 1448 and now laying in well preserved and fascinating ruins.
Our two cents about the “classic” Ring of Kerry route
Overall, following this itinerary is not the best choice for a cycling holiday in the Ring of Kerry, besides the Waterville-Caherdaniel section and the Killarney National Park, most of this circle is just traffic with very few scenic spots.
There are many alternatives which we’ll now go discussing, trying to compose what, in our humble opinion, is the best cycling route in the Ring of Kerry.
The Ballghisheen Pass
The Ballaghisheen Pass (just 300msl), is the birthplace ofthe legend of Asheen. A road that cuts through the interiors of the Iveragh Peninsula for its whole length, scenic from its beginning in Killarney to its end in Waterville. There are also some variants that are maybe even more beautiful, the cut to Cahersiveen and the stunning link road from Islandboy to Glencar.
The road is very narrow, barely sufficient for two big cars to pass on opposite ways, but you won’t see so many of those, even in high season. This area is inexplicably underrated.
It’s a barren landscape which looks like high mountains even if it’s not, when we were there, there was a chrono cycle race, we had fun racing with our super-heavy bikes.
The best option, in my opinion, is to get on this road directly from Killarney, even though the link from Islandboy is a gorgeous ride along the lake. You chose.
Some kilometers before the road starts going uphill, there’s the Climber’s Inn, a guesthouse/campsite/pub. There are several nice hiking trails in the area.
The Ring of Skellig
The Ring of Skellig is a short loop at the tip of the Iveragh Peninsula, about 37 km connecting the island of Valentia, the fishermen hamlets of Portmagee and Ballinskellig.
Along this route are the scenic viewpoints over the Cliffs of Kerry (entry 4€), just 3km from Portmagee. From here you can have a lookout over the fascinating islands of Skellig Micheal and Puffin Island, famous for the funny cute birds and for being the hideout of Luke Skywalker. This last Star Wars thing is actually getting a bit overwhelming, with flocks of tourists heading to this small rock every day. If you want to visit be sure to book in advance.
About the road, there’s not much to be told, you have the options whether to ride on the north coast, having a view over the flat island of Valentia, or riding on the island itself. Both are nice enough.
After the Cliffs’ viewpoint, there’s a short but steep climb towards Ballinskellig, very nice views from there, if it’s not enveloped in stormy clouds.
The best route to cycle in the Ring of Kerry
With all of the above in mind, we created this route which we think passes through the very best of the Iveragh Peninsula. The nice towns of Killorglin and Sneem, the rugged interiors with the Black Valley and Ballaghisheen Pass, the island of Valentia, the Cliffs of Kerry, and the stunning Killarney National Park.
It’s a 211km route, with some serious climbs, which we would advise doing in at least 3 but even 4 days, taking your time to explore the beauty of these unique places.
Here’s the route, you can also download the GPX track… enjoy!
Where to stay – campsites, guesthouses, wild camping
There are quite a few campsites scattered around the Iveragh Peninsula, a few in the interiors and more along the coast, just use the Komoot campsite search function to locate them. Bear in mind that there are no campsites on the southern coast.
The cost of a campsite in the Ring of Kerry is usually 10/12€ for two persons and one tent, so quite cheap. The campsites always have shared kitchen and free hot water (unlike in Norway).
Wild camping is much harder here along the coast than in other parts of Ireland, after all this is a prime tourist destination. It gets much much easier though in the interiors. Wild camping is tolerated in Ireland, if not otherwise stated (as can be on some national parks).
Guesthouses are not cheap in Ireland, which overall is a quite expensive country. Prices start at about 50€ per room but can get very high in peak season. Have a look here and be sure to book a bit in advance.