Killarney National Park is 25,000 acres (10,000 hectares) of mountain and lakeside beauty. It has woodlands, islands, waterfalls, historic houses and working farms. There are deer and cattle, eagles and world famous gardens. It's the perfect place for hiking, cycling, boating, pony trekking, fishing, landscape-gazing, or riding in a jaunting car - a light, two-wheeled horse drawn vehicle. One of the most popular panoramic viewing points is Ladies View.
Within the park, Muckross House is one of Ireland's foremost stately homes which is open to the public along with its famous gardens. Here you can pick up a guide to the park from the National Park Information Centre. There is also Knockreer which has an eduction center, and Killarney House and Gardens (the gate lodge here also has information booklets on the park) and Muckross Abbey and y can catch a boat across to Innisfallen Island on the Lower Lake.
In the heart of Killarney National Park, Ladies’ View has a way of showing that natural beauty is timeless. Back in 1861, when Queen Victoria’s ladies-in-waiting visited this Kerry overlook, they were so enamored with the view of the lakes that the picturesque promontory still carries their regal name today. From this panoramic overlook off of N71, gaze down on the three lakes that sit at the middle of the park, and since the light here is constantly changing, if you simply sit and reflect for an hour you may see rainbows, shadows and beams of light that dance on the surrounding hills. Just up the road from the main overlook, there is another parking area with a small trail that offers views of the upper lake, and when standing here on this windswept ridge gazing out on the view below, it’s like looking through a portal to Ireland’s past—where the raw beauty of the Irish countryside exists in its natural state.
Muckross House is one of Ireland's most famous stately homes. A 65-room, lakeshore, Victorian mansion, it was built for Henry Arthur Herbert and his wife, a watercolour painter, Mary Balfour Herbert in 1843. The house is richly furnished in period-style giving an excellent insight into the lives of the landed gentry. The basement areas give a good understanding of the lives of those who worked keeping the rich happy and well-fed day to day. On site are also a number of local craftspeople giving demonstrations of weaving, bookbinding and pottery.
Beautiful Muckross Gardens are known worldwide, especially the rock garden and large water garden. In 1861, the gardens were extensively developed in preparation for Queen Victoria's visit. There are also several working farms which use methods from the 1930s and 1940s and can be toured. And being situated in the middle of the National Park, the house is a perfect place to explore the whole area from.
The Gap of Dunloe is a narrow mountain pass formed by glacial ice a couple of million of years ago. The valley winds its way for 6 miles (10km) between Macgillycuddy's Reeks and the Purple Mountains. Along the way it passes five lakes, or loughs, Coosaun Lough, Black Lake, Cushnavally Lake, Auger Lake, and Black Lough. The River Loe connects the lakes. Over the river at one end is the Wishing Bridge where it's promised that wishes made while crossing the bridge will come true. At one end of the valley is Kate Kearney's Cottage, these days a bit of a tourist trap but useful for a snack and restroom. At the other end is Lord Brandon's Cottage from where you can get a boat back to Killarney.
The best way to explore the gap is by hiking through or riding a bicycle. No cars are allowed but you can go by pony-trap. These seat four people and roll slowly through the valley the old-fashioned way.
Founded in 1440 as a Franciscan Friary, Muckross Abbey has an exciting and violent history typical of Ireland. In 1589 the monks were expelled by Elizabeth I, and in 1653 Oliver Cromwell's troops burnt it down when he reclaimed Ireland for the English bringing to an end the Irish Confederate Wars. Despite this setback, the friars continued to live here until 1698 when the new Penal Laws against Roman Catholics introduced by the English occupiers forced most in exile in France or Spain. These days it is a ruin but one of the most complete examples of Irish medieval church building you'll see.
Today, the Abbey still has its bell tower and church, and massive gothic arcades and arches. Four of Ireland's leading poets of the period were buried there, three in the church, one in the nearby cemetery. In the centre of the inner court is an old Yew tree. This grew from a sapling taken from the abbey on Innisfallen Island and planted in the new abbey at Muckross.
Here on Aghadoe Hill stand the ruins of the 12th century Aghadoe Church and Round Tower. There was a monastery on the site since the 7th century, however, founded by St Finian Lobhar, and no wonder as the views are sublime and perfect for a life of contemplation. There are lakes and at night the town lights of Killarney twinkle, alongside the flood lights of Ross Castle in the distance, although that is a bit more recent dating from the 15th century! To appreciate the landscape, you'll find a few benches nearby so bring a picnic.
Although ruined, there is still plenty to see of interest at Aghadoe Church. The Romanesque door is well-preserved, there is a carved crucifixion scene on another sandstone block, two ca rved faces on the eastern window, and an Ogham Stone - carved writings in the ancient Celtic language. Not much is left of the Round Tower. It is really just a small stump of the sandstone building standing in an old cemetery.
A rocky peak rising 230 meters from the ocean off the coast of Portmagee, Skellig Michael is one of the most striking landmarks of Ireland’s southwestern coast and famous for its vast population of seabirds. One of two UNESCO-listed Skellig Islands, Skellig Michael is the one and the only island where it’s permitted to land, with access only possible by boat.
Despite its isolated surroundings and near-vertical sea cliffs, the now-uninhabited island was once used as a retreat for hermit monks, and their stone beehive huts, crosses and a cemetery can still be seen perched atop the rocks. The fascinating remains of the sixth-century monastic complex are among the world’s earliest examples of Christian life and can be reached via a steep 600-step climb from the dock.