The Lonely Planet Ireland guidebook describes the town of Killarney as a “well-oiled tourism machine set in the middle of sublime scenery”. This seems to suggest that you should drop your bags and immediately jump back into your car to drive around the Ring of Kerry or all the way to the Dingle Peninsula.

However, if you avoid high summer, the crowds are manageable and the small town of Killarney (population 14,200) is very pleasant and offers a few attractions of its own. I was there at the very beginning of October, and despite the 600+ TBEX conference attendees who were staying in town at the same time (yes, I was one of them!) the streets were never packed.

Killarney at dusk (things to do in Killarney)

Killarney at dusk

Things to do in Killarney

Killarney things to do can be broadly divided between sightseeing, cultural, and eating/drinking activities. Here are my top 10 things to do in Killarney, in no particular order. Make sure to watch the video!

Stop for coffee (and chocolate) at Lir Café

Lir Café on Kenmare Place serves some of the best espresso coffee in Killarney. They make their cappuccinos in the Italian style, like in the rest of Ireland, which is what I like. As if this wasn’t enough, they also handcraft their own chocolates (both bars and truffles).

Locals mingle with visitors indoors, or at one of the three outdoor tables (although people smoke outside) and you can access free WiFi. The café also serves simple baked goods and toasties. I found their croissants surprisingly tasty.

Lir Cafe, Killarney (things to do in Killarney)

Cycle around Killarney National Park

Cycling is probably the best way to explore the Killarney National Park. Roads are mostly paved and flat, so it should be within everybody’s ability. The bicycles that you rent in town have wide tires and multiple gears.

By cycling instead of walking, you can cover more ground. The Killarney National Park spreads over 102.9 square kilometres and there are several sites that you can visit, such as 15th century Ross Castle, Muckross House and Gardens, and the well-preserved ruin of Muckross Abbey. You will also find forests, lakes, islands, a river, even a golf course. Wildlife, such as red deers, can be spotted in the park.

Ross Castle - Killarney National Park (things to do in Killarney)

Ross Castle in Killarney National Park

Cycling around Killarney National Park is one of the activities I enjoyed the most during my time in Ireland. Of course, it helped that we had good weather that day!

Here are a few places where you can rent bikes in Killarney:

Bike Rental Killarney
  • Killarney-Rent-A-Bike (this is the one I used – no complaints)
  • Lyne’s rent-a-bike Killarney
  • O’Sullivans Cycles

Cycling in Killarney National Park (things to do in Killarney)

If you prefer standing on your own two feet, Killarney National Park walks start right from town. You can also join a 2-hour guided walk every day at 11:00 AM for 9 Euros.

Savour some Irish food

Killarney is a tourist town, but it has very decent food at affordable prices. If you’re on a tight budget, I recommend the following eateries:

  • Jam: perfect for a quick lunch cafeteria-style. Large servings.
  • Quinlans Seafood Bar: family-style restaurant with a variety of fish & chips and other seafood dishes.
  • Sceal Eile: the dining room upstairs has a 3-course early-bird dinner for 19.5 Euros. I had very nice salmon here.
Fish & chips at Quinlans Seafood Bar, Killarney (things to do in Killarney)

Fish & chips at Quinlans Seafood Bar

If you’re looking to treat yourself while in Killarney, these are two of the most popular restaurants (midrange) both on the main street:

  • Smoke House: steak, seafood, cooked in Spanish charcoal oven
  • Brícín: Boxty and other Irish dishes. Great decor. Early-bird menus.

Visit St-Mary’s Cathedral and St-Mary’s Church of Ireland

Don’t confuse these two churches. St-Mary’s Cathedral is huge and located at the western end of town, near the national park. It was built between 1842 and 1855 in the Neo-Gothic revival style, and is known for its stain glass windows and soaring ceilings.

St-Mary’s Church of Ireland is a much smaller Catholic church located near Kenmare Place, which sometimes hosts live music performances.

Tour Killarney House and Gardens

The Gardens of Killarney House (things to do in Killarney)

The Gardens behind Killarney House

Killarney House, a historical property, has recently re-opened its doors to the public, and rooms are being progressively restored and refilled with some of the original contents. It sometimes exhibits local artists’ work. This house is relatively recent (1958) after the first one, built for the Earl of Kenmare in the 1870s, burned down.

Make sure you go behind the house and take a look at the expansive gardens, with gorgeous views of the mountains in the distance. You can also access the Killarney National Park directly from here.

Guided tours of Killarney House take place every 30 minutes during the months of April to September. Things were in flux at the time of writing, so there may (or may not) be a fee.

Have an Irish coffee at Hannigans

Irish coffee at Hannigans, Killarney (things to do in Killarney)

It’s 4 PM and you’ve been touring all day. Should you stop for a coffee, or a drink? Solve this dilemma by having an Irish coffee at Hannigans, the cosy bar and restaurant of the International Hotel on Kenmare Place.

Sit by the burning fireplace and order your Irish coffee made from a selection of Irish whiskeys.

The ingredients of a traditional Irish coffee are: Irish whiskey, sugar, hot coffee, and thick cream. It’s delicious and very warming.

 

Take a tour of the Killarney Brewing Company

Founded in 2015, the young Killarney Brewing Company has just moved to some cool new digs on Muckross Road, at the entrance to the town centre.

The one-hour tour costs 12 Euros and consists of a funny introductory video, a walking tour of the brewery with a knowledgeable guide, a “meet the brewer” event, and a complimentary beer tasting. The guides are local characters who will regale you with local folklore and tales.

Their small-batch craft beers are all named after local myths and legends, from the Devils Helles lager to the Casey Brothers extra stout. All are brewed without any additives or preservatives and using only pure natural water from the top of Mangerton Mountain.

They also serve wood-oven pizza from Thursday to Saturday nights.

Listen to some traditional Irish music and have a gin cocktail at John M. Reidy’s

If you’re trying to decide on a Killarney pub, I suggest you check out John M. Reidy’s on Main Street. Housed in a historical building (1870) that resembles a rabbit warren, the pub contains many small interconnected rooms and several bars including a “gin bar” that serves interesting gin cocktails. There is even a courtyard with a wooden swing.

Converted from an old-fashion sweetshop that occupied the premises until recently, the pub still contains some of the shelvings, sweet jars, and scales. Small bands sometimes perform traditional Irish music and other genres.

Traditional Irish music at John M. Reidy's (things to do in Killarney)

Attend a Celtic Steps performance at the Killarney Racecourse

A racecourse is not normally what you’d associate with dancing, but trust me, you’ll want to see the Celtic Steps show. Running from April to October, Celtic Steps features both traditional Irish dancing and music/singing from 17 World Irish Dancing Championship titles and All-Ireland Champion singers and musicians.

The female dancers perform both with hard shoes and soft shoes (like ballet slippers), and some of the male dancers are out of this world, executing jumps and lightning-fast footwork. Watch my little video below for a sample.

Go on a sightseeing tour

If you’re short on time and don’t have a car, going on a tour will let you see all of the highlights. Here are some options:

  • Big Red Bus Tours: Operates a hop-on/hop-off bus (12.50/18 Euros for one/two days), a shuttle service, and a “Ring of Kerry” tour.
  • Corcoran’s Coach tour: various tours of Killarney and surrounding attractions
  • Hidden Ireland Tours:Customized half-day or day tours (or even longer)
  • Horse-drawn jaunting cars: you’ll see these all over town. They’re 30 to 80 Euros per car, up to four people, so not cheap. They go to Ross Castle and Mukross Estate in Killarney National Park.

Jaunting cars in Killarney, Ireland (things to do in Killarney)

That’s it for now. Hopefully this post gave you a good idea of what to do in Killarney. It’s not a big town, but you can easily spend a day or two enjoying its charms before moving on to the surrounding countryside, which is indeed sublime!

Recommended guidebook: Lonely Planet Ireland

(Note: this post contains an affiliate link.)


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