Guide to the Best of Southwest Ireland

Posted by Megan Eileen McDonough on April 30, 2013 at 1:56:30 PM EDT | Post a Comment

Ireland may have a reputation for rainy weather but without the storm clouds, the spacious green fields wouldn't be nearly as vibrant. This is particularly true in Southwest Ireland, a region featuring contrasting landscapes and a mild climate.

Home to the picturesque Ring of Kerry, Killarney National Park, and Blarney Castle, this countryside escape is a dream destination for outdoor enthusiasts and history buffs alike.

The Ring of Kerry

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The Ring of Kerry is a tourist trail that starts in Killarney and passes through Kenmare, Sneem, Waterville, Cahersiveen, and Killorglin. The trail makes a triangular loop and offers highly scenic views in every direction. Due to narrow roads, busses are required to make the journey in a counter-clockwise direction, starting in Killorglin and ending in Kenmare while car drivers take the clockwise route.

Travelers on a time crunch can make The Ring of Kerry a day trip. There are several bus companies that offer transportation as part of an official group tour. If you've rented a car and are going at your own pace, stretch your legs along Kerry Way. This walking and cycling path offers the same views as the main road minus the traffic.

Killarney National Park

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Killarney spans an impressive 41 square miles and includes various natural attractions including three lakes that cover roughly one-third of the park. The area is also home to Ireland's only native herd of Red Deer in addition to salmon, trout, and an extensive variety of plant vegetation.

South West Walks Ireland offers excursions through Killarney National Park for just about every skill level. Tours range from leisurely walks to challenging hikes and bike rides. After a few hours in nature, slow things down with a tour of Muckross House, a mansion dating back to 1843 and built in Tudor style architecture. You can also hail a horse-drawn carriage in town and have your driver take you to Ross Castle.

Blarney Castle

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Originally a wooden structure, the Blarney Castle was later replaced by a stone structure around the year 1210 AD. After being destroyed in 1446 Cormac Laidir MacCarthy rebuilt the castle into what still stands today.

Every year thousands of tourists head to Blarney to kiss the infamous Blarney Stone, a block of bluestone built into the castle. According to legend, those who kiss the stone will receive the gift of eloquence. Doing so requires climbing to the top of the castle and leaning backwards until your lips reach the stone.

After receiving the gift of gab, make sure to walk through the surrounding gardens. Many of the natural rock formations have been given names like "Witch's Cave," "Wishing Steps," and "Druid's Circle."

Where to Stay

If you've come all the way to Southwest Ireland, there's no better place to lay your head at night than at a local bed & breakfast. In fact, finding a hotel in the countryside towns isn't nearly as easy as it is in Dublin or Cork anyway. Long before luxury hostels and home exchanges emerged as the new travel trends, most people visiting Ireland lodged at reasonably priced B&Bs.

Just as you would with a hotel, make sure to do research before booking your B&B. It's important to remember that you are staying at someone's home so if you have pet allergies, this is a big question to ask before booking. All in all, this is a great way to meet locals, experience a traditional Irish Breakfast, and wake up to vibrant green fields. B&B Ireland helps travelers search for nearby stays based on their budget, dates, and number of guests.

Getting There

Both Dublin and Cork are common starting points for this journey. Most international travelers fly into Dublin and either drive straight to Killarney by car or reach Cork via rail or bus.

As you might expect, Southwest Ireland doesn't have the same level of public transportation as one finds in Dublin and Cork. Your best bet is to sign up for a group tour, or rent a car and explore the region at your own pace. To get to and from Blarney from Cork's city center, public busses run daily and the journey takes about twenty minutes. The City Cork Hop-on-Hop-off Tour also stops at the Blarney Castle.

Photo credits: Ring of Kerry via Shutterstock; Killarney National Park via Shutterstock; Blarney Castle via Shutterstock

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