The peninsulas of Ireland's west coast remind visitors why they spent a small fortune to hire a car. Best explored slowly, they present a stunning trifecta of misty mountaintops, cosy beaches and medieval sites. In between are beautiful villages with streets that beg to be wandered, pub seats longing for warmth and smiling locals happy to meet you.
Our first taste of Kerry's dramatic scenery came just before we reached the little town of Dingle. The single lane, 456 metre Connor Pass rises above the peninsula to welcome or bid farewell those taking the scenic route. Our time in Dingle was short, only two days, but this was enough time to visit several of its lively pubs where live music seems to start at 9.30pm just about everywhere. Further along the peninsula is a not to be missed loop along Slea Head Drive where the western-most point on the Irish mainland allows for contemplation over the vast ocean beyond.
Our next stop was Killarney, a lively tourist town with the gorgeous 10,236 hectare Killarney National Park at its doorstep. We split our time between the park and the Iveragh Peninsula, which is famous for its Ring of Kerry drive. The latter would probably be better appreciated as a two or three day trip on its own but we did it in one day (drivers should allow between five and eight hours depending on how many stops are made and traffic). It's often covered in fog as it was on the day we visited and this definitely affects many of the views from the high cliffs overlooking the ocean. It is also possible to do the 179 kilometre route by public bus, tour or bicycle.
Islands are also a feature of the peninsula. Valentia Island can be reached by bridge or car ferry (€6 per car) and is probably best known as being the site of the first transatlantic telegraph cable. While this is very exciting for communications professionals like myself, others are likely to be more interested in the peaceful pastoral scenery on the island and the views from Geokaun Mountain and Fogher Cliffs, which aren't free but could be worthwhile on a clear day (we did not have one). We were very sorry to miss out on the Skellig Islands despite rumours of the rough water crossing required to get there. These islands are home to thousands of interesting birds and the historical Skellig Michael monastery. Visits are limited and the boats only depart in the morning. Wikitravel provides a list of the boat operators.
Getting there: Dingle and Killarney are located over 300 kilometres southwest of Dublin. From Limerick take the N20 to the N21 and follow the signs. From Cork take the N22. It seems that everyone is operating either a pub, B&B or hotel and we saw many vacancies, even during high season. It may be best to take your chances and skip booking ahead so you have the freedom and flexibility to take in the sights at your leisure.