Ireland is full of adorable towns and charming places to travel, but the town of Kenmare in County Kerry truly is a gem.
I’ve already written up the wonderful visit I had to a traditional Irish farm while here, but there are so many cool things to do in Kenmare that the town deserves its own post.
Essential Travel Resources for 2021 & 2022
These are my favorite companies that I use on my travels.
Find the best deals on hotels & vacation rentals on Booking.com.
For road trips and ground transportation, rent a car through Discover Cars.
Find the best city tours, day tours, bus tours, & skip-the-line tickets on GetYourGuide.
For packing and travel essentials order via Amazon.
Get reliable travel insurance through World Nomads.
Where to Stay in Kenmare
There are lots of cute hotels and B&Bs here, so choosing where to stay in Kenmare depends on your budget and travel style. I’m including a recommendation for Kenmare hotels and hostels for each of the following budget categories:
- Budget: A room in a hostel, usually $25-35 USD per night for a dorm bed or under $70 for a double.
- Mid-range: Around $75-125 USD per night
- Luxury: Around $150 per night or more
Budget: Ireland is no budget destination, but the hostel dorms at Kenmare Failte Hostel are affordable compared to the rest of the island. You can stay in the mixed dormitory or reserve a private room for two. The hostel has free wifi and communal kitchens to help keep your travel costs down. Check the pricing, reviews, and availability here.
Mid-Range: For an affordable, yet elegant stay in Kenmare, pick the three-star River Meadows B&B. I love staying in Irish Bed and Breakfasts because they are renowned worldwide for their coziness and welcoming hospitality (plus those Full Irish Breakfasts)! River Meadows gives the traditional Irish B&B experience and also boasts beautiful scenic views. Check the pricing, reviews, and availability here.
Luxury: For a complete Kenmare luxury vacation, stay at the five-star Sheen Falls Lodge which is located on a huge green acreage complete with its own waterfall (hence the name Sheen Falls Lodge). The rooms are gorgeous, and there is also a separate house you can book if you want more privacy. The hotel has an on-site spa, gym, and indoor swimming pool. Check the pricing, reviews, and availability here.
Best Things to Do in Kenmare
Now that you’ve settled in on your accommodations, it’s time to decide which Kenmare activities you want to include on your trip! Here are my favorite things to do in Kenmare, plus a few extra ideas for the more adventurous.
Explore Kenmare Bay
Kenmare Bay is gorgeous. While I didn’t love being there so early in the morning, it was wonderful to see the bay shrouded in the light of the early morning. You can come here to enjoy it peacefully, or you can be more adventurous and scuba dive in Kenmare Bay.
You can book your dive through Kenmare Bay Diving, which operates dives for all levels from beginner through expert starting at the beginning of May through the beginning of October.
See the Kenmare Bay Seals
This was my preferred way to experience Kenmare Bay – on a Seafari! The cruise took us through Kenmare Bay to see the seals, and our tour guide explained what everyone needed to do on the boat to make sure we didn’t scare the seals away (hint: be very, very, very quiet and still).
The cruise in early October was brisk, so we were happy to have layers to keep us! Something else that kept us warm? They served everyone a little Irish coffee at the start of the trip!
Even though I’ve spent a ton of time in Ireland and have been all over the country, I have to say that seeing the seals in Kenmare Bay is one of my most treasured Irish memories. If you’d like to see these majestic creatures (okay, adorable creatures) for yourself, you can book your tour through Seafari Ireland.
Molly Gallivan’s Traditional Irish Farm
Molly Gallivan’s Traditional Irish Farm is an educational working farm in the Sheen Valley near Kenmare. Here you can learn about the Irish Potato Famine, see a famine house, and meet the wonderful family that saved the farm from being destroyed. You’ll also learn the fascinating history of Molly Gallivan and her poutine (Irish Moonshine) business.
I wrote up my trip to the farm so I won’t bore you by repeating myself, but if you’re interested in learning more about this fascinating historical place, check out my post on How to Visit a Traditional Irish Farm.
Kenmare’s Colorful Streets
Kenmare is a colorful town, and one of the must-do Kenmare activities is to give yourself time to just explore the beautiful streets here! Yes, these streets are one of the most Instagrammable places in Kenmare, but they’re also just delightful to see in person! Walk around and appreciate the vibrant hues on display one after the other.
If you want to experience a traditional Irish pub or eat a hearty meal, you’ll find great spots all around the town in some of the chicest spots.
Holy Cross Church
This nineteenth-century Catholic Church isn’t a must-see per se, but you’ll no doubt notice the church’s beautiful steeple as you walk around Kenmare. If you are interested in the history of the parish, they produced a book to celebrate their 150th anniversary:
Drawing from a wealth of primary sources, this 431 page, hardback book documents Kenmare’s experience of the repressive Penal Laws and the Great Irish Famine, from the misery of which the beautiful edifice of the town’s Holy Cross Church emerged, as a beacon of faith and a gesture towards a brighter future for its people.
The book can be found at Kenmare Bookstore or you can inquire directly with the church.
Located in Killarney National Park about forty minutes away from Kenmare, this is a great way to spend a morning or afternoon outside of town. Here you can experience a nineteenth-century Victorian Irish mansion with a working farm. Visiting the house is by guided tour only, which you can arrange ahead of time. You can also enjoy a meal in the garden restaurant.
Kenmare Lace is a traditional Irish needlepoint lace that was brought to the area by the nuns of the Poor Clare convent who taught the skills to their students. You can learn about the history of Kenmare Lace and even purchase your own at the Kenmare Lace and Design Centre.
Kenmare Farmers Market
If you’re lucky enough to be in Kenmare on a Wednesday, you can take a visit to the Kenmare Farmers Market. Here you’ll find everything from produce to Irish souvenirs to handicrafts and artwork. It’s a great place to go shopping in Kenmare even if all you want to do is peruse the goods instead of buying.
Bonane Heritage Park
If you love history and cultural travel, you’ll be excited to find out that there are 5,000 years of history on display at Bonane Heritage Park. Here you can see a fifteen-hundred-year-old ringfort, medieval dwellings, and famine ruins. Adult tickets are five euros, but if you’re looking for something to do in Kenmare with children you’ll be excited to know that a family ticket is only ten euros in total.
Make Chocolate at Lorge Chocolatier
What’s better than eating chocolate? Making it! (Provided you then get to eat it afterward). This is another great thing to do Kenmare for families since they have separate chocolate-making workshops specifically for kids and families to experience together. They have classes for all levels and interests, just check their calendar to book ahead of time. Of course, if you don’t have time to make it, you can still come here to shop and eat.
Have Afternoon Tea at Sheen Falls Lodge
I’m not usually an afternoon tea kind of gal, but having tea at the Sheen Falls Lodge was an excellent (and elegant!) way to spend an afternoon in Kenmare. Tea is served daily from 2 pm until 5 pm, and you can choose to have traditional coffee, tea, or even champagne! If the weather is nice, you can have your tea served with Sheen Falls views. You can make reservations with the hotel for your tea on their website, or you can click here to check pricing and reviews for staying at the Lodge during your trip.
Killarney National Park
While most people think of staying in Killarney to visit Killarney National Park, the park is actually quite large and just fifteen minutes away from Kenmare at its southernmost point. You can take a day trip to the park and go hiking, explore the park’s castles, or even get out on the water in a canoe or a kayak. The park’s website is quite extensive, so its the perfect place to start planning your time here.
Drive the Ring of Kerry
If getting out and hiking (or canoeing) Killarney National Park isn’t your thing, why not drive the scenic (and famous) Ring of Kerry. It will take you through the park and beyond. Like driving anywhere in Ireland, you’ll constantly want to pull over to take pictures of the stunning scenery before you.
The entire Ring of Kerry is 111 miles (about 180 kilometers), and it takes about three and a half hours to drive. Of course, since you’ll be stopping frequently to enjoy different spots along the route, expect it to take closer to five or even seven hours depending on your travel style.
5 Things to Pack for Your Trip to Ireland
The Lonely Planet Ireland guidebook or the Rick Steves Ireland guidebook for your trip. It can be kind of a pain to find the major guidebooks once you land, or you’ll find them overpriced. I always like to pick mine up ahead of time.
An Unlocked Cell Phone so that you can use an Irish sim card while here.
Melatonin if you’ll be traveling transatlantic and your sleep schedule will be disrupted.
Universal Outlet Adapters if your appliances are from North America or Continental Europe or any part of the world that uses outlets different than Ireland & the UK.
More Ireland & Northern Ireland Travel Resources
Don’t Forget about Travel Insurance!
Whenever I go on a trip, I always make sure to get travel insurance!
The company World Nomads is the travel insurance company I always look to first, and I happily recommend them!
I always make sure to get travel insurance whenever I’m going to be over one hundred miles from home, in large cities where tourists can be the target of pickpockets, and anytime I’ll be doing outdoor activities.
It makes my life easier knowing if something should happen, I’ll be able to take care of it!