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My favourite memory of my 2 week trip to Ireland is my day in Killarney, where I did a boat and bike trip to the Gap of Dunloe.
A boat tour of the Lakes of Killarney, followed by a bike ride through the Gap of Dunloe, showcases the very best of Killarney National Park and surrounding area. From castles, ruins, and quaint cottages, to peaceful waterways, mountain views, and wildlife sightings, this trip had everything that puts a smile on my face.
Boat Tour of the Lakes of Killarney
My boat trip through the Lakes of Killarney started at the pier in front of Ross Castle, in Killarney National Park.
After the boatman loaded up the rental bikes into the bow, we said goodbye to Ross Castle and set off on our tour of the Killarney Lakes.
Soon after we departed, I could tell that our boatman Donal, who brought along his faithful dog Charlie, was very passionate about Killarney National Park. His family has been doing trips on the Lakes of Killarney for generations, so I knew I was in for an excellent tour.
The first lake we sailed across in our little motorized wooden boat was Lough Leane, the Lower Lake. Lough Leane is the largest of the Killarney Lakes and biggest body of fresh water in the region. Small, forested islands dot the lake and the largest one, Innisfallen Island, is home to the ruined remains of Innisfallen Abbey.
Donal offered to make a short stop at Innisfallen Island, so we hopped off and quickly visited the ruins.
Innisfallen’s original monastery was founded by St. Finian the Leper in the 7th century, but the ruins that remain date from the 12th century. Interestingly, the Annals of Innisfallen, a source of early Irish history, were written here by monks and is possibly the reason for the name Lough Leane, which means “Lake of Learning”.
Back in the boat, we headed south across a large section of Lough Leane towards Brickeen Bridge, a pretty stone construction arching over the entrance to Muckross Lake, Ireland’s deepest lake.
After passing under Brickeen Bridge, the best view was looking back towards the Lower Lake. I loved the solitary tree nicely framed by the arch of the bridge!
Sailing across the western end of the Middle Lake, Donal pointed out a nice view of Torc Mountain, then the delightfully located Dinis Cottage. Just the type of place I’d love to live!
A unique thing about Dinis Cottage is that the windows are etched with names, some dating back to the 1820s. It was a tradition of newly engaged couples to scratch their names into the glass with their new diamond, for good luck of course.
Next we came to the Meeting of the Waters, where the three lakes meet, and Old Weir Bridge.
The current at Old Weir Bridge can be shallow and fast flowing, making it tricky to navigate with a boat full of people. So we all hopped out and walked to the other side so Donal could use the engine’s full strength to cross the rapids. He even had to help another boat get through safely. It was interesting to watch the teamwork required to pass under Old Weir Bridge, the boatmen towing those with less engine power.
After Old Weir Bridge the scenery was especially beautiful. Travelling along this half-lake, half-river, meandering channel was my favourite section of the boat trip in Killarney National Park.
Sticking close to the rocky shore, we spotted a mountain goat, some eagles chasing each other around in the sky, and a brightly coloured pheasant. The pheasant sure wasn’t shy, waddling right up close to our boat giving me plenty of great photo ops!
As we continued along the narrow Upper Lake, I started to feel disappointed that my boat trip through the Lakes of Killarney was almost over. But once Lord Brandon’s Cottage came into view, I got excited for a brand new mini adventure- my cycle trip through the Gap of Dunloe!
Bike Ride Through the Gap of Dunloe
Cycling through the Gap of Dunloe was a fantastic way to spend a sunny afternoon, even if it made me feel like an out of shape weakling!
From Lord Brandon’s Cottage, the road begins a 5 km climb to the head of the Gap. Looks were deceiving, as it wasn’t really steep, but the steady uphill climb made me quickly lose steam.
Soon, my new friends pulled ahead and out of view while I slowly struggled up the hill, taking frequent breaks for air (which I started to think of as “photo stops”, in an attempt to save face).
I do like to point out that the bike I rented was junk and there’s no way that old, heavy bike, with its stiff gears, could keep up to the electric bikes of my companions.
Eventually I caught up with part of the group, but only because they waited for me, not because I got a sudden burst of strength. One of the guys let me try his electric bike and wow- what a difference that made! I went so much faster up the hill with a little assist.
Finally at the top of the Gap of Dunloe, I had my breath taken away again, this time by the view.
Squeezed between Purple Mountain to the east and Macgillycuddy’s Reeks to the west, this scenic mountain pass made me let go of the frustration with my bike. I couldn’t possibly feel anything but content when looking at such a striking view!
The best part though- I could tell it was all downhill from here.
Over the next 6 kilometers I coasted alongside small lakes, over stone bridges, past horses pulling jaunting cars, and a group of sheep wandering the roadside.
The only thing that could have made the ride better was if cars weren’t allowed on the road. The Gap of Dunloe is the very definition of a multi-use trail- cyclists, walkers, horses, and cars all share the narrow road.
After biking through the Gap of Dunloe, we stopped at Kate Kearney’s Cottage for a late lunch. It didn’t take long to realize that this popular place is definitely overrated.
Basically, the staff had no idea what was going on, especially when it came to things that should be obvious, like where to order and pay the bill. “Inside, no outside, no inside!”, said 5 different people who worked there. It was almost comedic how bad the service was. Next time I would eat at the cafe across the street instead.
After lunch, the ride back to Killarney was flat and well signed. We stuck to minor roads until reaching the N72 (Ring of Kerry), then got on a cycle path (the Fossa Way) that veered off alongside a golf course and into Killarney National Park.
Back in the national park, we were met with a field full of deer grazing in the late afternoon light. I’ve never seen so many deer in one place before! Viewing some beautiful wildlife was a lovely way to end my boat and cycle trip in Killarney.
Final Thoughts About the Gap of Dunloe Boat and Bike Trip
Even though I did the Gap of Dunloe boat and bike tour near the start of my solo trip to Ireland, by the end of my vacation it remained my favourite experience.
The boat tour of the Killarney Lakes was fantastic, far prettier than I imagined. Donal was a great guide and it was nice to have his sweet dog Charlie cuddle up to me during the trip.
The Gap of Dunloe bike ride was also outstanding. There were so many moments when I said aloud to myself, “This is so beautiful!”
My day in Killarney turned out just as I had hoped- nice weather, gorgeous scenery, and good company. If only I had rented a better bike, then it would have been perfect!
In my opinion, a boat and bike tour is the very best way to experience the natural beauty of Killarney!
More Photos of the Lakes of Killarney and Gap of Dunloe
Killarney is so photogenic. Looking at these pictures makes me wish I was still there!
Tips for Doing a Boat and Bike Trip to the Gap of Dunloe
- Bikes can be rented at a few different shops in Killarney, most of which are within easy cycling distance of Ross Castle. They are not included as part of the boat tour of the lakes, so you will have to rent a bike the morning of your boat trip.
- Boats going to the Gap of Dunloe/Lord Brandon’s Cottage leave daily at 11:00 am from the pier at Ross Castle or at Reen Pier (to the right of the castle). Bikes will be propped in the bow.
- Even though all the boat tour websites say booking is essential, I just showed up at the pier a half hour in advance, with cash, and was able to get on a boat (this was in late September). I’d recommend making reservations if visiting in the summer.
- A boat tour of the Killarney Lakes takes approximately 1.5 hours. You should arrive at Lord Brandon’s Cottage around 12:30 pm. There is a small café and public toilets here, with the next services not until Kate Kearney’s Cottage 11 km away.
- The bike ride through the Gap of Dunloe is self-guided. The total distance cycled from Lord Brandon’s Cottage to Killarney is about 23 kilometers. With breaks and a stop for lunch, you can expect to arrive back in town between 3:30 and 4:30 pm.
* Information was correct at the the time of publishing, but can change without notice. Please confirm directly with service providers.
Accommodations in Killarney
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