In this article of our staycation series in Ireland 2020, we want to share our cycle in the Killarney National Park and the Gap of Dunloe. We went over during a cold but sunny weekend in October. Both are beautiful, natural areas that are well worth visiting.
Where are the Killarney National Park and the Gap of Dunloe?
Both places are located in the southwest of Ireland.
The Killarney national park is near the town of Killarney, a charming little place situated in County Kerry. This is the place of departure for the famous Ring of Kerry ring road trip, a scenic drive that surrounds the coast of Kerry’s Iveragh Peninsula. The town is fairly easy to access from Dublin, by car, bus, or train. The national park is set next to the town, so if you arrive by train or bus, you can easily access it by foot. The park is quite big and you can explore its numerous walking trails, you can cycle around it or kayak through some of its stunning lakes: Lough Leane, Muckross Lake, and Upper Lake.
The Gap of Dunloe is an 11km rough mountain pass that was formed by glaciers 10,000 years ago. It is set between the MacGillycuddy Reeks and Purple Mountain, with the river Loe that runs through it and a road alongside it, that descends into the Black Valley crossing five lakes: Coosaun Lough, Black Lake, Cushnavally Lake, Auger Lake, and Black Lough. The Gap of Dunloe is about a 45min bike ride from Killarney’s town and it’s fairly easy to reach. The Gap begins at Kate Kearney’s Cottage, a nice picturesque place, where you can grab a cup of coffee. The paved road is quite narrow, and cars can only go one way. It’s a challenge to do it by bike, but if you catch a good day, it sure is worth it.
Why should you go?
Both Killarney National Park and Gap of Dunloe are some of the best places for any outdoor activity, to take a city break and experience some of the best nature Ireland has to offer. They are located on the west coast, which has some of the most stunning views of the coast of Ireland.
The fresh air and raw natural beauty are great escapes from urban areas. For us, that we live and work in busy Dublin, it is one of our favorite spots in the country.
When did we go?
We went off the peak season, in October when the crowds are smaller. We checked the weather forecast before going, to have higher chances of getting some well-deserved sun and clear skies. October is usually a good month in terms of dry weather, but it depends on the year. The months of May and June are usually the best to visit the country, as they are the driest and warmest. Ireland is also a very windy country, it doesn’t matter which month you are visiting.
For us, that we like to cycle, we care about it a lot! Although it was cold, the sun was shining and we even saw some snowy peaks in the Killarney National Park. Both places are worth visiting, and one weekend is not enough time for sure.
How to get there?
From Dublin, the best and quickest way is to go by car. However, since we don’t have one and we wanted to take our bikes with us, we took the train to Mallow (1st stop), where we changed into another smaller train to Killarney. It took us about 3.20h and we paid our tickets online so we could include bike spots on the train.
Where to stay?
Killarney has a few hostels, B&Bs, and hotels where you can stay. As we went during a cold October weekend, we found a nice, mid-range B&B. They give you a great feeling of Irish coziness and warmth. We stayed at a very charming B&B called Woodlawn House. We paid 87.5€ for one night, Ireland is not a cheap place to visit overall, especially if you want a bit of comfort. The owner was quite nice, he and his wife own this house that they transformed into a B&B. They let us park our bikes there and served us fresh breakfast (included in the price) during our 2-day stay. The B&B was new, and everything looked very well taken care of and well preserved.
Day 1 – Dublin to Killarney
The train ride to Killarney was without major obstacles, quite smooth. The train was packed and we only had a small hiccup during our change in Mallow. Here, the train checkers weren’t very convinced that our bikes were going to fit in the train. In the end, they did, and all was ok.
When we arrived in Killarney, in the evening, it was cold and we were super tired. Killarney is a very picturesque, cute small town. The attraction is the Killarney National Park that you can see straight away from the city center. As we found our B&B, we got our bikes secured and all we wanted was to snuggle into the warmth of the house. Ireland is cold this time of the year.
Day 2 – Gap of Dunloe
The next day, we set to bike the Gap, the day was clear and we were very positive we were going to make it. Since we had the whole next day for ourselves, we left the National park to explore on Sunday.
After 45min, we arrived at Kate Kearney’s Cottage, stopped for a bit, took some pics, and continued. The day was cold and the wind was against us, unfortunately (this is something that if you ever bike in Ireland you will feel it no matter which season you’re in). We were going slowly, trying to keep our breath and pace steady, also making stops to take pics of the surrounding nature, feeling a sense of remoteness and aw of what we were looking at. Once and awhile, there were a few groups of people, horse carriages, and cars that crossed our way.
After 1h or so of biking, we hit a steep hill. We tried to bike it, but the cold wind was too strong and we started freezing. We hopped off and walked with the bikes for a bit longer, just enough to get over the pass and check what was on the other side., with Joana always pushing for the” next view is over there”. Not sure how much of the Gap we did, but what we covered gave us already the sense of beauty and rawness of the place. There’s always a next time.
Soon after we started to head back and stopped at Kate’s cottage for a well deserved warm cup of coffee and some nice desserts. Tip: Bring some cash with you, cause when we were there their card machine wasn’t working.
It was still daylight, so we decided to head back into town and take a look at what Killarney has to offer. Killarney has a main street, where all the shops and restaurants are located. You see it in 1h max or so. Towns like Killarney are what make Ireland special because they show the real heart and quirkiness of the country.
We ate at the Curious Cat Café, a tapas-style bar offering some delicious wine and tapas food with nice music in the background. It has an international and friendly vibe and we enjoyed ourselves there for a few hours.
On our way back to the B&B, we grabbed some red wine to end the evening.
Tip: this is always a good way to save money if you don’t want to spend too much on drinking outside, which sometimes is not worth it. In Ireland, a wine glass may cost you 6 to 8€ depending where you go, and you can pay the same for a bottle for a decent wine from the supermarket.
Day 3 – Killarney National Park
The next morning, we enjoyed our full Irish/continental breakfast, freshly prepared, and said goodbye to our hosts. We took our bikes and headed to the park. We had a long day ahead of us. The day was very sunny and cold but great for some exploring outside.
We headed the opposite way from the day before into the park. The park has pretty well-defined paths to follow, you can also bike around the lakes. There is also a cafe to eat and drink something. The scenery is gorgeous and you can easily spend all day there.
We walked until the Torc waterfall (approx. 20 meters high), nice to see, and from there we walked a bit around, as several paths are leading back to the main area of the park. It was very relaxing, although it was cold, and we felt we didn’t have enough time there to explore more.
We had a last meal in a place called Quinlan’s Seafood Bar, which serves the typical fish and chips, to send us on our way back to Dublin.
See you again Killarney!
Staycation Ireland 2020 series
This is the third article in our Staycation Ireland series 2020. The first one was “3 Easy Cycle Routes in and around Dublin – Staycation Ireland 2020” and the second one a more advanced cycle day trip “Cycling to Victor’s Way Park- Staycation in Ireland 2020″. Stay tuned for the next one!