Ring Of Kerry
Destination: County Kerry, Ireland
Ireland's Greatest tourism cliché is the Ring of Kerry, a 177km (110-mile) route around the Iveragh Peninsula where scores of tour buses thunder every day in summer. But taking your own car makes all the difference: Follow the road clockwise (the buses go counterclockwise) and you'll have the road less traveled, with room to enjoy the seacoast views that made the Ring a tourist draw in the first place.
Without stops, the circuit takes 4 hours; plan for twice that so you can stop and explore. Driving south from tourist-choked Killarney on N71, you'll enter Killarney National Park, where the mountain scenery has an almost Wild West grandeur. From the road you gaze north over the memorably named range of Macgillycuddy's Reeks; Ireland's tallest mountain, Carrantuohill, at 1,041m (3,415 ft.), crops up in the distance. Detour south to Kenmare, a little town on Kenmare Bay, where a Bronze Age stone circle stands intact around a dolmen tomb. At Kenmare Pier from May to October, Sea-Fari Cruises, Kenmare Pier (tel. 064/83171; www.seafariireland.com), runs 2-hour excursions to spot dolphins, sea otters, gray seals, and herons.
Wind on down the coast to charming Sneem, where the houses are painted in shades of blue, pink, yellow, purple, and orange. At the western end of the peninsula, Waterville is an improbably Mediterranean-looking resort town, where Charlie Chaplin often summered; there's a super beach here, a good (if windy) spot for a picnic.
Continue on N70, with Dingle Bay on your right. On this north side of the peninsula, open bog land constantly comes into view, a terrain formed thousands of years ago from decayed trees. Local residents dig up the turf to burn in their fireplaces. At the Kerry Bog Village Museum in Ballycleave (tel. 066/976-9184), a cluster of thatched-roof cottages includes a blacksmith's forge, a turf-cutter's house, and a roof-thatcher's dwelling. All the cottages show what life was like in Kerry in the early 1800s.
Information: Ring of Kerry (www.kerrytourist.com). Killarney Tourist Office, Beech Rd., Killarney (tel. 064/31633; www.killarneytown.com).
Nearest Airport: Kerry County Airport.
Accommodations: Derrynane Hotel, off N71, Caherdaniel (tel. 800/528-1234 or 066/947-5136; www.derrynane.com). Killarney Great Southern, Railway Rd., Killarney (tel. 800/44-UTELL in the U.S., or 064/31262; www.gsh.ie).