The Gap of Dunloe Ireland might not be as famous as nearby attractions, like the Ring of Kerry or the Cliffs of Moher. After all, it’s just an 11km stretch of winding road through the countryside, right?
Well, yes and no.
It is a “just” a stretch of road but it also happens to be the most breathtaking stretch of road I can ever remember seeing.
And I have seen a few breathtaking stretches of road in my time, like the mountain pass over the Tatras in Slovakia, or the road that winds its way up into the Qinling Mountains in China, and the road over the Annamite mountains in Vietnam.
What’s so Great About the Gap of Dunloe?
The single lane of tarmac winds its way along the route of the river Loe. On one side looms the imposing Macgillycuddy’s Reeks, a mountain range which includes the highest peak in Ireland, Carrauntoohil. On the other side is the rolling Purple Mountain which forms the western border of Killarney National Park.
The road writhes up and down, left and right, and with every twist and turn a new stunning view is revealed. Most people make the trip by bicycle, walking, or on a horse-drawn trap, driven by colourful locals who are sure to share stories and local legends as you drive.
In summer the road is closed to private cars. But if you arrive during off season, you can drive the route, just like I did.
Just make sure to keep your eyes on the road and off the gorgeous scenery!
On my visit, one sunny morning in early January, I had to stop the car every few hundred metres, just to take in the awesome sights without running off the road. Luckily, I had the road to myself — not a single car came or went while I was making my traverse.
At the bottom of this post, I give you all the detais about how to visit the Gap of Dunloe. But first, here are:
11 Photos to Make You Add the Gap of Dunloe to Your Ireland Itinerary
A short walk from Kate Kearney’s Cottage, you can make the climb up the trail on Kerry Mountain. It’s a relatively easy hike, but be aware that the weather can change quickly! Be prepared for colder temperatures, a slippery hike, and outstanding views like these.
After a climb in the hills, take your car (if it’s low season), or bike, walk, or ride a pony trap into the valley. I loved the twists and turns of the narrow road as it snaked its way through ever-changing scenery.
How to Get to Gap of Dunloe
In high season, take the shuttle bus from Killarney to Gap of Dunloe. It will drop you at Kate Kearney’s Cottage, a bar and restaurant, and also the usual starting point for any day exploring Gap of Dunloe.
If you’re going in low season, you’ll need to find other transportation, since the shuttle busses don’t run. As with most of the sights in western Ireland, if you’re visiting in low season, the best way to get around is to rent a car. Car rental in Ireland is inexpensive but petrol costs are high — I spent far more on fuel than on my week-long rental!
There is a parking lot at Kate Kearney’s Cottage, so you can leave the car and set out on foot. Also, Kate Kearney’s may well be closed, depending when you visit, so bring your own pack lunch from Killarney.
Pony trap drivers will likely be on sight to offer you a lift no matter what time of year you go.
When to Visit the Gap of Dunloe
In high season, from about May to October, the Gap of Dunloe can be a touristy nightmare, where the hassle and the crowds will sap all pleasure from the stunning scenery. If you’re in Ireland in summer, you might just want to skip it. Note that private cars aren’t allowed between Kate Kearney’s Cottage and Lord Brandon’s Cottage during the busy months.
However, in off-season, if you manage to score a sunny day, you’ll have the place to yourself. On my visit, I bumped into two or three locals who were hiking the trails around the gap and that was it!
The best time to go is on a mild day in early spring, after the worst winter chill has faded but before the tourists flood in. Then you can take advantage of the solitude to feast your eyes on the landscape.
Gap of Dunloe Tours
To do the classic Gap of Dunloe Tour, start at Kate Kearney’s Cottage and hop onto a horse drawn trap for a slow and scenic visit. You can also do the Gap of Dunloe walk, or cycle the 11km road which ends at Lord Brandon’s cottage, a tea room and cafe.
From there, hop on a boat through Killarney National Park, ending at Ross Castle where the shuttle bus will take you back to Killarney.
Related: Here’s what to expect from the Gap of Dunloe hike →
You can also pre-arrange a private tour to the Gap of Dunloe.
Here are some other Killarney tours you might want to try.
Where to Stay in Killarney
I can’t say enough wonderful things about the Black Sheep Hostel in Killarney. It has a fabulous shared kitchen, extremely comfortable beds with privacy curtains, lockers, and personal lights and power plugs, plus a roaring fire in the lounge every evening. Stay at the Black Sheep or, if you’re not a hostel person, try these Killarney hotels on for size.
♥ Happy adventures, Stephen & Jane
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