There is evidence of the region's unique heritage and culture everywhere, in the place names, the standing stones and the many archaeological sites. The 6th century beehive huts and ruined monastery on Skellig Michael are a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Also worth checking out are the stone forts at Caherciveen and Castlecove, the Neolithic stone circle in Kenmare, the 15th century Ballycarberry Castle, the magnificent O'Connell Memorial Church, Derrynane House and Gardens or the pretty 19th century Heritage town, Kenmare.
The Ring of Kerry is also highly regarded for it culinary delights, such as the local cheeses, seafood and shellfish, lamb and homemade breads. The town of Kenmare, in particular, has a number of very highly regarded restaurants. (It is thought to be the only town in Ireland that has more restaurants than pubs.)
The area is a favorite among artists, writers and sculptors, and there are a number of craft shops and galleries such as Cill Rialaig showcasing their best works. It's also ideal for activity holidays, such as walking and cycling routes, diving and angling and adventures sports, to its array of championship golf courses - Waterville (An Coireán), Dooks, Kenmare and Killorglin.
The coastal roads provide an ever-changing landscape around the Iveragh Peninsula, with snapshots of the famous offshore islands popping in and out of view around every corner.
The most famous and breathtaking part of Ireland’s craggy west coastline is the Cliffs of Moher area, which feature some of the most breathtaking views on the entire island.
The Cliffs stretch for almost 5 miles and rise up to 702 feet over the waters of the Atlantic ocean. The amazing view from the Cliffs includes the Aran Islands, Galway Bay, The Twelve Pins and the Maum Turk Mountains. The landscape and seascape of the Cliffs of Moher have, for centuries, welcomed a multitude of visitors; close to 1 million people per year now travel to this iconic location.
But don’t get the wrong impression – just because many people flock to the site, this in no way spoils the experience of being there; it’s easy to forget your surroundings and lose yourself in nature as you stand near the edge of the majestic cliffs.
The Giant's Causeway, a coastal area of about 40,000 basalt columns near the town of Bushmills in County Antrim, is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Northern Ireland.
Folklore tells us that an Irish giant named Finn MacCool once lived in the area, and from across the sea he could see a Scottish giant, Benandonner, his rival, whom he had never met.
Finn challenged Benandonner to come to Ireland to fight. Because no boat was big enough to carry the giant, Finn built a causeway of stones in the water so that Benandonner would be able to make it across.
When Finn realized the Scottish giant was far bigger than he had expected, he fled to the hills where his wife disguised him as a baby. This move foxed Bennadonner because he thought that if the child was that big, the father would be even bigger. Benandonner fled back to the Scotland, ripping up the causeway behind him, so that Finn wouldn’t be able to follow him.
In truth, Giant’s Causeway was created by a volcanic eruption 60 million years ago – an interesting fact, but the Finn MacCool myth is a bit more fun to believe.
No matter how it came to be, the Causeway is one of the best places to walk through in the North.
A trip to Galway would be incomplete without a visit to the Aran Islands, the collective name for the small islands, Inishmór, Inishmaan and Inisheer. The mystical, frozen-in-time islands are famous for their preservation of a rural existence largely unchanged, at least culturally, over the centuries. There may be some electricity there these days, but the ways of the past are carefully preserved among locals who make their living much the same way their ancestors did.
The residents of the islands are happy to accommodate guests, whether by raising a pint in friendship or unraveling the folklore of the enchanted isles.
Elizabeth Zellinger, a Swiss citizen, moved to Inishmór, the largest island of the three, in 1974 and grew to love it so much that in 1996 she founded Celtic Spirit (www.irish-culture.ch), an organization that runs cultural vacation experiences on the island every summer. Groups of eight to 14 people shuttle back and forth to classes and workshops held at the Creig-an-Chéirín Center in Inishmór, overlooking the sea and the mountains of Connemara. The program is a great way to explore and learn about this fascinating island group.