I began to get used to this sound; I’d hear it every day as I walked through the streets of Killarney.
It was my first visit to Ireland and so far I’d been impressed – but Killarney spun a whole new spell on me.
The lively rhythmic beat of horse hooves on the concrete was loud enough to drown out any conversation, but it didn’t bother me. These beautiful horse and carriages – known as jaunting cars – took me to a place I’d only ever experienced through books and television – the late 18th/early 19th Century, courtesy of Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice.
I was in Ireland for the TBEX conference – an international gathering of hundreds of travel bloggers, writers, photographers and tourism brands.
I expected my trip to Ireland to be mainly be work-related, with long days and nights spent learning, networking and generally enjoying new connections.
I didn’t expect Ireland to get under my skin, and that I would leave the country yearning to return, dreaming of anything remotely Irish to liven my soul.
Killarney wowed me more than I ever thought possible for a destination which possessed neither a ski field nor a tropical climate, my typical preferred travel options.
Here’s what stood out in this charming town.
A FIRST TIMER’S GUIDE TO KILLARNEY
HORSES ARE A LEGITIMATE MODE OF TRANSPORT
Need to hail a taxi? Forget it. Hail a horse.
Killarney is filled with Jaunting cars – horse and carriages – carrying passengers to and from their destination. Sure, there’s a good chance they’re mostly tourists in the carriages, but this beautiful mode of transport screams romance and a hint of old-school glamour.
And they’re everywhere. You won’t walk down a street anywhere in Killarney without hearing the clippity-cloppity of horse hooves behind you.
THE CLICHES ARE TRUE
I’m well aware one of the biggest cliches of Irish people is that they possess the gift of the gab. I don’t remember a conversation during my entire journey through Ireland that lasted less than a solid five minutes. Even with complete strangers.
It’s wonderful – there are far worse stereotypes than being wonderfully chatty. The Irish hospitality is outstanding and Killarney knows how to party and welcome guests from afar.
ADVENTURE IS NEVER FAR AWAY
Did you know you can kayak around a 15th-century castle in Killarney? And head out into the middle of the lakes of the Killarney National Park? Perhaps cycling is more your thing – switch up gears and bike through mountains and woodlands along the Gap of Dunloe.
Prefer a bigger adrenalin rush? Rock climbing and abseiling can all be done on a day trip from the town centre.
There’s something for every traveller with a keen sense of exploration and adventure.
THE KILLARNEY ACCENT WILL THROW YOU
The Irish accent sure is charming with its lyrical and melodic pitch and tone – but the Kerry accent, at its strongest in Killarney, will throw you. Even people from Ireland struggle to understand what fellow Irishmen and women from Killarney are saying. Expect to nod a lot.
INDULGE THE SENSES AT THE MUCKROSS PARK HOTEL
Muckross Park Hotel is quite possibly the most indulgent spot in Killarney.
The tantalizing aroma of lemongrass will strike the nerves in your schnozz as soon as you walk through the hotel’s luxury spa. A quick walk past the vitality pool and thermal area will have you clearing out the rest of the day to allow you to relax.
If you’re fortunate to stay a night or a few, expect nothing but the finest suites with an eloquent interior decor and soft furnishings.
As for tempting the taste buds – start with an Irish Twist, a local citrus tipple made from the whiskey-based Irish Mist liqueur, followed with a main of Kerry lamb or local seafood before indulging in devilishly rich salted caramel chocolate brownie.
IRISH ENTERTAINMENT AT ITS FINEST
Killarney Racecourse provides a base for many events – and the Irish dance group Celtic Steps has its base at the Racecourse. It’s Ireland’s top traditional Irish music and dance show that will surely have you attempting your own version of Riverdance in the privacy of your own home – or down the main street after a few more beverages.
Irish dancing in Ireland may seem like another cliche but it’s a joy to watch – and you never know when someone will suddenly bust out their moves. Like this Irish fiddler who clearly had more strings to his bow than we realised:
GRAND DOES NOT MEAN MONEY
You’ll hear this phrase many times throughout Ireland – where grand does not mean how many thousands of dollars you’ve spent, but simply an expression of how great something might be.
“How did it go last night?”
“Oh, just grand!”
YOU CAN DRINK HOBBIT JUICE AT A LORD OF THE RINGS THEMED PUB
One of the more surreal moments in Killarney was finding myself at The Shire, a delightful Lord of the Rings themed pub in town.
As a New Zealander, I come from a country where the LOTR and Hobbit trilogies were filmed, they produced by a New Zealander, in a country that became known as Middle Earth which every tourism agency capitalised on. Naturally, it was a little bizarre to be on the complete opposite side of the world and immersed in the Hobbit world. I thought that stuff only happened in New Zealand? Turns out it’s a big deal in Killarney too.
I highly recommend the secret-recipe ‘Hobbit Juice’. Who knows what the heck is in it – but after the first few you’ll no longer care.
IT’S CHARMING AF
Seriously. There are few words to describe the overall tone of Killarney with its beautifully manicured gardens, delightful alleyways, Clydesdale horses, traditional Irish pubs and fabulous hospitality – it’s simply charming at every corner.
THE WEATHER IS…EVERYTHING
Sunshine, wind and rain – expect it all within a few hours. Don’t go anywhere without a rain jacket. I was in Killarney in autumn – a beautiful time of year with red and golden leaves adorning the trees against a backdrop of green fields. That greenery – well it’s green because it rains a heck of a lot. But it also gets sunny. Then windy. Then rainy. Then sunny. Dress for all seasons.
And if you’re lucky to get a semi-clear evening, the sunsets by the lake are mesmerising.
THERE’S SOME INCREDIBLE HISTORY
As an adventure traveller I don’t expect to be wowed by old historical buildings. But Killarney’s history left me breathless as if someone had knocked the wind out of my chest with a single blow.
The 15th-Century Ross Castle provides a perfect setting for watching the sun go down…
…while walking through the ruins of Muckross Abbey will trigger a powerful stillness in your heart…
SOME OF THE MOST BEAUTIFUL COWS OF ALL TIME live here
Kerry Cows are beautiful and unique. They’re black and shiny and silky looking. And their milk is said to be some of the best in the world due to its butterfat content. The breed is unique to Ireland and one of the oldest breeds in the world. I never thought I’d describe cattle as pretty, but the Kerry Cows are black beauties.
DON’T LEAVE WITHOUT A STROLL THROUGH MUCKROSS HOUSE AND GARDENS
You’ll think you’re wandering through Mr Darcy’s estate Pemberley from Pride and Prejudice. Give yourself several hours to wander through the picturesque gardens and soak up the views surrounding the stately Muckross House.
Have you been to Killarney? What were your first impressions? What would you include in a first timer’s guide to Killarney?