There are so many awe-inspiring sights spread across this little island of ours but if you've not a driver, like myself, it can bloody difficult to actually visit them.
This was the challenge that I faced when I spent a few days in Killarney recently. When I asked around for the best sights to see, I was told that you really need to have a car if you want to get the most out of Kerry. As you can imagine, this was not what I wanted to hear.
I compiled a checklist of places that I wanted to see while I was in the county, but I wasn't sure if I'd be able to reach them. I did my research and, after a bit of digging, I came across a tour that would allow me to check off many of the spots on my list in one fell swoop: the Slea Head and Dingle Peninsula Coach Tour.
On the morning of my tour, I arrived at the meeting point for the bus about 15 minutes before it's 10.30am departure and it was already nearly full, luckily I had booked my place on the tour the day before to ensure that I'd definitely get a spot.
The bus was small and there were only 24 passengers aboard, mostly Americans, some Canadians and a couple Germans. Apart from the driver, I was the only Irish person aboard.
Our driver for the day was named Maurice and we were informed by one of his colleagues right before we took off that he was one of their top reviewed drivers on TripAdvisor. After the bus started moving, I soon saw why he was so popular with his passengers — he was constantly taking the piss. If he wasn't poking fun at painfully slow drivers, he was referring to the cyclists we passed as MAMILs (middle-aged men in Lycra).
As we made our way, our guide was giving us a crash course in Irish history and culture, informing us about poitin, relations between England and Ireland, the housing boom and how these days we have to import our priests.
He would also draw our attention to the various sights we encountered along the way, such as the magnificent McGillycuddy Reeks mountains, which took their name from an ancient chieftain. The weather was almost perfect that day, so everything looked glorious.
We weren't on the road too long before we had our first brief stop at Inch Beach.
The beach is massive, you could spend hours walking its length as it stretches off into the hazy distance, but we had just 25 minutes to make the most of it.
For the day that was in it, there was good buzz around the place. A number of camper vans and cars had parked on the sand, while surfers ran at the waves just loving life.
The passengers among us who were thirsty or peckish had a choice of the nearby Sammy's Café & Restaurant or The Strand Hotel to get their fix, provided they were quick about it.
I had a quick stroll along the waterline and took in the verdant hills surrounding the strand before it was time to head back to the bus.
Our next stop along the way was a viewing point, the first of several we would stop at to appreciate the breathtaking views in the region. From this vantage point we could just about make out Minard Castle in the distance, which Cromwellian forces destroyed with cannon fire back in the 17th century.
On we continued along the coast and, although it remained a sunny day, when we attempted to see Skellig Michael it was just too damn hazy to make out, so we had to make do with the mental picture that Maurice painted for us of the island, with its beehive huts, its reserve of puffins and gannets, as well as the “absolutely frightening” amount of people who visit purely because of Star Wars.
We passed stone walls, ringforts, famine cottages and a whole lotta sheep. At one point we made a 10-minute stop at a house where you could step inside a replica of one of Skellig's stone igloos and hold a baby lamb for the low, low price of just €3. I passed.
As the tour went on and the bus wound around coastal cliffs, the road got narrower and trickier, making coming up against traffic an absolute nightmare. As a learner driver, these are the kinds of roads that fill me with pure terror.
Eventually we stopped at another viewing pointing and had a good look at the Great Blasket Island, which thankfully was visible on this particular day.
I was taking a ridiculous amount of snaps and it was killing my battery, but luckily there were USB ports on the bus where I was able to recharge my phone while we were on the road.
A good thing too, because our next stop was Ceann Sratha and I definitely wanted to get some shots here. In an effort to protect Skellig Michael from damage caused by the filming of The Last Jedi, a set designed to look like Skellig Michael was erected at this gorgeous spot.
After a busy morning of sightseeing, it was about time to have a decent break for lunch, so we stopped in Dingle.
We had 90 minutes before the bus was due to set off again, which would be an ample amount of time for a simple lunch, but it was a bit brief for my liking — I had a few things I really needed to do while in town.
The first point on my agenda was to stop by My Boy Blue. I'd been assured by a reliable source that this café's decor was slick, the coffee was tasty and, above all else, their grilled cheese sambos were savage. I can now confirm that this is indeed the case.
But there was no time to dilly-dally and savour this deliciousness, as I had one more task I needed to see to before leaving.
I raced over to Dick Mac's, a pub with great pints of Guinness and an even better beer garden in which to enjoy it. It's an old-fashioned spot and it's got charm out the wazoo, where you can get whiskey at one counter and leather goods at the other, while out the back you've got tables galore for an outdoor pint, a food stall and even a brewery that you can take a tour of.
It's no wonder that it's had celeb visitors like Timothy Dalton, Julia Roberts and Dolly Parton spot by in the past.
Reluctantly, I went back to the tour bus for our return trip to Killarney. After a busy morning, lunch and a pint, I was pretty much in sleepy mode at this point and I'm pretty sure my fellow tourists were on the same vibe, so we welcomed the announcement from Maurice that the tour was essentially over at this point and that there wasn't much left to see or hear.
Unfortunately, Maurice turned on music instead to dispel the silence and the song selection was mostly diddly-eye tunes that really did my head in, so I stuck on my headphones for a good portion of the return leg.
From this point on there's not much more to tell, we passed Tom Crean's pub called the South Pole Inn, stopped to take in the view of Tralee Bay and my fellow passengers got to learn about The Rose Of Tralee as we passed through the town. Exciting stuff, I know.
It wasn't even 6pm by the time we arrived back at Killarney, just around the corner from where we started, feeling tired after a successful day of sightseeing but still having the evening ahead to enjoy Killarney's many pleasures.
We managed to cover a lot of ground in that day and if you're planning to see Kerry without a car, this is a seriously handy way to do it.