We’ve holidayed in Kenmare three times since 2009, and there are two things I know for sure:
1. We haven’t seen everything yet
2. We’ll be back
The jewel in the crown of the three trips was local knowledge (thank you Aoife, Karen, and Maggie!) – tips on where to eat and where to go from Kenmare inhabitants made a huge difference to our holidays. So I’ve combined all the recommendations and our experience here in one post, for anyone else travelling to Kenmare or staying near that stunning part of the Irish coast.
Where to stay
This is quite the opposite of definitive – we’ve only stayed in two places in Kenmare, but both were brilliant in very different ways.
In 2009 and again in 2016 we stayed in a two-bedroom luxury lodge on the grounds of Kenmare Bay Hotel. The second time was a complimentary stay in return for a review, and you can read the detailed review here.
I like self-catering because we’re not great at the five-sleeping-in-one-hotel-room thing (noise, hyperactivity, jumping on beds, no sleep, early mornings, arguments – and that’s just the parents). The lodges are gorgeous – beautifully done up, really comfortable, and if they’d had availability for our dates this year, we’d have booked with them again.
They didn’t though, so we tried AirBnB and ended up booking a converted church. This was far and away the most unusual place we’ve ever stayed (beating the yurt and the log) and it definitely lived up to expectations. On the outside, it still looks exactly like a church, and inside there are high church ceilings, original stained glass windows, and a choir balcony that becomes a mezzanine bedroom. But there’s a modern kitchen, a huge couch that fit all five of us, two bedrooms and two bathrooms, and a cosy woodfire stove.
Some things you need to know if you’re considering booking this with kids:
Although the church is in the countryside, the main road just outside is busy, and the church grounds are not completely blocked off from the road. My kids are old enough not to go near the road, but I’d be reluctant to stay there with a wandering toddler.
The windows don’t have blinds or curtains – bring portable gro-blinds if you have small children likely to wake early.
The second bedroom is a mezzanine with no door, and looks down on the main room. So when our two daughters went to bed, we stayed up for a bit reading by low lights, but you might not be able to watch a film after your kids go to bed, depending their ages and how well they sleep.
There is no TV service – there’s a good selection of DVDs there but not loads for kids, so maybe bring your own.
There is also a graveyard outside, and my eldest asked me to tell you there are spiders. But overall, we loved it – it was something completely different and will definitely stand out as a holiday to remember.
Where to eat
We had mixed weather on our most recent trip, so decided to eat our way around Kenmare and its surrounds. The good news is, the area is heaving with amazing food options, and thanks to Karen at Kenmare Foodie, I knew in advance where to go.
This was our favourite restaurant – fish and chips, burgers, scampi, fish tacos, and incredible views out over Kenmare Bay. You need to book, but it’s well worth it, especially for the walk around the pier after dinner.
We ate here four years ago (in October) so we knew in advance it would provide a perfect level of cosiness for a wet July evening – burgers, steaks, lasagne – comfort food at its best and excellent, friendly service.
Shutters is a newly opened pizzeria next-door to the Boathouse Bistro, so you get the same beautiful views and setting, but with a pizza-only menu. We ended up in Shutters when we failed to get a table in Boathouse Bistro on our last night, and though I prefer fish and chips to pizza, the food was good and service was excellent, and the sunset was absolutely incredible.
We had brunch in Poffs on our second morning in Kenmare – Eggs Benedict for three of us and pancakes for the two who think it’s insane to order eggs when you can have pancakes. Delish all round. (Again, you’re safer to book in advance)
We usually bring the coffee machine with us if we’re going somewhere in Ireland but we forgot it, and failed dismally in our attempts to make caftiere coffee in the church. So on the first morning, I was hanging for a coffee by the time we arrived in Maison Gourmet at 10:30 am (I’m not sure I’ve ever managed to get the kids up and out so early). The coffee and pain au chocolat were worth the wait. The rest of them had brownies – not quite your usual breakfast, but that’s what holidays are for.
The Strawberry Field Pancake Cottage
This was our favourite lunch spot, so much so we went there twice in three days. I use the term “lunch” loosely – the kids had sweet pancakes both days, while we had savoury. I honestly think the memory of their smoked salmon pancake will stay with me for the rest of my life. We went here 11 years ago too, so it was nice to link past and present.
We also ate in The Snug in Bantry, a bar my husband and I went to fifteen years ago, and during a day in Killarney, we had coffee in Lir Chocolate Café and ice-cream in Murphy’s ice-cream – all very good.
What to do
The church we stayed in was walking distance from Cos Strand, a stony beach with gorgeous views and lots of rocks to climb, so we went there our first afternoon. The rain came then for 48 hours, putting a stop to any further beach plans, but if we’d had good weather, we planned to head to Derrynane, as recommended by Karen. It’s about an hour away but looks beautiful – we’ll be back.
Muckross House and Gardens
According to the website, Muckross House and Gardens is currently closed but assuming it opens again later this summer, it’s well worth a visit. We went there four years ago and spent the whole day roaming around the gardens before taking a horse and trap as far as Torc Waterfall where we spent more time exploring. We didn’t go into the house, figuring the kids were too young to appreciate it. For full details of our day there and lots of pics, see here.
We went here on our first trip with two kids under two and I remember that it felt like we’d ticked an “outing” box by going there – I’d like to go back now that they’re older but we didn’t make it this time. It’s about half an hour from Kenmare and a family ticket is €20- full details here.
I wish we were the kind of people who never let a bit of rain stop them – the kind of people who put on rain gear and go to beaches and forests in a downpour – but we’re not. So when the forecast proved true, and we woke on our first morning in Kenmare to heavy rain, we decided to drive to Bantry for lunch. It was, of course, also raining in Bantry, but at least we felt like we were doing something, and it gave me the opportunity to tell the kids for the 400th time that I remember going on holidays to Bantry when I was four, and thinking that the buoys in the water were boys. Oh yes, that story never gets old. (“It so does” – the kids.) Bantry is a gorgeous town and well worth a visit, not least because of the absolutely stunning scenery on the route across the mountains.
On day two, we again woke to heavy rain, so after an amazing brunch in Poffs in Kenmare, we drove to Killarney. The rain eased off, and we spent a really lovely few hours pottering around the shops and cafés, buying “souvenirs” of Kerry in TK Maxx and the Nike Outlet Store. The route from Kenmare to Killarney is beautiful, and you can stop at Lady’s View to take it in properly.
Star Outdoor Activities
On day three, to our great relief, the sun came out, and it changed everything. We booked kayaking with Star Outdoor Activities which is really kayaking out to inflatables in Kenmare Bay, jumping and sliding for an hour, then kayaking back. It was the highlight of the trip – the kids absolutely loved it. I didn’t do any of the jumping on the inflatables bit, I hovered on the pontoon watching the kids; but I loved the kayaking over and back. Afterwards we had ice-cream and coffee in the restaurant above the activity centre, sitting outside on the deck, soaking up much appreciated sun and a beautiful view over the bay.
Also recommended were Emerald Outdoors (which sounds similar to Star) and Sidetracked Electric Bike Hire, both of which we’ll have to try next time.
There’s a lot to see and do in Kenmare, beautiful scenery around it, so many towns within easy driving distance, and so much breathtaking coastline at every bend in the road. During our three trips, we’ve really only scratched the surface. Spiders and rain notwithstanding, we’ll be back.