“What to do on Valentia Island? Ah, there’s a lot to see over there.” Mary’s eyes twinkled as she handed me a map of the small island in the county of Kerry, Ireland.
I had stopped in Cahersiveen for the night on my way back through the Ring of Kerry, and the friendly Irishwoman was in charge of preparing breakfast at the hostel where I was staying.
Curious about the turns I was giving to my Lonely Planet guide, trying to figure out what would be the first stop of the day, she soon started talking about Valentia Island and that it was essential to go there.
I didn’t know the island, and so little was in travel plans, but seeing the enthusiasm as it was presented and being such a short distance from where I was, I decided to go… and it was the best decision! Valentia undoubtedly became one of the not to be missed places in Ireland.
- 1. Take the Valentia Island ferry
- 2. Pass Knightstown and see the clock tower
- 3. See the Altazamuth stone
- 4. Meet the Ancestors at Valentia Heritage Center
- 5. Taste Valentia’s Ice Cream
- 6. Visit Glanleam and its gardens
- 7. Go to Valentia Island Lighthouse
- 8. See Valentia’s Cave
- 9. Follow the steps on the Tetrapod Trackway
- 10. Hike Geokaun Mountain and see the Fogher Cliffs
- 11. Peek at St. Brendan’s Well
- 12. Climb the Bray Head Tower
- 13. Know the history of the transatlantic telegraph cable
- 14. Visit the Skellig Experience Center
- 15. Visit the Skellig Islands
- 16. Stop in Portmagee
- 17. Eat a fish and seafood chowder
- Still in the Ring of Skellig
What to see on Valentia Island
The map Mary had given me showed a small island with some points of interest to visit. But what I found on the spot was so much more.
In this post, you will get to know all the places worth visiting. You can take a day trip, or if you want to know each of these sites in detail, my suggestion is to spend some more time on the island. You won’t regret it.
So let’s get to it.
1. Take the Valentia Island ferry
There are two ways to get to Valentia: by a bridge connecting to the city of Portmagee or by ferry boat from Renard Point to Knightstown. Coming from Cahersiveen, the latter was the option.
The ticket is not cheap — I paid 7 euros one way — and the travel time is short, but the crossing of that water channel, enjoying the wind in the face and the views to both Valentia and the surrounding landscape, are well worth the trip.
The information is that the Valentia Island ferry only operates in the summer months. However, my visit was in October, and the connection was still working. But you can always opt for the bridge to enter the island.
2. Pass Knightstown and see the clock tower
The ferry docks at Knightstown, and as you enter the road, you’ll find a picturesque red tower with a clock. A trademark of the island, this building dated from the late 1800s and was primarily intended to weigh the coal arriving at the port. The scales were in the lower section of this tower, which later gained the clock by order of the Knight of Kerry, who decided to make the building more aesthetic.
In fact, the name of this village is due to the Knight of Kerry. He lived on the island, in Glanleam.
3. See the Altazamuth stone
On Jane Street, you will see the Altazamuth, a stone marking the exact spot where an altazimuth — an instrument used to determine coordinates — precisely defined Knightstown’s longitude in 1862.
It may not seem like much, but until that date, and without correct longitudinal information, many were the vessels that, just relying on the position of the stars, got lost in the sea.
4. Meet the Ancestors at Valentia Heritage Center
Also, in Knightstown, you can visit the Valentia Heritage Center. Housed in former school facilities, this memory site of Valentia’s history is open to the public from April to September.
In this space, founded in 1986, you’ll find three exhibition areas: the classroom, with information on marine life around the island, the relationship of tetrapods with the location, or data on the Knights of Kerry; an area with references to the island and harbor life; and an exhibition about the Transatlantic Telegraph Cable.
5. Taste Valentia’s Ice Cream
It’s not every day that ice cream deserves attention, but it goes straight to the list of the best things to do on Valentia Island.
“We’re here on the edge of the Atlantic with fresh air, good grass, healthy cows, fantastic milk, and fantastic ice cream,” says Caroline Daly.
Third-generation dairy farmers on Valentia Island, the Daly began in 2016 to think of new ways to bring value to the property and the milk produced by their “happy cows”… which resulted in ice cream production and the creation of an ice cream shop.
Open only in the summer months, between May and September, here you can taste the most famous ice cream in the region, but also embark on an experience that will lead you to know the farm and the secret of its ice cream.
6. Visit Glanleam and its gardens
It was the former home of the Knight of Kerry, which endowed it with beautiful gardens. There are 16 hectares covered with exotic plants from various parts of the world and trails that lead through the forest, the river, or to the beach.
You can pay to visit the gardens, but if you want to know the house better, you have to spend the night. Glanleam is now privately owned, welcoming guests in B&B format.
7. Go to Valentia Island Lighthouse
Housed in Cromwell Point, Valentia Island Lighthouse is another place to visit. What began as a fort built in the 16th century, became a lighthouse in March 1828, operating 10 years later.
The path leading to this building is stunning and allows you to look out over the open landscape, namely the island of Beginish or, further afield, Mount Killelan.
Like other attractions on Valentia Island, the lighthouse is open to the public between Easter and late September.
8. See Valentia’s Cave
Despite being marked on the map, I arrived at Valentia’s Cave by coincidence. A wrong turn in the road that led to knowing more about the history of this island.
Valentia’s quarry was famous in former times, with its stone ending up in iconic buildings such as the Paris Opera House or the British Parliament.
However, a landslide closed the mine in 1910, remaining abandoned for 40 years. In 1954, the image of a saint was placed at the top of the entrance, and it became a place for religious events.
Today the quarry is back in business, but the statuette is still planted in stone for those who want to see it.
9. Follow the steps on the Tetrapod Trackway
The name Tetrapod Trackway came up with a lot of curiosity. I didn’t know what was going on or what was the story behind this place. But what I found was surprising. Not in shape, because we are talking about trails etched in rock millions of years ago, but in meaning.
The fossilized traces you see in this place are the testimony of when the living being came out of the water and began to make the first steps on land.
To reach the traces, you have to walk a path with the most astonishing view.
10. Hike Geokaun Mountain and see the Fogher Cliffs
It’s the highest point of Valentia Island and offers 360-degree views from the Skellig Islands to the rest of Kerry Mountains, and of course, over Valentia itself and the village of Portmagee.
You can choose to take the route on foot or by car, with several parks to stop the vehicle, get out, and enjoy the landscapes.
Spend a few moments in the viewpoints, especially the one where you can see into the Fogher Cliffs, and stop by the informational panels that tell the story and myths behind this mountain.
11. Peek at St. Brendan’s Well
It’s not easily accessible, especially if it’s raining, given the muddy terrain. St. Brendan’s Well is in a wilderness, surrounded by nothing but pure nature and, for many, some desolation.
But this kind of altar erected to mark the passage of the saint nicknamed “The Navigator” on that island attracts many onlookers. Mainly for the legend he tells. It is said that the holy explorer arrived here in the 15th century from Dingle, climbed the hill, and administered the sacrament to two dying pagans. Using the water of a spring that was there, it would have started Christianity on that island.
Saint Brendan was legendary for its cross-border explorations, so this well is visited not only by many pilgrims but also by simple travelers.
12. Climb the Bray Head Tower
Another beautiful thing to do on Valentia Island is the climb to the Bray Head tower. This small building from 1815 was born after the French invasions and assumed the role of naval sentinel until the 1920s. Today it’s halfway along a circular path from which you can see the Skellig, Valentia Island, and the Iveragh Peninsula.
13. Know the history of the transatlantic telegraph cable
Leaving the Bray Head area towards the Skellig Experience Center, I came across a monument to the first transatlantic telegraph cable that connected Europe with the United States in 1866.
This milestone is significant if we consider that, before this connection existed, a communication took two weeks to arrive from coast to coast, as it went by ship.
If we think about it, it’s funny to be in this exact spot taking photos with a mobile phone, the same way we access the internet and do Facetime with someone on the other side of the world.
In this commemorative stone, you can read the first words spoken by Queen Victoria via the telegraph and received by US President Buchanan.
14. Visit the Skellig Experience Center
Most visitors to Valentia Island come to this place because this is where the tours to Skellig Islands start.
In fact, the Skellig Experience Center is essential for a better understanding of the history of these small islands off Valentia, which have already been distinguished by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site.
In this center, you’ll find an exhibition hall, a shop and a small cinema where a film that depicts Skellig in more detail is projected.
15. Visit the Skellig Islands
The Skellig are two rugged and inhospitable islands about 12 km off the coast of Portmagee. Skellig Michael is the one that attracts the most visitors since, in 588, a stone monastery was built there. If you see how remote and weather-beaten this place is, you’ll understand how extraordinary it is that someone chose to live there.
And if that wasn’t enough reason to tour the Skellig Michael, the venue was also the setting for Star Wars episodes VII (“The Force Awakens”) and VIII (“The Last Jedi”)!
This island extends a trail of approximately two hours. The route isn’t easy, either by the uneven floor, as it includes a 600 steps climb. But you will find it worthwhile.
Little Skellig, as the name implies, is the smallest of the two and home to thousands of seabirds, making it a favorite spot for birdwatchers. Unlike the tour to Skellig Michael, you cannot disembark here. But the site is super exciting and relevant in terms of biodiversity.
When visiting Skellig Michael you will receive a safety guide. A small pamphlet that reminds you of the care you should take.
But there are 4 things that you can already know:
– This is a wild place and accidents can happen, so be careful
– Be a responsible visitor
– Show courtesy to other visitors
– Take care of the environment
16. Stop in Portmagee
Another port that serves the boats that make the visits to Skellig is that of Portmagee. The small fishing village is quite picturesque, and the colorful houses make this place even more special.
17. Eat a fish and seafood chowder
And since you’re in Portmagee, don’t leave without trying the famous chowder. It’s a kind of creamy soup, full of fish and seafood. Super typical and tasty, don’t be fooled by the “soup” concept because this sturdy option serves well as a main course. And if accompanied with a Guinness, all the better. After all, it’s Ireland!
Valentia Island map
How to get there
The car is the best means of transport to get to Valentia Island. You can take the ferry from Renard Point (summer months only) or cross the bridge from Portmagee.
Where to stay
Personally, I stayed in Cahersiveen, a few meters from where you can take the ferry to the island.
It’s a very friendly hostel, perfect for those who just want to spend the night. But there are several options on the island. Take a look at these Valentia Island accommodations.
When to visit
I’m one of those who like to escape the high season, usually more confusing and full of visitors. But in the case of Valentia Island, it’s best to aim for the summer months. In the low season, and due to the decline of visitors, many of the places are closed. And if you want to go to the Skellig Islands, whose visits are subject to weather and sea conditions, it is safer to leave winter and fall to other travel destinations.
Still in the Ring of Skellig
Take the trip to Valentia Island and then follow the Ring of Skellig, one of the places you must visit in Ireland. Situated in County Kerry, this circular route will take you to other amazing places, including:
Skellig Chocolate Factory
Right by the sea is the Skellig Chocolate Factory. If you are a fan of sweets, this is a must stop. At this factory, you can peek inside the production area, try (for free!) the various types of chocolate that are made there, and of course, buy them to take home.
Owned by Daniel O’Connell, statesman and one of the significant figures of modern Irish history, Derrynane House is today one of the attractions of the Skellig Ring.
This house-museum holds several relics of the life of the Irish politician, but it’s in the 120 hectares that constitute the Derrynane National Historic Park that lies, for me, its true beauty.
Now it’s your turn! Have you heard of Valentia Island before? What did you think about these tips? Feel like trying it out? Leave your opinion in the comments box below.
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