Kerry’s County town, Tralee is at the base of the majestic Dingle Peninsula in the southwest of Ireland.
Tralee has a few attractions to keep you absorbed a day or two.
At the immersive Kerry County Museum kids can travel back to Medieval times, while Siamsa Tíre has Ireland’s National Folk Theatre, where you can connect with traditional Irish music and dance.
If you’re willing to travel around Tralee Bay you’ll be rewarded with some unforgettable finds.
These might be ruins with Ogham stones that are etched with an early Irish alphabet, or sublime beauty sports like the cinematic Banna Strand beach and the haunting Slieve Mish Mountains.
Let’s explore the best things to do in Tralee:
1. Kerry County Museum
For a sense of location, start with County Kerry’s award-winning museum at the Ashe Memorial Hall in Tralee.
You can inspect a Medieval brooch submerged in a bog for a millennium, a Bronze Age sunflower pin and the duelling pistols owned by Daniel O’Connell, the 19th-century politician dubbed “The Liberator”. The museum gets children involved, and they can solve a Medieval murder mystery at the “Bone Investigators” gallery, finding out how archaeologists and historians interpret artefacts.
Kids can also walk a Medieval street, try on the clothing worn by Antarctic explorer and Shackleton crew member Tom Crean, inspect a Viking’s tooth and trace the route of St Brendan the Navigator on his mythological trip across the Atlantic.
2. Blennerville Windmill
Visible for miles against the greenery of Tralee Bay, the Blennerville Windmill is a whitewashed tower mill by the water in its namesake village.
At 21.3 metres this is one of the tallest mills of its kind in Europe and was raised in 1800 by Sir Rowland Blennerhassett to grind corn for local use and for export to Britain.
In a matter of decades the mill was obsolete thanks to the advent of steam power and the dredging of the Tralee Ship Canal in 1846. By the 20th century it was dilapidated, but was bought and restored by Tralee in the 1980s.
You can go to the top and inspect the mill’s restored mechanism up close, while the visitor centre exposes the history of Blennerville, County Kerry’s main point of embarkation for emigrants in the 19th century.
3. Tralee Town Park
One of Ireland’s largest urban green spaces, Tralee Town Park is over 14 hectares and laid out on what used to be a country estate.
In the 17th and 18th centuries this was a demesne for the Denny Family, whose castle was torn down in 1826 to make way for Denny Street on the north side of the park.
Eventually in 1922 the park was sold to Tralee’s Town Council, when it became the official town park.
Two reasons to come are the Rose Garden and Garden of the Senses.
The Rose Garden has 35 varieties in formal flowerbeds, all framed by the spire of the 19th-century St John’s Church, while the Garden of the Senses is from 2000, evoking the five senses and woven with local mythology and prehistory.
For instance, the “Sound” installation is a nod to the hoard of Bronze Age horns recovered from a bog at Clogherclemin.
4. Ardfert Cathedral
For hundreds of years from 1117 the seat of the Kerry Diocese was at the village of Ardfert, 10 kilometres northwest of Tralee.
The cathedral, constructed in the 12th century, was abandoned in the 1800s and has a mix of Romanesque and Gothic architecture.
The western portal is the oldest section of the church and is flanked by blind arcades with patterned pillars and lozenge mouldings on its arches.
By the east window are the vestiges of two mounted images of saints, dating to the 1200s and 1300s.
On the same site are two smaller churches, from the 12th and 15th century.
In a niche at the smaller, older church there’s a bizarre carved head with lips drawn back to reveal outsized teeth.
A portion of the cathedral transept has been restored and now houses a gift shop.
5. Banna Strand
This immense Blue Flag beach is minutes northwest of Tralee and deserves a visit in all seasons.
Behind the beach is a long chain of sand dunes up to 12 metres high, while the shore is swept by low rolling waves.
Banna Strand is on a gentle gradient and at low tide the beach seems to go on for miles.
On the odd warm day you can come to sunbathe and cool off in the brisk Atlantic waters, while the rolling waves are suitable for novice surfers.
The Shorebreak Surf School is based here if you want to take your first steps on a board.
In the cooler months Banna Strand has a moody allure, and to the southwest you can see the rippling silhouette of the mountains on the Dingle Peninsula.
6. Tralee Bay Wetlands Centre
On the last meanders of the River Lee before it meets Tralee Bay is a nature reserve more than 3,000 hectares in size.
In winter the wetlands are taken over by migratory pale-bellied brent geese, which munch on the seaweed and eelgrass.
The new sustainable activity centre in the reserve has a 20-metre observation tower, an interactive wildlife exhibition and an activity lake where you can hire pedal boats, canoes or rowboats.
Guided nature-spotting boat tours are also available, and you can head off on one of the trails that are equipped with hides for birdwatching.
Back at the centre there’s also a lakeside cafe and a picnic area to cap your visit.
7. St John’s Church
Begun in 1860, Tralee’s main Roman Catholic church has a neo-Gothic design constructed from local sandstone and ashlar limestone.
Take a good look at the radiant stained glass window in the chancel, painted by the prominent Victorian glass artist Michael O’Connor.
There’s also an image of the Virgin with Child, accompanied by a pair of angels carved in Italy from Carrara marble and brought here in 1918. The church hit the news in 2013 when an anonymous person from Hong Kong donated €100,000 to the church to help with its upkeep after growing fond of the building while visiting a relative in Tralee.
A 15-minute drive west of Tralee will get you to the village of Fenit.
There you can stop for a walk to the end of the peninsula to look back over the bay.
Not far offshore on Little Samphire Ireland is Fenit Lighthouse, erected in 1851. Its neighbour, Great Samphire Lighthouse is where Fenit’s harbour and marina have been built, and is linked to the mainland by an 800-metre causeway and viaduct.
You can head across for another stirring view of the bay and the mountains of the Dingle Peninsula.
There’s also a monument here to St Brendan the Navigator, born near Tralee in 484 and remembered in Irish Mythology for a legendary voyage on the Atlantic in search of the Garden of Eden.
9. Ratass Church
A National Monument of Ireland, the shell of Ratass Church can be found in Tralee’s eastern suburbs.
It was built from local sandstone in the 10th century but stands where a much older ringfort used to be.
For six years in the 1100s Ratass Church was the seat of the Kerry (Ardfert) Diocese, and the western facade and much of the nave date back to this time.
In 1975 during maintenance works an Ogham stone (ancient inscribed stone with Primitive Irish alphabet)was discovered at the church.
This was carved around the second half of the 6th century: What seem to the untrained eye to be simple notches running down this chunk of purple sandstone are actually letters and words.
10. Slieve Mish Mountains
Starting just south of Tralee and running for 19 kilometres along the Dingle Peninsula are the Slieve Mish Mountains.
This is a narrow ridge of sandstone peaks that soar to a maximum 851 metres (at Baurtregaum) and are etched with corries (cirques) caused by glaciation.
The hillsides have a stark beauty, with just a coating of heath and grassland.
You can venture across the northern flank of the range, with sumptuous vistas of Tralee Bay, by walking a portion of the Dingle Way.
This 162-kilometre trail could well be the most scenic in Ireland, looping around the peninsula and starting and ending in Tralee.
11. Annagh Church
Close to that range on the south shore of Tralee Bay are the ghostly remnants of a Gothic Medieval church dating between the 12th and 15th centuries.
The church is at the end of a cemetery and although only the nave survives, you can pass through the ogival portals.
Take a close look at the stonework on the inside walls, where you’ll find a carving of a horseman from the 13th century, while outside is a block carved with a cross, which was possibly a grave marker.
There are cracks in many of the stones, which indicates intense heat and suggests that the church was destroyed in a fire.
12. Aqua Dome
If the weather isn’t cooperating you can take a family outing to this covered water park.
Kids can speed down the flume, which twists around the building, or float along the lazy river.
Parents can take that much-needed break at the adults-only health suite, which has saunas, a steam room and a cool pool.
Dry side there’s also an indoor games room, and if you do catch some good weather you can play a round at the 18-hole mini golf course and children can play with the remote control boats and trucks.
13. Ballyseedy Wood
In Tralee’s hinterland you can go on a jog or leisurely stroll at this 32-hectare wood that used to be part of a country estate.
There are 22 varieties of native Irish trees at Ballyseedy, some going back to the 18th century when a Col. J Blennerhassett owned the land and planted large parcels of forest.
The ashes, oaks and beeches are particularly ancient on the Old Coach Road that wends its way through the woods and once served the Blennerhassett estate.
There are information boards on the trails pointing out the various species, and here and there you’ll see follies of artificial ruins built in the 19th century.
14. Rattoo Round Tower
Dating to around the 11th century and set at the site of the monastery of the same name, the Rattoo Round Tower is held as one of the best surviving structures of its kind in Ireland.
At 27 metres tall, the tower is built from yellow sandstone and would have been used as a bell-tower or as refuge if the monastery was raided.
During recent restoration work a sheela na gig (figurative carving of a naked woman) was found on the north window, and is the only example of such a carving on an Irish round tower.
15. Siamsa Tíre
In 1991 this arts centre opened in a Medieval-style sandstone building on the western fringe of the Tralee Town Park.
Siamsa Tíre is home to Ireland’s National Folk Theatre, bringing Irish folklore to life via song, music and dance.
The centre has a resident group of trained performers sourced from the town and County Kerry and comes into its own during the Festival of Folk from May to September when ancient themes are often reframed with contemporary aesthetics.
Although folk is the centre’s main remit, Siamsa Tíre also has live bands, art exhibitions, classical music performances, literary talks, poetry readings, contemporary plays and workshops for kids.