Of all the places I have visited over my life I would be most sad if I was not able to return to Waterville. Situated on Ballinskelligs Bay, on the Ring of Kerry, there is something so special about this tiny, Irish town that I seriously considered getting married here! It’s hard to express how special this place is. It’s like nowhere else I’ve been. I can’t quite put my finger on why, but I know it has to do with the combination of the beautiful landscape, the amazingly kind people here, and the fact that arriving in Waterville is like stepping back in time.
I lost my mom to cancer when I was 25. She was my best friend and the person I looked up to most in life. I know she is with me always, but I still miss her every single day. The first time I visited Waterville we stayed at Waterville House, a beautiful 28th century Georgian Manor house that sits on a 50 acre estate, where the Currane River flows into Ballinskelligs Bay. On my first morning here, I walked in front of Waterville House and found a bench where the river meets the sea. I sat in this spot for almost an hour praying. I could feel my mom’s love so strongly here that it was hard to leave. I don’t think you have to believe in Heaven, or God, or be religious to feel what I felt here. There is something magical about this spot, where the river meets the sea. If you get a chance to visit Waterville, make time to go sit here in silence, and experience it for yourself. There is an undeniable, amazing energy here that I know I will be drawn back to all of my life.
Waterville House was built by the Butler family in 1790, and the village of Waterville began to develop on the estate in the first half of the 19th century. Beyond the amazing energy, I loved staying here because it is so charming. There are twelve individually-decorated rooms, most of which have views of the bay. I ate the best breakfast of my life here – scrambled eggs with fresh smoked salmon on fresh baked bread. After, I had my first fly fishing lesson, on the Currane River, which is just outside the front door.
Waterville is known for it’s excellent fishing, but the town is most famous for golf! Waterville Golf Links has been voted the 5th best golf course in UK and Ireland. And the Hog’s Head Golf Club, designed by Robert Trent Jones Jr, will be opening soon. My husband Steve is a member of Waterville Golf Links and visits 3-4 times a year for golf tournaments. He is a much more seasoned world traveler than I will probably ever be, and he says Waterville is one of his favorite courses in the world and one of his favorite towns on earth.
Waterville was also one of Charlie Chaplin’s favorite towns! He and his family first visited the village in 1959. They stayed in the Butler Arms Hotel and came back every year for over ten years. There is a statue of him in the centre of the village in honor of his memory, and Waterville holds an annual Charlie Chaplin Comedy Film Festival in his honor.
Butler Arms Hotel is another charming place to stay. While Waterville House is a 10-minute walk from town, Butler Arms Hotel is situated in the heart of the village, across from the bay. I have stayed here twice and loved it both times. Butler Arms serves the best sticky toffee pudding on the planet, available in the hotel restaurant and in the adjoining Fisherman’s Bar. I spent several afternoons in the Fisherman’s Bar, enjoying a cold Guinness with their delicious seafood chowder, followed by Sticky Toffee Pudding for dessert. (Don’t judge, I was on vacation!) TIP: If you stay at Butler Arms, I suggest spending the extra money on an Executive Room as these are much nicer than the Standard Rooms.
If you are looking for a luxury stay in Waterville, book a room at the Sea Lodge. This new boutique hotel, conveniently located in the center of town, just opened last year and offers modern, updated rooms. I have not stayed here, but I stopped by to check out the The Lough Bar & Restaurant, which serves excellent seafood and good cocktails.
My favorite place to eat in Waterville is definitely Dooley’s Seafood & Steakhouse. This is by far the best place in town for dinner. The atmosphere is upscale without being stuffy (although, nowhere in Waterville is stuffy!), the service is excellent, and the food is delicious. The Wild Mushroom Risotto and the Crab Claws are two of my favorite dishes.
Another great place to try for dinner is Smugglers Inn. It is located near the golf course, (a few minutes drive from town), and serves gourmet seafood. There are also tons of great Irish pubs in Waterville! Be sure to have a drink at O’Dwers The Villa, and The Lobster, both across from Butler Arms.
Beyond eating and drinking, there is a lot to do and see in and around Waterville. I already mentioned fishing and golfing, but I’m terrible at golf, so one day when my husband was out on the course, I went horseback riding with a few friends. This is a great way to see the countryside, but I have to warn you: it rains a lot in Waterville (hence the name), so you will probably get rained on during your ride. So I highly recommend bringing a rain jacket as you will want to wear this on your ride, and pretty much every day you are in Waterville. Don’t let the bad weather deter you, though. The rain usually comes and goes pretty quickly, and when the sun is shinning, Waterville is one of the most beautiful places in the world!
While in Waterville, you also have to visit Skellig Michael (also called Great Skellig), the larger of the two Skelling Islands. Between the 6th and 8th century, a Christian monastery was founded on the island and remained continuously occupied by Monks seeking communion with God in a place of isolation, until it was abandoned in the late 12th century. Now, both islands are bird sanctuaries, but it was Star Was that famously put the Skelling Islands on the map. The closing scenes of The Force Awakens were shot on Skellig Michael in 2015. From mid-May to the end of September, you can do a Skellig Michael landing tour (where you actually go on the island) or an eco tour (where you just observe the island by boat). I did the eco tour and loved it, but it would have been cool to hike to the top of Skellig Michael! Try SkelligsRock.com, SkelligIslands.com, or ask your hotel to suggest a tour that leaves from Waterville’s Ballinskelligs Bay.
If you are arriving from Europe, the easiest way to get to Waterville is to fly into Kerry Airport, and book a car service to pick you up from there. It is about an hour drive to Waterville, and the golf course or your hotel can help set up a driver for you. If you are flying from the US, you will fly into Shannon Airport, rent a car and use the 2.5 hour drive to Waterville to see some of the beautiful Irish countryside. On my last trip to Waterville, my husband’s friend graciously gave us a ride to Kerry Airport on his private jet. But I have also flown into Shannon and done the drive, and I do have to warn you that the roads in the country can be pretty shabby, so be prepared for lots of potholes!
The Irish, in general, are fun-loving, kind-hearted people, but the people of Waterville take this to whole different level. I have never felt so welcomed and so at home outside the US. There is something truly special about this place and the people who live here. If you have not already, you have to add Waterville to your bucketlist!
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