The small seaside town of Dingle is known to most visitors as the starting point of a coastal, scenic loop commonly called Slea Head Drive. What makes this drive more alluring to many is its shortage of tourists compared to its counterpart, The Ring of Kerry.
Offering some of Ireland’s most beautiful sceneries alongside a blending of mountains, seashores and historical sites, this 30 mile drive is a great choice for those seeking less traveled roads.
Stunning Landscapes and Must-Stop Lookouts
Take your time in the morning - we used the quiet town of Dingle to sleep-in and recharge from a week’s worth of driving - and then head west from downtown onto R559 (Slea Head Drive).
Resting atop a hill facing the rocky coast along the route, are a group of Beehive Huts. These stone-made shelters clustered together within a circular wall are believed to have been built by farmers during the early Christian period and occupied by single families.
While exploring the site keep your eyes out for the numerous goats laying nearby. They watched us silently as we walked around the ruins.
As you drive along the twisting, cliff-hugging roads of the route, there will be multiple lookouts along the way.
If you do not feel like stopping at all of them, I recommend making one at Slea Head. Marked by a crucifix sculpture, the outlook will offer wide ranging views of the ocean, rocky islands and the peninsula’s vast green pastures.
A must stop ahead is Dunmore Head where following a stone pathway you will lead you to a rocky beach at the bottom of the cliffs.
A blend of small towns, fields with different shades of green and uneven terrain that seemed to have collapsed into the ocean, are the views we relished at another lookout close by: Cioger Head.
Famous Sites and Hidden Ruins
Situated on back roads amongst farmland, is a dry-stone monastic settlement from the 6th century called Riasc. Within this large stone and pasture enclosure you will see the remnants of many buildings, but what is really fascinating are the standing pillars with inscriptions on them.
Reaching the site can be tricky: after the route goes in-land, drive through the town of Ballyferriter and take a right less than a minute after you bypass a pub called Tig Bhric. The site should be almost a mile down a narrow road.
The top stop for tourists that come into Dingle is Gallarus Oratory, the best preserved dry-stone Early Christian church built between the 6th and 9th centuries. As you are about to reach the site, you will notice large coaches visiting the area and bringing with them groups of tourists.
If you are interested in a much less popular spot: The ruins of the Church of Kilmalkedar are not far from the oratory. Located in a serine hill, overlooking the area, you will see the remnants of a roofless church, pagan stones, crosses and a sundial in its courtyard.
Finishing the Day in the Lively Dingle
If you are expecting Dingle to be a calm fishing town, you may be in for a surprise. During our stay, the town was lively with residents, locals and tourists coming in and out of its brightly painted shops.
The local commerce is what made Dingle for us: It has numerous pubs, restaurants, seafood shacks, craft and ice-cream stores. If you are not tired, explore the small downtown at night and enjoy the traditional music offered by its busy pubs.
KEEP IN MIND
The Wrap-Up: Dingle is a great town to just relax and enjoy your time. We arrived in town the previous night from the Ring of Kerry and the following day, enjoyed the area plus spent the night. Since it is not as tourist-centered as other parts of Country Kerry, Dingle is where you will start having “the feel for the real Ireland”.
The B&B: Dúinín House is located just outside of town. This is one of the best B&Bs we stayed in Ireland. The breakfast is home-cooked and the innkeepers, Pat and Anne, will make you feel at home!
The Restaurant: An Canteen is located in the heart of town. It specializes, like most places in Dingle, in fish dishes but as I am not a fish enthusiast, I had their 16 hour aged Porter Beef.
The Heritage Card: It provides free access to all state managed OPW Heritage sites (monuments and historic properties) located throughout the country for a full year. During the time we spent in County Cork and County Kerry, we utilized this card quite extensively since we visited multiple sites in both regions.
- Want to see the full trip and plan your next? Check out our Ireland Two Week Itinerary!