Ireland’s wild coast and sylvan scenery are best taken in on its ring drives. We’ve covered the Iveragh Peninsula (both Killarney National Park and the Skellig Ring) and the Beara Peninsula in previous posts. Our last installment takes us to the Dingle Peninsula, another great peninsula that is easily accessible from the Ireland Untour homebase of Kenmare.
Dingle is probably most famous for its dramatic high coastal views and the quaint, popular town of Dingle. The area offers some of the best sea views of the three peninsulas, and it is home to several archaeological sites.
It is also a hotbed of Irish culture, music, and language, deeply rooted in the country’s traditions. You will see signs in English and Irish everywhere, and you may even hear Irish being spoken if you venture off the beaten track! Here are some of the peninsula’s highlights.
Don’t miss this broad, pristine, beautiful beach. It has easy access, good parking, and awesome views. The beach sweeps for miles, offering an excellent expanse for walking, and space to spread out. Sammy’s, on the beach, serves good food and drink, including oysters from the Dingle Bay. The complex also offers restrooms for changing and cleaning up.
Minard Castle and Annascaul
The 16th century Minard Castle was the peninsula’s largest fortress, built in 1551, and destroyed by Cromwell’s troops about 100 years later. Still, its ruins are impressive. The castle was a stop for pilgrims on their way to Dingle to sail to Santiago de Compostela in Spain. Something of the sacred lingers here, amid the memorable views. A ring fort from the Iron Age shares the site.
Slea Head Drive / Dingle Peninsula Loop
This circular route on the western end of the Dingle Peninsula begins and ends in Dingle. It takes in huts, forts, beehive huts, sweeping views, and beautiful beaches. Take your time and stop often. The route is clearly sign posted. Set aside at least a half-day to truly enjoy this journey. In summer, travel in a clockwise direction to avoid getting stuck behind the large tour buses traveling the other direction. And watch out for cyclists and walkers.
The Bantry Estate dates from the 18th century. Here palm trees and other unlikely exotic plants survive from the days Lord Bantry built his mansion. There’s a horseback riding center nearby if you’d like to amble through the scenery on for legs.
The Celtic and Prehistoric Museum lies further down the road, a quirky little stop. Nearby, find a late Stone Age ring fort and small hut dwellings.
The Dún Beag ring fort and visitors’ center is a fascinating stop. Dating from 500 BC, this important archeological site is blessed with one of the peninsula’s most dramatic views. Even the on-site cafe offers recafe on site is a spectacle, built of local stone up to and including its roof.
You can see two clusters of beehive huts off of the road in its final stretch to Slea Head. Views along the drive are spectacular. And the town of Ballyferriter is a good stop for a meal and visit to the small history museum set up in an historic school house.
The Gallarus Oratory is worth a visit, an early Christian church shaped like a triangular tent. Its age is the subject of debate, though it is generally thought to have been built some time between the 6th and 9th centuries. The ruins of the 12th century Kilmalkedar Church and the surrounding churchyard are also worth a visit.
Despite its crowds, you will likely be charmed by cute Dingle, with its bright shops, bookstores, cafes, and pubs. This is a lovely spot to hang out, especially in the area leading down to the harbor. Slow down and enjoy the scene in this Medieval fishing village. Visit the West Kerry Craft Guild. Or mix with the locals in pubs like Foxy John’s, which doubles as the town hardware store and draws a distinctly local crowd.
Find quiet in the cemetery of St. Joseph’s convent. Visit the 19th century neo-Gothic chapel there and the windows of Diseart, a cycle of 12 gorgeous stained glass windows depicting the life of Jesus. They were created by Irish artist Harry Clark in the 1920s.
The harbor is a hub for fishing boats and tourist cruises in the bay. Fungie (pronounce with a hard G) is a local dolphin who found a home in the bay in the early 80s and has become an industry here, the focal point of inexpensive, regularly scheduled boat cruises. This local celeb dolphin is so domesticated, you are about guaranteed to see him if you choose to cruise.
There are other voyages that launch from here, including longer eco expeditions that trace the coast to Slea Head, on the look out for puffins, dolphins, and seals. Boats go as far as the remote, wild Blasket Islands.
Dingle, the Ring of Kerry, and the Beara Peninsula are all easily accessible from Kenmare, the homebase for the Ireland Untour. The Untour includes a rental car, apartment, and the help of a knowledgeable and friendly local guide, who will help you navigate the best of the local culture and scenery. Happy travels!