A charming, brightly colored little town at the foot of steep hills, Dingle (An Daingean) has plenty of hotels and restaurants and makes a good base for exploring the region. The town’s most famous resident is an apparently eternal dolphin that adopted the place decades ago and has been bringing in dolphin-loving tourists ever since. The town’s busiest time is in August, when the Dingle Races bring in crowds to watch the horses run every other weekend. (The racetrack is just outside of town on the N86.) In the last week of August, the Dingle Regatta fills the harbor with traditional Irish currach boats in a vivid display of color and history.
The Slea Head Drive and Other Dingle Diversions
Leaving Dingle by car, head southwest along R559 through the town of Ventry, following the Slea Head Drive road markers. Slea Head, at the southwestern edge of the peninsula, has pristine beaches, great walks, and extensive archaeological remains such as Dunbeg Fort (Dún Beag) ★. After rounding the Head, go north to the village of Dunquin (Dún Chaion), stunningly situated between Slea Head and Clogher Head, where you can catch ferries to the abandoned Blasket Islands (Na Blascaodaí), inhabited these days only by seals and seabirds.
After this the scenery opens up to take in some stark moorland on your right, in contrast to the ever-spectacular coastal views on the left. There are plenty of spots to safely pull over for pictures on this stretch. If the sun is out, this section is jaw-dropping, but it’s also dramatic in (not infrequent) bad weather, when incoming rain from the coast can hit you suddenly, like an icy, wet wall. Pause for coffee and a browse of the excellent pottery and crafts on offer at Louis Mulcahy ★★, which looks out towards Clogher Strand, a pretty coastal inlet (at the 2 o’clock position if you’re standing outside the pottery).
A few miles north and east along the coast, the sleepy village of Ballyferriter (Baile an Fheirtearaigh) ★ has an Iron Age fort with a particularly grim backstory. Continue along R559 and you’ll soon see signs for the Gallarus Oratory ★, a beautifully preserved early Christian church. From here, continue on the loop back to Dingle, 8km (5 miles) further along R559, and you’ve completed the Slea Head Drive.
Other Scenic Drives
If you’re heading back towards Killarney and the Ring of Kerry from here, there are two routes—the main N86 (known locally as the “Low Road”), which is pretty enough, or the smaller but more memorable “High Road,” which goes over the mountains via the Conor Pass. The road is narrow, and lacks passing places at a few points you really wish it didn’t, but the views are nothing short of incredible. The best viewpoint is a small parking area next to a waterfall, just after you begin descending through the pass. To go this way, take R559 (Spa Road) east out of Dingle; on the outskirts of town, when you hit a fork in the road, follow signs for Conor Pass and Tralee, to the right.
The High Road eventually meets up with the main N86, just after the nothing-much village of Camp—where there’s another scenic alternative for the adventurous. Instead of going the way your GPS will probably take you, around dull and trafficky Tralee, you can instead veer off down the tiny, unnamed road signposted for Aughils, on the right as you pass through Camp. This lovely route takes you first by a stretch of modern but idyllic houses (you’ll probably dream briefly about moving here), before crossing beautiful moorland, then through another picturesque—and mercifully low—mountain pass. It then joins up with the R561 coast road, just 10 minutes or so from Castlemaine on the Ring of Kerry. But beware—though this way can definitely be a shortcut, especially in rush hour, we mean it when say the road is tiny! The last time we took this route the receptionist at our hotel raised an eyebrow and exclaimed “in a rental car?” (And we do not recommend either this or the Conor Pass in heavy rain or icy weather). But remember, fortune favors the brave. Especially those with good tires.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.