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- Dingle Peninsula via the Slea Head Drive
- Tourism Site
- Price: Whatever you pay in petrol, or book a seat on a tour bus
- (5 / 5)Our Rating
Warning: There are a LOT of pictures in this post. Sorry not sorry. 😉
In preparing for our trip, Leslie and I repeatedly read about three scenic drives on the west coast of Ireland: the Ring of Kerry, the Dingle Peninsula, and the Beara Peninsula. Nearly every travel guide and website extolled the various virtues of each drive, but they all had two things in common: narrow, windy, one-way roads and incredible views. We honestly had trouble deciding which one we were going to do, but we finally settled on the Dingle Peninsula, which promised rugged views and a dolphin named Fungi. And besides, it was really fun to say that we were going “Dinglehopping.”
Does that make us “Dinglehoppers”?
Our journey started in the tiny fishing town of Dingle, about an hour from Killarney. Heavy storm clouds hovered over us for most of the morning, and I worried that it was going to be a lousy day for seeing anything, but as soon as we reached Dingle, the sun came out and it turned into a gorgeous day.
Dingle is truly a town of many colors. Every house and shop was painted a different color, and there was a marina full of colorful boats. The drive actually takes you through Dingle twice (it’s the start and end point for the main loop, or a midpoint if you decide to take the road over Connor Pass like we did), so we made sure to stop the second time for fish and chips from a little pub near the marina. We sat near the wharf and called out for Fungi the dolphin, but he decided not to come to our party. The jackdaws did, though, as well as a whole wreck of seagulls.
We intended to follow the self-guided tour outlined by Rick Steves, which has everything measured out down to the tenth of a mile. The plan was to set the trip to 0 when we reached the starting spot for Rick’s itinerary and then follow it to the t, but it took longer to read the snippets of information than it did to travel between them. After a few miles of spending more time looking at my screen than at the scenery, I gave up. It would have worked much better to read it beforehand and then make note of the things we were most interested in paying attention to.
Leslie says, “I went in wanting to follow that blog’s step by step directions of what to look for on each side of the road, but it was equally as fun to just watch and take it all in and find our own thing that stood out to us.”
But we did have some excitement almost right off the bat. When we spotted a particularly lovely vista, Leslie pulled the car over so we could hop out and get some pictures. The side of the road had a steep embankment that I wanted to stand on, so I took a running start—and almost died! The embankment was actually the top of a cliff that dropped several hundred feet to the rocky seashore below. Add in some very slick grass and my own clumsiness, and you have a prime recipe for the End of Jess.
I barely managed to stop myself in time, and spent the next few minutes catching my runaway heart and putting it back inside my chest.
Leslie says, “The fact that you didn’t die was a definite plus, hahaha!”
I felt really bad that Leslie had to keep her eyes on the road and didn’t get to focus on the scenery as much, so we tried to stop whenever it was safe (*cough no Jess-killing cliffs cough*) so that she could see things, too. One of those stops was at Dunbeg Promontory Fort (€3.50 maybe?), an iron age structure known as a clochán. The exact purpose of the fort is unknown and much of it has been lost to the sea after centuries of erosion, and there was very little on the site to really explain what was going on. The most informative bit was the 15-minute video at the visitor’s center, which had five recycled clips of Viking-like tribesmen yelling and waggling spears at the camera to a dramatic soundtrack.
Leslie says, “The prehistoric house place was kinda cool, but I don’t know that I would actually recommend that anyone pay to see it…maybe that’s just me?”
Definitely not just you…
The Slea Head Drive has incredible views of the Blasket Islands off the coast. It even gave us a glimpse of the formidable Skellig Michael way off in the distance.
The road along the coast definitely fit the “narrow, windy” part promised by the guidebooks, but it wasn’t the best at sticking to the “one way” bit. It wasn’t a problem often, but occasionally, we would come upon some crazy driver going against the flow of traffic on a road that was barely even wide enough for our little Fiesta. They were usually going about a hundred kilometers an hour, too. YIKES.
To give you an idea how narrow these roads could get, there was one part where we were stuck behind a tour bus that couldn’t get around a curve. Between the rocky wall along the seaside cliffs and the rocky cliffs on the inside of the road, the bus simply didn’t have room to move. They eventually made everyone get off the bus—just in case it went off the cliff, I suppose—and inched it forward ever so slowly until it got through the tight spot. And then we had to wait for all of those displaced tourists to stop taking pictures and get back on the bus.
But it was totally worth the wait to get way out to the very tip of Dingle Peninsula. We even found some standing stones and decided to give our legs a stretch as we hiked out to get a closer look. Another batch of storm clouds rolled in, bringing a bit of a drizzle and some cold, cold wind, but it seemed rather fitting.
I think my favorite view along the drive was from the top of Connor Pass, where we could see Mount Brandon off to the left and an expanse of luscious green spread out below us. I’m really pleased with my photos, but even they don’t do it justice. It was seriously one of the most incredible vistas I have ever seen in my life.
Leslie says (of Dingle Peninsula in general), “I LOVED this part of the trip! If we had more time, I would have wanted to drive along ALL of those peninsulas, just to see more of Ireland, the houses, the coast, and the animals. It was just gorgeous and fun!”
When we left Dingle Peninsula, we had a loooooooong drive up to Ennis, where we were staying for the night. There was still quite a bit of daylight left when we arrived at our hostel, so we decided to go for a walk since we had spent most of the day in the car. We went looking for a building we had seen on our way into town and got hopelessly lost. We did eventually find the building, but not until we’d been walking for probably an hour and a half. We stayed long enough to snap a few pictures and then walked back without even really finding out what the building was. I think it may have been a school or something. Or an insane asylum.
Same difference, right?
Read more about my trip with Leslie here.