A drive on the Dingle peninsula is one of the most beautiful road trips you can take in Ireland. Small enough to be driven in a day, the Dingle peninsula packs a punch when it comes to beauty and variety of landscapes.
Here you have immense beaches, stunning (and slightly scary!) mountain passes, cute towns and a welcome to the visitor that has become the trademark of this part of Ireland.
Known to tourism but not yet overcrowded and sometimes even remote, Dingle is one of my favourite parts of Ireland and this is how l love to explore it.
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Dingle, where it is and how to get there
Dingle is a small peninsula in the West of Ireland, in Co Kerry. Located to the North of the more famous Ring of Kerry, the bigger peninsula immediately to its South, Dingle can easily be reached by Dublin, Shannon and Cork by car or bus.
From Dublin, the easiest way is to get the motorway to Limerick and then follow the smaller, N21 National road to Tralee and then Dingle town.
From the South, the fastest road is from the N22 from Cork.
Bus tours serve part of the Dingle Peninsula. The following 3 can be safely book online in advance:
Driving in Dingle
Please note. The following are personal observations based on my individual experience in Dingle and do not replace official information about road safety in Ireland.
The Dingle peninsula is wild and scenic and this affects its accessibility.
The peninsula is crossed by several roads but the driving conditions here are very peculiar and do pose some safety risks if you are not used to driving in Ireland.
The roads here are notoriously narrow and bendy, some are on exposed stretches of coast and difficult for people with a fear of heights and crossroads often offer poor visibility.
While this is far from being something that should put you off visiting, I do feel it is important to be prepared and I urge you to check out road conditions and the latest advice for the Road Safety Authority before getting on the road.
If you suffer from fear of heights, some roads pose exceptional challenges: one of them is the beautiful yet scary road up Conor Pass.
Driving the Conor Pass
A very scenic road is the one climbing the famous Conor pass, in the centre of the Dingle peninsula.
This road offers amazing views and if you don’t have issues driving on mountains roads, I would go as fare as saying it is alone worth a trip to Dingle. It is that beautiful!
However, the road poses safety concerns so a bit if preparation is necessary.
The Conor pass road starts with a double carriage and climbs slowly up the mountain for the first few minutes.
Then a sign informs of a narrowing of the road and this is where extra attention is paramount: for a short but still significant stretch the roads is formed by a mix of double carriage and single carriage stretches.
There are frequent pull outs for the single carriage stretches but the road is narrow and with mountain hairpins so you must go really slow and be prepared to give way to those on the external side of the road.
Driving the Conor pass with fear of heights
In terms of driving the Conor pass with fear of heights, I would say it is a very bad idea!
The road climbs up along a sheer rock face and you drive with the exposed rock on one side and a small wall between you and a sheer drop on the other.
The dramatic scenery does play havoc with your nerves and if you don’t like heights, I believe it would easily be too much.
We were 6 in the car, all uneasy with heights, and while we were all happy to have done it, it was a serious nail biter for those few minutes it lasted!
Driving Slea head
Another very beautiful road is the Slea Head drive, one the very point of the Dingle peninsula. The drive is a scenic loop and is one of the most beautiful in this part of Ireland.
However, like in the Conor Pass, scenic also means exposed and narrow, and caution is necessary.
To drive Slea Head, make sure you take your time, you have plenty of daylight time ahead of you and you have a driver who is not afraid of heights. You can get a glimpse of this road here.
If you are used to a narrow mountain road driving, you will probably find these concerns excessive but if you are a city driver or one used to motorways, I do think you need to be careful.
Please note that bus tours do not include Conor pass as the road is closed to truck and bus traffic.
What to see in the Dingle Peninsula
Dingle has landscapes spanning from large beaches to quaint towns and mountain scenery. Here are some of the Dingle peninsula must see.
The attractions are listed in the order we saw then driving North to South, anticlockwise, the Dingle Peninsula.
Maharees and Castlegregory
Our first stop in Dingle was in the area of Castlegregory.
Castlegregory is a small village on the Northern coast of the Dingle peninsula in an area called the Kerry Gold Coast. The town is cute and friendly and is famous for a type of landscape that is peculiar to this part of Ireland, the Maharee.
The Maharees are a narrow strip of dunes and sandy fields with Tralee Bay on the East and Brandon Bay on the West. They are beautiful and peculiar as they create a unique ecosystem with animals that are not common in other parts of the islands such as the rare natterjack toad which is found locally in significant quantities.
This part of the Dingle peninsula is very well equipped with campgrounds and caravan parks and it is very popular for surfing and body boarding thanks to a good Atlantic swell.
Glanteenassig Forest Park
A different but equally beautiful type of landscape is inland from the Dingle coast, in the area called Glanteenassig forest park.
This area is pristine and remote and offers several hiking opportunities for walkers of pretty much all levels of fitness.
The best way to visit the area is to leave the car at one of the several car parks available and select the hikes highlighted on the local map available in each location.
We visited this area with the kids and grandparents and limited ourselves to enjoying the view of the lake (easily reachable from the upper car park) and it was a beautiful, tranquil moment.
Unlike other areas in Dingle, this stretch of inland mountain scenery doesn’t seem to receive a lot of tourists and makes for a lovely, relaxing stop.
Full information on hikes can be found here
Conor pass is one of the most scenic mountain roads in Dingle. I stressed about driving this road the whole day before we eventually tackled it and the many forums and discussions on the web did nothing to set my mind at ease. For each person who said the road was terrifying there was another saying it was ‘totally fine’ and so we were left having to make up our own mind.
Eventually, we went. I cover the driving details of Conor pass above so all I will say here is that this is a mountain pass offering amazing views over the Dingle landscapes and I was happy we got to go, despite the nerve wrecking driving!
The scenery here is mountainous and dramatic, which is a surprise especially when coming from the long sandy beaches of coastal Dingle.
Pretty Dingle town is a colourful centre on the Southern coast of the peninsula.
Dingle has small streets rows of houses painted in the colours of the rainbow, flower pots decorating widows and doors and pubs, restaurants and shops at every corner.
The town has a cheerful charm and is a good base to explore the area.
You can find a good selection of accommodation options in Dingle here
Fungie the dolphin
One of Ireland’s most beloved inhabitants is Fungie the dolphin, who lives in the Dingle bay.
Fungie is a wild Bottlenose Dolphin and has been living in the bay for several years. No one can tell exactly how old he is but he is estimated to be about 32 years old and he is known for being cute, playful and friendly.
Over the course of time has become a true local and not-so-local celebrity and visitors flock to see him.
Boat tours allow visitors to have close encounters with Fungi in its natural habitat: tickets are for sale at the many ticket boots in Dingle town.
Visiting Fungie is a great way to break up road trip boredom if you are traveling with kids.
Slea head is a promontory at the very end of the dingle peninsula. A scenic road loops around the head and makes for one of the most scenic drives in this whole part of Ireland.
The drive hugs the coast and offers beautiful views over the Atlantic ocean and the Blasket islands, just in front.
The road starts and ends in Dingle town and brings the visitors though ancient sites, cute villages, and wild scenery.
Among the most important stops on the road it is work mentioning Ventry Bay and its lovely beach, Dungerg Fort and the Dingle beehive huts, offering an insight on the ancient history of this part of Ireland, and Slea head itself.
The Blasket islands are a small archipelago sitting in front of the Dingle peninsula.
Regular ferries connect the islands to the mainland and it is worth considering a boat tour out if you love remote landscapes and enjoy spending time in nature as the island are mostly uninhabited.
Located on the Southern edge of the Dingle peninsula, Inch Beach is large sandy beach famous for its beauty and the surfing opportunities it offers.
The beach is vast, sandy and soft and offers a gorgeous view over the Macgillycuddy’s Reeks, Ireland’s highest mountain system.
The beach caters for tourism well with hotels and accommodation nearby, beach cafe/restaurant and a surf school, all easily accessible from the main beach car park.
You can find accommodation near Inch Beach here
What to do in the Dingle peninsula
This is a selection of more things you can do on the Dingle Peninsula.
Hunt film locations
The dramatic scenery of the Dingle Peninsula has made this stretch of Ireland the location of choice of many film makers.
The Star Wars saga has made the Skelligs Islands work renowned, but the Dingle peninsulas itself has starred in films dating as far back as the 1930s.
Among the many, I can recall The Islandman / Eileen Aroon (1938), The Playboy of the Western World (1962), Ryans Daughter (1970), Excalibur (1981), The Field (1990), Far and away (1992).
The peninsula wide beaches are famous for surfing opportunities suitable for beginners and advances surfers. Some of the most popular spots are Coumeenoole, Inch Reef and Brandon Bay. You can rent surf boards and equipment on site (seasonal).
Angling is popular in Dingle with shore, game, and deep dea angling all available on the Dingle Peninsula. If you like fishing, you can find a good resource here
Dingle’s mountains offer hiking trails suitable for all levels of fitness. You can find a great selection here
Dingle is a popular cycling destination and it is common to see cyclists on the road.
There are a number of established bicycle rental outlets dotted around the peninsula and you can hire bicycles by the day or for longer periods.
Where to stay on the Dingle peninsula
Dingle offers many accommodation options suitable for travelers of all budgets and travel styles.
When we visited last, we stayed in an Airbnb near Tralee and drove from there, but there are many lovely B&Bs, rental options and hotels to choose from.
If you are new to Aibnb, you can create a free account signing up HERE
If you prefer hotels or B&Bs to experience Irish hospitality, my website of choice is Booking.com. You can get 15 Euro credit is you sign up using this link!
I hope you enjoyed our guide to Dingle. Safe travels in Ireland!