1. Scenic Drive 1 – Slea Head
The Slea Head Loop from Dingle town is the most famous drive in the area and definitely should not be missed. If you do nothing else … From Dingle head west over the bridge at the end of town following the R559 towards Ventry. Without giving too much away the route follows the southern coast of the peninsula out to Slea Head then heads north through Dunquin and Ballyferriter before winding its way back to Dingle. The whole route is only 42 km (26 miles) long, so in theory it could be completed in less than an hour. But why would you want to? The scenery is never short of breathtaking and in places is astoundingly dramatic and beautiful. We heartily recommend cycling instead of driving. The 26 miles can be completed in a long afternoon or a full lazy day. Because much of the route hugs the coast it is fairly level and so it makes for easy cycling. Bikes can be rented from Foxy John’s hardware store come pub on Main Street.
Drive carefully: the road is very narrow in places with some acute cliff-edge bends.
2. Scenic Drive 2 – Conor Pass
From Dingle take the N86 towards Tralee. At Camp (approx 20 miles) turn left on to the R560 (signposted Castlegregory). This road soon forks (right for Castlegregory, left for Conor Pass and Dingle). Hang a left to return to Dingle via Ireland’s highest mountain pass. It’s not very high, but that doesn’t stop it from being one of the most spectacular you will see anywhere. We don’t advise cycling this one unless you enjoy backbreaking uphill slogs.
3. Inch Beach
No, Inch is not the tiniest beach in Ireland. It is in fact one of the longest with 3 miles of uninterrupted golden sand backed by wild dunes. It is also one of Ireland’s most spectacular and has starred in many movies, though fame hasn’t gone to its head. It just is. Great for swimming, surfing and very long walks. For dramatic effect it is best approached on the R561 from Dingle. Like any Hollywood beauty, Inch will take your breath away, but it won’t cost you $20 million.
4. Visit the Blasket Islands
The Blasket Islands lie just a few miles off Slea Head. The islands don’t look very inviting from the mainland and yet the largest, Great Blasket Island, was inhabited for almost 300 years up to 1953 when the final 200 hardy souls were forced to abandon the island due to lack of basic services – there was no school, shop, priest or doctor. Many moved to Springfield (no Simpson’s jokes please!), Massachusetts where to this day a copy of the weekly Kerryman newspaper is delivered to their door. The Great Blasket heritage centre located in Dunquin tells the island’s fascinating and moving story and is well worth checking out.
There are two options for visiting the Blaskets:
- Ferries leave from Dunquin pier every half hour during the summer, but only in good weather: http://www.blasketislands.ie/
- Take an Eco Tour cruise from Dingle that also takes in the Blaskets (Cell: 086 285 8802). Same website.
5. Go Surfing
Initially Dingle might seem an odd place to contemplate surfing. You won’t hear too many people refer to each other as ‘man’ or ‘dude’, but the beaches and super waves (given the right conditions) make this an ideal place for the expert or novice. Inch Beach is perfect for the latter while the Atlantic-facing beach at Castlegregory is a magnet for the former. Confuse the dudes by ending all your sentences with ‘fear’ (pronounced ‘farr’, meaning ‘man’).
6. Swim with Fungi
Fungi is Dingle’s pet bottlenose dolphin. He moved into the harbour the week after NBC broadcast the very last episode of MASH (coincidence? we think not!) and has been there ever since. This is one friendly dolphin! He is said to enjoy reading, the movies (obviously!) and crochet. But more than anything he enjoys swimming with any homo sapiens willing to jump in the sea with him. This correspondent hasn’t yet had the pleasure, but apparently it is a life changing experience. Enquire at Brosnan’s on Cooleen, a street on the east side of the harbour. Or you can check the famous fellow out from the relative dryness of a boat (tel: 066915 2626).
7. Ice Cream at Murphys
Though only 7 years old, Murphy’s Ice Cream on Strand Street in Dingle is already legendary. This isn’t just ice cream, this is ice cream perfection. So skip the restaurant desert and instead head to Murphy’s. This determined ice cream detective recently investigated samples of their Pink Champagne Sorbet, Honey Cardamom and Chocolate Whiskey ice creams and left the parlour in an altogether different mood. Ice cream as it should be – mind altering! Murphy’s also serves the best coffee in town. And the staff! The cheeriest, happiest I have met anywhere. Forget stock options, give your staff a few scoops of Murphy’s every day. http://www.murphysicecream.ie/
8. Dingle Crystal
Ireland is synonymous with crystal making and there is certainly no exception to the rule when you make a visit to the Dingle Crystal workshop just outside of Dingle Town. Not only are you visiting an area rich in the heritage of tradition & craft; at Dingle Crystal you will watch a master craftsman at work. Sean Daly, the owner and formally a craftsman at Waterford Crystal; came to Dingle in 1998 to further his passion. Finding much inspiration in this new haven; Sean has created some outstanding & beautifully crafted pieces through 6 different Celtic Themes. Not only are his pieces distinctly unique, each is personally designed, cut & signed by the master craftsman himself. Sean is very personable & accommodating to all who visit and his work speaks this in volumes. He will always take the time to give demonstrations and arrange tours of his workshop. This is definitely worth a visit while staying in Dingle but don’t take our word for it, go and find out for yourself. The workshop is located outside of Dingle Town however his display shop is located on Green Street in the heart of Dingle. http://www.dinglecrystal.ie/
9. Climb Mt Brandon
Irish mountains are really only large hills (the highest is only just over 3,000ft), so most can be climbed in a matter of hours. And yet the reward is unimaginable. Unlike most lofty mountain ranges whereupon reaching the summit you are merely surrounded by many other lofty peaks, in Ireland reaching the summit of the local highest ‘mountain’ means you will probably have an uninterrupted view of a whole quarter of Ireland in front of you while the Atlantic yawns, stretches and glistens behind you. And Mount Brandon on the Dingle Peninsula is probably the greatest of Ireland’s local highest mountains simply because the surrounding scenery is Ireland’s greatest. Start just beyond the village of Claghane (over Conor Pass from Dingle) parking near Miss O’Connors’ House. Ask in Dingle or Cloghane for the best route. Best saved for a clear day.
10. Ancient History
The Dingle Peninsula is like an open air museum. No where else in Ireland is so cram-packed with national monuments and historical sites. Its no wonder, people like to live in beautiful places – I am sure this was as true 500 or 5,000 years ago as it is today. Highlights include the Gallarus Oratory (this 1200 year old dry stone oratory is in perfect condition and is a great example of the ingenious building methods used at the time. How many of our houses will be still standing in 1200 years?) and the Beehive Huts scattered along the Slea Head drive between Slea Head and Dunquin.
11. Walk the Dingle Way
For those with a slow paced, healthy holiday in mind taking 8 or 9 days to walk the Dingle Way would be hard to beat. The way-marked route is 179km (110 miles) long and does a complete loop of the peninsula passing through both Dingle and Tralee making these the most obvious starting points. More info here: http://www.dingleway.net/
12. Go Sailing
I have a dream. World peace, harmony and happiness for all of course, but failing that, one day I would like to sail around Ireland. I haven’t done much about my fallback dream of late, but I know that one day it will happen. Perhaps a good place to start would be chartering a yacht and spending a week or two pottering around the myriad islands, bays, inlets and harbours of Kerry and Cork, and perhaps one day stopping into Crookhaven for a pint of Guinness and the best crab sandwich anywhere. That would be nice wouldn’t it? If this sounds like your kind of vacation check out Dingle Bay Charters. Day rentals also available: http://www.dinglebaycharters.com
13. Eat Fish
With so much going on it is easy to forget that Dingle is at heart a fishing town. It always was and probably always will be. Every day the trawlers return with a haul of delectably fresh fish and the restaurateurs of the town descend on the harbour to pick the best salmon, bream, crab, sole, turbot, scallops, mussels and lobster (to name but some). Your mission should you chose to accept it is to be waited upon as the local chefs work their magic. We especially recommend Out Of The Blue, right on the harbour. It only serves seafood and doesn’t open if the fish ain’t fresh. Seared scallops, flambéed in cognac; served with dressed seasonal greens, followed by char grilled kebab of monkfish served on a green mango puree with coriander butter. Oh Mama! http://www.outoftheblue.ie/
14. Pub Crawl in Dingle
Like the mullet and leg warmers, the pub crawl seems to have recently fallen out of favour. A terrible shame say we, for it is a noble tradition and a great way to check out as many pubs as possible when time is your enemy. The rules are simple. Set a time limit per pub (an hour per pub is sociably acceptable) and stick to it. When the hour is up, down your drink and move. The key to a successful crawl is to start early when the pubs aren’t too busy so you have seen plenty by 10pm. This way you can ignore your conscience at pub number five when it urges you to leave those prime seats equidistant from the bar, the bathroom and the band. Dingle, as it happens is the perfect pub crawl town. It is compact in size and has more classy boozers per square inch than anywhere in Ireland which means you will never have to stumble far. Here are some pubs that should definitely be on your crawl (all the following have music most nights):
- McCarthy’s Pub, Goat Street
- An Droichead Beag, Main Street
- Foxy John’s, Main Street
- Adam’s, Main Street
- John Benny’s, Strand Street
- Danno’s Bar, Strand Street
- Dick Macks, Green Street
- O’Flaherty’s, Bridge Street
Authentic crawling advice: in Dingle the dodgier and more run down a pub looks from the outside the more likely you are to have fun on the inside. Dingle is full of small little bars that don’t make it into guidebooks. The pub may be scruffy, unable to accept credit cards and the barman may be struck dumb if you order a cosmopolitan, but it is here you will find true Dingle pub happiness. Don’t be shy, the locals are friendly – they can’t help it.