Dingle Peninsula Loop Trip

By car or bicycle, this self-guided tour offers spectacular views and plenty of Irish history

Slea Head Road curves along the coast on the Dingle Peninsula. (Pat O'Connor)
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The Dingle Peninsula loop trip is about 30 miles (47 km) long and must be driven in a clockwise direction. It’s easy by car, or it’s a demanding four hours by bike—if you don’t stop. Cyclists should plan on an early start (preferably by 9:00) to allow for enough sightseeing and lunch/rest time.

While you can take a basic guided tour of the peninsula, my self-guided tour makes it unnecessary. A fancy map is also not necessary with my instructions. I’ve provided distances to help locate points of interest. Just like Ireland’s speed-limit signs, Ireland’s car speedometers and odometers have gone metric in recent years. I’ve given distances below in kilometers so you can follow along with your rental-car odometer. Most Irish odometers give distances to tenths of a kilometer.

If you’re driving, check your odometer at Oceanworld, as you leave Dingle (ideally, reset your odometer to zero—most likely you can do this by holding down the button next to it). Even if you get off track or are biking, you can subtract the kilometers listed below to figure out distances between points. To get the most out of your circle trip, read through this entire section before departing. Then go step-by-step (staying on R-559 and following the brown Ceann Sleibhe/Slea Head Drive signs). Roads are very congested mid-July to late August.

The Dingle Peninsula is 10 miles wide and runs 40 miles from Tralee to Slea Head. The top of its mountainous spine is Mount Brandon—at 3,130 feet, the second-tallest mountain in Ireland (after a nearby peak above Killarney that’s almost 500 feet higher). While only tiny villages lie west of Dingle town, the peninsula is home to 500,000 sheep.

Self-Guided Tour
Leave Dingle town west along the waterfront (0.0 km at Oceanworld). Driving out of town, on the left you’ll see a row of humble “two up and two down” flats from a 1908 affordable housing government initiative. Today, even these little places would cost more than €250,000.

0.5 km: There’s an eight-foot tide here. The seaweed was used to make formerly worthless land arable. (Seaweed is a natural source of potash—it’s organic farming, before it was trendy.) Across the Milltown River estuary, the fancy Milltown House B&B (with flags) was Robert Mitchum’s home for a year during the filming of Ryan’s Daughter. (Behind that is an extremely scenic pitch & putt range.) Look for the narrow mouth of this blind harbor (where Fungie frolics) and the Ring of Kerry beyond that. Dingle Bay is so hidden that ships needed the tower (1847) on the hill to find its mouth.

0.7 km: At the roundabout, turn left over the bridge. The hardware-store building on the right was a corn-grinding mill in the 18th century. You’ll pass the junction where you’ll complete this loop trip later.

1.3 km: The Milestone B&B is named for the stone pillar (gallaun in Gaelic) in its front yard. This may have been a prehistoric grave or a boundary marker between two tribes. The stone goes down as far as it sticks up. The peninsula, literally an open-air museum, is dotted with more than 2,000 such monuments dating from the Neolithic Age (4000 B.C.) through early-Christian times. Another stone pillar stands in the field across the street, in the direction of the yellow manor house of Lord Ventry (in the distance). Its function today: cow scratcher.

Lord Ventry, whose family came to Dingle as post–Cromwellian War landlords in 1666, built this mansion in about 1750. Today it houses an all-Irish-language boarding school for 140 high-school girls.

As you drive past the Ventry estate, you’ll pass palms, magnolias, and exotic flora introduced to Dingle by Lord Ventry. The Gulf Stream is the source of the mild climate (it never snows here), which supports subtropical plants. Consequently, fuchsias—imported from Chile and spreading like weeds—line the roads all over the peninsula and redden the countryside from June through September. More than 100 inches of rain a year gives this area its “40 shades of green.”

About Rick Steves
Rick Steves

Rick Steves is a travel writer and television personality. He coordinated with Smithsonian magazine to produce a special travel issue Travels with Rick Steves.

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