Slea Head Drive, on Dingle Peninsula – the road trip Ring of Kerry doesn’t want you to know about.
As my tiny, 2-door European car maneuvered up the steep incline, I slowly trailed the Land Rover. If they could get around the upcoming curve in the road, so could I. My hands, clutching tightly to the steering wheel, my mind acutely aware of the steep drop off to my right and rocky expanse to my left.
Driving in Ireland is its own special adventure, and I highly recommend it to everyone. It’s much easier than you’ve likely read about and offers an experience you can’t get any other way. I knew I wanted to rent a car the moment I decided to visit the Emerald Isle. I researched the best things to see from a car, and as you may imagine, the most notable of these is the Ring of Kerry. However, I met a photographer at a local art show, and he recommended a different route.
Dingle Peninsula caught on camera
…and put out for display were vast horizons with colorful sunsets and the most stunning scenery I’d ever encountered. The serious shutterbug told me all his images were from the Dingle Peninsula and recommended it for the reduced crowds and greater untouched landscape.
The Dingle Peninsula is due north of the Iveragh Peninsula, home to the Ring of Kerry, and features Slea Head Drive. The Drive is a 30-mile loop that begins and ends in Dingle, which can be found midway on the southern coast. The route is well-marked as you venture down the narrow road, and if you travel clockwise, you’ll be in the majority, so there’s less chance of passing cars. And, wow, is it worth it.
Lush, green fields, and dark, cobalt waters come to life through your windshield. Steely gray stone walls crisscross over fields out your window. And every couple hundred meters, there’s something to discover.
Huts & cottages on Slea Head Drive
Historic Irish Famine Cottages from the 19th century have been restored and staged to illustrate the simple, yet challenging life of the families that lived here until forced to emigrate. Western Kerry County was one of the regions hit hardest by the Great Irish Famine. The survival of these families was predicated on producing two varieties of potatoes. One for the family and the other for the animals on the farm. One of which, the family pig, lived in the beehive hut behind the house. That structure is estimated to be at least 800-years old.
Not much farther down the Drive is a larger site of impressive beehive huts thought to be over 1400-years old. The circular dwellings are remarkably well-preserved and are open to exploring at your leisure. Dramatic views of the peninsula’s cliffs are also on display here, framed by fuchsia, bell-shaped wildflowers for an enchanting photo op.
Dingle Peninsula memories
The drive meanders along the coast, passing a stone crucifixion scene that gazes out towards south Kerry and the Blasket Islands. There are several places to pull over and capture stunning memories of the scene, or you can sit back, relax, and enjoy the ride. Additional signs for famine cottages or beehive huts will pop up every so often. Just after Ventry is the official historical site. You won’t miss anything by getting lost in the journey.
I was blessed with sunshine and temperate weather, so I rolled the windows down and let the wind carry me along. My senses were feasting on the crisp ocean air and natural beauty of the landscape. The photos that had inspired me to come here paled massively in comparison to experiencing it in person.
The town of Dingle
Passing the beaches reminded me of Maui. I drove inland through fields of bright yellow wildflowers. I finally made my way back to the peninsula’s namesake town, Dingle, where I found the town and its inhabitants to be equally as vibrant as their surroundings.
Buildings of every color line the waterfront and guide you deeper into town. Lively music and conversation waft onto the sidewalk from various pubs. And local bartenders are eager to take your order.
I made friends with Americans at the table next to me, and we danced all night long. This tiny town in the middle of this picturesque peninsula charmed its way into my heart and onto my “Definite Must See” list for anyone making their escape to idyllic Ireland.
For more information about Slea Head Drive, visit HERE.
About Kerri Smith—Laid off at the height of the pandemic, Kerri detoured from the traditional career path in search of a life fully lived. Whether traveling solo or with friends, Kerri enjoys traveling best when the most is made of every experience. Good, bad, or otherwise, her motto is “…but would it make a good story?”