You’ve heard of the Ring of Kerry, but what about Slea Head Drive on the Dingle Peninsula to the immediate north? For those looking to avoid the more crowded roadways or to simply add to the splendor of the Ring of Kerry, the stunning journey along Slea Head Drive will more than satisfy. You’ll start the journey when leaving Dingle town. Though the drive is only 30 miles (47 km), you want to allow a full day to truly experience all that Slea Head has to offer. Once you finish this post, you’ll see why just a few hours isn’t enough! We’re assuming you will rent a car in Ireland, but know that there are tour companies available to take you around Slea Head Drive. We’ve highlighted some Dingle Peninsula tour options at the bottom of this post. No matter how you experience Slea Head, you will no doubt fall in love with this stunning region of Ireland.
Dingle Peninsula Map
If you’d like a guide to print out and bring with you, consider purchasing our Slea Head Drive Photo Guide. We’ll guide you kilometer by kilometer, pointing out highlights and hidden gems along the route. Learn the fascinating history behind the many archeological sites found on the drive. Gain quick access to admission costs, opening hours, and contact information for popular attractions. And be sure to check out our Ultimate Guide to the Dingle Peninsula post!
You’re probably ok to leave your Sat Nav/GPS behind and just follow the Ceann Sleibhe/Slea Head Drive (R-559) signs. It is recommended that you drive in a clockwise direction to go with the flow of (most) traffic. Remember, in Ireland, the driver is on the right side of the car and drives on the left side of the road. It takes a little getting used to if you’re accustomed to being on the right side of the road. If a line of cars forms behind you, use the lay bys (pull outs) to let traffic pass. There are a few spots on Slea Head Drive where it becomes a single lane road. Use the lay bys to coordinate passing with oncoming traffic. Cyclists also enjoy this route, so be alert and keep a safe distance when passing.
Make sure that you’re not low on gas/petrol, as there are no filling stations along the route. Also, be sure to carry Euro coins with you as many of the attractions along Slea Head Drive cost a few Euros per person. Often you’ll place your money into a collection box, and no change is given. Finally, take your time. Allow (at least) a full day to enjoy Slea Head Drive. There is so much to explore and discover along the route, you’ll definitely regret limiting your time.
The weather on the Dingle Peninsula can be extreme, unpredictable, and intermittent. It’s best to be prepared for anything! Dress in layers with waterproof shoes and outer layers. Wind on the peninsula can be intense, so an umbrella won’t really do you any good. Wear sturdy waterproof footwear. Sandals (flip-flops/thongs) are not recommended. Keep in mind that many attractions, accommodations, and restaurants close during the winter months. It’s in your best interest to call ahead to places you hope to visit to avoid disappointment. Again… take your time and be sure to mingle with the locals. You’ll find the Irish to be some of the nicest people around!
Things to Do Along Slea Head Drive
There are over 2,000 archeological sites on Dingle Peninsula, hundreds of which can be found along Slea Head Drive. Some can be easily seen from Slea Head Drive, others require a slight detour. Many of the sites are little more than ruins, but all it takes is some imagination to transport you back in time!
Beehive Huts, Forts, and an Oratory
Beehive huts that date back thousands of years. Forts dating back to the Iron Age. An oratory that has remained waterproof for over 1200 years! There are many fascinating antiquities along Slea Head Drive. You’ll find two collections of beehive huts just a few kilometers from each other. Sadly, some of Dunbeg Fort has fallen into the sea and it is currently closed to visitors until a safety inspection can be done. Though one of Slea Head Drive’s most popular attractions remains intact and waterproof to this day. Gallarus Oratory is one of Ireland’s best preserved early Christian churches and was most likely built between the 6th and 9th centuries. It was constructed entirely of native cut stone without the use of mortar. Stones are laid at a slight angle, lower on the outside than on the inside allowing rainwater to run off; a technique developed by Neolithic tomb makers. It has withstood the elements for over 1200 years!
Grab a copy of our Slea Head Drive Photo Guide and learn how to access Gallarus Oratory for FREE! We also cover admission costs and opening hours of popular attractions along Slea Head Drive, so you can budget and know when to go!
Other Archeological Sites
Cathair na BhFionńúrach is a circular ancient stone fort (~95ft/29m in diameter) that sits in the shadows of Mt Brandon. It’s over 1000 years old and was likely the home of a Gaelic noble or wealthy farmer, complete with sea views. Cathair Deargain is a restored stone fort along the route that exemplifies fortified homesteads of ruling families in the early Christian period. Slightly off the drive, near Ventry Beach, you’ll find the 15th century ruins of Rahinnane Castle. To access the path to the castle, you’ll need to pay the landowners €2 per person as it is on private farmland. Near the village of Ballyferriter, are the remains of the Riasc Monastic Settlement, which dates back to the 6th century. So, as you can see, there is no shortage of archeological sites on Slea Head Drive.
Cashel Murphy is one of the best examples of a stone settlement in the country. The Cashel was occupied until the 13th century AD. Five families lived here, utilizing the underground portions of the dwelling to store food and grain and to hide from enemies. It is said that druids (high-ranking professional class in ancient Celtic cultures) performed rituals here until they converted to Christianity. Cashel Murphy (and its parking area) provide outstanding views over the Atlantic and up and down the Dingle Peninsula coast.
Museums & Historical Locations
You’ll come upon several museums on Slea Head Drive. For this reason, you’ll want to allow yourself ample time along the route. The Celtic Pre-Historic Museum, near the start of the drive, houses various artifacts from the Jurassic, Stone Age, Bronze Age, Celtic, and Viking eras. Here you’ll find a large nest of dinosaur eggs, a baby dinosaur skeleton, and the skeleton of a cave bear. In the village of Ballyferriter, set in a 19th-century schoolhouse, is Dingle Peninsula Museum. Here you can explore displays and exhibits on local history, geology, archeology, and ecology of the Dingle Peninsula.
Great Blasket Centre (Ionad an Bhlascaoid)
The Blasket Island Heritage Centre celebrates the challenging life, local traditions, and literary achievements of the roughly 200 islanders who called the Blasket Islands home. Through exhibits, artifacts, interactive displays, art, literary pieces, and captivating audio-visual presentations, learn about the life and community of people who lived on the remote Blasket Islands until the final 22 inhabitants evacuated An Blascaod Mór in 1953.
According to Irish folklore, Brandon Creek is the location where St Brendan the Navigator began a journey and sailed all the way to America, before Columbus or the Vikings! There is a statue here commemorating this historic, heroic, and possibly mythical adventure.
The Famine Cottage is a modest peek into what life was like in the 1800s. It belonged to the Kavanaugh family who abandoned their homestead during the Great Famine. It’s amazing to think that the cottage was originally was built in the early 19th century using just mud and stone. The beehive hut at the rear of the cottage is over 800 years old.
Once you complete the drive around Slea Head, stop into the Dingle Distillery for a tour! Dingle Distillery has been producing fine spirits (Pot Still Irish Whiskey and Artisan Pot Still Gin and Vodka) since 2012. During the tour, learn fascinating facts about the production process. You’ll also have the chance to sample some of their award-winning gin and vodka. Advanced reservations are required. Tour times vary by season and a small fee is required.
Louis Mulcahy Pottery
Louis Mulcahy and his team have been hand-making pots and various pottery creations for 40+ years. His workshop and shop are located directly on Slea Head Drive. There are plenty of signs pointing the way, so you can’t miss it! During the summer (June-September), you’ll have the opportunity to create your own pottery with their popular Pottery Experience. They’ll ship your creation home, so you don’t have to fret about it getting damaged on your continued travels. The cafe upstairs serves fresh local food on Louis Mulcahy tableware. It’s a great stop about half way around Slea Head Drive.
Best Views Along the Dingle Peninsula Drive
Across from the Beehive Huts
At the first set of beehive huts, <1 km past the Famine Cottages, pull of to the parking lot on the left. The views here are absolutely magnificent! Go to the far left side of the lot (when facing the sea) and enjoy views of the jagged coastline you’ve driven so far. We personally consider this to the best the best view on Slea Head Drive. You can then stroll across the street and explore the beehive huts (clochans) clustered together in a circular stone wall.
Pull-Offs Along the Dingle Peninsula Drive
Whenever you see a parking area or pull-off along Slea Head Drive, it’s probably for good reason! Chances are the views are breathtaking, so take every opportunity to pull over, stretch your legs, and enjoy the views! Definitely stop at the pull-off just after the second set of beehive huts and about 1/2 kilometer before you get to the cross at Slea Head. You’ll find a display about local birds here. And while it offers similar views to previous stops, you can explore some of the rocky coastline by walking down a well-trod path. Use extreme caution, and for your safety, do not deviate from the informal path. The views here are incomparable!
The Slea Head Cross
Eventually you will come upon the Slea Head cross (crucifix). On a clear day, this lay by offers unrivaled views of the Blasket Islands. Congratulations, you have officially arrived at Slea Head! The road turns into a single lane here. Before departing from this scenic overlook double check for oncoming traffic.
After the cross, the road will bend and you’ll start to head north. This is one of the most scenic portions of Slea Head Drive! When the sun is shining, the turquoise waters against the vibrant green hills is something truly magical! The small parking lot on the left provides excellent views of Coumennoole Bay, Dunmore Head, the Blasket Islands, and the scattered village of Dunquin (Dún Chaoin). Many of the dilapidated rock homes you see in the distance were abandoned during the Great Famine. At the far right of the parking lot is a nice collection of maps and displays with information about the area.
Dunmore Head Walk
Dunmore Head is the most westerly point on mainland Ireland. (The Blasket Islands lie further west than Dunmore Head, making them the westernmost point in Europe.) To stretch your legs, take a stroll on the 1.6 mile (2.6 km) path that circles Dunmore Head. There are spectacular views at every turn! A few scenes from Star Wars: The Last Jedi were filmed here. Always be prepared for wind and possibly rain and wear sturdy footwear, as you’ll be dodging lots of sheep droppings. From the parking lot on Dunmore Head you can also drive or walk down to Coumennoole Beach where a few scenes from Ryan’s Daughter were shot.
Other Dingle Walks
Other hikes along Slea Head Drive include The Saints Path (Cosán na Naomh) and Lúb na Cille. The Saints Path starts at Ventry Beach and ends at a grotto at the foot of Mt Brandon. It’s not short, but it is a fairly easy 11-mile (18 km) walk. Highlights along the Saints Path, include Gallarus Oratory and the 12th-century church, Kilmalkedar. Lúb na Cille starts and ends at the Blasket Heritage Center. This 3-mile (5 km) scenic loop offers outstanding views over Clogher Beach, Ceann Sibeal, the headlands of Ceann Sratha, the Blasket Islands, Mt Brandon, and Eagle Mountain.
And of course, we can’t leave out the 111-mile (179 km) Dingle Way, which traverses some of Slea Head. Walk in the foothills of the Slieve Mish mountains, cross the shoulder of Mount Brandon, stroll above the crashing waves of the Atlantic at Slea Head, wander through scenic farmland, and saunter over the golden sand on the beaches of the Maharess. It takes most decently fit walkers about 8 or 9 days to complete the loop, so it’s not for the faint of heart. However it’s a wonderful way to experience so much of what the peninsula has to offer.
Dunquin Pier is one of Dingle Peninsula’s most photographed spots! The winding pier is where farmers from the main Blasket island would row across, dock their boat, and hike 12 miles into Dingle to sell their produce. On a calm day, the trip from the main island to Dunquin Harbor would take the islanders a mere 30 minutes. Today, the pier is where the Blasket Islands ferry departs. Just down the road from the pier is a small stone marker commemorating the (1588) shipwreck of the Santa Maria de la Rosa.
The Three Sisters
At the Clogher Head Car Park, you’ll get a great view of Sybil Point (Ceann Sibéal) and the Three Sisters (a collection of hills). This landscape can also be seen from Clogher Head and by walking the Lúb na Cille trail from the Blasket Heritage Center mentioned earlier. Of course, you don’t even have to stop the car to see these views. These are the landscapes that make up the astounding beauty along Slea Head Drive.
After you pass Louis Mulcahy Pottery, turn left at the brown sign pointing left toward Cloichear. Visit Clogher (Cloichear) Strand on or after a day with inclement weather and you’ll see why it has earned the nickname “storm beach”. Swimming is not encouraged here, as the waves here can get quite massive.
Film Locations Along Slea Head Drive
The beauty of Ireland simply cannot be ignored by filmmakers. Its landscape is visually stunning and Dingle Peninsula is no exception. The rugged scenery of the Dingle Peninsula was featured in the 1970 film Ryan’s Daughter, which first introduced the beauty of the peninsula to the world. In 1991, the dramatic coastline along Slea Head Drive was once again used as a backdrop in a Hollywood movie (Far and Away starring Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman). Most recently, Sybil Point (Ceann Sibéal) on Slea Head, became a filming location for Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi. The crew recreated the beehive huts on Skelling Michael at Ceann Sibéal to portray the old Jedi temple where Luke begins Rey’s training in the ways of the force. The huts have since been removed and the filming location cannot be accessed, as it is on private land. Scenes from The Last Jedi were also shot on Dunmore Head.
Ring of Kerry or Dingle Peninsula?
Along with the Beara Peninsula to the south, the Dingle Peninsula loop drive is a must for anyone who loves the beauty of coastal Ireland. So, you may still be asking yourself… Dingle Peninsula or Ring of Kerry? We personally prefer the Slea Head Drive over the Ring of Kerry. Like us, you may have to do both to see which one you prefer. Or you can just take our word and enjoy the super scenic Dingle Peninsula Drive! The Ring of Kerry is stunning and we certainly don’t want to discourage you from driving it. It’s just that we preferred the views and lack of traffic along the Dingle Peninsula. Whichever you choose, you can’t go wrong!
Where to Stay on Dingle Peninsula
We’ve put together a great post of excellent places to stay in Dingle and around the peninsula. From self-catering cottages to luxury hotels and glamping pods to sheep farms, we’ve got some great recommendations for you! Dingle shouldn’t be done in a day, so we encourage you to stay while. Take time to truly appreciate much of what the peninsula has to offer.
Planning a visit to Ireland and want to know about even more scenic drives?!
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