Ireland’s County Kerry: Dingle and Iveragh Peninsulas

July 24, 2011

The peninsulas of Ireland’s west coast remind visitors why they spent a small fortune to hire a car. Best explored slowly, they present a stunning trifecta of misty mountaintops, cosy beaches and medieval sites. In between are beautiful villages with streets that beg to be wandered, pub seats longing for warmth and smiling locals happy to meet you.

Dingle harbour evening

The pretty harbour of Dingle sparkles in the evening.

Our first taste of Kerry’s dramatic scenery came just before we reached the little town of Dingle. The single lane, 456 metre Connor Pass rises above the peninsula to welcome or bid farewell those taking the scenic route. Our time in Dingle was short, only two days, but this was enough time to visit several of its lively pubs where live music seems to start at 9.30pm just about everywhere. Further along the peninsula is a not to be missed loop along Slea Head Drive where the western-most point on the Irish mainland allows for contemplation over the vast ocean beyond.

Beautiful views on the Dingle Peninsula at Slea Head

 

 
Dingle Peninsula

The dramatic coastline of the Dingle Peninsula

Our next stop was Killarney, a lively tourist town with the gorgeous 10,236 hectare Killarney National Park at its doorstep. We split our time between the park and the Iveragh Peninsula, which is famous for its Ring of Kerry drive. The latter would probably be better appreciated as a two or three day trip on its own but we did it in one day (drivers should allow between five and eight hours depending on how many stops are made and traffic). It’s often covered in fog as it was on the day we visited and this definitely affects many of the views from the high cliffs overlooking the ocean. It is also possible to do the 179 kilometre route by public bus, tour or bicycle.

bike Ireland

Bikes are a great way to explore the parks and scenery along the peninsulas.

Saint Mary's Cathedral Killarney Ireland

The stonework of Saint Mary’s Cathedral in Killarney is incredible.

Islands are also a feature of the peninsula. Valentia Island can be reached by bridge or car ferry (€6 per car) and is probably best known as being the site of the first transatlantic telegraph cable. While this is very exciting for communications professionals like myself, others are likely to be more interested in the peaceful pastoral scenery on the island and the views from Geokaun Mountain and Fogher Cliffs, which aren’t free but could be worthwhile on a clear day (we did not have one). We were very sorry to miss out on the Skellig Islands despite rumours of the rough water crossing required to get there. These islands are home to thousands of interesting birds and the historical Skellig Michael monastery. Visits are limited and the boats only depart in the morning. Wikitravel provides a list of the boat operators.

driving in Ireland

Sometimes driving in Ireland looks like this, with fog obscuring views of the ocean to the left.

Killarney National Park is full of majestic mountains and lakes, a castle, gardens and walks. The walks are short and easy, except for the 200 kilometre Kerry Way.

trap Killarney National Park

Horse-drawn carriages take passengers around the Killarney National Park.

Ross Castle Killarney

Guided tours are available at the Ross Castle in Killarney National Park.

Getting there: Dingle and Killarney are located over 300 kilometres southwest of Dublin. From Limerick take the N20 to the N21 and follow the signs. From Cork take the N22. It seems that everyone is operating either a pub, B&B or hotel and we saw many vacancies, even during high season. It may be best to take your chances and skip booking ahead so you have the freedom and flexibility to take in the sights at your leisure.

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  • Maggie High

    Beautiful and informative post, thank you! I would be so scared to drive in Ireland on those tiny roads in the fog…but that might just be part of the adventure! :)

    • http://inspiringtravellers.com/ Andrea and John

      Thank you, Maggie. The driving isn’t too bad because the roads are narrow and everyone slows down but we certainly did miss out on some views I fear…

  • http://www.yTravelBlog.com/ yTravelBlog

    Love the Dingle peninsula and Ring of Kerry. So so beautiful. We enjoyed the pubs in Dingle as well

    • http://inspiringtravellers.com/ Andrea and John

      The pubs are great, aren’t they? Live music, singalongs and some of them are shops in the day and pubs at night – great stuff!

  • http://twitter.com/emilyinchile Emily

    You mentioning being excited about something you studied when most people might not find it interesting reminded me of my time in Athens. I minored in classical civilizations, so I was SO excited to see temple after temple after temple, while my best friend stood there going “really? More collapsed columns?”

    And on a totally separate note, I would like to kiss that horse’s nose, please.

    • http://inspiringtravellers.com/ Andrea and John

      He is so cute, isn’t he!! I want to kiss his nose too =)

  • http://vagabond3.com Jade

    Fun! We didn’t make it to Ring of Kerry when we were there, but seeing these pictures definitely makes me want to book a return flight!

    • http://inspiringtravellers.com/ Andrea and John

      You should – I’d say allow one night stopover somewhere along the way to really appreciate it and not get too sick of driving…

  • http://twitter.com/HeckticTravels Hecktic Travels

    Beautiful!  I am really looking forward to this drive in a couple of weeks.  I hope that we can get some cycling in.  Have fun in Cork!

    • http://inspiringtravellers.com/ Andrea and John

      We actually saw bike lanes for some of the way so I highly recommend cycling when you’re there. Try to stay one night along the peninsula as well =)

  • Felicity Hayes-McCoy

    Beautiful shots. Thanks for sharing them. I live half my life in inner-city London and half In Ireland, close to Slea Head. I hope you’ll get a chance to come again, hear the music in the village pubs as well as in Dingle, and explore more of the roads back west. There’s a lifetime’s enjoyment to be had :) I blog about life in both places  on my website. http://www.felicityhayesmccoy.co.uk (But I have to admit the shots on my posts about Ireland have the edge on the London ones!)

    Hope you’ll get to Skellig Michael too sometime. It’s an extraordinary place.

    • http://inspiringtravellers.com/ Andrea and John

      Thanks so much, Felicity! Looking forward to checking out your blog =)

  • http://www.ramblingtart.com/ Krista

    I am so enjoying your Irish posts. :-) Love your wonderful photos and descriptions. :-) Makes me want to bundle up and head for a trek in the Irish countryside. :-)

    • http://inspiringtravellers.com/ Andrea and John

      Thanks so much, Krista! You will definitely need to bundle up =)

  • http://www.colorfulfootsteps.com/ Sherry

    Unfortunately, I don’t have any plans to go to Ireland anytime soon.  But I just wanted to say that I am learning a lot and I really enjoy kind of being there with the two of you. Such beautiful landscapes with an air of romance. 

    • http://inspiringtravellers.com/ Andrea and John

      Thanks so much, Sherry! Wish you were really along with us…you’d love the photo opportunities! =)

  • http://mybeautifuladventures.com/ Andi Perullo

    That 1st pic is GORGEOUS!!!

    • http://inspiringtravellers.com/ Andrea and John

      Thank you!! =) I was so happy with the way the twilight harbour shots came out

  • http://www.thetravelchica.com Stephanie – The Travel Chica

    What a wonderful introductory paragraph.  I didn’t even need to read the rest… I’m sold!

    • http://inspiringtravellers.com/ Andrea and John

      Haha – well I guess my job is done then – thanks! =)

  • http://waywardtraveller.com/ Annie

    Ireland is sooo pretty!! The Dingle Harbor reminds me of the bay in Galway, it was so beautiful to walk along and see the town lining the sea. 

    • http://inspiringtravellers.com/ Andrea and John

      We loved Dingle too – it twinkles! =)

  • Anonymous

    I didn’t make it to Killarney, but Dingle has a certain mystic and marvel to it. While you do have to fork over quite a bit for a car (I hope you guys didn’t buy the rental car insurance…that’s the real scam!), it is worth it to be able to see some of these Peninsulas. Although I was terrified driving that single lane road on Connor Pass!

    • http://inspiringtravellers.com/ Andrea and John

      That was a scary road, wasn’t it? We also have developed extreme disdain for the 1 1/2 lane roads that plague Ireland.

      Re insurance: luckily our travel insurance policy picks up the excess charges in case of an accident so we didn’t have to pay any extra. We usually don’t buy it but did have an unfortunate experience once of getting into an accident in a rental car in Australia (not our fault). It took almost six months to get the $3,000 excess fee returned to us!

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