Last updated on December 15, 2018
Dingle is a true travel gem, and I usually hate using that phrase. This quiet, unassuming peninsula lies just north of the well-touristed Ring of Kerry, but is a world apart in terms of pace and welcome. And although nearly all the Irish you meet anywhere in Ireland are ready with a warm “hello” and a bit of friendly chat, the genuine welcome on Dingle Peninsula is particularly evident.
Most of the Dingle peninsula is a Gaeltacht area, which means that Irish is the first spoken language. That’s what makes it so fantastic. Everyone still also speaks English, but in this tiny pocket of Ireland, Irish is a first language and spoken in the homes, at the pubs, and around town.
Now on the flip side, to be honest, Dingle drowns with tourists during the high season, and that has made it all a bit more showy in Dingle town itself.
But even so, Dingle charms are many. The town is best known for two things: Fungie the Dolphin, and the numerous number of pubs. And when I say pubs, I mean pubs-cum-shops-cum-hardware stores.
That’s right, all the pubs in Dingle started out multi-purpose and a few even remain that way. Fancy some hardware? The pub has you covered. Looking for outdoors clothes? Still covered! Locals head to the shops to buy screws and nails, and then head back in the evening for a pint or two, crackin’ local music, and a lot of friendly chatter.
I camped out in Dingle for several days at an amazing hostel, the Hideout (hostel details at the bottom—and by camped-out I mean I slept in a very cozy bunk bed inside!). With a cozy place to sleep each night, I focused on exploring the many things to do in Dingle.
Who is Fungie? Playful Interactions with Dingle’s Famed Dolphin
Fungie, a gray bottlenose dolphin, is a huge tourist attraction in town. He’s been living in Dingle Harbor of his own free will since the early eighties—the locals love him and he is Dingle town’s icon. The animal is arguably wild but friendly and playful—Dingle offers boat tours and even swimming opportunities with their beloved Fungie.
Rather than pay for the tour boats though, since several boats sometimes circle him and it seems a tad invasive, you have some options. I instantly bonded with A new friend, Laura, who I met in the hostel. We both agreed to make an adventure of seeing Fungie by skipping the tour boats and independently going to the water’s edge and seeing if we could entice him to come visit with us!
We easily hiked to the lighthouse at the tip of Dingle Bay—this is where the hostel owner mentioned that could potentially spot Fungie for free.
The walk to the tip was incredibly muddy. And the chilly wind biting through our jackets was fierce at times, but we sat down on the rocks under the petite white lighthouse at the very mouth of the bay and relaxed for some time, wondering if Fungie gift us with his lovely appearance.
Just when we were about to give up, Fungie leaped out of the water in a full arc just meters from where we were sitting!
We had tapped the water for a while before setting up our vigil and just when we thought to give up hope, he appeared. He hung around for about twenty minutes to interact with a tourist boat that came puttering over several minutes later. But for those first precious minutes, Laura and I had Fungie and the bay all to ourselves. The entire moment was so uplifting—we had this huge blue sky above us, a crisp, clean breeze, and a playful dolphin ready to frolic for our viewing pleasure.
Best Pubs in Dingle for a Friendly Pint & Live Music
Pubing and music is pretty much the supreme nighttime activity in all of Ireland and Dingle is certainly no exception.
After the independent hike to see Fungie, we were very ready to warm ourselves with a rich, steaming cup of hot chocolate from Murphy’s Pub. Laura and I connected with some other fun companions from our hostel and that evening we headed to the pubs for some more Irish adventures.
Dick Mac’s Pub is perhaps the best known of Dingle’s pubs, mostly because of the many celebrities who have also enjoyed a pint at the counter of this former leather shop. (Julia Roberts is apparently one of the several who have passed through the pub).
Truthfully, although the old leather scraps and dusty, half-soled shoes in cubby-holes on the wall make for an incredibly quaint and atmospherically intimate setting, we were a little disappointed—no music that night and only one other person in the bar!
We made some of our own entertainment at the ancient upright piano before heading to a nearby pub that was jam-packed with locals perched on or near the bar while the tourists wedged in the adjacent room with live traditional music.
You absolutely must go out for music when in Dingle Town—despite our bad luck at first, most local pubs and restaurants have live music and you are sure to find one any day of the week. It gets crowded though, even in shoulder season (I was there mid-September), so leave by 9pm so you can find a spot and really enjoy the music. Everyone at our hostel went out together several nights and truly loved the vibe. O’ Sullivans Court House Pub had an awesome mix of locals and tourists alike and O’Flaherty’s Pub is the go-to recommendation from many, but it was one that people either loved or hated—we didn’t visit.
Evenings exploring Dingle town are a lot of fun—locals are open and friendly and the music is catered to what you’d expect to a big degree: pub songs slid between a many traditional sets of foot-stomping Irish tunes. Between Fungie the oh-so friendly dolphin, the amazing hot-chocolate, and some fun pub action, Dingle town itself is warrants a two day enjoy all the various things to do!
Slea Head Drive
Since you’re likely going to want to spend the whole day doing the spectacular Slea Head Drive, you’ll definitely want to book a place to stay, and potential plan for two nights. That way you can arrive and enjoy the town, start early the next morning on Slea Head Drive, jam out to great Irish music that night, and then in the morning you can visit Fungie the Dolphin, wander the town, etc.
And with a third night, you can hike Mount Brandon, which offered stunning views of the Dingle Peninsula!
Quick Tips: Where to Stay in Dingle, Ireland
Budget accommodation: The Hideout hostel in Dingle, Ireland is one of the best hostels from my trip. The hostel offers wifi, small four-bed dorms, singles, and doubles with comfy beds. The people running the hostel are so welcoming and full of tips. The kitchen is fully stocked and I just loved camping out in the cozy, firelit sitting room listening to a local Irish storyteller share Dingle legends. The hostel’s on Airbnb, and ALA readers receive a discount on their first booking! If the Hideout is booked, then Rainbow Hostel is a great alternative—we met happy backpackers staying there while out pubbing!
Where to eat: Vegetarians will find two options at Marina Inn, a full menu at Adh Danlann Gallery Cafe, my dorm mates loved the chowder at John Benny’s Pub, and seafood lovers will drool over the recommendations in this piece from Saveur on Dingle’s best cuisine.
Read: Although I carried the Ireland Lonely Planet, Laura had the Rick Steves Ireland and hers was better—it had a lot of fun suggestions and provided heaps of history and facts we would have otherwise missed. And for an enchanting travelogue, pick up a copy of McCarthy’s Bar: A journey of discovery in Ireland—it will make you doubly fall in love with the country.