In addition to Ireland’s most scenic coastline and sights: Slea Head Drive, and Fungie the Dolphin in Dingle town harbor, there are two other parts of the Dingle Peninsula that I really loved. Spending several days in Dingle town, and then driving the Dingle Peninsula were among my favorite experiences in Ireland (and the sites on Dingle rival that of the Ring of Kerry in a big way).
Forging Conor Pass in Dingle
My photos from Conor Pass don’t even look real, and I swear to you they are unaltered. I was emphatically warned about attempting the Conor pass since I’m not particularly skilled driving on the left side of the road (so sue me, I’m an American, we don’t drive on that side!). I almost considered skipping this part of the Dingle Peninsula based on the warnings from locals. Conor Pass is the highest mountain pass in all of Ireland, sitting at nearly 1,500 ft (456 m) and looking out over impressive coastline.
Truthfully, it’s not all that bad! OK, it is bad—but it could have been worse. I piled into my tiny rental car a few other backpackers and drove through narrow Conor pass during good weather—if you do the same and you’re a shaky driver, then also time the drive well! Ireland was gifting me unseasonably dry skies during my time in Dingle, and a mere smattering of clouds bathed the pass in sunlight. It created stunning contrasts between Ireland’s famous greens, the blue glacial lakes, and the cornflower colored skies.
The pass narrows to a thin road wide enough for one car at a time. Then, we literally forged a small river while hugging a precarious “protective fence barrier”—a sneeze would have blown it over! Despite jittery nerves, we made it through the confined mountain passage and were able to creep down the steep, winding road.
But you know, once you get through all that you’re totally fine! My only regret is that I was the driver and therefore didn’t get to gawk at the beautiful landscape as we descended the combe, or rather the amphitheatre-like valley formed by glaciers.
Walking Stations of the Cross on Mount Brandon
Arguably the most impressive hiking route along Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way, Mount Brandon was something I added in at the last minute and I should have made this a priority—it’s a must visit.
Gentle green hills cover most of the Dingle peninsula, meaning the views from Mount Brandon are particularly beautiful—the side of the mountain with the walking path looks out over the ocean at the Three Sisters (visited on the Slea Head Drive) and the icy waters of the Atlantic Ocean glitter in the near distance. It has religious significance too, as pilgrims have long walked the path to the top, following the 14 Stations of the Cross, in search of cures for their ailments.
My last day in Dingle was the start of some magnificently warm and unnaturally sunny weather that followed me up the entire Western coast as I explored the Cliffs of Moher, Connemara, and more. Since we had such gorgeous weather, at the recommendation of the fabulous owners of the Hideout Hostel, several of us took advantage of the clear day and walked/hiked Mount Brandon on our way off of the Dingle Peninsula.
This was a moment I was so glad to have not gone the backpacker route and just bused around Ireland, because my rental car came in handy for spontaneous adventures. Three other women joined me on our Mount Brandon and the day-long drive to Doolin, so it was a tight squeeze in my tiny Nissan Micra, but what we lacked in space we made up for in bodily contortions, backpacker enthusiasm, and a thirst for travel adventures.
There are two key paths up Mount Brandon, The Saints’ Road (the easier of the two lasting three to four hours) and The Pilgrims’ Path (scenic but harder and takes four to five hours). Stations of the Cross mark the route up the mountain, interestingly enough, and every Easter locals (children, grandmas, and everyone) hike to the last station on Mount Brandon for Easter celebrations.
My ragtag group and I only made it to the sixth station. That makes me feel out of shape because even grandmas can make it to the top of Mount Brandon (which comes in at 3,122 ft (952 m)). I am only glad that I wasn’t our weakest link—our whole group turned around at the halfway point (station six is about halfway since the crosses don’t start for a mile up!). We just weren’t making good enough time to finish the hike in the anticipated five hours round-trip, which would have prevented us from catching the last ferry over the Shannon River and the drive from there to Doolin.
Do I regret hiking the mountain even though I had to turn around? Not one bit. We lunched at the sixth station and had sweeping, panoramic views of the surrounding country. I welcomed sunshine warming my bones as I munched away on my lunch.
Dingle’s just about one of the prettiest places I’ve ever seen, so I was a bit sad to leave it behind. Since I would love to make it to the top, and because this area has left me completely charmed, I will be back one day.
Quick Tips: Exploring the Dingle Peninsula
What to bring: For your walk, you certainly can wing it with whatever you have handy, but note that you’ll likely prefer waterproof shoes, a nice rain jacket (that can double as a windbreaker), and walking sticks to help with the rocky descent.
Where to sleep: For budget travelers, Hideout hostel in Dingle, Ireland is one of the best hostels from my trip. (Note, the hostel is listed on Airbnb, and ALA readers receive a discount on their first booking)! If the Hideout is booked, then Rainbow Hostel is a great alternative. The Hillgrove Guesthouse is ideal on a midrange budget, and or splurge on the An Capall Dubh B&B.
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.
What to do: You should absolutely spend an entire day seeing the best sights on Slea Head Drive—it is, in my humble opinion, even pretty than the more popular and visited Ring of Kerry. You can visit Fungie the Dolphin on a day tour, or go independently down to the harbor for the lucky chance of a sighting.
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.