A Little Beauty… The Absolute Most Picturesque Drive in Ireland

It’s no secret that I love Ireland—I have waxed poetic about everything from the toe-tappingly good Irish music in pubs to the beauty of Connemara to those special days getting lost and that unnameable something special that just exists in Ireland. Of all the places in the world that I have traveled, and the list is long, Ireland stands out as a place that consistently delivered the coziest of memories, the most intriguing of local interactions, and the prettiest of natural scenery. And that’s where Dingle’s Slea Head Drive comes into play.

Dingle is a small town on the southwest tip of Ireland, it’s a port town on the Dingle Peninsula, which sticks out of the mainland like a finger reaching into the Atlantic Ocean. And although Dingle town is cute as can be and filled with the sort of deep culture that can be overlooked in busier cities like Dublin or Galway, no trip to the area is complete until you just take in the prettiness and history Slea Head Drive, which is a clockwise, circular route that often hugs the gorgeous coastline for 30 miles (47 km). This is one of Ireland’s most scenic drives (it’s also a part of the stunning Wild Atlantic Way route) and contains several of the oldest sites in Ireland, all contained in one small area. I filled my rental car with two other women I met at my hostel, Amber and Laura (they were with me for the Fungie the Dolphin sighting as well as the gorgeous Mount Brandon hike).

Views of the ocean and sheep along Slea Head Drive.

Slea Head Drive on the Dingle Peninsula

Top Sites on Slea Head Drive

The drive should be undertaken clockwise from Dingle Town as this avoids oncoming busses (which is a terrifying prospect on narrow Irish roads). It’s really not possible skip any part of the drive, since it’s a circular route, but you could surely go faster if you didn’t slow down, hike around, and make an afternoon of it. But why would you do that?! This is an area worth exploring, getting out of the car, and really wandering through the history, and taking in the sights. It can be done in less than two hours, but if you pack a picnic lunch and enjoy yourself, plan for at least three hours (and if you’re a cyclist, have fun, no idea, but we definitely saw some tourists enjoying it that way!). Also, before you set out, know that the route is called Slí Cheann Sléibhe in Irish—remember these words! Some signs toward the end of the drive are only in Irish and you’ll want to continue navigating the correct route! These were my five favorite stops along Slea Head Drive.

Dunbeg Fort

Perched on the very edge of the cliffs is the promontory fort of Dunbeg, ruins date from the Iron Age, with a piece of ancient wood under one fort wall dated to about 580 BC, meaning the fort was built after that time period. Dunbeg Fort is small and mostly grass-covered for protection, and until it can be further excavated. This places actively changes ever single year as the sea reclaims the land and the fort actually tumbles from the cliffs regularly.

The sweeping views of the ocean and straight drop down to the jagged rocks are gorgeous, and no visit to Ireland is complete without scrambling around some ruins, and this is a good spot for it!

Dunbeg Fort sign

Dingle's Dunbeg Fort!

Beehive Huts

Called clochán in Irish, these family dwellings and small community of huts could go as far back as the Bronze Age (think 2000 BC). Today, there is no archaeological evidence dating them earlier than AD 700, but archaeologists believe they were introduced earlier than that. These type of dwellings were continually built for thousands of years throughout Scotland and Ireland.

The first thing you’ll notice is that people must have been significantly shorter back then, because these beehive huts are tiny! They are not for the tall, and I had to continually watch my head through the doorways.

ancient beehive huts

tiny beehive hut opening

Inch Beach along Slea Head Drive

Blasket Islands

The Blasket Islands were inhabited until until 1953 by an Irish-speaking population, until the locals were forced to evacuate. If you’re enjoying Slea Head Drive on a traditional Irish day—wet and windy—then you’ll look out to sea and wonder that any human being could live on such remote and rugged islands. Although the islands are only slightly offshore from the coast of the Dingle Peninsula, it was incredibly windy out on the peak and you’d have to be a very hearty person to survive the icy-cold and wet winds.

Although there are daily boat trips during high season out the islands (and some people even camp!), my backpacker budget instead sent me to the very tip of the mainland, where I could gaze out at the gorgeous seascape. Just past the sandy beach is a fairly large carpark with a worn and grassy path leading up a steep, sheep-poo filled hillside. In true Irish style, the path is only meant for the adventurous—I laced my fingers together to give Laura a boost over the rock wall (she’s pretty short!) hopped it myself, and we threaded amongst the grazing, sleepy sheep to look out over the Blasket Islands and gaze across the Atlantic toward the US.

The view is stunning and because we went a bit “off the path,” we were the only ones up there for about 30 minutes (which was perfect because each of us were forced to brave the heavy wind and pop a squat!). Although the boat tour is supposedly spectacular, I can’t imagine having missed this short hike either.

Views of the Blasket Islands

Windy day on the knoll looking out over the Blasket Islands

chilly day in dingle

Slea Head Drive

Gallarus Oratory

The Gallarus Oratory along the drive in Dingle.There is no consensus on how old this church is as archaeologists can’t find a way to date it, and some claim it was built as late as the 12th century, while others contend it was an early Christian church built between the 6th and 9th centuries. So, now called the Gallarus Oratory, it was built in a similar style to Dunbeg Fort and the Beehive Huts, which means constructed without mortar. The stones are gradually stacked to reach the top, a form of construction that made it surprisingly airtight inside!

A torrential downpour caught up with us when we reached the Oratory so we huddled inside for some time, giving a good test to this ancient church. We were all amazed that it completely protected us from the strong winds and rains even after all these centuries since it was first constructed.

Three Sisters & The Sleeping Giant

Near the village of Ballyferriter, the Three Sisters are a set of three peaks associated with a number of Irish legends and stories. The Irish do love their myths and legends, so it’s perhaps no wonder that the natural landscape inspired many. One local legend even goes so far as to claim that Lindbergh’s first sight of land after crossing the Atlantic was the three jagged peaks of land known as the Three Sisters.

Meanwhile, the Sleeping Giant is fun to witness on the horizon, he’s easy to spot as the land makes it look as though he is lynching on his back, resting on the top of the ocean.

The Three Sisters Islands

Sleeping Giant Island


Perhaps the best tip I can offer for driving Slea Head Drive around the Dingle Peninsula is to memorize the Irish name for Dingle town, An Daingean. Although it’s controversial that there’s no English name on the sign, that’s the way it is here and it’s one of the most charming parts of traveling through this region of Ireland. The Dingle Peninsula is an Irish speaking region, and though it can get confusing to only see road signs in Irish, it’s still lovely. But with that in mind we had to be prepared for the Irish when making our way back to our Dingle hostel for the night when all of the road signs only pointed toward An Daingean!

Quick Tips: Enjoying Dingle

Sleep: I stayed at the Hideout Hostel, which has small room dorms and was just completely lovely. Highly recommend it. It also offers private doubles, which would make a fantastic options for couples who want the social aspect of a hostel without the lack of privacy from shared dorms. These links go to the property’s Airbnb listing, and if it’s your first time on the service, ALA readers receive a discount on their first booking.

Eat: While you’re driving Slea Head, you can stop in Ballyferriter if you haven’t packed anything, this small town has a lot of options. In Dingle Town, you must eat at Murphy’s Ice Cream. 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.

Music: You absolutely want at least one night in Dingle Town so that you can enjoy the live music at most local pubs and restaurants. Head out by 9pm to find a spot and have a chance to really enjoy the music. Everyone at our hostel went out together several nights and truly loved the vibe. We had an amazing time at Dick Mack’s, which was recommended by the hostel owner, and O’ Sullivans Court House Pub had an awesome mix of locals and tourists alike. 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.

Read: Although I carried the Ireland Lonely Planet, Laura was carrying the Rick Steves Ireland and, in the dual of “which one is better,” her’s won. Although I liked the LP for accommodation and transportation recs, her guide had a detailed accounting of this drive. It had us start our tripmeter when we left Dingle, and then it offered tidbits we could read as we drove along, each fact corresponded to the mile markers and what we were seeing on the drive. It was a lot of fun and provided heaps of history and facts we would have otherwise missed.

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47 Responses to A Little Beauty… The Absolute Most Picturesque Drive in Ireland

  1. Claire June 25, 2018 at 5:54 pm #

    We’re doing this tomorrow so your post was a great reminder of the things to look out for – I can’t wait!!

    • Shannon June 28, 2018 at 6:45 am #

      Amazing! How did it go? It was one of my favorite drives in Ireland, particularly since it’s such an Irish area, with the signs and language so deeply embedded in it.

  2. ShannonOD January 25, 2010 at 7:39 pm #

    Sounds like you guys had a really amazing honeymoon!! How romantic to drive
    through the misty rainy countryside :-) -The Copper Coast is something I
    have definitely added to my list for next time I visit Ireland – I really
    haven't been down that way much, so I'll make a point to go there next time,
    many thanks for letting me know this spot!

  3. danmongosa January 25, 2010 at 2:24 pm #

    we just returned from our honeymoon in Europe and spent the first few days of it in Ireland. We loved every inch of the country. It is truly beautiful, even in the winter time.

    I would also recommend, along with your abovelocations, a drive along the Copper Coast between Dublin and Waterford. Large isolated beaches with rugged cliffs and huge jagged rocks, remote castle ruins in the hills and tiny picturesque villages along the way made the scenic drive one of our favorite moments of our honeymoon.

    • ShannonOD January 26, 2010 at 2:39 am #

      Sounds like you guys had a really amazing honeymoon!! How romantic to drive
      through the misty rainy countryside :-) -The Copper Coast is something I
      have definitely added to my list for next time I visit Ireland – I really
      haven't been down that way much, so I'll make a point to go there next time,
      many thanks for letting me know this spot!

  4. danmongosa January 25, 2010 at 7:24 am #

    we just returned from our honeymoon in Europe and spent the first few days of it in Ireland. We loved every inch of the country. It is truly beautiful, even in the winter time.

    I would also recommend, along with your abovelocations, a drive along the Copper Coast between Dublin and Waterford. Large isolated beaches with rugged cliffs and huge jagged rocks, remote castle ruins in the hills and tiny picturesque villages along the way made the scenic drive one of our favorite moments of our honeymoon.

  5. ShannonOD December 31, 2009 at 10:25 am #

    I would have to agree! I stopped in there for a pint myself and really
    enjoyed the music :-) There's just something magical about those cozy,
    dark old pubs!

  6. Frankie December 31, 2009 at 4:36 am #

    We made the same trip in the spring of 2009. O'Flaherty's Pub in Dingle is worth mentioning. It hasn't changed since our sister was there 37 years ago! It's an authentic old Irish Pub!

    • ShannonOD December 31, 2009 at 5:25 pm #

      I would have to agree! I stopped in there for a pint myself and really
      enjoyed the music :-) There's just something magical about those cozy,
      dark old pubs!

  7. Frankie December 30, 2009 at 9:36 pm #

    We made the same trip in the spring of 2009. O'Flaherty's Pub in Dingle is worth mentioning. It hasn't changed since our sister was there 37 years ago! It's an authentic old Irish Pub!

  8. ShannonOD November 18, 2009 at 9:12 pm #

    The huts were surprisingly sturdy at blocking out the wind, I was incredibly surprised, but the rocks are stacked very tightly and at a slant, so it was pretty neat to go into them and have all air and light blocked out. Still quite not ideal considering the huge winds that come off the Atlantic!

  9. Mark H November 17, 2009 at 11:58 pm #

    The old huts are incredible and must have made for a hard life in such chilly conditions as in west Ireland.

    • ShannonOD November 19, 2009 at 4:12 am #

      The huts were surprisingly sturdy at blocking out the wind, I was incredibly surprised, but the rocks are stacked very tightly and at a slant, so it was pretty neat to go into them and have all air and light blocked out. Still quite not ideal considering the huge winds that come off the Atlantic!

  10. Mark H November 17, 2009 at 4:58 pm #

    The old huts are incredible and must have made for a hard life in such chilly conditions as in west Ireland.

  11. ShannonOD November 10, 2009 at 4:36 pm #

    You could be!! The Irish will certainly give you warm greetings if you make it there, they're about the friendliest people I've met! :-)

  12. ShannonOD November 10, 2009 at 4:35 pm #

    I too felt an instant affinity for the country – it's just such a beautiful and tranquil place. Thanks for stopping in :-)

  13. zulhamsyah November 10, 2009 at 7:24 am #

    Gorgeous ! Ireland IS beautiful, wish i were in that pictures :)

    • ShannonOD November 10, 2009 at 11:36 pm #

      You could be!! The Irish will certainly give you warm greetings if you make it there, they're about the friendliest people I've met! :-)

  14. mina November 10, 2009 at 5:12 am #

    You look like you're having so much fun! I can't wait to visit Ireland. These pictures are fabulous.

    ….& thanks so much for the well wishes.

    • ShannonOD November 10, 2009 at 11:30 pm #

      You guys will love it so much! I am just so bummed for you that your trip is getting off to such a rough start :-) At least you're still in your own country! I look forward to reading about your travels :-)

  15. Walter November 10, 2009 at 5:22 am #

    Looking at your pictures my thoughts fly. It's very beautiful; a place I want to live for the rest of my life. :-)

    • ShannonOD November 10, 2009 at 11:35 pm #

      I too felt an instant affinity for the country – it's just such a beautiful and tranquil place. Thanks for stopping in :-)

  16. zulhamsyah November 10, 2009 at 12:24 am #

    Gorgeous ! Ireland IS beautiful, wish i were in that pictures :)

    • ShannonOD November 10, 2009 at 4:30 pm #

      You guys will love it so much! I am just so bummed for you that your trip is getting off to such a rough start :-) At least you're still in your own country! I look forward to reading about your travels :-)

  17. mina77 November 9, 2009 at 10:16 pm #
  18. mina November 9, 2009 at 10:12 pm #

    You look like you're having so much fun! I can't wait to visit Ireland. These pictures are fabulous.

    ….& thanks so much for the well wishes.

  19. Walter November 9, 2009 at 10:22 pm #

    Looking at your pictures my thoughts fly. It's very beautiful; a place I want to live for the rest of my life. :-)

  20. ShannonOD November 9, 2009 at 8:10 pm #

    I know exactly the feeling you are describing! It's incredible to travel to these remote and huge landscapes and just feel like the entire world could end on the other side of the cliff! Ireland is amazing and has a distinctly different pace than Scotland – buy your plane ticket! Well, at least as soon as you can ;-)

  21. Legal Nomads November 9, 2009 at 6:39 pm #

    How many takes for that awesome 'jumping in the air' photo? Looks like you guys had a fantastic time!

    • ShannonOD November 9, 2009 at 6:44 pm #

      My friend held down the button in “continuous picture” mode and I just jumped like a fiend a dozen times ;-) Good thing we were alone because I am sure I looked ridiculous doing it!

  22. Stacey Cornelius November 9, 2009 at 6:43 pm #

    I just found your blog – seeing those pictures makes me want to buy a plane ticket. I've been to Scotland, but not Ireland (yet). Banff was the farthest north I travelled in Scotland. The rugged North Sea coastline was really something to see. I felt like I was looking out at the edge of the world.

    Great pics!

    • ShannonOD November 10, 2009 at 3:10 am #

      I know exactly the feeling you are describing! It's incredible to travel to these remote and huge landscapes and just feel like the entire world could end on the other side of the cliff! Ireland is amazing and has a distinctly different pace than Scotland – buy your plane ticket! Well, at least as soon as you can ;-)

  23. ShannonOD November 9, 2009 at 11:44 am #

    My friend held down the button in “continuous picture” mode and I just jumped like a fiend a dozen times ;-) Good thing we were alone because I am sure I looked ridiculous doing it!

  24. Legal Nomads November 9, 2009 at 11:39 am #

    How many takes for that awesome 'jumping in the air' photo? Looks like you guys had a fantastic time!

  25. Stacey Cornelius November 9, 2009 at 11:43 am #

    I just found your blog – seeing those pictures makes me want to buy a plane ticket. I've been to Scotland, but not Ireland (yet). Banff was the farthest north I travelled in Scotland. The rugged North Sea coastline was really something to see. I felt like I was looking out at the edge of the world.

    Great pics!

  26. ShannonOD November 9, 2009 at 9:06 am #

    I haven't been to Iceland but have only heard really positive things. If you make it back to Ireland it's a must to get out of the city – it's an entirely different experience!

  27. ShannonOD November 9, 2009 at 9:04 am #

    Oh man, you will just have to let me know when you do! :-)

  28. ShannonOD November 9, 2009 at 9:02 am #

    I glad you weren't able to too! Who knew we'd have such a blast ;-) Terribly jealous that you are moving there!

  29. Laura Carter November 9, 2009 at 1:41 am #

    what a FUN day!!! and to think it was the day that started all of our adventures for the next week. :) so glad i wasn't able to make the tour bus and experience the peninsula with you guys! XOXO

    • ShannonOD November 9, 2009 at 4:02 pm #

      I glad you weren't able to too! Who knew we'd have such a blast ;-) Terribly jealous that you are moving there!

  30. Dave and Deb November 8, 2009 at 7:00 pm #

    It looks amazing. I just love scenic drives. We are going to have to get to Ireland some day soon.

    • ShannonOD November 9, 2009 at 4:04 pm #

      Oh man, you will just have to let me know when you do! :-)

  31. lilvtchic November 8, 2009 at 6:41 pm #

    what a FUN day!!! and to think it was the day that started all of our adventures for the next week. :) so glad i wasn't able to make the tour bus and experience the peninsula with you guys! XOXO

  32. Stephanie November 8, 2009 at 4:16 pm #

    You have convinced me I really, really need to go to Ireland. Spent a weekend in Dublin but didn't even get a real taste for what Ireland is all about. The hazy beauty actually reminds me of Iceland a bit.

    • ShannonOD November 9, 2009 at 4:06 pm #

      I haven't been to Iceland but have only heard really positive things. If you make it back to Ireland it's a must to get out of the city – it's an entirely different experience!

  33. Dave and Deb November 8, 2009 at 12:00 pm #

    It looks amazing. I just love scenic drives. We are going to have to get to Ireland some day soon.

  34. Stephanie November 8, 2009 at 9:16 am #

    You have convinced me I really, really need to go to Ireland. Spent a weekend in Dublin but didn't even get a real taste for what Ireland is all about. The hazy beauty actually reminds me of Iceland a bit.

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