Slea Head Drive on Ireland’s Dingle Peninsula is one of those pinch me, is this real type of places.
If you’re considering whether or not to include Dingle’s Slea Head Drive in your Ireland itinerary, let me help you decide…Without a doubt, yes!
Called one of the most beautiful places in the world by Nat Geo and others, you’ll undoubtedly agree it deserves this honor even after just a short time on the Dingle Peninsula and Slea Head.
In this guide, you’ll find travel-tested advice to plan your scenic drive, including Slea Head Drive’s best stops, driving tips, where to stay, and how to fit this in with your Ireland itinerary.
Slea Head Drive Guide: Best Stops + Tips for Ireland’s Amazing Dingle Peninsula
I’ll be totally honest. Slea Head Drive and the Dingle Peninsula took my breath away.
This beautiful drive took me on an adventure discovering ancient monuments, Celtic and early-Christian sites, rocky, rugged cliffs, a patchwork of rolling green hills, and a hue of turquoise I didn’t think was possible in the North Atlantic.
If you close your eyes and imagine what you think Ireland looks like, I guarantee you’re picturing this spectacular slice in the southwest of Ireland.
I was lucky enough to visit on a clear day, with bright sun and miles of blue sky, which without a doubt helped to make it one of the best experiences of my trip to Ireland.
It’s definitely worth checking the weather and being flexible with the day(s) you plan to drive Slea Head if you can.
Either way, though, Slea Head and the Dingle Peninsula aren’t to be missed!
Driving the Dingle Peninsula & Slea Head Drive: Practical Info
Slea Head Drive is a small loop on the western edge of the Dingle Peninsula. It starts and ends in the town of Dingle and is also known as R559. This scenic loop is just one part of the Dingle Peninsula drive, but it is the section you should focus on, especially if you have limited time.
It’s also part of the Wild Atlantic Way, a coastal route stretching along Ireland’s west coast.
As you arrive in Dingle, drive through the town, passing colorful shops and restaurants on your right and the waterfront on your left. The road begins and ends near the Dingle Distillery.
Follow the road (R559) to the left to start the drive.
The Slea Head loop is best driven in a clockwise direction. Tour buses are less of an issue on the Dingle Peninsula compared to the Ring of Kerry. But, the spectacular views are on the left, as are the pull-offs, so you can stop to enjoy the amazing views. And, of course, you’ll also be driving on the left!
There are plenty of road signs to guide you along the circular drive. Signs usually appear in English and Irish, however towards the end of Slea Head I noticed a couple of signs showing just An Daingean, the Irish word for Dingle.
How long is Slea Head Drive?
The circular road is roughly 30 miles long. The winding, narrow road hugs the Atlantic coastline before eventually turning east to return to Dingle.
How much time does it take to drive the Slea Head route?
The entire loop takes roughly 50-55 minutes to make your way completely around without stopping.
But this isn’t possible because, in reality, the green rolling hills combined with the rugged coast and blue and turquoise waters of the Atlantic Ocean will have you hopping out of your car at every possible pull-off point!
Plan to spend at least 3 hours driving and exploring the many Slea Head Drive stops.
Is Slea Head Drive dangerous?
I drove the route on my own and thought it was one of the easiest of all my scenic drives in Ireland. As with all countryside driving in Ireland, take it slow and be mindful of the weather.
I was lucky to have a sunny, blue sky day during spring. This combo of dry roads and fewer cars driving absolutely made the ride easier than perhaps it would have been in different conditions or in summer.
Getting Started: Killarney to Dingle
I visited the Dingle Peninsula as part of my Ireland road trip itinerary.
I used Killarney as a base for a couple of nights to make stops along the Ring of Kerry and to drive the Dingle Peninsula, before making my way further north to see the Cliffs of Moher, the Burren, Galway, and the Connemara.
Killarney is just a 1-hour drive from the town of Dingle, with plenty of hotels, restaurants, and places to refuel your car. If you make an early start, as I did, you can easily spend a full day on the Dingle Peninsula.
Before Arriving in Dingle: Stop at Inch Beach
Once on the peninsula, drive along the coast using R561. It’ll give you a glimpse of what’s to come along the Slea Head Drive.
Don’t miss the chance to stop at Inch Beach, either!
Far from an inch, this beach was one of the widest I’d ever seen, with sand stretching in every direction (especially at low tide) before finally reaching the water.
There’s a parking area, as well as a small pull-off area along the road above the beach. If you visit in summer, you can swim or surf. The stunning views, though, are worth seeing in any season.
My Map of Slea Head Drive Stops
Below, you’ll find the Google Map I created and used for my drive.
Because it’s a loop drive, you want to have each stop mapped out so you don’t miss anything and have to backtrack. The narrow roads make it tricky to turn around.
The green star represents the town of Dingle, the starting and ending point for Slea Head Drive.
What to See on Slea Head Drive
The Dingle Peninsula’s Slea Head Drive is blessed with stunning natural landscapes and thousands of years of history. There are popular stops along the route, as well hidden gems along the way.
I’ve outlined the Slea Head Drive stops I planned for my trip. Use this as a starting point but also plan to stop along the way as something catches your interest.
Perhaps you also want to watch a sheepdog demonstration, stop at Eask Tower, Dunbeg Fort, or Kilmalkedar Church. Maybe you’d like to shop for a one-of-a-kind ceramic piece from Louis Mulcahy Pottery in Ballyferriter.
The best part of Ireland’s scenic drives is what you find along the way. Take it slow and enjoy Slea Head Drive R559!
No matter where your travels take you in Ireland, I promise that Dingle town will be one of the most delightful towns you’ll visit!
The small, brightly-colored buildings lining the village center offer delicious pub fare and ice cream (Grab a cone at Murphy’s!), souvenirs, and hand-made gifts. And, Dingle Bay sparkles just off R559, the main road through town. There are boats offering dolphin or whale-watching tours.
If you make an early start to drive Slea Head Loop, save Dingle for the end of your drive. The mornings are quiet but the afternoon is a perfect time to stop for a bite to eat.
Fahan Beehive Huts
The beehive huts are one of the most notable historic things to see on Slea Head Drive. There are a few sites scattered around the peninsula, but the Fahan Beehive Huts are among the best.
Named for their shape, the Fahan rock structures likely date back to about the 12th century. However, this style of rock huts first appeared across Ireland during the late Stone Age.
Each rock appears to be painstakingly placed, with each layer shifting ever so slightly inward until eventually creating the cone-like hut roof. What’s even more astonishing is that, built in this precise way, these huts were watertight!
While walking through the site, take in the gorgeous cliff and ocean views. Whoever constructed these huts clearly knew how important location is to real estate!
Be prepared to pay a few Euros in cash to visit the site.
Just a quick 2 minutes down the road and you’ll arrive at Cashel Murphy, a fascinating ancient Celtic site and one of the most notable, preserved rock settlements in all of Ireland.
Within the cashel walls, you’ll find the ruins of several rock huts, as well as an underground tunnel and structure that was used for storage and protection. Extended families lived and worked in these huts up until the 13th-century. There is even a stone carving of what appears to be the sphinx that is believed to date back thousands of years!
When the ticket booth isn’t manned, there is an honor system box requesting a couple of Euros. Either way, have cash on hand to pay for entry.
ProTip: I visited Ireland in early spring and there were teeny-tiny lambs all over the countryside! Some of them appeared just days old. After my first day in Wicklow Ireland, I searched for a place that would offer the opportunity to pet or feed one of these adorable babies!
Just after Cashel Murphy, I stumbled up a sign that said, “Hold a Baby Lamb.” I quickly pulled off the road, but sadly, I didn’t have any luck finding someone who lived or worked there. But, perhaps you’ll have better luck on your Slea Head drive!
Cross at Slea Head
This stunning scenic viewpoint is where Slea Head Drive ends its westward direction and turns north. There are actually 2 pull-offs, the first being just before the white cross at the Slea Head viewpoint.
I stopped at both because the coastal views were breathtaking! If you’re fortunate to have a bright sunny day, you’ll be able to see the, now uninhabited, but nearby Blasket Islands sitting just a couple of miles off Ireland’s Atlantic coast, as well as Dunmore Head.
Slea Head Beach
Also known as Coumeenoole Beach, this small cove beach, with its aquamarine-colored water and surrounded by rocky cliffs and green rolling hills, is one of the most gorgeous places I’ve ever been to anywhere in the world!
There is a pull-off before the beach, as well as a couple of cafes where you can sit and enjoy the views. To be honest, the beach itself was too tempting and after stopping at the pull-off before the beach, I went directly to the Slea Head parking lot.
Savor this spot from above on the grassy hill, then make your way down to the beach. Spend as much time as you can spare, just be mindful of the strong currents.
If there’s one Slea Head Drive highlight not to miss, this is it!
From the Cross at Slea Head, you might have already spied Dunmore Head jutting out from the coastline, not far from Great Blasket Island. This rocky outcropping is the westernmost point along the coast of Ireland.
There is a short walk to Dunmore Head that I highly recommend doing. From the Slea Head Beach parking lot, walk towards the back of the parking area with your back to the road.
On the right, you’ll see a small sign marking the trailhead. The walk takes you up into the grassy hillside before coming back down towards the water and within steps of the rocks forming Dunmore Head.
Along the way and near the cliffside, there’s likely to be sheep grazing, which makes for fantastic photos! But even more than that, walking through the countryside with panoramic ocean and Coumeenoole Beach views will feel like you’ve discovered your own small piece of the Dingle Peninsula.
If you’re like me, it’ll be one of your favorite stops and one of your most treasured Ireland travel memories.
Dunquin Pier (Dun Chaoin Pier)
About a mile from the Slea Head parking lot, there’s a left turn off the road that leads you to the parking area for the viewpoint over Dunquin Pier.
Park near the tiny house that seasonally sells ferry tickets to visit Great Blasket Island.
You can enjoy the views from the top of the ramp and/or walk down the ramp for a closer look. Like at Coumeenoole Beach, I was amazed by the Caribbean-colored water in the small cove to the right of the ramp.
ProTip: From June to August, Great Blasket Island ferries depart hourly (starting around 10 a.m.) from Dunquin Pier. The boat ride takes just 20 minutes and gives you the chance to hike and picnic on the island. Remember, the island is uninhabited. There are no bathrooms and food and water should be carried with you.
The Blasket Centre
This museum tells the story of the community of people who lived on the Blasket Islands until 1953 using interactive displays, exhibits, and artifacts.
Life was difficult on these remote islands, with access to mainland Ireland a significant challenge given the North Atlantic’s choppy waters and unpredictable weather. This and a dwindling population led to the islands’ eventual evacuation.
During the summer season, you can also go on a tour of the deserted village on Great Blasket Island. Unfortunately, when I visited, The Blasket Centre was closed. However, there is a clifftop viewing platform that is open where you can see Great Blasket Island and get another perspective on the spectacular Dingle coastline.
Continue on Slea Head Drive for a few miles past Dunquin Pier and The Blasket Centre before arriving at Gallus Oratory.
This intact rock structure is thought to be one of Ireland’s best-preserved early-Christian chapels. Its exact age is unknown, however, it could be up to 1000 years old. The site also has a visitor’s center where you can watch a short video about the archaeology on the Dingle Peninsula.
When you see Gallus Oratory and the Beehive huts around the Dingle peninsula, it’s really hard to grasp how they were built with no mortar! The rocks were meticulously cut and placed and have stayed steady for centuries!
Dingle Peninsula or Ring of Kerry?
After driving both, it’s a tough choice for sure! Each of these scenic drives is worth it with the right amount of time.
But, If you’re short on time and can only drive one, definitely go for the Dingle Peninsula and Slea Head Drive. And if I’m being completely honest, the Dingle Peninsula, including Slea Head, was my favorite place to visit out of my entire Ireland itinerary!
Dingle Peninsula & Slea Head Tours
There are Dingle Peninsula day tours that drive the Slea Head loop, especially during the peak summer months. So if you’re without a car or just prefer not to drive, it’s an option. Most of these tours start in Killarney. Although this Slea Head Drive tour begins in Dingle.
However, without a doubt, the best way to experience Slea Head and the Dingle Peninsula is on your own by car (or bike). Each stop offers something unique and the ability to pull off and stop for as little or as long as you want will make the drive that much more memorable.
Dingle Peninsula Hotels
I chose to use Killarney as my base. My Killarney hotel was just an hour from the town of Dingle. So, it was easy to make the drive and have the day to explore as I wished.
But, if you prefer to stay on the peninsula itself, the town of Dingle makes the most logical base. It’s central, with access to Slea Head Drive, Conor Pass, and main routes going back toward places off the peninsula.
Dingle is also pedestrian-friendly and has plenty of shops and restaurants. It’s also the likely departure point for marine activities, like dolphin or whale-watching tours.
Here are a couple of highly-rated Dingle hotels for you to consider as you plan your trip to Ireland.
- Dingle Skelling Hotel: This 4-star hotel has incredible views of Dingle Bay and spa facilities. It also offers free breakfast and free parking. Set a bit away from Dingle’s town center, it’s still just a 10-minute walk to the main shopping and dining area of town.
- Dingle Bay Hotel: This family-run hotel is located in the heart of Dingle and prides itself on its Irish hospitality and clean, spacious rooms. Guests also receive free parking, which is especially valuable along Dingle’s marina and in the downtown area.
Where To After Slea Head & the Dingle Peninsula?
If you’re using Killarney as your base to explore Ireland’s County Kerry, it’s just an hour’s drive back from Dingle Town.
You can also continue north exploring more of Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way. Places like Adare, Limerick, Shannon, and Ennis are just about a 2-hour drive, with Adare slightly less than that and Ennis slightly more at the farthest point.
By positioning yourself in one of these cities, you’re set up to visit places like Bunratty Castle, the Cliffs of Moher, and the Burren.
If this is your plan, you can drive the main road N86, or opt for the short scenic drive, taking the Conor Pass (R560). This bending road is one of Ireland’s highest mountain passes, and of course, comes with dramatic vistas of mountains, lakes, and the Dingle Peninsula.
Slea Head Drive & the Dingle Peninsula: Ireland at its Best!
There’s a tee shirt I wish I bought in Dingle. It read, “Dingle Before You Die.” It honestly couldn’t be said any better!
The Dingle Peninsula is a special place and, in miniature, shows off everything there is to love about Ireland.
As you plan your Ireland trip, be sure to put Dingle’s Slea Head Drive at the top of the list! I’m already planning my return trip.
So, what questions do you have about Slea Head and the Dingle Peninsula?
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