Ireland’s Scenic Slea Head Drive via @TravelLatte.net

Ireland’s Scenic Slea Head Drive

Considered one of Ireland’s best scenic routes, Slea Head Drive circles the western edge of the Dingle Peninsula. It is not as well known as the neighboring Ring of Kerry, but it is filled with beauty and history all its own. In the west, where Ireland’s literary history is rooted and richly celebrated, it’s Irish first. To the north and south are centuries-old ruins. Sprinkled among them are beautiful beaches, rolling hills, and dramatic cliffs. Slea Head Drive is a diamond among the gems of the Dingle Peninsula.

Gems of Ireland

Ireland is heavy with history; laden with ancient sacred sites, Medieval castles and abbeys, and Celt and Viking origins. The island is also rich in natural beauty, from the famous Cliffs of Moher and Giants Causeway, to the rolling hills and valleys of the Boyne River Valley. Weaved among the history and beauty is Ireland’s renowned culture. These are the gems of Ireland, and we will highlight some of the them in this ongoing series.

Note: The Western portion of the Dingle Peninsula is a Gaeltacht, a traditional area where signage is primarily, if not only, in Irish. (In particular, Munster Irish). We’ve tried to include both English and Gaelic spellings, where we could find them. Pronunciation, on the other hand, is up to you. Good luck with that. 😉

Meet the Slea Head Drive

Starting just west of Dingle Town, Slea Head Drive is a 47-kilometer loop (about 30 miles), that takes you to the very edge of Ireland. The route is fairly well marked, and prominently featured on area maps. It’s an easy, enjoyable drive that will occupy the better part of a day.

If you’re including Slea Head Drive as part of a longer drive around the Dingle Peninsula, starting in the early afternoon will still allow plenty of time. More time is always better, but since traffic is lighter on Dingle than the neighboring Ring of Kerry, you can move around the loop quickly if you have to. If you’re lucky enough to spend a couple of days in the area, there is plenty to explore and enjoy on the Slea Head Drive, so let’s get started!

Road signs on Ireland’s Scenic Slea Head Drive via @TravelLatte.net

Leaving Dingle Town

The Slea Head Drive begins and ends in Dingle Town. Driving west on the R559, you can’t miss the signs for the Wild Atlantic Way and Slea Head Drive at the roundabout. A quick left, and you’re on your way towards the Dingle Distillery. Less than a kilometer later, at Browne’s Country Home B&B, the road forks and R550 continues in two directions: roughly north and west. For the best views, and least tour buses, you’ll want to drive the circular route in a clockwise fashion, heading southwest first, then up the west coast before driving inland back to Dingle.

Standing Stone at Milestone B&B on Ireland’s Scenic Slea Head Drive via @TravelLatte.net

One of Ireland’s thousands of ancient mysteries: A Standing Stone at Milestone House. (Photo: Milestone House Bed & Breakfast)

Before the road forks, you’ll see a great example of the mysterious monuments, markers, and ruins you’ll find scattered throughout the Dingle Peninsula. There is a Standing Stone at Milestone House B&B, thought to have been either a grave marker, or a boundary marker from tribal times; about 2000 to 1400 BC. There are more than 2,000 similar sites in the area, most of which are unmarked and seemingly unremarkable. They date from the Neolithic Age, 4,000 or more years ago, through the early-Christian era.

There is plenty more to do and see in the Dingle Town area just off the Slea Head Drive. If you have more than a day to spend on the Dingle Peninsula, it’s a good place to overnight.

Ventry & Carhoo

During the first part of the drive, you’ll pass bucolic fields dotted with grazing sheep and occasional views of the coast. The road comes closer to the sea as you near Ventry. If you are taking your time, look for a road sign pointing to Cé Cheann Trá. It’s very easy to miss, and points to an otherwise unmarked road on the left, which leads to a small pier. This small diversion gives you a great view of Ventry Beach to your right, and back up towards Dingle on the left. You can drive right onto the pier, where you’re likely to spot locals catching their dinner. Don’t worry if you miss the turn; another viewpoint with parking is just ahead, opposite Penny’s Pottery & Café in Ventry. And that view goes great with a latte to go! If you’d like to enjoy Carhoo, there are signs for beach access and parking as you continue on Slea Head Drive.

An angler on Ventry Beach on Ireland’s Scenic Slea Head Drive via @TravelLatte.net

Fishing for Dinner: Sea anglers on Ventry Beach (Photo ©Oliver Dixon)

The Fahan Clochán

About 5 kilometers from Penny’s Pottery, as you drive around the base of Mount Eagle, you’ll come to the Fahan clochán, a collection of stonework buildings, monuments, and cave dwellings. The grouping is said to be the most remarkable collection of sites in Ireland, with more than 400 stone huts being identified. Archeologists believe most of the structures were built in the 12th century, though some could be as much as 6,000 years old.

Dunbeg Promontory Fort on Ireland’s Scenic Slea Head Drive via @TravelLatte.net

Dunbeg Promontory Fort (Photo: ©Bjørn Christian Tørrissen)

The first such structure you’ll come to is An Dún Beag, or Dunbeg Fort. The stone building sits on a rocky promontory overlooking Dingle Bay. Archaeologist are not certain when it was first built but, over the years, much of it has been claimed by the sea. A visitor center at the site includes information and, while not a historic building, the Stonehouse Restaurant across the street is an impressive stone building in the tradition of the area’s huts and forts. Over the next few kilometers, there are several more public and private sites with beehive huts and forts. Unfortunately, erosion from Hurricane Ophelia in 2017 forced some of the sites to be at least partially off limits.

Next to the Stonehouse Restaurant is another historical and culturally important site, the Kavanaugh Famine Cottage. Here you can learn about the hard life of Irish farmers in the Famine era. There is also a working farm here where you can pet some friendly sheep, and see sheep dog demonstrations. However, the Famine Cottages are only open April to October, and sheep dog performances are by appointment only.

Along with several stops to see the ancient stonework buildings, this section of Slea Head Drive has plenty of pull-outs where you can stop for pictures and gaze out across Dingle Bay. On a clear day, you can see the Kerry Peninsula on the other side.

The Slea Head Crucifix on Ireland’s Scenic Slea Head Drive via @TravelLatte.net

The Slea Head Crucifix and, just ahead, Dunmore Head.

Slea Head and Dunquin

Slea Head Drive gets its name from the Slea Head promontory, the southernmost point on the Dingle Peninsula. There is a monument here, the Slea Head Crucifix. As remarkable as the Crucifixion scene is, we couldn’t find any explanation for it. Sometimes, all that’s really needed is to see and appreciate something.

Something else you’ll appreciate is the Slea Head Viewing Point. Not long after rounding the tip of the peninsula, you’ll see a sign that says Dún Chaoin, Míle Fáilte (essentially “Welcome to Dunquin”), and a smallish parking lot. Pull over, grab your camera, and get out of the car for stunning panoramic views of Slea Head Beach, Dunmore Head, and the Blasket Islands. This is one iconic vista! Dunmore Head is physically the westernmost point of the Irish mainland. Just offshore are the Blasket Islands, which locals like to say is the last parish before America.

View of Slea Head Beach, Dunmore Head & Blasket Islands on Ireland’s Scenic Slea Head Drive via @TravelLatte.net

At the End of the Dingle Peninsula: Slea Head Beach, Dunmore Head, and the Great Blasket Islands.

The beach you see, alternately known as Slea Head Beach or Coumeenoole Beach for the nearby village, is where those iconic beach scenes of Ryan’s Daughter were filmed. You can reach the beach by taking the next left after leaving the lookout.

Slea Head Drive continues into Dunquin. (Remember, it’s Irish only in this area, so many signs will say Dún Chaoin instead of Dunquin.) Two highlights in the area are the Blasket Centre, and charming Dunquin Harbour, also known as the Sheep Highway.

Life on this end of the Dingle Peninsula is greatly influenced by the offshore islands. One of the few ways to reach them is on boat tours that leave from Dunquin Harbour from April through October. Any time of year, though, you can learn more about the harsh life and rich heritage on the islands at the Blasket Centre. The area is also known for producing extraordinary pottery, with several studios in Dunquin.

Iconic Irish views on Ireland’s Scenic Slea Head Drive via @TravelLatte.net

An iconic Irish view: pastures, sheep, and shoreline, along the Slea Head Drive.

Ballyferriter and the Wine Strand

The shame of the Slea Head Drive is that, after Dunquin, the road turns inland and leaves the Dingle Peninsula’s northeastern corner unexplored. There are more charming villages, beaches, and golf links for those with time to explore. If you happen to be an archaeology buff, then you definitely need to head north to Ferriter’s Cove. Researchers have found tools and remains there from the Mesolithic era – that’s more than 10,000 years ago!

Instead, we’ll follow the R559 as it makes its way to Baile an Fheirtéaraigh (Ballyferriter) and more Irish history. The Músaem Chorca Dhuibhne, or West Kerry Museum is here, in the old schoolhouse, build int 1875. The name, Chorca Dhuibhne, is derived from a local tribe that lived here in Medieval timtees, and translates as “children of the Goddess.” In the museum, you can learn about the geology, archaeology, heritage and history of the area. Unfortunately, it’s open by appointment only, and even then, only during summers. Contact information to make an appointment is available on their website.

About two kilometers past the museum is a fork in the road. Should you decide to leave Slea Head Drive, you’ll be rewarded with the lovely beach views of the Wine Strand! Can’t decide if you should go? Hold on, because there’s another beach opportunity just ahead.

Gems of Ireland's Dingle Peninsula: The Ancient Gallarus Oratory, via @TravelLatte

The Gallarus Oratory sits serenely among the fields at the foot of Mount Brandon, the highest peak on the Dingle Peninsula.

Gallarus Oratory plus a Beach Break!

After another two kilometers, yet another fork in the road. What makes this confusing is that all three directions are the Slea Head Drive. Take our advice and turn left, then follow the signs to the Gallarus Oratory.

The Oratory itself is something of a mystery, and is not to be missed. Researchers can’t agree on just what the small stone hut’s purpose was. Some think it was a chapel, others a home. Still others believe it was a shelter for pilgrims trekking to Mount Brandon. What is known is that the simple stone hut has stood here for more than a thousand years. There is a small visitor’s center with bathrooms and a cafe, open from March to October.

Plan about an hour for this stop, a little longer if you walk down to Gallarus Castle (no actual relation). When you’re ready to go, turn right out of the driveway and continue on R559 to Ballinraggin Beach. Depending on when you began your tour of Slea Head Drive, it should be a good time for a beach picnic by this point! Ballinraggin is at the eastern edge of the Wine Strand mentioned earlier. Slea Head Drive comes right alongside the beach, and there’s a parking area just at the end of the An Ghaeltacht GAA Grounds. (If there’s a GAA match going on, by all means, attend it. Irish football matches are legendary!)

View of the Wine Strand on Ireland’s Scenic Slea Head Drive via @TravelLatte.net

Beal Ban, the Wine Strand, on the north side of the Slea Head Drive.

Wrapping Up: Kilmalkedar and the Drive to Dingle

After some beach time, and perhaps exploring the hamlet of Murreagh, it’s back on Slea Head Drive to start heading back to Dingle. The last stop on our loop is Kilmalkedar Church. You’ll notice the cemetery first, and can park there to explore the area. You can also walk to the ruins of St. Brendan’s House, but it is on private property with a “No Trespassing” sign.

Although ruins are all that’s left of the 12th-century Irish-Romanesque church, it was once the center of worship for the western side of the Dingle Peninsula. In the graveyard in front of the church is an Irish Cross, now half buried, and a much older Ogham Stone, indicating that this was a religious center some 900 years before Christianity.

After Kilmalkedar Church, Slea Head Drive heads right back to Dingle. Along the way, you’ll be treated to vistas of Ireland’s rolling hills and pastures, with Dingle Bay in the distance. This last leg is only about 7 kilometers, but may take 20 minutes or longer, depending entirely on how often you pull over to take a picture.

Kilmalkedar Church on Ireland’s Scenic Slea Head Drive via @TravelLatte.net

The ruins of 12th Century Kilmalkedar Church near the Gallarus Oratory.

An Historical Diversion

St. Brendan the Navigator was born around 484 in northern County Kerry. He is said to have sailed from Ireland, starting from what is now known as Brandon Creek, to find the Isle of the Blessed. Some say he discovered North America before the Columbus or the Vikings. He is the Patron Saint of County Kerry, one of the 12 Apostles of Ireland, and the namesake of Mt. Brandon, Brandon Bay, and the village of Brandon.

Although we didn’t have time on our drive around the Dingle Peninsula, fans of Irish history and folklore might consider adding a trip to Brandon Creek. The Slea Head Drive passes fairly close, but you should allow at least an hour for the return trip. It is more easily accessible, though, as a separate drive from Dingle.

The road to Brandon Creek leaves Shea Head Drive at Murreagh. Look for the road sign to Baile Na nGall (L5006) at the Pet Farm. You’ll stay on this road for 4.5 kilometers, when you’ll come to a sign for Brandon Creek. Follow the signs, and you’ll be at Brandon Creek in another 4.5 kilometers. The single-track road dead-ends at Brandon Pier, without much else to see. And by “pier,” we mean a small concrete pad with a few row boats. Historical, perhaps, and certainly a pilgrimage for believers, but not something on most tourist’s To Do list.

Milltown River on Ireland’s Scenic Slea Head Drive via @TravelLatte.net

Approaching Dingle from the north, the Slea Head Drive, runs alongside the Milltown River.

Tips for Your Slea Head Drive

Being one of the top scenic routes in Ireland makes Slea Head Drive something of a Must Do for us. If you decide to include a day on the Dingle Peninsula in your Irish Itinerary, here are a few thoughts on Slea Head Drive:

  • Although you can drive the entire route in about 30 minutes, don’t plan on it. Instead, plan about half a day, allowing time to stop for photos, visit attractions and, of course, enjoy a few well deserved coffee breaks!
  • Drive the route counterclockwise, as we suggested. Since you drive on the left in Ireland, this puts you in position for the best views along the coast, without being obstructed by tour buses. You’ll also have views towards Dingle bay in front of you on the last leg, rather than starting with them in your rearview mirror.
  • Slea Head Drive is a major road, and is well kept. Driving conditions are generally good, and you needn’t worry about weather, except that it may reduce visibility at the lookouts.
  • Services (ie: gasoline) are few and far between on the Dingle Peninsula. If you’re running low, fill up in Dingle before starting out.
  • There are several cafes and pubs along Slea Head Drive, but you might want to get some picnic items in Dingle to take along and enjoy a picnic on the beach! Top choices include Slea Head Beach, where “Ryan’s Daughter” filmed, and the beaches in the Wine Strand region.

View along the Dingle Peninsula on Ireland’s Scenic Slea Head Drive via @TravelLatte.net

Summary

We thought the Slea Head Drive was the best part of our drive around the Dingle Peninsula, and one of our best days in Ireland. It’s a beautiful area, with a variety of scenery, from rolling hills to broad beaches. But we want to know what you think! If you’ve taken the Slea Head Drive, let us know how you liked it. If you haven’t, have we convinced you to include this drive to the western edge of Ireland in your itinerary?

More from Ireland


Gems of Ireland's Dingle Peninsula: Dingle Town, via @TravelLatte


Gems of Ireland's Dingle Peninsula: Dunquin Harbour, via @TravelLatte


Gems of Ireland's Dingle Peninsula: Inch Beach, via @TravelLatte


Gems of Ireland's Dingle Peninsula: The Ancient Gallarus Oratory, via @TravelLatte

29 comments on “Ireland’s Scenic Slea Head Drive

    • Thanks Bryna! That corner of Ireland is so picturesque. Standing at Slea Head and looking at the natural beauty all around is just breathtaking. I hope you get to make that trip one day soon! Thanks for reading. 🙂

    • How exciting! I bet you have a million places to go and things to see. We still do! We already have several posts from Ireland up, but more will be coming. We know you’ll love Ireland, and can’t wait to hear about your trip! Thanks for your comment, Jill!

  1. I saw quite a bit of the Dingle Peninsula during a day trip from Killarney, but I’d still love to do this drive someday. What can I say? I just can’t get enough of Ireland! #WeekendWanderlust

    • Hey Erin – You should have jumped in the car with us! We’re with you – can’t get enough of the Emerald Isle. For a small country, there is SO much to see! The only answer is another trip. Obviously. 🙂 Thanks for your comment!

  2. Pinned for future travel planning (maybe next year???). We are taking our friends to the airport in 2 hours for their trip to Ireland. They should include this scenic drive for sure! I would especially enjoy the ruins of the 12th century church.

    • Hi Sharon! Your friends are so lucky! We’d love to be on our way to Ireland, too. 🙂 The area around the Gallarus Oratory – with the church and castle – was one of our favorite stops. Being history buffs, we just love that those type of ruins are scattered all over Ireland. Of course, the beaches and stunning shorelines were favorites, too. Thanks for reading Sharon – We hope your friends have a great trip, and that you get there soon!

  3. Looks great. Since Dingle is on my list for my next trip to Ireland, I would love to incorporate this drive. I hadn’t heard about it before. The views looking out to the sea are stunning. #TheWeeklyPostcard

    • Hi Anisa, thanks for reading! You will love Dingle. Hopefully, you’ll get a couple of days to explore the area. Slea Head Drive has jaw dropping views and it’s a very enjoyable drive. Beyond that, the whole peninsula is just gorgeous. More than once we took some of the side roads and found ourselves virtually alone on the Irish coast or countryside. Sometimes if felt like we had Ireland all to ourselves! We obviously enjoyed it, and we’re sure you will too.

  4. I can see you guys have fallen hard for Ireland and it’s no wonder. Your pics are fabulous. I haven’t been yet but am itching to go. I’ll definitely be keeping this on file pinned to my Ireland board.

    • Sometimes, you visit a place that leaves marks – and we have a big Irish clover branded on our hearts now! We can’t wait to visit again, and our list for next time just keeps getting longer. Hopefully, you’ll get to go soon! Thanks for reading – good hearing from you!

  5. Ireland in general is definitely full of scenic drives, such a picturesque landscape, not wonder it’s been used for Game of Thrones 😀 The Dingle Peninsula is perfectly rugged, what a fabulous photo! Great tips for driving the Slea Head Drive; yes it could take 30 minutes, but why should you when there is so much beauty, definitely stop for photographs, or just to pull over and admire (or stop for a drink along the way for sure!) Pinned #feetdotravel

    • Hi guys! We had so much fun on this drive, pulling over for impromptu photo shoots – like every 50 feet or so! It’s a good thing we started early, because we probably spent more time taking pictures and walking to something we could see from the road, than we did driving. Come to think of it, that would be a good tip too: Start early! 🙂 Thanks for reading – glad to hear you two are safe and sound!

  6. I am getting more and more interested in visiting Ireland. It seems to be quite a trend to travel there lately. From what I read, it’s pretty obvious that driving around is the best way to enjoy this beautiful country and Slea Head Drive definitely looks like a very scenic route. You’ve got some great pictures of those rolling hills to broad beaches.

    • Thanks Anda – Ireland is so picturesque, it’s hard to take a bad photo! Driving is definitely the way to go, because there are so many spots that will tempt you to pull over and explore. It does seem that Ireland is one of the ‘hot’ destinations, but we rarely felt it was crowded. In fact, sometimes we were nearly alone in some places, or at least the only foreigners. That was most often the case out on the Slea Head Drive. We hope you decide to go, and we’re sure you’ll love it!

    • Right? Just gorgeous. I mean, the whole country is beautiful, but the area of the Slea Head Drive was just amazing. Hopefully, you won’t have to wait long to visit! We know you’ll just love it. Thanks for reading, Sliva!

  7. The history and storytelling you’ve given us is very enlightening! I can’t imagine living somewhere so far away with extreme conditions. But it’s probably the most authentic place in Ireland! #FeetDoTravel / #TheWeeklyPostcard

    • It’s funny, we kept hearing about how remote, rugged, and extreme the Dingle Peninsula is, but an hour or so later and we were in Limerick. In days gone by, it would definitely have been challenging, but today it is easy to admire the rugged and beautiful scenery. It still seems very remote though, without a ton of people – locals or tourists. We want to stay out on Dingle for a longer time next visit; it seems like a great place to unplug and unwind! Thanks for reading, Lolo!

  8. Looks like such a scenic route indeed! Especially with all those iconic Irish views and briad beaches! Hope to visit Ireland soon, will include the Slea Head Drive to my travel Bucket List! pinned for the future #FeetDoTravel

    • Hi Anna – We hope you get there soon! The Dingle Peninsula had been on our bucket list for a long time, and it did not disappoint! Thanks for your comment, and the Pin, too. 🙂

  9. I was in Ireland, in June of this year, but I did not make it to this part of the coast. I’m not surprised to see that it’s just as beautiful as the rest of Ireland. Thanks for sharing! Reading this, made me nostalgic for that trip. I will have to put Slea Head on my list for next time! #TheWeeklyPostcard

    • Look at that – you already have an itinerary for another trip! Not that it’s hard to do when it comes to Ireland. 😉 Thanks for your comment, Kimberly!

  10. Hi guys, Lovely post on the this beautiful area of Ireland. I have never been but Laurence was on the Dingle Peninsula several years ago for a day or two, and he remembers one things: RAIN! So that was sad, but it looks like you guys had good weather. But we are hoping to add that area into our plans for 2019 and drive the Wild Atlantic Way. Jessica

    • Thanks Jessica! We can appreciate Laurence’s situation there. We thought this post was going to be “how to see Slea Head Drive in the rain” – It rained on us the day before, but we got a break and had a beautiful day. We really enjoyed this part of the Wild Atlantic Way, and driving the whole route next time is definitely on our bucket list! As always, thanks for reading!

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