Ring of Kerry or Dingle Peninsula: Which Irish Drive is for You?

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by Audrey Webster


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While each scenic drive in County Kerry is undoubtedly beautiful, there are a few key differences and similarities to keep in mind when deciding whether to drive the Ring of Kerry or the Dingle Peninsula. Both are exceptional in their own rights, being nestled on the western coastline of Ireland and offering their visitors spectacular landscapes.

In general, if you’re looking for a longer drive with a number of different places to stop off and enjoy, then the Ring of Kerry is an excellent option for you. On the other hand, the Dingle Peninsula drive is shorter and great if you’re short on time but still want to see similar scenery and interesting sites.

Ring of Kerry 

With its luscious green hills and pristine lakes, the Ring of Kerry is one of the most popular routes to drive on the western coastline of Ireland. Read on for what you should know when driving the Ring of Kerry. 

Gap of Dunloe on the Ring of Kerry
Gap of Dunloe on the Ring of Kerry

Accessibility

The easiest, and arguably best, way to experience the Ring of Kerry is by car. This allows you the greatest freedom when seeing everything the route has to offer. There are several places where you can pull off the road for a view or turn onto roads that lead to tucked-away sites. You can browse Rentalcars.com to compare car hire prices.

The alternative option to driving yourself is to sign up for a guided tour such as this full-day tour. Tours usually last the entire day and take visitors around to the highlights on the Ring of Kerry, plus tour guides will have a wealth of knowledge to share about the route 

Most visitors start in Killarney (though you can also start in the nearby village of Kenmare). They arrive by bus, car, or through a small train station.

Depending on where you’re arriving from, you may have to transfer trains at a larger station nearby. The most affordable way to arrive in Killarney is by bus, but it’s not always the quickest if you’re short on time. 

The Ring of Kerry is well-marked, so you should have no difficulty sticking to the correct route if you’re driving yourself. There are several small towns along the way for you to stop at for lunch or a snack during your day trip. 

Driving in Killarney National Park
Driving in Killarney National Park

Practicality

The road is 120 miles (193 km) long, but you should plan to spend the entire day driving as there are many places where you can stop for a great view. You should also plan to get an early start, hitting the road at 9 AM or earlier.

As a general rule of thumb, if you’re driving yourself, drive the route clockwise. Tour buses always drive counter-clockwise and driving the opposite direction ensures you don’t get caught behind a line of tour buses.

Most people drive around the Ring of Kerry (which encircles the entirety of the Iveragh peninsula) in a single day. Even with making plenty of stops, one day is more than enough time, unless you’re planning on making a detour to the Skellig Ring and hopping on a boat to the island of Great Skellig to explore Skellig Michael, which will add on a significant amount of time.

If you’re staying in Killarney and want to spend time seeing the highlights in the park, you can drive a portion of the Ring of Kerry and explore the park.

Torc Waterfall
Torc Waterfall

Things to do in Ring of Kerry

Torc Waterfall

Torc Waterfall is one of the most popular sites along the Ring of Kerry. This 20-meter tall waterfall is a short hike from the parking lot. It’s a favorite stop in Killarney National Park, and a good way to spend the morning if you’re taking some time to explore the park.

That said, the parking lot is small and tends to fill up quickly during the middle of the day. It’s best to get an early start if you’re planning on hiking in the area. 

Killarney National Park

As the first national park in Ireland, Killarney National Park does not disappoint. It was established in 1932 and spans 10,000 hectares. Parts of the park, like the Muckross House and Abbey, can be accessed by foot from the town of Killarney.

There are paved paths throughout the main sections of the park and many visitors rent bikes to get around. The park is full of a huge variety of habitats, each featuring their own flora and fauna that make Killarney National Park unique. 

Muckross Abbey
Muckross Abbey

The Gap of Dunloe

No drive on the Ring of Kerry is not complete without a stop at the Gap of Dunloe. It’s a huge selling point for visitors when they’re weighing the Ring of Kerry vs the Dingle Peninsula. The gap is seated between two mountain ranges, creating a stunning canyon filled with luscious green grass and pristine lakes.

The traditional way of reaching the gap is the park at Kate Kearney’s Cottage and walk to Lord Brandon’s Cottage for the view. It’s one of the most popular parts of the Ring of Kerry, and because of this, tends to be one of the busier stops.

Ladies View

Here is one of the most photographed places in Ireland. When you visit, it’s easy to see why. Ladies View is a viewpoint that looks out over a valley with winding rivers and a colorful landscape. The name comes from Queen Victoria’s ladies-in-waiting who visited the outlook in 1861 and greatly admired the view.

There is a small lot where you can park and admire the view. There is also a small cafe that could be a good place to take a break on your drive. The best time of year to visit is during the summer and the fall–fall colors make for a spectacularly colorful viewing. 

Ladies View
Ladies View

Molls Gap

Moll’s Gap is another famous canyon overlook. It offers tremendous views of the MacGillycuddy’s Reeks mountains. The road to the outlook is well-marked, but narrow, so drive carefully. There are several places where you can pull off to soak in the view, but be mindful of other drivers.

If you have some time to spare, there is a small cafe called Avoca where you can grab a cup of coffee and pastry to round out your drive. 

Where to Stay in Killarney

Old Weir Lodge – If you’re traveling on a mid-range budget, you’ll love this quaint guesthouse in Killarney. There is a superb breakfast each morning along with several rooms (including family rooms) available.

The Killarney Park – Those looking for a luxury base after enjoying the thrills of the Ring of Kerry are sure to love this opulent hotel. Located in the center of Killarney, they have a number of wonderful rooms to offer, a restaurant, a great breakfast and even an on-site spa.

The Black Sheep Hostel – Budget and solo travelers will love this convivial hostel in Killarney. The perfect base for exploring the Ring of Kerry, they have dorms and privates on offer, kitchen facilities, bike hire and good common spaces.

Not quite what you’re looking for? Click here to browse more Killarney hotels!

Beautiful Killarney
Beautiful Killarney

Dingle Peninsula

Figuring out if you should visit the Dingle Peninsula or the Ring of Kerry is no small task. With its stunning coastline, fascinating history, and charming towns, the Dingle Peninsula is a great way to experience Ireland’s western landscape. Here’s what you should know. 

Practicality

As you’re weighing which scenic drive, keep in mind that Dingle is further away from Dublin than Killarney. If Dublin is your starting point, make sure you have ample time to travel across the country and back without feeling rushed.

Dingle is located on the westernmost point of Ireland. It’s recommended that you spend 2-3 days in the area to see it without feeling rushed. Most visitors kick off their Dingle Peninsula drive from the town of Dingle.

You can either rent a car or schedule an organised tour from Dingle such as this half-day tourthis full-day tour or this private tour. Renting a car grants you the freedom to see the route at your own pace. 

The Dingle Peninsula drive is about 30 miles (about 50 km), but you should expect to spend an entire day driving the route. Between making stops and potential traffic (and maybe a few sheep in the road), a full day gives you plenty of time to admire the scenery on the peninsula.

The drive around the Dingle Peninsula must be driven clockwise as the roads are very narrow. It’s recommended that you get an early start, ideally by 9 AM or earlier, to avoid getting caught in tour bus traffic. Make sure to drive carefully as you will most likely encounter bicyclists on the route.

Driving along Dingle Peninsula
Driving along Dingle Peninsula

Things to do in Dingle Peninsula

Slea Head

The Dingle Peninsula Drive and Slea Head Drive are often used interchangeably.

Slea Head is one of the first stops on the drive and one of the most iconic outlooks. It is the westernmost part of the Dingle Peninsula that protrudes out from the coastline offering visitors picturesque views of the rugged coastline, vibrant blue water, and bright green terrain.

You can walk a small, narrow path to the outlook. It’s well worth you time to pause here to admire the stunning view. 

Conor Pass

As one of the highest mountain passes in Ireland, Conor Pass is a highlight on the Dingle Peninsula. It spans about 12 km across the center of the Dingle Peninsula, but driving the pass is not for the faint of heart.

This road is narrow and twisty, carving along the side of a mountain. However, the views from here are unmatched. The two main stopping points for views are at Pedlar’s Lake and Conor Pass Car Park. As you drive, keep an eye out for cars coming from the opposite direction.

The road is too narrow for two cars to pass in many places, so you might have to pull off to let other cars through. 

Conor Pass
Conor Pass

Inch Beach

Stretching for four miles against a largely untouched coastline is Inch Beach. It’s located close to Dingle, so you can visit it on your Dingle Peninsula drive or on a short day trip from town. Inch Beach offers great scenery for an afternoon walk, but this isn’t why the beach is famous.

Surfers flock from across the country to try out these waters. Ireland might not be the first place that comes to mind considering where to surf, but Inch Beach is a renowned destination. Even if you’re not a surfer, you can kick back on the sand and watch others test their skills on the waves. 

Beehive Huts

These strange little cone-shaped huts are a charming stop on your Dingle Peninsula drive. They are believed to have been constructed from the 8th to 12th century CE by monks who followed Saint Peter and it is a great place to explore early Irish heritage.

Today, only a handful of the original 400 bizarre abodes stand, but visitors are able to walk right up to and even inside some. If you’re interested in finding more historic stone structures, visit the Gallarus Oratory. 

Dunquin Pier

Dunquin Pier is a small, but mesmerizing stop on the Dingle coastline. Upon arrival, you’ll walk down a twisty path to reach the pier, but you get the best view from the cliffs above. Wear sturdy shoes and be careful of where you’re walking.

The ground can be muddy and cliffs are unfenced. This is a great place to stop for a lunch picnic or take a break to admire the view. It also tends to be very windy, so dress accordingly. Many visitors heading to the Blasket Islands will hop on a ferry from Dunquin Pier – maybe you can even spot a dolphin on the way! 

Dunquin Pier
Dunquin Pier

Where to Stay in Dingle

An Capall Dubh B&B Dingle – A no-frills but homely and comfortable bed and breakfast in Dingle, this is a great option. There are single, twin and double rooms available along with a good breakfast in the morning.

Dingle Bay Hotel – A colorful hotel located by the Dingle pier, they offer a bar and restaurant, a fab breakfast in the mornings and several different rooms to choose from.

Milltown House Dingle – Overlooking the sea in Dingle, this is a great luxe option. Situated in a grand estate, there are plenty of plush rooms available, breakfast daily and free parking.

Not quite what you’re looking for? Click here to browse more Dingle hotels!

Slea Head
Slea Head

Ring of Kerry vs Dingle Peninsula: The Verdict

Whether you’re driving the Ring of Kerry or the Slea Head, you are guaranteed beautiful scenery and impressive historical landmarks. You can see both the Ring of Kerry and the Dingle Peninsula in one day.

Both routes have countless places to pull off to take in the scenery, however, the Dingle Peninsula is less well-known and generally sees fewer people. If you want to contend with fewer people, the Dingle Peninsula might be right for you. 

If you’re an avid bicyclist, you’ll want to head out of the Dingle Peninsula. The route is a popular one for those on bikes and tends to be safer as traffic all goes in the same direction.

If you’re short on time, take the Dingle Peninsula route. It’s about a third of the length of the Ring of Kerry. You’ll get to experience equally beautiful scenery without a huge time commitment.

That said, the Ring of Kerry has more to offer overall and is one of the most iconic drives in Ireland. There are smaller towns positioned along the route, which make it more possible for you to go slow and see the route over two days. You’ll also have access to a famous national park and more guided tours available to you. 

When you compare the Dingle Peninsula vs the Ring of Kerry, you really can’t go wrong. Both routes beautifully capture everything the westernmost regions of Ireland have to offer.

Are you trying to decide which Irish road trip is the right one for you? Have any questions? Let us know in the comments!

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Audrey Webster is a writer for The World Was Here First. She is an Oregon native who has visited countries across the globe and currently spends her weekends exploring the Pacific Northwest and surrounding states. Her approach to traveling combines exploring famous tourist sites and wandering off the beaten path to discover new destinations.

Comments

  1. I am planning my trip and using your article for my guide. We are retired and can take whatever time we need to see all we need to see. I have been told 10 days is enough see Ireland. That may be seeing one or the other, but not both The Ring of Kerry and Dingle Peninsula. We can do 11 days if you think it is worth staying an extra day for. I know when we went out west we loved the first 10 canyons we saw, but even though we came across more beautiful canyons no one wanted to stop again. I wondered if we traveled the Ring of Kerry would Dingle be just more of the same and it become too much.

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