The Ring of Kerry and the Dingle Peninsula are the two most famous driving routes for tourists in southwest Ireland. They both offer spectacular coastal views, jagged mountains, cosy villages, sparkling lakes, lush green sheep fields and the famous Irish hospitality. But which is better?
That’s a popular question.
If you google it, you’ll find lots of people offering their opinions. Some people prefer the Ring of Kerry and others swear by the Dingle Peninsula. There’s no clear winner.
So if you only have time for one, which do you choose?
It just so happens I recently went on a road trip to both, and I’m going to tell you all about it.
Ring of Kerry vs Dingle Peninsula
My friend was visiting from home (Minnesota, dontcha know), and she had the brilliant idea to go on a road trip from Dublin to Dingle. You see, she had heard of the Dingle Peninsula long ago and knew even then that it’s a special place. We analyzed the map together and decided to also drive the Ring of Kerry since we would be in the neighborhood.
I was thrilled to get the opportunity to see more of Ireland and with one of my best friends! We rented a manual car with a diesel engine (for cheaper fuel) and hopped on the left side of the M7 motorway out of Dublin. She was behind the wheel since my manual driving skills leave much to be desired.
The road trip from Dublin to Dingle typically takes about 4.5 hours. However, we made stops along the way in Adare, arguably the cutest village in Ireland, and Abbeyfeale for their Gather by the Feale Festival. We had a fun time pub-hopping in Abbeyfeale, meeting the locals and enjoying the craic.
The next morning we hopped onto the N21 en route to the Iveragh Peninsula. We would spend the day driving the Ring of Kerry, the evening relaxing in Dingle town and the next day exploring the Dingle Peninsula.
The Ring of Kerry
For being such a popular tourist route, I was surprised that the winding roads were so narrow with blind bends and tight corners, yet completely packed with people on bikes, on foot, in tour buses and driving cars. The speed limits posted are far too high in my opinion. With the loads of cyclists and hikers also sharing the narrow roads, you have to be extra watchful at all times.
We didn’t have time to make many stops along the route, but still we were never bored. Every twist and turn revealed a new and equally stunning view. Fortunately, we were there on a clear, sunny day so the lakes were sparkling blue and the landscape was vivid green. The Ring of Kerry has some of the most beautiful scenery I have witnessed since arriving in Ireland six weeks ago. Here it is obvious why they call this the Emerald Isle.
The Ring of Kerry is a mountainous, lake-splattered region with prehistoric ring forts and lush green flora. The famous loop drive on the Ring of Kerry takes around three times longer than the Dingle Peninsula loop drive. The tourists are more populous, including the hitchhikers. When we spotted two smiling girls with their thumbs up along a frighteningly tight road, we knew it was our destiny to stop. They were WWOOFers (WWOOF volunteers) from Italy spending a month on a local Irish farm. We didn’t care where they needed a ride to, we knew we would bring them there. We became fast friends.
They were free-spirits, and we bonded over our love for adventures. We swapped stories, snapped pictures, laughed hysterically and sang along to the same songs as we made our way around the Ring of Kerry. Sealing our friendship, we became facebook friends over cups of tea and coffee in the picturesque town of Kenmare. Who knew that picking up hitchhikers would turn out to be my favorite part of our entire road trip?
Before making our way to Dingle, we made a detour to the prehistoric Staigue Fort near the village of Castlecove. The 4km one-lane road to the fort is bumpy and cramped, which just adds to the remote ambiance.
The ring fort is at least 2,000 years old and made of five-meter-high dry-stone walls. The surrounding scenery is lovely and the spongy green ground is fun to stroll around on.
With the occasional stray sheep standing alongside the road, the brilliant green landscapes and the exceptional views of mountains and lakes, the Ring of Kerry is a particularly lovely place. The bar was set high, so I was skeptical that the Dingle Peninsula could be as impressive.
The Dingle Peninsula
When we arrived in Dingle town that evening, it was cloudy and rainy, a stark contrast from a few hours earlier on the Ring of Kerry. We didn’t let the drizzle dampen our spirits. We found ample pubs with live music, friendly locals and lots of craic. The charm of Dingle town can’t be ignored.
The next morning we had about five hours to explore the Dingle Peninsula before heading back to Dublin in time to return our rental car. Many locals recommend a boat trip to see Fungie, the resident dolphin in Dingle Harbour, but unfortunately we didn’t have time for that. Our first stop was at the Fahan Beehive Huts, the igloo-shaped stone homes of monks who fled the chaos of Europe during the Dark Ages.
Slea Head, the point in Europe closest to America, offers impressive views of the rugged coastline and the Blasket Islands.
The tip of the peninsula is marked with a white statue of the crucifix.
The quaint village of Dunquin is wondrously remote and peaceful.
The Gallarus Oratory is a 1,300 year old church made only of stone. It’s quite impressive the the structure is still water tight today!
We had an amazing lunch at Tigh T.P. in Ballydavid. The food and view were equally impressive.
We drove through Conor Pass, which offered breath-taking views of the peninsula, despite the dense fog.
The Dingle Peninsula loop drive had far less tourists than the Ring of Kerry loop and takes a fraction of the time. Both offer stunningly scenic drives and both are impressive.
I found the Ring of Kerry to be more touristy and more about the landscape and less about the towns and the culture. It did offer the most spectacular scenery of our trip. Although, it is highly likely that I found the Ring of Kerry more beautiful because the day was clear and the sun was shining, whereas the weather was cloudy and rainy most of the time on the Dingle Peninsula.
The Dingle Peninsula had more shopping and eateries. The craic to be found in the pub paradise in Dingle was really fun. The villages dotting the Dingle Peninsula are so perfect they could be featured in a traditional Irish calendar.
What can I say? I really liked both. My experiences on the two peninsulas where completely different, but both were enjoyable and memorable.
These hostels make great launch pads for the Ring of Kerry or the Dingle Peninsula: Killarney International Hostel, Black Valley Youth Hostel and Dún Chaoin Youth Hostel.
Which do you think is better: Ring of Kerry or Dingle Peninsula?
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