Dingle (Ireland)

While visiting the wild west coast of Ireland, many people want to stay in a town full of Irish music and culture. The small town of Dingle is a good choice for families with older children who want to visit the westernmost tip of Ireland (and therefore all of Europe!) and see ancient historical sites. 


History

The Dingle peninsula contains some of the oldest ruins on the island, and its wind-swept and isolated coast can make you feel as if you’ve stepped back in time. The town itself became an important trading town in the 13th century, but now it’s a small town best known for its traditional Irish culture and music – and for a dolphin named Fungie!


Visit

When planning our 2019 road trip through Ireland, we knew we wanted to do one of the drives along the Wild Atlantic Way. Rick Steves recommends doing the Dingle peninsula drive (known locally as the Slea Head drive) over the Ring of Kerry, which is longer and more touristy. We took his advice and chose Dingle for a one-night stay on our road trip. We fit it in between stops in Killarney and Galway.

The drive to Dingle is beautiful, with lush green hills running into the blue ocean of Dingle Bay. The little town itself is small but quaint, with winding streets full of restaurants, ice cream shops, and pubs playing traditional Irish music.

Most pubs are accessible only for adults or older teenagers but if you like Irish music and craic (fun conversation and atmosphere), Dingle is the place to visit!

In the town itself, there are not many sights to visit with children. However young children will enjoy a harbor cruise searching for the town’s famous resident, a bottlenose dolphin named Fungie! He went missing late last year but recently turned up off the coast of Cork. Don’t miss posing at his statue!

Kids will also enjoy the local aquarium as well. 

The main draw of Dingle for families is the Dingle peninsula drive, a 30-mile route along some of the most remote and isolated parts of Ireland. If you want to see authentic Iron Age huts, Norman ruins, and stunning coastal scenery or if you want to visit the westernmost tip of Europe, the drive is a must-do.

Starting from Dingle, you’ll want to make sure you have enough gas, snacks, and cash money. Be sure to get Rick Steves’ Dingle Peninsula Loop Trip guide in his latest book for all of the details about each stop. As he says, it’s a virtual open-air archaeological museum, so there are many places to stop and see historical ruins. Some of our favorite stops are listed below!

Dunbeag Fort – from Ireland’s Iron Age (500 BA-AD 500)

The ruins of this fort are amazing. It’s hard to imagine how long they have withstood the harsh Atlantic wind and water. Part of the fort actually fell into the sea in 2014! Fences keep you out of the dangerous drop offs but be sure to hold little one’s hands. The small museum and gift shop across the road is a good place to learn more about the fort (and to use an actual restroom!). The video explaining the fort and showing you how it looked is actually quite good! Note the tickets for the fort are cash only.

The view of the bay and ocean is spectacular (that’s the Ring of Kerry across the bay)!

Be sure to view Skellig Michael from Star Wars fame in the distance.

Beehive Huts (stop at the second grouping) – strange circular stone huts that once housed hermit monks in the 8th – 12th centuries. Be sure to hold tight to little ones so they don’t walk over an opening in the rocks.

The view from the top is breathtaking!

Our kids were more interested in the dog who lived at the huts! 

The next part of the drive will take you to some of the most remote parts of Europe. Pull over to take in picturesque views of the Great Blasket Island where the Irish lived until the 1950s when the government evacuated the island. Stop at the Great Blasket Centre for more information on the island.

You’ll see cleared farmland and ruins of villages abandoned in the famine. The population on the Dingle peninsula dropped precipitously during the famine and never recovered. When you sit overlooking the ocean, you’ll feel as if you’re on the edge of the world – and you are as this is the most western point in Europe!

When you sit at the Clogher Head pullout, you’ll see the Sleeping Giant island (it really does look like it!).

Straight ahead will be Sybil Head where parts of Star Wars: The Force Awakens were filmed.

Now the drive will take you inland. A definite stop is the Gallarus Oratory, built sometime in the 6th – 9th centuries. It’s hauntingly beautiful inside. Be sure to follow Rick Steves’ suggestion to park for free at the actual site instead of at the private parking lot advertised.

After the oratory, you’ll take the road back to Dingle, and from there, on to your next Irish adventure! 


Helpful hints:

  • Lodging: Dingle is a small town with limited lodging available. There are small guesthouses and bed and breakfasts. Be forewarned that most don’t have air-conditioning or modern amenities. There is a 4 star hotel, Dingle Skellig, that is most like American hotels. It even has family rooms and a kids club!
  • Restaurants: You have to eat seafood in Dingle! We ate at the Anchor Down restaurant but there are many to choose from! Wherever you eat, you have to get ice cream from the famous Murphy’s Ice Cream shop! It has very unique flavors, including the best-selling sea salt ice cream. As you leave Dingle, stop at the South Pole Inn once owned by the Antarctic explorer, Tom Crean. It’s in Annascaul and is a fun place for lunch. You can sit outside by the lovely spring or inside where there is a box you can open to “hear” the South Pole. My kids loved opening and closing it! 
  • Dingle is remote and can be hard to visit, which is why I only recommend it for ages 10 and up. Stay one night in town to cut down on the driving. With older teenagers who are interested in the music scene, two nights might be better. Summer nights in Dingle can be boisterous and fun!
  • The Dingle peninsula drive can be completed in 1-2 hours.  
  • To help you plan your trip, be sure to visit the Dingle Tourism site

Books to Read:

Check out my list of recommended books about Ireland in my shop on Bookshop.org, which supports local bookstores and creators.

For an extensive list of books about Dingle, visit the Dingle Bookshop’s site.

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