The Slea Head Drive (a locals guide) 2020
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The Slea Head Drive, a magnificent coastal drive which starts and ends in Dingle is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Kerry. We’ve visited Dingle countless times and have been lucky to have experienced the Slea Head drive many times and it’s one of our favorite drives in Ireland. We’ve put together this guide to the Slea Head Drive for anyone planning a trip to Kerry. It includes all our favorite stops, the best viewpoints and some hidden gems.
Slea Head Drive
The Slea Head Drive is a 50 km ( approx. 30 miles) looped drive that covers the western tip of the stunning Dingle Peninsula in County Kerry Ireland. Slea Head Drive is part of the Wild Atlantic Way and is one of the most beautiful drives in Ireland with some of the most picturesque views in the country. The loop comprises magnificent scenery, historic sites, island views and fantastic food and is a Kerry must do.
How long does it take to drive the Slea Head Drive?
In terms of drive time it is possible to drive the entire loop in around 3 to 4 hours. However we recommend allowing much more time, roughly a full day if you can spare it as there is so much to see and so many places to stop. There are epic views points, untouched beaches and delicious places to eat that the Slea Head Drive deserves a full day to explore fully.
When to visit the Slea Head Drive?
We highly recommend exploring Slea Head Drive early in the morning or in the late afternoon/evening. Weekdays are usually much quieter on the Slea Head Drive. There have been times when we drove the Slea Head Drive on a summers evening mid-week and met almost no other traffic.
Slea Head Drive tip: One of the most unique aspects of the coastal parts of the drive is that there is only enough room for one car so you get the incredible views as you wind around the coast. However Slea Head Drive is open to two way traffic so you can expect some traffic jams on the road! A lot of the viewing areas are also small with limited parking, so if it’s busy these may be full and you’ll need to skip them!
What direction to drive the Slea Head Drive?
While the Slea Head drive can be driven in either direction we highly recommend driving in a clockwise direction from Dingle. The views are a,azomg and a lot of the pull-ins are easier to access this way!
Slea Head Drive tip: Larger tour buses also travel the loop clockwise so driving this way avoids meeting them on the drive.
The Slea Head Drive Route
The loop starts and ends in the iconic seaside town of Dingle and takes in the small villages of Ventry, Fahan, Dunquin, BallyFerriter and Ballydavid as well as Slea Head itself.
How to Use This Google Map: Click on the grey star at the top of the map and this map will be added to your Google Maps account. You can then view it on your phone or computer in Google Maps by clicking on the menu button, going to “Your Places” and selecting this map. We use these maps all the time as you can set out your itinerary ahead of time and quickly reference the saved maps.
Tips for Driving the Slea Head Drive
- Drive in a clockwise direction from Dingle.
- Slea Head Drive is very narrow in places so be careful when pulling in to make way for other traffic.
- During wet weather the road surface can accumulate a lot of water and in some places rivers will start to flow across the road in coastal places. Take care driving during these times!
- Only stop at designated stops and viewing areas. This might seem obvious but don’t try to stop in residents driveways or other non-designated areas – its not fair for the locals or other tourists!
- If there is no parking at a viewing area when you arrive try not to block the road. Continue on to the next stop and you can always circle back afterwards if you really want to see it.
- The Slea Head Drive is very popular with cyclists and walkers so be aware that there may be cyclists or pedestrians on the road, especially on blind corners.
Driving the Slea Head Drive Loop
We’ve included all the main stops and sights that we love on Slea Head Drive. This itinerary assumes visitors have a full day to explore the drive. You can adjust the stops based on the amount of time you have
1 | Dingle
The Slea Head Drive starts in one of Kerry’s most popular towns, Dingle. The fishing town of Dingle is one of our favourite places in the country and is the best base for exploring the Slea Head Drive. There are plenty of places to stay and countless delicious restaurants and pubs to enjoy in this gem of a seaside town.
Slea Head Drive tip: The Slea Head Drive is signposted on most of the roads in Dingle. However if you miss them simply follow signs for Ventry as it’s the first stop on the loop.
2 | Ceann Trá (Ventry)
A short drive from Dingle, the first stop on the Slea Head drive is the beautiful Gaeltacht village of Ceann Trá, also known as Ventry.
Slea Head Drive tip: a Gaeltacht area is one where the primary language spoke is Irish. There are lots of Gaeltacht areas dotted around Ireland with many of them located in County Kerry. Almost everyone speaks English so you won’t have a problem chatting with the locals!
Ventry is a very popular tourist destination due to the beautiful blue flag beach that curves along the coast from the Village. Ventry Beach, also called Ceann Trá Beach, is a really popular beach and can geadt very busy at peak times.
One of the popular things to do in Ventry is a horse ride along the beach. It’s a bucket list activity for lots of visitors to Ireland and Ventry Beach is one of the most beautiful places do experience it! Longs Riding Centre offers treks to all levels of experience, with their beach and mountain ride being one of the most popular. Horse treks can include a beach ride or a mountain trek.
Fahan is the next area on the Slea Head Drive as the road snakes along the stunning Atlantic Coast of Dingle. There are lots of cool things to see along this section all located close to each other so be ready for lots of stops!
3 | Dunbeg Fort
Fahan has several unique stops, the first if which is Dunbeg Fort and Visitors Centre. Dunbeg Fort is a small clifftop fort that dates back to around 500BC and is well known due to its precarious cliff top location and incredible views for the Dingle coastline. Tickets include access to a short film in the visitors center which includes information on the fort itself as well as helpful information of other things to see on the Slea Head Drive.
Slea Head Drive tip: due to deterioration of the cliffs around Dunbeg Fort the area immediately around the fort is now closed so it’s not possible to enter the fort itself. The views from the area near the fort are spectacular – you can see the Skellig Island Rocks from here – and together with the visitors centre, we think it’s still worth a stop.
4 | Slea Head Famine Cottages (Teachíní an Ghorta Mhóir)
In the mid-19th century the Great Famine had a devastating impact on Ireland. The effect was significantly more profound on the rural communities of the west and south of Ireland. The Slea Head Famine Cottages give visitors a glimpse of what life was like during this time. The cottages here are the original ones that were inhabited during this incredibly difficult time in Irish history and are definitely worth taking the time to visit.
5 | Fahan Beehive Huts
Just a few minutes past Dunbeg Fort and the Famine cottages it is possible to visit a small collection of beehive huts, similar to those found on Skellig Michael. The Fahan Beehive huts is a collection of 19 souterrain and 18 beehive huts (known as standing clochans).
The huts are a short walk up the hill from the parking lot along the Slea Head Drive and are worth taking the time to visit. The views from the huts are spectacular.
6 | Pet a baby lamb
One of the most fun and heartwarming things to do in Dingle is located on the Slea Head Drive. Visitors can hold and pet baby lambs. Everyone, from kids to adults, will enjoy this one and it’s worth a quick stop.
The farm is located just across from the next pull-in after the beehive huts at a viewpoint known as ‘Ceann Sleibhe’. There are also some beehive huts at this stop if you don’t have time for the previous ones.
7 | Viewing Point and Little Cliff
This viewing area doesn’t have a name but it’s the last pull-in before the sharp turn at the cross at Slea Head. This nondescript pull-in has epic views back along the Dingle coast towards Ventry.
8 | Cross At Slea Head
Just a short distance along the coast road from the viewing point is the cross at Slea Head. This viewpoint offers some of the most impressive views of the Blasket Islands. The Blasket Islands are a group of uninhabited islands just off the coast of the Slea Head Drive. The Blasket Islands are accessible only by local ferry from Dunquin Pier.
What also makes this viewpoint so unique is the large white cross located just across the road which overlooks the ocean.
9 | Slea Head Viewpoint
This is probably the best-known viewpoint on the Slea Head Drive. It’s a larger pull-in so expect it to be busier than the rest. There are great views of the Blasket Islands and Coumeenoole Beach. While the views here are awesome we think the views at the previous stop (the cross on Slea Head) are better!
10 | Coumeenoole Beach
If you are driving the Slea Head Drive make sure to allow time for a stop at Coumeenoole Beach. Accessed via a steep road, this secluded beach has beautiful white sands and epic views of the Blasket Islands. There is a free car park located at the top of the road that leads down to the beach. The beach is popular with visitors and locals on sunny days it is usually quite busy.
11 | Dunmore Head and Devil Horns
If time allows, make the hike across Dunmore Head to the Devil Horns. The trail head begins close to the Coumeenoole Beach parking lot. The Coumeenoole Ogham Stone is located at the highest point of the trail. At the end of Dunmore head lies the Devil Horns, a rock formation that juts out into the ocean towards the Blasket Islands.
11 | Dunquin Pier (Dún Chaoin)
Dunquin Pier is, without doubt, our favourite place on the Slea Head Drive. This beautiful pier provides ferry access to the Blasket Islands and is famous for the winding path that leads down to the pier.
There is a small parking lot on the ocean side of the road at Dunquin Pier where all visitors should park. From here it is a short walk down to the pier. The best view of the pier is from the grassy cliff located directly above the pier and to the left of the access road to the pier.
Slea Head Drive tip: The grassy cliffs around Dunquin are uneven, unmarked and extremely dangerous. Don’t let kids approach the cliffs without supervision and all visitors should take extreme care.
Watching the sunset from the cliff above Dunquin Pier is one of our favourite experiences in the world and on a sunny evening there is nowhere else we’d rather be!
Slea Head Drive tip: Please do not attempt to drive your car down Dunquin Pier! Almost every year there is a story in the news about visitors who try to drive down the narrow road, only to get stuck. One tourist even spent the night in their car after they got stuck and burnt out their clutch trying to reverse. Park in the parking lot at the top and walk to the pier!
The area around Dunquin is steeped in history and it was in Blasket Sound that several ships in the Spanish Armada sank in the 16th century.
13 | The Blasket Centre
While many people won’t have the time to visit the Blasket Islands it is still possible to visit the Great Blasket Centre. The centre is located a short drive along the Slea Head Drive loop from Dunquin Pier.
The Blasket Islands hold a rich heritage in Ireland as it was once home to many families. Sadly the island was abandoned in 1953 after a sharp decline in its population. The Blasket Centre is a perfect stop for anyone interested in learning about the experience of people who lived there and their culture and customs. One of Ireland’s most famous storytellers, Peig Sayers, spent most of her life on Great Blasket Island and vividly documented island life in her eponymous book, ‘Peig’.
14 | Blasket Sound and Islands
It is possible to visit the beautiful Blasket Islands that are visible for most of the Slea Head Drive. There are daily ferry crossings from Dunquin Pier to Great Blasket Island from April through September. There are only two ferries which allow visitors to walk around the island itself. Visiting Great Blasket island is like stepping back in time and visitors will feel truly serene out here! Check the Blasket Island Ferry times here!
15 | Clogher Head
Clogher Head is a great short hike on the Slea Head Drive. From the roadside car park it is a short but beautiful hike across the headland to Clogher Head itself. Movie fans might recognize the area as it was here that some scenes of the new Star Wars movies were shot. The Star Wars production team also replicated the beehive huts of Skellig Michael at the nearby Sybil Head.
16 | Tig Áine (Aine’s House) – Food Stop
After all the sightseeing, swimming and hiking you’re bound to be hungry! We chanced upon Tig Áine’s incredible café a few years ago and make sure to visit every time we are in Dingle. Tig Áine’s is a beautiful roadside café with outdoor seating that serves delicious food against the backdrop of Clogher Strand. After working up an appetite on the Clogher Head hike nothing beats a seafood chowder at Tig Aine’s.
n addition to delicious food there are lots of unique locals arts and crafts for sale inside.
17 | Clogher Strand
This small beach is visible from Clogher Head and is a perfect spot for a swim to cool off on hot summer days. The views from here are spectacular and has some of the best views of Inishtooskert Island or “Dead Mans” island. Known in Gaelic as “An Fear Marbh” it only takes one looks at Inishtooskert island to see why it’s called the dead man and the sleeping giant.
18 | Ferriters Cove
A worthwhile short detour off the Slea Head Drive is to Ferriters Cove. While Ferriters Cover is similar to Clogher Strand, it’s a great option on busier days as it tends to be quieter than the other Slea Head Drive beaches.
19 | Wine Strand
The final beach on the Slea Head drive is Wine Strand. Wine Strand is a tiny stretch of secluded beach that is like a slice of paradise on a nice day. The beach is a short detour off the slea head drive and only has a small signpost on the main road so it’s easy to miss.
The final portion of the SLea Head drives turns north towards the Ballydavid area of Dingle. Many visitors may decide to head back to Dingle after visiting the Gallarus Oratory but we do recommend taking some extra time to drive the extra portion of the loop to Ballydavid.
20 | Gallarus Oratory
This simple stone church is one of the most popular places to visit on the Slea Head Drive. The Gallarus Oratory is an early Christian stone church that dates back over 1000 years. Although the exact origin of the church is unknown, the church is built using an advanced stone technique known as corballing. This technique leads to a very strong structure that has remained intact to this day. The church is currently the oldest untouched church in Ireland
There is a small visitors centre on site that provides information on visiting the church and a small gift shop.
21 | Ballydavid and Mount Brandon
By now most visitors will be exhausted and looking forward to some well-earned seafood and drinks in Dingle. However, the drive through Ballydavid and around the foothills of Mount Brandon is worth it on the way back to Dingle.
This route passes Brandon Creek, the legendary starting point for St Brendan on his voyage to America which is documented long before Christopher Columbus!
The final stretch of the Slea Head drive hugs the foothills of Mount Brandon, the second-highest mountain in Ireland, before finishing back in Dingle.
The Slea Head Drive
That’s it for our complete guide to the Slea Head Drive. There a reason why the area attracts so many visitors each year – it is a truly spectacular and special place with so much to see and do!
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