The Slea Head Drive is up there with the best things to do in Dingle and it’s one of the most popular drives on the Wild Atlantic Way.
A drive or cycle along Slea Head on a clear day is hard to beat. Especially when you’ve a route to follow and you know what to look for and where to stop.
I’ve driven this route 8 or 9 times over the years and it never gets old. If it’s your first time doing it, you’re in for a treat! There really are few places on earth like the Dingle Peninsula!
In the guide below, you’ll find EVERYTHING you need to know about heading off on the Slea Head Drive in 2020.
The Slea Head Drive
You’ll find the promontory known as Slea Head on the mighty Dingle Peninsula in County Kerry where it’s home to little coastal villages, ancient sites and scenery that’ll knock you sideways.
This is an easy to follow route but, while you tend to stumble upon many of the points of interest as your drive or cycle, you need a map (you’ll find one below) to ensure you see everything that’s worth seeing.
Now, a quick note: this drive is also often referred to as ‘the Dingle Loop’. The Dingle Loop is another route that takes in a greater chunk of the Dingle Peninsula. I’ll pop more info into the FAQ section.
There are three key things to know before you head off on this drive:
1. Where to start and finish the drive
The Slea Head Drive starts and finishes in Dingle. The entire route is clearly labelled from beginning to end, so you don’t have to worry about getting lost. Aim for the Dingle Distillery and you’ll find the beginning of the drive without any hassle.
2. How long it takes to drive
You could easily drive the entire Slea Head loop in 2 or 3 hours. You could, but you shouldn’t. The more time you have here the better. Ideally, you’d dedicate half a day to the drive, to allow you to hop out at will and head off exploring.
3. Driving clockwise
It’s recommended that you drive the Slea Head loop clockwise, as you’ll avoid meeting large tour buses head-on. To be honest, I can’t see why anyone would drive it counterclockwise – you get a heap of great views when you spin along it clockwise.
The Best Slea Head Drive Stops
Riiiiight! It’s time to start the drive. If you’re kicking it off from Dingle, follow the signs for Slea Head Drive R559.
If you follow this route, you’ll spin over Milltown Bridge and make your way past the lush woodlands at Burnham before arriving at stop 1 below. Here’s a quick outline of the stops:
1. Ventry Beach
The first stop on our drive takes us to the little village of Ventry, around 8km west of Dingle Town. A lot of people tend to skip Ventry when doing the Slea Head Drive, which is a shame.
Hop out of the car (or off the bike) and make your way to Ventry Beach. This beach is around 3km long and backs up onto a small dune system and lake.
Ventry Beach is one of the lesser trodden beaches on the Dingle Peninsula. It’s a gorgeous sandy blue flag beach that’s the perfect spot for a little ramble. Stretch the legs and gulp down a lungful of fresh air.
2. The stop that isn’t really a stop
When you leave Ventry you’ll continue to spin along inland roads as you make your way to the second of our Slea Head Drive stops. You’ll pass plenty of fields, farms, abandoned houses and magnificent mountainous terrain.
A lot of Slea Head guides only talk about the stops. Don’t get me wrong, the stops are great, but the breath-taking (and often nameless) scenery that you’re treated to as you drive, cycle or walk along this route is beyond special.
I love Dingle Town. But it can be a little bit mental at times. Especially during the summer months when it’s packed to the brim with tourists.
The Slea Head Drive provides a respite from the madness for a few hours. It’s only a stone’s throw from Dingle, but the early stages of the route feel like you’ve stepped back in time, as the wild landscape collides with the piercing blue of the Atlantic.
Enjoy this section of the route. The chances are you won’t have the option to stop or pull in anywhere but sneak a glance at what surrounds you when it’s safe to do so.
3. The White Cross
There’s probably an official name for this stop, but for the life of me I can’t find it. The white Cross on the Slea Head Drive is arguably one of the most iconic stopping points on the Dingle Peninsula.
I remember stopping here on my very first visit as a child and I’ve stopped here every time since. You’ll find a little area to pull in right next to it that fits 4 – 5 cars, depending on size… and how efficiently each person has parked.
On a clear day, you’ll get a gorgeous view out towards the Blasket Islands from here. There’s also a fine view up along the coastline towards Dunmore Head.
Hop out of the car here or off the saddle. There’s a little wall that you can perch yourself on (do so safely with your feet on the road side). Admire the view, heard the crash of the waves and feel the cool breeze whip across your face.
4. The Dunmore Head viewpoint
Our next stop is the viewpoint that offers views out towards the spectacular Dunmore Head. Now, if you’re following Google Maps, you’ll find this listed as ‘Slea Head Viewpoint’.
There’s a generous bit of space here to park up. You can soak up the view from the car park like the pair in the photo above or you can take a step down to a little grassy area just below.
If you’re a photographer looking to get a decent angle of Dunmore Head, the little area right below the wall in the photo above is a solid spot to set up.
5. Coumeenoole Beach
Our fifth stop on the Slea Head Drive us to the beautiful Coumeenoole Beach. You’ll find it surrounded by rugged cliffs and endless coastal scenery.
If you’re a fan of the movie Ryan’s Daughter, you’ll recognise Coumeenoole Beach as it was one of the filming locations used by producers.
When you hop out here, you have two options: you can walk down to the beach on the left for a look, or you can take a longer walk to the right to have a gander at the cliffs up at Dunmore Head.
If you take the walk on the right, be careful – hopefully, it goes without saying that the cliffs are unguarded and you need to be cautious.
You’ll often see tourist guides listed a ramble along Coumeenoole Beach as one of the best things to do in Kerry, and it’s not hard to see why!
6. Dun Chaoin Pier (one of the most popular places to visit on the Dingle Peninsula)
You can easily miss the next stop on the Slea Head Drive, Dun Chaoin Pier, if you’re not paying attention. It’s a short spin from our last stop and you’ll need to take a sharp turn to the left to get to it.
Note to all that drive here: DO. NOT. DRIVE. DOWN. THE. PIER. Every few years a photo of a rental car stuck (literally) between the walls of the pier goes viral.
You don’t want to be that person. Park up near the little ticket booth (you can’t miss it) and take a wander down the pier itself.
If you struggle with mobility or if you arrive on a particularly manky day, you can admire the view from above (be careful – the cliff here is unguarded and the long grass can fool you into thinking that you’re further from the edge than you actually are).
If you read our guide to the best things to do in Dingle, you’ll know that Dun Chaoin Pier (pronounced ‘Dunquin’) is the departure point for the Blasket Island Ferry.
7. The Blasket Centre
You can combine lunch, a visit to the toilet and some history at Slea Head Drive stop number 7 – the Blasket Islands Centre. You’ll find it in Dún Chaoin, not far from the pier, on the tip of the Dingle Peninsula.
The centre is a fascinating museum that honours the community who lived on the Blasket Islands until they were evacuated in 1953 for safety reasons (if they were cut off from the mainland during a storm and there was an accident, they’d be unable to get help).
The centre tells the story of life on the islands and offers insight into traditional life, farming and fishing. Visitors can expect interactive displays, artefacts, audiovisual presentations and more.
8. The Ceann Sibéal viewing point (one for Star Wars fans)
Our next stop on Slea Head is the Ceann Sibéal viewing point. This is one for the Star Wars fans. God, that picture above isn’t great quality-wise…
I could have popped a high-quality stock photo in here, but I just think it’d be more useful for you to see what the pull-in areas look like before you arrive at them!
Now, if you’re looking at Ceann Sibeal (the big aul headland in the photo above) and thinking that it looks familiar, it’s because you may have seen it at the end of Star Wars: The Force Awakens.
The production company filming the movie used the area here to recreate the beehive huts from the Skellig Islands.
9. Clogher Strand
Clogher Strand is another often missed stop on the Dingle Peninsula. It wasn’t until my 3rd or 4th time that we found this place and went for a ramble along the sand.
The bay at Clogher is circular and the gorgeous little beach is surrounded by jagged cliffs. If you visit, look out towards the sea and you’ll see the outline of ‘Fear Marbh’ (‘Dead Man’ in English).
Fear Marbh is the most northerly of the three Blasket Islands. If you arrive on a clear day, hop out of the car or off the bike and head for a saunter along the sand.
10. Gallarus Oratory
The final stop on our Slea Head Route is the Gallarus Oratory. This is arguably the most well known of the handful of man-made tourist attraction on the Dingle Peninsula.
It’s believed that the Gallarus Oratory dates back to the 11th or 12th century. The interior of the oratory is pretty small at just 4.8m long by 3m wide.
The entire structure is illuminated by a single window and there’s a lovely local legend that says that the person who climbs through the window will be guaranteed access to heaven.
The stops we haven’t included
There are several other places to stop off at on the Slea Head Drive that we haven’t included. The two most notable are the Beehive Huts and Dunbeg Fort.
You’ll find Dunbeg For near Ventry (stop one). If you fancy adding Dunbeg Fort onto your Dingle Peninsula itinerary, fire away!
The Beehive Huts are another attraction that we haven’t included. The reviews for the Beehive Huts on Google are pretty good, I just haven’t included them above as I think your time’s better spent elsewhere.
Slea Head Drive Dingle Peninsula: A map to follow
As I mentioned earlier, the Slea Head Drive really is a handy one to follow. For the most part, you won’t need a map, as it’s a circular loop.
However, there are some points of interest that people tend to miss, as they’re tucked away (like Dun Chaoin) or ever so slightly off the main road.
We’ve had a lot of questions from people planning on exploring Slea Head over the years. Below, I’ll do my best to tackle as many of these questions as possible.
How long does the Slea Head Drive take?
Personally, I’d allow at least (emphasis on ‘at least’) 2 to 3 hours to explore this chunk of the Dingle Peninsula. The more time that you have here the better, as you’ll want to hop out of the car regularly.
Which is better the Dingle Peninsula or the Ring of Kerry
Personally, I prefer the Dingle Peninsula as it tends to be much quieter than the Ring of Kerry, however, both pack a mighty punch. Here’s a full guide to the Ring of Kerry (packed with photos) so that you can compare the two.
What are the best stops on the Slea Head Drive?
In my opinion, the best stops are:
- Dun Chaoin
- The Ceann Sibéal viewing point
- The Dunmore Head viewpoint
- Coumeenoole Beach
Have you any tips for tourists driving Slea Head?
Yes! Here are five tips that are applicable to all of Ireland, not just the Dingle Peninsula or the Wild Atlantic Way:
- Drive on the left side of the road… hopefully, this goes without saying
- Be mindful of cyclists and walkers
- ONLY pull in and park at designated points (don’t be the tool that stupidly pulls in at a bend and jumps out of the car)
- Keep an eye out for lay-bys (points in a road that allow drivers to pull in to let traffic pass at narrow sections of the road)
- If there’s a sheep in the middle of the road, don’t panic – stick on your hazard lights and wait for it to move
Is this the same as the Dingle Loop?
Have a question about doing this drive? Let me know below!