Ireland's southern peninsulas
Foaming seas, staggering cliffs, ancient constructions. It’s time to experience the awe-inspiring views of Ireland's southern peninsulas
Strike out from Tralee, and discover five impeccable peninsulas – Dingle, Iveragh, Beara, Sheep's Head and Mizen – each with its own quirky personality. Witness the ancient beauty of the Ring of Kerry, to the roaring seas off Sheep's Head in Cork, or just experience that edge-of-the-world feeling along this unadulterated stretch of coastline.
Start from Tralee and seek out Dingle amongst the immaculate beaches and craggy cliffs of the Dingle Peninsula.Explore Day 1
Take a town like Tralee
On the northern neck of the Dingle Peninsula, Tralee is everything you imagine a thriving country town to be. But it also includes the eye-catching Blennerville Windmill. It was at this port that people bade farewell to Ireland during the Great Famine, voyaging to the New World in the mid-19th century. It’s also a town that embraces tradition: catch a show at Siamsa Tíre, Ireland’s National Folk Theatre, or time your trip for the utterly unique Rose of Tralee International Festival every August.
If you have more time, get lost in thought by the still waters of Lough Gill in Castlegregory, or walk along the unspoilt beach on the Maharees Tombolo.
Two towns overlooking Brandon Bay
Fáilte and welcome…this is a Gaeltacht (Irish-speaking) area, but don’t rush for the dictionary. Around the towns of Brandon and Cloghane, everyone speaks English, too. In the shadow of Mount Brandon, one of Ireland’s highest peaks, this is true rural Ireland, with stone cottages and pretty harbours creating a picture postcard affair. Stroll around here, and the heather covered-highlands rolling down to the waters are your just reward.
If you have more time, take a moment to reflect at the tiny 7th century Gallarus Oratory, set amidst weather-beaten hills of Ballydavid.
A literary legacy from the shores of Dunquin
Face out from the steep, narrow and twisting lane leading down to Dunquin Harbour, and the only things between you and America are the Blasket Islands. Their most famous resident was author Peig Sayers, whose marriage resulted in her moving to this “lonely rock in the middle of the great sea”. Uninhabited since 1953, the Blaskets are best viewed from Dunquin – although you’ll often find yourself sharing the view with a farmer’s flock of sheep. If you want to visit the islands, ferries leave from Dunquin and from nearby Ventry.
The beating heart of the peninsula
Dingle is always included on road trip itineraries for Ireland, and with good reason. The busy town hums with life as locals and visitors mix in the colourful streets and enjoy the atmosphere. Dine out on the freshest of shellfish in The Chart House, and perhaps raise a toast to your fine adventure with Dingle’s own whiskey, gin or vodka from the Dingle Distillery before asking the locals to teach you a "cúpla focáil" (few words) in Irish to take home. After all, this is still Gaeltacht territory!
If you can, come at festival time – Animation Dingle in March is a two-day extravaganza that celebrates all things animation.
Cross the Iveragh Peninsula in the shadow of Ireland’s highest mountains, Macgillycuddy’s Reeks, towards the stark beauty of the Skellig Islands.Explore Day 2
As the waves of the Atlantic lap against your feet, take a moment for yourself and relax on Rossbeigh Beach. It's easy to see why this stretch of nature is part of Castlemaine Harbour’s Special Area of Conservation and a Special Protection Area. All that fresh air will make you peckish, so tuck into the bar menu at Jack’s Coastguard Restaurant in Cromane (Georgina Campbell’s Seafood Restaurant of the Year in 2018). Yum.
Ever been to a festival where a goat is crowned king? Every August, you can witness just that, only in Killorglin at Puck Fair!
The tower at the end of the world
Valentia Island is your target here, but you’ll soon be distracted by mind-blowing views. This is, after all, part of the Ring of Kerry. Wind your way along the sheer cliffs looking out over the ocean, towards the Bray Head Tower. Built during the Napoleonic War, the tower was used again during World War II, and it is here that you’ll see the word ÉIRE, spelt in stones: a signal to pilots that they were on the Irish coast. Peer out towards the stalwart Skellig Islands, and you might even catch a glimpse of a whale passing in the water below.
Wind your way along the sea-weathered Iveragh Peninsula, through tiny villages, past pretty harbours and simply stunning scenery.Explore Day 3
The stars in the ocean
Gaze out from the coast and take in the Skelligs sitting crouched in the roaring ocean. Most recently called home by Jedi knights (it was a key filming location for Star Wars) these islands were first occupied in the 6th century by monks who sought solitude and peace. The mind boggles at the challenges they must have faced, living in this incredible location. If you’re lucky enough to get to visit, climb the steep stone steps to the summit, where stark beehive huts cling to the rock and an overwhelming sense of calm prevails. Alternatively, take a boat ride around the islands, or visit The Skellig Experience in Valentia.
If you have more time, look deep in to the vast expanse of the Milky Way at the Kerry International Dark-Sky Reserve, Ireland’s only Gold Tier Dark Sky Reserve.
The gem of the west
Tucked away at the very end of the Iveragh Peninsula is the beautiful seaside village of Waterville, boasting miles of sandy beaches and views out into the glittering ocean. It was famed as Charlie Chaplin’s favourite retreat in Ireland and tales are told to this day of his fly-fishing skills (or rather, lack of them).
If you have more time, the Waterville Golf Links is an absolute must-see for any golfing fans.
To the manor born
Surrounded by swathes of forest, the ancestral home of Daniel "The Liberator" O’Connell, Derrynane House deserves a stop to absorb its grandeur. Travel down the coast to another luxurious manor – Dromquinna Manor, which stands on 40 acres of wooded garden. After exploring, the Boathouse Bistro – housed in a bathhouse dating back to the 1800s – will satisfy any rumbling tummies.
Beauty at the meeting of two rings
On the banks of the bay, the town of Kenmare sits perched between the Ring of Kerry and the Ring of Beara. Famed as a foodie destination, Kenmare boasts its own farmers’ market (every Wednesday) where you can pick up superb artisan produce. But it was fashion, not food, that put this town on the map. Lace-making was once the main industry here and it made the town rich. Pieces of Kenmare lace are owned by such luminaries as Queen Elizabeth II and the Pope.
If you have more time, book ahead and dine out in style at The Lime Tree Restaurant – how does panfried black sole or goats cheese croquettes sound?
As you arrive on the Beara Peninsula and into the mighty County Cork, prepare for a magical journey where every step comes with an ancient tale.Explore Day 4
Ireland’s only cable car
Mostly abandoned by humans and frequented only by sheep, Dursey Island waits to receive you – via Ireland’s only cable car. Maybe don’t look down while you’re making the crossing! Dursey itself is a place of utmost serenity – there’s no rush hour here and the unmarked roads wind through the ruined cemetery and ancient standing stones towards the wreck of the 200-year-old signal tower in the south.
If you have more time, head to Ballydonegan where over 10,000 tons of quartz make up the beach, pulverised over 200 years ago in the nearby copper mines.
Paradise in the sea
Dappled walkways, rare plant specimens, and glorious Italian gardens – Garinish Island is a jewel off the Cork coast, near Glengarriff. Splashes of colourful flowers and tangled woodland make the island feel like a place from a dream. As you chug back on the ferry, keep an eye out for the residents of the Seal Rock, who love to splash and play in the waters around the island.
Finish your day on a culinary high with seafood linguine, or salmon with mussels at Bantry’s O’Connor’s Seafood Restaurant.
Dramatic cliffs, wild woodlands and hidden villages can all be found between Cork’s Sheep's Head and Mizen Head Peninsulas.Explore Day 5
A walk on the wild side
Sheep’s Head is the smallest of the region's five peninsulas, but it packs oodles of character. Lush greenery, abundant wildlife, tiny villages nestled along the coast – this is untamed Ireland. Stop at Ahakista, where the woodland meets the sea, and refuel at the Heron Gallery Café & Gardens – browse Annabel Langrish’s vibrant artwork while you’re there. If you’re feeling adventurous, strike out on the Sheep’s Head Way Looped Walk – there’s 150km of it, but even a short stretch offers stunning views of the ocean on both sides from the heather-covered Seefin Ridge.
If you have more time, wander the pristine lawns of Bantry House & Garden, and explore this immaculate 18th century mansion. And stock up on goodies at the deli in Manning’s Emporium.
Don’t look down
Admist sea cliffs and the swirling ocean, Mizen Head reaches out into the Atlantic. To get there, you must cross the Mizen Head Bridge. The foaming waters below have often been described as hypnotic, so keep your wits about you! Climb to the signal station for unparalleled views of where land gives way to the rolling sea. Keep your eye out for Fastnet Rock, keeping a lonely watch amongst the waves. It earned the name "Ireland’s Teardrop" as it was the last bit of Ireland emigrants saw before heading to the New World.
If you have more time, enjoy summer nights of traditional music and delicious seafood at the Crookhaven Inn.