When we started planning our trip to Ireland, we were looking for that special, unique, "hidden gem" experience. We knew that Ireland in June would be a very popular destination, and we didn't want throngs of tourists to get in the way of having an authentic Irish experience.
Our friend, Kristine, hearing of our plan to go to Ireland immediately shouted, "Dingle! You have to go to Dingle!" She then told a story about how on her tour of Ireland, she'd planned one night in Dingle, but then wound up staying for a lot longer. She ensconced herself in a local pub in Dingle and chatted up some of the locals, including the bartender. By the end of the evening, she was closing the place down, and the bartender had become her new best friend. (N.B. Anytime you walk into a bar in Ireland, you'll leave with a new best friend.) He took her on an early morning drive around the Dingle Peninsula, giving her an insider's guide to the sights. It was, according to Kristine, one of those once-in-a-lifetime sublime travel experiences.
It sounded fantastic, but it was also something that was uniquely personal to Kristine--could it really be replicated? We made a note of it, and of her enthusiasm for Dingle, but we kind of thought in the backs of our minds, that we'd probably be prioritizing the Cliffs of Moher or the Rock of Cashel over Dingle if it turned out that we were pressed for time.
Two days later, we met up with another friend for dinner and mentioned that we were planning our trip to Ireland.
"You've got to go to Dingle!"
Then--and this is totally true, by the way, or I wouldn't put it on our site--two more friends touted Dingle as their favorite place in Ireland.
Clearly, we were meant to go to Dingle.
Dingle is just about as charming as any town you'll find in Ireland. And it's also on a peninsula that's surrounded by incredible views and gorgeous scenery. We loved our time in Dingle.
A lot of guidebooks talk about the Ring of Kerry as an essential element of a trip to Ireland, but we skipped it, on a recommendation from our friend Colleen (who is, coincidentally, also a fan of Dingle). According to Colleen, driving the Ring of Kerry can be a harrowing experience, especially if you decide to drive it in the opposite direction of all of the tour buses. The roads throughout Ireland are narrower than you and I are likely accustomed to. But when those narrow roads twist and turn and wind, and there's barely enough room for one car, let alone one car to pass another? Well, just imagine that you're riding in the wrong (meaning legal, but opposite) direction of the Ring of Kerry, and you're confronted with every tour bus and self-guided traveler (perhaps driving stick for the first time?) coming at you in the opposite direction.
That doesn't sound relaxing, even if it is gorgeous. I mean, can you really enjoy the scenery if you're having a panic attack?
Driving the circuit of the Dingle Peninsula is much, much, much (much) less crowded. When we circled the Dingle Penninsula, we probably only passed two or three people coming in the opposite direction and they were all in cars, not tour buses. When you get out to the end of the peninsula, you can stop and look at the islands off of the coast, and think about how you're staring at the western-most point in Europe (unless you're including Iceland). It's beautiful and lovely and charming, and it takes much less time than driving the Ring of Kerry.
Plus, you have the added benefit of overnighting in Dingle. Dingle is everything you'd expect from a charming, quaint, friendly small town in Ireland. There are no mega-hotels, so you can (and should) stay at a B&B or small inn, instead. We had a charming conversation over breakfast at our inn with the staff. The woman who ran the breakfast was very eager to know where we'd been thus far, and where we were going next. She had all sorts of opinions--kindly offered--about the best route for our next drive, and how long it might take to get there.
We had a fabulous dinner at The Global Village, a slow food, farm-to-table restaurant just a few doors down from our inn. They have their own garden on the Dingle Peninsula, source local seafood, and buy meat from sustainable farms nearby. Not only was everything fresh, it was also completely delicious.
In retrospect, I think we were overly ambitious when we planned our Ireland itinerary. We wanted to see everything we could, and we only had a week. We added Dingle to the list, on the advice of well-traveled friends whom we trust. I'm glad we did. Next time, I think we'll stay even longer in Dingle, to maximize the authentic experience, and to enjoy it at a more leisurely pace.