Ireland is a bucket-list travel spot for many people, and that’s no surprise! From its stunning rural beauty to its bustling capital of Dublin, the country offers much to see and do.
However, our experience wouldn’t have been complete without a visit to the tiny seaside fishing town of Dingle, Ireland. Here are seven reasons why you should consider a trek out to this very special village on the Wild Atlantic Way.
1. You’ll Experience Authentic Gaelic Culture
One thing becomes quite clear as you approach the Dingle Peninsula from Dublin or another large Irish city: It’s part of the Gaeltacht, a region where the government supports and protects the Irish culture and language. Don’t panic -- there will still be signs in English; however, be prepared to see lots of corresponding Gaelic. You’ll hear it in Dingle as well. Children learn the beautiful, ancient language in school, and many families still speak the language at home.
You’ll also see traditional Irish handicrafts, including thick woolen sweaters and jewelry incorporating Gaelic symbols, that are produced with pride in the region and sold in Dingle’s charming shops. Even the rocky, dramatic coast and green, rolling hills in and around Dingle are quintessentially Irish.
2. The Pub Culture Is Fantastic
With its many quaint inns, restaurants, and pubs, Dingle is a great place to experience Ireland’s legendary pub culture. Plan to spend at least a couple of days in town so that you can wander and enjoy its magic without feeling rushed.
From traditional pubs that serve fish and chips and mushy peas to fine-dining options that offer creative twists on local seafood and meat, there’s no shortage of places to grab a bite. Make plans to enjoy a pint (or two) at one of them and make some new friends while you’re at it.
The Irish make much of what they call craic, or small talk. The residents of Dingle absolutely have the gift of gab and were both warm and welcoming. We spent hours chatting up the locals in a variety of locations (there are several dozen pubs in this town of just 2,000 residents!), but our favorite was Foxy John’s. This quirky spot on Main Street is actually a hardware store by day; at night, the owners quickly convert it into a pub. It’s the little nooks and crannies like these -- along with the genuine friendliness of the residents -- that make Dingle such a special place.
3. It’s A Live Music Hot Spot
In Dingle, located as it is in the Gaeltacht, traditional Irish music takes center stage. In the evenings, most pubs feature live music. There might be a soloist on the fiddle, or an Irish band with guitars, accordions, and even a lute. Plan to play it by ear, pack in, and enjoy both the mournful ballads and light folk songs during the unforgettable evening of music. You never know -- an impromptu dance might even break out!
While the pubs are great places to listen to music, they are far from the only venues in Dingle to check out. The village’s places of worship, including the 600-year-old Saint James’s Church, often host concerts that feature indigenous music. The acoustics at Saint James are fantastic, and taking in a concert there is a special treat.
4. The Views Are Incredible
One of the most beautiful and dramatic drives we’ve ever taken was the drive along the Slea Head Loop, the 30-mile road that runs along the entire Dingle Peninsula. We admired the rolling fields where sheep in different colors grazed quite contentedly. However, these were the same fields where farmers desperately tried to plant potatoes during the Irish Potato Famine of the 1840s. Many people died, others went to workhouses to avoid starvation, and still more abandoned their homes and set sail for America and elsewhere. You can still catch glimpses of the old stone farmhouses where these families lived and tried to support themselves. It’s a poignant, haunting reminder of just how difficult life was in the mid-1800s here, even amidst all of the stunning natural beauty.
Along the Loop, you’ll take in spectacular Atlantic Ocean vistas. Take your time, pull off where you see parking areas, and stop to savor the views.
A word to the wise: These roads can be a bit scary. Take it easy as you ascend the cliffs overlooking the ocean. Be sure to wear sturdy hiking shoes, and bring a waterproof layer, since the weather here can turn quickly. Make sure you’ve got a full tank of gas before driving the Loop, because there aren’t any filling stations along the way. Pack a picnic lunch or stop at one of the small pubs.
5. Ruins Abound
The Dingle Peninsula is also known for its historic sites. Along Slea Head, and across the countryside, you’ll spy small, beehive-shaped stone huts, or clochán, that were used by the monks who once lived in this far-flung corner of Ireland.
The Gallarus Oratory, just a short drive from Dingle, is a not-to-be-missed area site. Scientists believe it dates to the 11th century. The stone structure, which resembles an upside-down boat, is both rustic and mysterious. It’s stood the test of time, and as you take a look, remember that it served as a place of worship and refuge more than a thousand years ago.
In nearby Ballydavid, Ireland, is the Kilmalkedar Church complex, which encompasses 10 acres. While the church itself dates to the medieval period, the area served as a place of worship long before Christianity took root in Ireland. The sundial, alphabet stone, and ogham stone are indicative of earlier religions.
6. You Can Visit A Star Wars Set
Quiet little Dingle was abuzz back in 2016 when several pivotal scenes in Star Wars: The Last Jedi were filmed just a few miles from the town. Location scouts sought wild, rugged seascapes for a solitary Jedi temple and found them in Dingle. Chief among the locations was Skellig Michael, a rocky island off the Dingle coast. It’s a UNESCO World Heritage site, and filmmakers were only allowed four days to film.
Tourists can make the trek by boat during the summer to check out the island, where Christian monks once eked out a living. If you do travel to Skellig Michael, be prepared for many stairs and steep trails. Actor Mark Hamill, who starred as Luke Skywalker, had to be rescued when he slipped and fell there during filming!
For a less treacherous Star Wars experience, head to Dunmore Road near the town, where several scenes from the movie were shot. They’re marked by signs featuring Star Wars logos.
7. You Can Renew Your Vows For Free
A few of the ruins around Dingle, including the aforementioned Kilmalkedar Church, have ogham stones on their grounds. These mysterious old obelisks feature holes at the very top. The locals we met in town told us that these stones were placed wherever agreements were made; both parties would join their thumbs in the hole. Today, couples come from around the world to renew their vows in the same way. Some dress up, and others keep it casual as we did. If you’ve come to Ireland for an anniversary, this is the perfect way to celebrate.