The Ring of Kerry and the Dingle Peninsula are two of the most famous tourist routes in the southwest of Ireland, with the former attracting tourists even before the 1861 visit of Queen Victoria to the region. Both the Iveragh Peninsula (on which the Ring loops) and the Dingle Peninsula offers visitors stunning coastal scenery, rugged mountains, peaceful villages, sparkling lakes, and legendary hospitality which make them must-see locations on any visit to Ireland and you can visit both on famous Paddywagon day tours.
Yet there are other locations which are equally beautiful and not nearly so crowded. Below you’ll find five worthy alternatives to the Ring of Kerry and the Dingle Peninsula.
Achill Island (County Mayo)
Found on County Mayo’s western edge, Achill is the largest island in Ireland where the locals still use Irish as their everyday spoken language. The roads here weave through the hills and twist along the jagged sea cliffs and while Achill Island is connected to the mainland by bridge, it’s so spectacularly remote that it feels more like a retreat than an excursion. Some of the key sites on the island include the Dover-like white cliffs of Ashleem Bay, hidden beaches, and a famine village. You’ll also find Grainne’s Tower, once the domain of a feared pirate queen.
Highlights: Keel Beach, Famine Village, Keem Bay, White Cliffs of Ashleam Bay, Grainne’s Tower
Hook Head Peninsula (County Wexford)
One of the world’s oldest lighthouses can be found at Hook Head, and tourists to this windswept corner of the Ireland’s southeast coast can also visit a yew tree maze, bustling gardens, and churches which are hundreds of years old. Hook Head, on the edge of Wexford County, is said to have been the basis for half the phrase ‘by hook or by crook,’ with the other half coming the neighbouring village of Crook.
Highlights: Hook Head Lighthouse, Duncannon Fort, Dunbrody Abbey and Yew Maze, Loftus Hall Haunted Tours, Tintern Abbey, The Kennedy Homestead, Fethard Castle, Dunbrody Emmigrant Ship, Curracloe Beach, Duncannon Beach
The Beara Peninsula (Counties Cork and Kerry)
The Beara Peninsula straddles the border of counties Cork and Kerry, and visitors will find signposted scenic routes aimed at drivers, bikers, and hikers alike. No matter how you choose to navigate the Beara Peninsula, you’re sure to appreciate the natural beauty of this remarkable location. The peninsula is narrow, and divided by two small mountain ranges which run off into the wild Atlantic Ocean, making Beara a perfect spot for those seeking quaint villages, scrumptious fresh seafood, and ancient archaeological sites.
Glengarriff is home to several fine craft shops but if shopping doesn’t take your fancy, be sure to take the boat to the spectacular Garnish Gardens on Illnacullin Island.
Highlights: Castletownbere, Beara Way, Dursey Island, Healy Pass, Eyerie, Glengarriff, Garinish/Illnacullin Island, Uragh Stone Circle, Cashelkilty Stone Circle, Allihies Copper Mine Museum, Derreenataggart Stone Circle.
Inishowen Peninsula (County Donegal)
Donegal’s Inishown Peninsula is the most northerly point in Ireland, and visitors can drive to Malin Head on a 160 kilometre (100 mile) route, which marks the beginning of the breath-taking Wild Atlantic Way. Those who visit can expect to see dramatic seascapes, isolated beaches, and the ruins of ancient churches and castles. At Malin Head itself, be sure to have a look at the word ‘EIRE’ (Irish for Ireland), which was scrawled across the grass using large white rock during World War 2 to inform Allied pilots from Northern Ireland they were entering neutral airspace.
Highlights: Malin Head, Mamore Gap, Glenevin Waterfall, Buncrana Beach, Five Fingers Strand, Donagh Celtic Cross, Grianan Aileach Bronze Age Fort
Loop Head (County Clare)
Lying just south of the iconic Cliffs of Moher, Loop Head is regularly overlooked by international visitors to the Emerald Isle but natives are well aware of its charm, with the Irish Times labelling Loop Head the Best Place to Holiday in Ireland in 2013. With a gloriously craggy coastline, beautiful scenery, and small population, Loop Head still very much has the feel of a hidden gem.
Highlights: Carrigaholt Castle, Kilbaha (Loop Head) Light House, the Bridges of Ross, Daniel O’Connell’s birthplace, Kilkee Beach, the Little Ark Church, Vandeleur Walled Garden