On the southwestern coats of Ireland lies a seaside town with a dolphin-in-residence and one set of stoplights. Dingle is unassuming on first glance, but, like a charm, it wraps you around its finger and exudes an unmistakable warmth and unique flavor. “You’ve decided to stay in the real Ireland, as we like to say,” my driver into town said, a playful crease around his eyes. Even in the darkness cloaking the views, I could make out the defined rise and fall of its rolling sentinels of shelter. I glimpsed the town and, suddenly, we were driving away, shrouded again in the darkness as we pulled up to my hostel.
The splendor of Dingle is born out of its hideaway nature. Built precariously on the westernmost point of Europe, it suffers from more rainfall than really any other region of Ireland but, in return, is rooted in exaltations of mountain and valley, of the wild Atlantic Ocean, of small-town glory. The local craic intangibly pulsates through its rounded streets of corner shops and pastel exteriors. And they have been labeled Ireland’s number one foodie town. What sort of marriage of elements could be better than this?
Two days in Dingle is the magic number–long enough to soak in its vivaciousness, short enough to remember you’ll be back. Here’s a breakdown of my suggestions for how to spend them.
Renting a car would be the easiest way to get here. If you’re unable to do that, book a flight into Kerry Airport and hire a shuttle straight to Dingle. It isn’t the cheapest option, but it saves a lot of time. Visit their site here to contact for price quotes.
Where to Stay
The Rainbow Hostel, a 15 minute walk outside of town, was reminiscent of summer cottages in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. I arrived on a Thursday night, the hostel’s open mic night, and waited to check in while a group of four sat around a table conversing with their guitars and renditions of Beatles songs. It smelled like a winter night, a fire crackling in the corner, and my pillow and bed were criminally comfortable.
Typically, hostels are cheaper than their B&B counterparts and the experience reflects that. But I was pleasantly surprised to be in a hostel that was so cozy and so unlike other hostels I had been in. I was in a 6-bed female dorm with a cast of characters that changed nearly every night, and all of the guests forged a lively, tiny community I was happy to share in. There was always a buzz whenever I was coming or going, and the hosts were so welcoming. I ran into one of them downtown and he suggested a few things to do over the rest of the afternoon. Would absolutely stay again.
Reserve a bed here.
What to Do
Cycle Slea Head
I came to Dingle for this specifically, which found me lying on my bed at the hostel, coat and shoes still on, for thirty minutes before I could gather the strength to put my pajamas on. But it ranks as one of my favorite experiences ever (outerwear and all). You can read my tips here on preparing for this long and stunning ride.
See Fungie the Dolphin
She dives among the waves and swims beside sightseeing tour boats out to see her. She’s Fungie, Dingle’s unofficial mascot and beloved phenomenon. While I was there, nearly everyone I talked to, including the co-owner of the Rainbow Hostel, asked if I had seen. “You have to!” They’d exclaim when I said I hadn’t yet. I did, indeed, see her cheekily poke out a couple of times.
Now I am giving you the same demand: Go see Fungie. To get to her, you’ll find a lovely walk parallel to the beach that starts on a side street lined with houses. It looks like it can’t be correct, but it is. Eventually, the land will open up and there, the closet to Narnia can be found in a set of steep stone steps. (Say that ten times fast.) And once you get to the end of the line, a craggy cliffside with stones that double as thrones, sit back and wait for her to appear. Even if you miss her, the distanced view of Dingle is unbeatable.
Visit An Díesart
I found Dingle’s spiritual and cultural center on Google, and decided on a whim to go. Showcased here is revered stained-glass artist Harry Clarke, twelve of whose works are set in a small chapel. They are seriously gorgeous, huge, and hushing. Upstairs are floor-to-ceiling murals that share the story of Nano Nagle, a wealthy Catholic woman who devoted her life to educating poor children and founded Ireland’s first convent in 1777. As the Penal Laws enacted at the time disallowed Catholic practices, she formed hedge (secret) schools and was referred to as “The Lady of the Lantern.” Religious or no, the center is a pocket of Irish history with intriguing contents. The gardens around the back are a must-see, too.
Go to the Dingle Farmers’ Market
On Fridays from 9am-3pm, the Dingle Farm Produce and Craft Market is set up at Holyground with an assortment of vendors. Take your pick from organic fruits and vegetables, fresh pastries and baked goods, cheese, beeswax products, or crepes, and peruse the stalls of handmade crafts. I purchased a couple of signs refashioned out of roof shingles found in Dingle, and purchased a rockin’ quiche. Sit at one of their long plastic tables set up between booths before another few laps around.
Walk around downtown
I went in for an Irish coffee. It was serendipity.
Where to Eat
Enter through the white and blue archway that leads you into a small courtyard, all of it reminiscent of a Santorini, Greece I have yet to see, and adjust your eyes to the dim setting at Danno’s. They sell the classic burger, sandwich, and seafood dishes. I thought I was going in for a sandwich, but something in my brain was hardwired for their homemade cheeseburger, and the words were out of my mouth before the waitress could ask what I wanted. None of the food pictured below lasted long.
Tree House Cafe
Off of Main Street is this little gem, with its selection of sandwiches, soups, and pastries. The orange hues and patter of chatter made it a really chill spot. I succumbed to their carrot and coriander soup, with a slice of brown soda bread on the side.
At first, I was only here for the fried Mars bar my writing professor in Dublin recommended. However, a starter (dessert is the main attraction for me, always) of fish and chips now goes down in my book as some of the best. Brightly lit with playful pastels, and serving take away as well as in-house dining, Harrington’s caters to both location and locals.
And the fried Mars bar? Lick-the-plate-clean fantastic. I unabashedly scraped every last bit up with my spoon to savor it.
Murphy’s Ice Cream
Originating in Dingle, Murphy’s homemade ice cream is straight from the cow, it’s so creamy. Pine after their many tempting options, from 2-scoop cones to one of their magical sundaes. My favorites are Kieran’s Cookies and Irish Coffee which, yup, you can taste the whiskey. The flavor even has a small disclosure listed under it.
Equally important: they have locations in Dublin and Killarney. Major score.
So there you go! For a quintessential Irish escape, Dingle is the place to be.
Have you been to Dingle? What are your favorite spots?