Galway set the quaint-ness bar pretty high, but our night in Killarney was a good competitor. We overnighted at a hostel downtown just minutes from a small web of shops, restaurants and a beautiful church. Killarney’s main attraction, though, is its national park – a sprawling 25,425 acres (about 40 square miles) of forests, lakes, rivers and bog land. It has one of the most diverse wildlife populations in the entire country, boasting unique herds of native red deer and black cows.
We saw the park in a mode of transportation about as quaint as the town itself – a morning horse-drawn carriage ride.
Continuing into the Dingle Peninsula, we made a quick stop at Inch Beach. Don’t let its name fool you – Inch Beach is the longest beach in Ireland. Its sand stretches 3 miles from end to end.
Then, it was off to Dingle, the namesake of the peninsula. In fact, it’s the only town on the peninsula. The rest of the land is spotted with smaller villages, but Dingle’s population is only just under 2,000 residents – so you can imagine the size of the rest of the villages. It’s raw, untouched, natural Ireland at its best.
The town itself was a colorful coastal array of shops and pubs, perfect for a lunch break and a bit of exploring. Then, we hopped on a boat to say hello to Dingle’s most famous resident – Fungie the dolphin.
Next came one of the most beautiful drives I’ve ever had the privilege to see. There’s a 30-mile loop around the peninsula, called the Slea Head Drive, famous for its ocean views, sprawling green fields and dramatic coastline. From it you can see the Sleeping Giants and the Blasket Islands, two iconic Irish spots steeped in legend. Just remember to drive the loop clockwise – doing otherwise may have you swimming with those legendary giants!
We retired in a tiny village on the peninsula for the night, where our hostel, the pub attached to it, a few cafes and a few homes seemed to be the only signs of human life for miles. Annascaul, population 299 in 2011, is truly a haven for nature seekers or those simply wanting to get away from the hustle and bustle of anywhere else. We enjoyed a lovely dinner at the pub and a fun night of karaoke with a few of the locals. It was the kind of small-town fun that makes you want to take a gap year in a place like that.
And the best part of our night in Annascaul? Absolutely zero light pollution.