Just Back: Ireland’s Dingle Peninsula

Nat Geo Travel’s Annie Fitzsimmons spends a large part of her life scouting out the sites, restaurants, and people that reveal the distinctive soul of cities large and small.

But even Urban Insiders need a break from the hustle and bustle once in a while. So after attending the Adventure Travel World Summit in Killarney, she couldn’t resist exploring the bucolic Dingle Peninsula and the homespun charm of the promontory’s only major town.

Here are some of the high points of her trip in her own words:

Biggest selling point: The rugged beauty of the Dingle Peninsula has long lured people to this remote locale on Ireland’s southwestern coast. And it’s due to this isolation that the area’s rich cultural heritage and ancient archaeological treasures have been exceptionally well preserved. Today, there’s a resurgence of families who are opting to raise children and open small businesses in the town of Dingle and beyond, giving this long-inhabited peninsula fresh energy and relevance. Creative types—jewelers, potters, weavers, and the like—lend an incredible artistic spirit to the town.

Authentic souvenir: At Holden Leather Goods you can browse a line of handmade bags, belts, and accessories exclusive to the shop. But drive five minutes from downtown Dingle and you can tour the workshop where they’re made, housed in a stone schoolhouse overlooking the harbor. If you’re lucky like me, owner and designer Conor Holden will greet you with a hot cup of coffee and quick Irish wit when you arrive. In the end, I took home two exquisitely crafted bags made by Conor that will forever remind me of Dingle. For travelers interested in immersive learning experiences, Conor hosts weeklong courses in leather crafting at his workshop that cater to all skill levels.

Stand-out culinary experience: I first discovered Murphy’s Ice Cream while on assignment in Dublin with Nat Geo photographer Catherine Karnow in May. But since the dairy delights are handmade in Dingle from milk derived from the indigenous Kerry cow, I simply had to stop by the Strand Street location. Say hello to the Murphy boys, Sean and Kieran, and they’ll be happy to give you the scoop on other great eateries in town, like Ashe’s, which came recommended for its stand-out curried mussels. While well-trafficked scenic route Slea Head Drive (which begins and ends in Dingle) is still wholly worth a spin, Sean suggested veering off the path a bit to find popular pub TP’s. On the quiet autumn afternoon I visited, locals sipped beers while noshing on lightly battered bream and chips, and I was happy to join the club.

Must-attend event: A clear case of what they call travel serendipity, I happened to be in town for one of the peninsula’s biggest events, the Dingle Food Festival. Each year during the first weekend in October, thousands of people stream into Dingle from all over Ireland and far beyond to sample local cuisine in locations that range from restaurants and pubs to art galleries and shops. I also stumbled upon the newly open state-of-the-art Dingle Cookery School, which offers classes with titles like “Spiced Beef and Chutney” and “Catch and Cook”—perfect for foodie enthusiasts who like hands-on experiences.

Practical tip: The most delightful accommodations in Dingle are local bed-and-breakfasts, due in large part to their gregarious hosts. Try to book far in advance, especially during the high season (late spring through early fall), as the best ones fill up quickly. I highly recommend Pax House, which boasts a stunning view of the Irish landscape and a wonderfully hospitable proprietor, John O’Farrell.

Annie Fitzsimmons is Nat Geo Travel’s Urban Insider, exploring the cities of the world with style. Follow her adventures on the Urban Insider blog, Twitter @anniefitz, and Instagram @anniefitzsimmons.