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    Donegal Travel Guide

    Author: Eimear Quinn
    More by Eimear

    Welcome to Donegal

    A stunning coastal county, Donegal is the starting point for the Wild Atlantic Way and is also home to the tallest sea cliffs in the country. Throughout Donegal, you’ll find a mix of rugged cliffs, quiet coves, quaint heritage towns, and sea stacks that add character. Lonely Planet has repeatedly recognised its heavenly charm and untamed landscape when it earned the title of ‘Coolest Place on Earth’ to visit. Exploring County Donegal is a relaxing journey where each turn reveals a new spectacular view.

    Here is your guide for all things Donegal and why it is a must-see destination.

    Where is County Donegal?

    Hidden away in the northwest, Donegal is the northernmost county in Ireland. The main towns are Buncrana and Letterkenny in the north and Donegal town in the south. Only a few miles connect the county with the Republic of Ireland via the rural County Leitrim. It also borders counties Derry, Tyrone, and Fermanagh in Northern Ireland. For this reason, it’s nationally known as the “forgotten county”. But it is far from forgettable!

    How do you get to Donegal? It is just two hours from Belfast International Airport and three hours from Dublin Airport for international flights. A small regional airport in Carrickfinn, northern Donegal, offers regular connections to Dublin and Glasgow. No rail services are available, but Bus Éireann services link Donegal with Derry, Sligo, Galway and Dublin. Due to limited public transport and the rural nature of Donegal, we recommend that it is best to travel around Ireland by car or bicycle.

    Check out the map for a better look at Donegal and its surroundings.

    How to Visit

    By Car Read More

    Travelling by car will allow you much greater flexibility while visiting. If you are time-limited, you will cover more ground and pack far more into your trip this way. There are many hidden treasures along those narrow winding roads that, unfortunately, buses will not reach. The downside of going by car if you might miss sampling the specialities of any distilleries and breweries you will want to visit – unless you visit with a guide, who will also act as driver.

    On Foot Read More

    Hiking is a super rewarding way to get around and experience the best the county has to offer. With a slow adventure on foot, you’ll access nooks and crannies you would otherwise miss whizzing by in a car. Hiking Donegal will get you up close and personal with Ireland’s northernmost point at Malin Head and the tallest accessible sea cliffs in Europe, Slieve League.

    By Bike Read More

    Another active option for getting around is by bike. It is worth considering that Irish roads can be quite narrow and busy as you will often be sharing routes with tour buses and other vehicles. There are several dedicated bike routes along the Donegal Cycle Network. They will see you through magnificent mountain passes, expansive bogland and breathtaking coastline. Donegal is also home to a number of notable climbs and descents beloved by cyclists including the Mamore Gap and Ballystock Beach along Lough Swilly. Read more here

    Tweed weaving has fallen out of tradition but there are still a few weavers using traditional looms.

    Donegal Tweed

    Tweed is a coarse, woollen fabric traditionally hand-woven into clothing that is hardy and weather-resistant. Donegal maintains this ancient tradition of handweaving and is at the very heart of all things tweed in Ireland.

    In the small town of Ardara, Eddie Doherty Handwoven Tweed and Dennis Mulhern of Triona Design are at the forefront of keeping the handweaving tradition alive. Two distinctive features of Donegal Tweed are the ‘Neps’ (coloured flecks in the yarn) and the Herringbone Pattern (V-shaped pattern).

    In Donegal town, you can get a bespoke tweed suit at Magees of Donegal, tailored to your size and preferences.

    Gaeltacht biking

    Biking into the Gaeltacht regions of Ireland.

    Irish Language

    A Gaeltacht region is a district where Irish is the foremost language spoken. In these locations, you will see only Irish used on road signs and will surely encounter an Irish speaker on your travels.

    The four main Gaeltacht areas in Donegal are The Rosses, Fanad, Gweedore, and Glencolmcille. As well as the language, you will also find that traditional music and the ancient tradition of storytelling are thriving too.

    To learn more about the Irish language, read our guide here.

    Read More

     

    Food & Drink

    A foodie revival of epic proportions is taking place in Donegal. Locally sourced, sustainable produce is widely available, and the ancestral seafood mantle has been passed, with plenty of modern takes on traditional delicacies.

    Fisk Restaurant in Downings is a great spot to experience this resurgence first-hand. Nancy’s Barn in Ballyliffin is famous for their full-flavoured seafood chowder.

    And to wash it all down, drop into Kinnegar Brewery in Letterkenny to sample from their range of delicious beers, or taste their brews in pubs across Co Donegal. 

    Find your perfect pint with our fun and interactive craft beer. 

    Read More

    Northern Lights & Starry Skies

    Malin Head on Inishowen, Ireland’s largest peninsula, is the northernmost point of Ireland. It is the starting point of the Wild Atlantic Way and is well-known as a Star Wars filming location.

    When a strong geomagnetic field and clear skies combine, it is an excellent spot to observe the Aurora Borealis. Astronomers of all abilities gather when the conditions are favourable, waiting to catch a glimpse of this gorgeous phenomenon.

    Even if you don’t spot the Northern Lights, the open spaces, low light pollution, and sparse population make Donegal a great dark sky destination. The Northern Lights are very seasonal, but no matter when you visit, you can easily enjoy the wide-open expanses of dark skies throughout much of Donegal. Marvel at the stars on your own or book a dark sky guided tour to learn about the heavens above.

    Delve into the world of stargazing and dark skies in our guide below. 

    Read More

    History, Archaeology & Folklore

    The Iron Age the Grianan of Aileach hillfort commands an impressive hilltop stance.

    Countless national monuments are dotted around the county, each with its own tale to tell. Stories of which have been discovered by excavations and maintained by oral tradition. 

    The Grianan of Aileach is an impressive stone ringfort said to have possibly been built as early as the Neolithic period, and certainly existing since the Iron Age. Located on the Inishowen peninsula, it is most associated with the ancient Northern Uí Néill tribe. From its strategic vantage point, you will have 360-degree panoramic views of three Irish counties surrounding it. Local lore advises never to tell a secret within its walls because if you do, it is certain to become common knowledge.

    Learn more about the Grianan of Aileach.

    Another site that offers phenomenal views and a glimpse into the past is the Rock of Doon. The O’Donnell clan, a famous dynasty that once ruled over the northwest of Ireland during the 13th century, chose to inaugurate their chiefs here at the Rock. Also found at the site is a Holy Well, which lore claims to have been blessed by a local man and gifted healer, Lector O’Friel, who, before his passing, bestowed his healing powers on the well water.

    Donegal's Heritage Towns

    Donegal’s five heritage towns provide a window into the architectural, archaeological and industrial excellence of days gone by. Much work has gone into preserving the storied past of each town. Learn more about each town in the sections below.

    Ballyshannon Read More

    Ballyshannon lays claim to the title of “oldest town in Ireland.” It was once a significant trading centre and merchant town for industries such as distilling and brewing.

    Ardara Read More

    The wee village of Ardara is recognised for its culture of handweaving, knitting, and embroidery, and its dedication to maintaining these crafts.

    Moville Read More

    Moville is a port town renowned as a historical point of departure for those who left Ireland for distant shores throughout the 1800s.

    Ramelton Read More

    Boasting a history that saw the town at the centre of local government, learn about the trade and industry with roots in linen production in Ramelton.

    Raphoe Read More

    A former monastic settlement transformed into a plantation town, Raphoe is known as the “smallest Cathedral City in Europe” and has beautiful examples of Georgian architecture.

    Flora & Fauna

    Violet orchids growing between rocky crags

    You will find a mixture of habitats in Donegal, ranging from heavily wooded regions, unsheltered coastlines, sparse upper lands, and expansive blanket bogs.

    The most common wildlife resident in Donegal is wild deer. One species, the Irish red deer, was reintroduced to Ireland in 1890 following extinction 30 years prior. With no natural predators available to keep wild deer in check, their population is increasing each year. Learn more about Irish wildlife here.

    There are many other conservation efforts and nature reserves across Donegal that focus on encouraging biodiversity and protecting native and endangered species. Learn more about some of Donegal’s nature reserves, woodlands and bog projects below.

    Ballyarr Wood Read More

    In Ramelton, a short distance from Letterkenny, this ancient woodland is filled with Sessile Oak trees that provide a rich canopy for Buzzards and Ravens to nest peacefully. As well as a dense forest floor for badgers, stoats, and foxes to thrive.

    Sheskinmore Nature Reserve Read More

    Just north of the Slieve League cliffs outside the town of Ardara, this marshland provides a system of sand dunes and coastal grasses that protect visiting wildfowl such as the Greenland White Fronted Geese and Whooper Swans. And home all year round to native Lapwing, Mallow, and Skylarks.

    The Blanket Bog Project Read More

    Donegal is home to well-developed areas of Atlantic and mountainous blanket bog. This project aims to understand these habitats better. Flora such as Sphagnum moss, purple moor grass and black bog rush grow in bogs and are essential in feeding wetland birds.

    Slieve League Cliffs from the Bunglas Viewpoint.

    Slieve League

    As the highest accessible sea cliffs in Europe, Slieve League should be on your Donegal bucket list. There are plenty of ways to explore this stunning quartzite marvel.

    If hiking is your preference, there are a number of routes to choose from depending on your abilities – ranging from easy to quite strenuous.

    But if you’re not feeling up to the hike, Bunglass Viewpoint is a perfect stop for a mindful moment as you view the cliffs in all their glory. Alternatively, you can cruise below the cliffs by boat with a local skipper.

    Read our travel guide to the Slieve League cliffs below. 

    Read More

    Man in green jacket in front of large cascade

    Assaranca Waterfall in Donegal

    Maghera Beach & Assaranca Waterfall

    A lesser travelled jewel along the gorgeous Donegal coastline, the long golden strand of Maghera beach is flanked by Slievetooey mountain and tall, grassy dunes. For beach lovers, learn all about our favourite beaches in Ireland here.

    There’s an impressive system of 20 caves that can be accessed at low tide – although please proceed with caution if visiting and keep an eye on the tide.

    Don’t forget to check out Assaranca Waterfalls on your way down to the beach. If it’s been raining, it will be hard to miss!

    Love waterfalls? Discover our list of favourite cascades below. 

    Read More

    Pedalling the shores of Lough Veagh in Glenveagh National Park.

    Glenveagh National Park

    One of Ireland’s six national parks (and the second largest of them all), Glenveagh is the heart centre of Donegal. Bound by the inspiring backdrop of the Derryveagh mountains, there is much to explore, from Donegal Castle and Gardens on Lough Veagh to the host of hiking trails available.

    Keep your eyes out for the glint of the golden eagles, a species that was recently reintroduced to Ireland via Glenveagh. If you’re into bird-watching, Glenveagh would certainly be a place to visit.

    Read our travel guide to Glenvagh National Park below.

    Read More

    Lough Eske Castle lit up at night.

    Lough Eske Castle

    Lough Eske Castle dates to the 14th century when the O’Donnell clan called it home. Changing hands many times over the years, it was given a new lease of life in 2007 and is now a luxurious castle hotel and has won the “World’s Best Luxury Country Hotel” more than once.

    If you fancy a bit of pampering at a serene lakeside retreat, this is the place for you. Or, learn about Ireland’s other top castle hotels here.

    Learn more about Lough Eske Castle below.

    Read More

    Whisky Tasting

    Tasting whiskey.

    The Crolly Distillery

    Whether you’re a whiskey buff or generally curious to learn about the Irish whiskey process, this one’s for you. Crolly Distillery is in the Gaeltacht of West Donegal and is just a stone’s throw from the Wild Atlantic Way. They are wholeheartedly part of the resurgence of Irish whiskey.

    Their Whiskey Experience Tour will take you through their history and distilling process and give you a chance to sample their craft single malt whiskeys.

    Learn more about Irish whiskey below.

    Read More

    Donegal Fun Facts

    Amazing Grace Read More

    John Newton, an English cleric, was so inspired by Lough Swilly that it became the setting for one of the world’s most well-renowned hymns, Amazing Grace. 

    Lough Eske Monster Read More

    Scotland has the Loch Ness monster, and Ireland briefly had the Lough Eske monster. In 1998, a newspaper reported sightings of a monster by a local man in Lough Eske. Although it was never confirmed to be true… it was never proven false either!

    Emmery Celtic Cross Read More

    A local forester Liam Emmery secretly orchestrated the planting of a Celtic Cross using deciduous trees within a sea of evergreens. Years later, when the trees matured and leaves changed colours, the cross was revealed and discovered by passengers flying overhead en route to Derry airport.

    Visit Donegal

    Wilderness Ireland Departure DatesAvailabilityStatusPriceBook
    Hiking – The Causeway Coastal Route & Donegal

    3rd Aug - 9th Aug 2024

    1 place(s) leftGuaranteed 2,520Book Now
    Deluxe Hiking – Highlights of Ireland

    10th Aug - 20th Aug 2024

    5 place(s) leftGuaranteed 4,510Book Now
    Bike Tour – Donegal From Cliffs to Coast

    24th Aug - 30th Aug 2024

    5 place(s) leftGuaranteed 3,210Book Now
    Deluxe Hiking – Highlights of Ireland

    5th Apr - 15th Apr 2025

    8 place(s) leftAvailable 4,510Book Now
    Hiking – The Causeway Coastal Route & Donegal

    12th Apr - 18th Apr 2025

    8 place(s) leftAvailable 2,520Book Now
    Deluxe Hiking – Highlights of Ireland

    19th Apr - 29th Apr 2025

    6 place(s) leftGuaranteed 4,510Book Now
    Hiking – The Causeway Coastal Route & Donegal

    26th Apr - 2nd May 2025

    8 place(s) leftAvailable 2,520Book Now
    Hiking – The Causeway Coastal Route & Donegal

    10th May - 16th May 2025

    8 place(s) leftAvailable 2,520Book Now
    Deluxe Hiking – Highlights of Ireland

    17th May - 27th May 2025

    6 place(s) leftGuaranteed 4,510Book Now
    Hiking – The Causeway Coastal Route & Donegal

    24th May - 30th May 2025

    8 place(s) leftAvailable 2,520Book Now
    Hiking – The Causeway Coastal Route & Donegal

    7th Jun - 13th Jun 2025

    8 place(s) leftAvailable 2,520Book Now
    Deluxe Hiking – Highlights of Ireland

    14th Jun - 24th Jun 2025

    6 place(s) leftGuaranteed 4,510Book Now
    Hiking – The Causeway Coastal Route & Donegal

    21st Jun - 27th Jun 2025

    8 place(s) leftAvailable 2,520Book Now
    Deluxe Hiking – Highlights of Ireland

    28th Jun - 8th Jul 2025

    2 place(s) leftGuaranteed 4,510Book Now
    Hiking – The Causeway Coastal Route & Donegal

    5th Jul - 11th Jul 2025

    5 place(s) leftGuaranteed 2,520Book Now
    Deluxe Hiking – Highlights of Ireland

    19th Jul - 29th Jul 2025

    8 place(s) leftAvailable 4,510Book Now
    Hiking – The Causeway Coastal Route & Donegal

    26th Jul - 1st Aug 2025

    8 place(s) leftAvailable 2,520Book Now
    Hiking – The Causeway Coastal Route & Donegal

    2nd Aug - 8th Aug 2025

    8 place(s) leftAvailable 2,520Book Now
    Deluxe Hiking – Highlights of Ireland

    16th Aug - 26th Aug 2025

    8 place(s) leftAvailable 4,510Book Now
    Hiking – The Causeway Coastal Route & Donegal

    16th Aug - 22nd Aug 2025

    8 place(s) leftAvailable 2,520Book Now
    Hiking – The Causeway Coastal Route & Donegal

    30th Aug - 5th Sep 2025

    8 place(s) leftAvailable 2,520Book Now
    Deluxe Hiking – Highlights of Ireland

    30th Aug - 9th Sep 2025

    8 place(s) leftAvailable 4,510Book Now
    Hiking – The Causeway Coastal Route & Donegal

    13th Sep - 19th Sep 2025

    8 place(s) leftAvailable 2,520Book Now
    Deluxe Hiking – Highlights of Ireland

    20th Sep - 30th Sep 2025

    8 place(s) leftAvailable 4,510Book Now

    Meet the Author: Eimear Quinn

    Originally from Northern Ireland, Eimear is particularly interested in gardening from a Permaculture perspective, exploring the Irish landscape, understanding the rich and wonderful world of Irish mythology, legend and folklore, and preserving Irish language, tradition and music.

    View profile More by Eimear

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