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Why is Donegal the Coolest Place on Earth?

Posted on Sep 13, 2017 by Dawn Rainbolt

Visit Donegal, Ireland’s remote, rugged northwestern county – it’s officially the coolest place on Earth.

Rated #1 on National Geographic Traveller’s The Cool List 2017, County Donegal is possibly Ireland’s best kept secret.

So, what makes it so cool to visit Donegal? Read on to find out why!

The Rugged Coast & Fjords

visit Donegal Rugged coastlines at Horn Head

Rugged Donegal coastlines are prefect for a hiking adventure

Visit Donegal to discover to one of Ireland’s coolest regions. This off-the-beaten-track corner of Ireland has more than 450 km of coastline. One of the most dramatic parts of Donegal’s coast is Malin Head, a jagged, other-worldly outcrop that also happens to be Ireland’s northernmost tip – the looped walk around the headland is short but breath-taking.

The devilish Horn Head (named for its dual horn-like points) is blanketed with golden- and violet-coloured moors and Horn Head’s coastal hiking trails offer some of the best panoramas in Donegal. On the other side of fjord Lough Swilly, Fanad Head and its picturesque lighthouse make for a lovely excursion. In southern Donegal, experience the majestic Slieve League cliffs  – see more below.

Donegal is also home to one of three Irish fjords  natural inlets formed by submersion of ancient glacial valleys with mountains or cliffs rising on either side. Witness this incredible phenomenon yourself at Lough Swilly, the fjord that divides the Inishowen Peninsula (home to Malin Head) and Fanad Head.

The Secret Surf Beaches

visit Donegal coolest place on earth

Learn to surf and enjoy waves of all kinds when in Donegal

Ah, the beach. Far from the turquoise waters of the French Riviera or the sunny sands of Spain’s Costa del Sol, Donegal’s beaches are chilly at best – but they are also quiet, secret and breathtaking. With 12 Blue Flag beaches – Bundoran, Rossnowlagh and Murvagh to name a few – Donegal’s beaches are a great place to listen to the crashing waves, enjoy white sands and best of all, get away from the crowds!

Something else Donegal has that the French Riviera and Costa del Sol lack? Epic surfing! That’s right, County Donegal (and sister County Sligo) has some of the very best surf waves in Europe! Whether you want to try your hand at surfing with one of the local surf schools or simply watch the pros at work, check out beaches like Bundoran, Rossnowlagh, Fanad Head, Dunfanaghy, Tullen Strand and along the Inishowen Peninsula for great surfing. Look out for famous surfers such as Redbull’s surfing ambassador Andrew Cotton – watch as he surfs the big waves of Donegal – Wild Atlantic Way Ambassador Richie Fitzgerald and non-profit Waves of Freedom co-founder Easkey Britton.

The Local Seafood

visit Donegal coolest place on earth

From sea to spoon – Donegal is home to some of Ireland’s freshest seafood!

As an island, Irish seafood is generally quite good, but Donegal’s seafood is on another level altogether! Whether you’re in the mood for a filet of Atlantic salmon, a hearty seafood chowder, a creamy pot of fish pie, a steaming plate of mussels or less traditional seafood dishes like seafood tapas, Donegal has it all. And the best part is that it won’t be hard to find as nearly every pub, restaurant and cafe will have freshly-caught seafood on the menu! Learn more about traditional Irish food here.

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The Amazing Cliffs & Sea Stacks

visit Donegal coolest place on earth

Slieve League, among the highest sea cliffs in Ireland, are found in southern Donegal

One of Donegal’s coolest places is certainly the Slieve League cliffs, one of Europe’s highest sea cliffs (roughly 3 times taller than the Cliffs of Moher!) Most people merely admire the cliffs from the Bunglas Viewpoint, and while this gives you the most panoramic view of Slieve League, more adventurous travellers should hike the winding Pilgrim’s Path up to the ruined church known as a mass rock – a secret place of worship during Ireland’s penal laws. Your reward? Stand at the cliff’s edge for little-seen panoramas as you feel the might of the Atlantic winds! You’ll feel as if you’re on top of the world.

There are also innumerable sea stacks rocketing out of the strong Atlantic waves just off shore. Sea stacks – sharp, vertical columns of stand-alone rock – are formed when part of a headland is eroded away, or a natural arch/land-bridge collapses. Often home to thriving bird colonies, they also make great places to climb for the bravest of adventurers! The Donegal coast in particular is known for some of the best sea stack climbing in Ireland.

The Traditions

Donegal coolest place on earth

World-famous Donegal Tweed is still hand-woven by ancestral weavers

Donegal Tweed is something of a legacy in Ireland and abroad. There are still hand weavers scattered about Donegal, including a community of weavers in the adorable village of Ardara, who continue to weave their wares on the same looms as their ancestors before them.

Donegal has several Gaeltacht communities – rural regions and villages where the Irish language is still spoken, such as Glencolmbcille, Gweedore and places even more off the radar. Though all public information in Ireland is transmitted in both English and Irish, in the pockets of Gaeltacht communities you’ll just hear Irish… see our blog post here about Irish sayings and phrases for more info!

Star Wars

visit Donegal cooles place on earth

Not much imagination (or CGI!) is required to see how Donegal’s jagged headlands represent faraway planets!

Who doesn’t love Star Wars? Hard core fans or casual watchers alike will be intrigued to know that Malin Head‘s lunar-like landscapes portray galaxies far, far away in 2017’s Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi. Though Malin Head and other rocky Donegal headlands are pretty far away, they’re not on the other side of the galaxy! Get a glimpse at landscapes that inspired the latest Star Wars films by exploring the other-worldly Donegal coastlines.

Royalty

visit Donegal coolest place on earth

Ireland’s most remote inhabited island, Tory Island is also home to Irish ‘royalty’

And did we mention that you can meet a king when you visit Donegal? When in the quaint, seaside village of Dunfanaghy, catch a tiny ferry to Tory Island (which you can see from the mainland), where you’ll be greeted by Paddy, the democratically-elected ‘king’ of Tory Island. Part of the Gaeltacht community and heavily associated with Irish mythology, Tory Island also has plenty of historical and archaeological sites to explore while on the island.

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Visit Donegal by exploring our hiking and biking trips below!

Looking for something different when you visit Donegal? Check out our other hiking or biking adventures here, or custom-build your own trip with our Tailor Made trip builder!

About the author

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Dawn Rainbolt

American by birth but European in spirit, Dawn has called the US, Costa Rica, Spain, England, Poland, France and now Ireland home over the years. While she has travelled to more than 30 countries, she has fallen in love with the rich Irish culture and sweeping landscapes of Ireland. Armed with a Masters Degree in Tourism Marketing and a love of writing and photography, she is Wilderness Ireland's Marketing Executive since 2017.

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