Donegal is deadly.
I’m not just saying that because it has a ring to it – it genuinely is.
Nestled in the uppermost corner of Ireland’s rugged northern coastline, Donegal is Ireland’s 4th largest county, and it’s home to an ample number of adventure opportunities.
If you’re planning a trip, or just curious, here are the best things to do in Donegal (in my opinion) over the course of three days that’ll leave many a happy memory.
Note: Below you’ll find a full itinerary for three days in Donegal – you don’t have to follow it to a tee, or eat and sleep in the places mentioned. I’m basing this guide on my own experiences of exploring Donegal along with recommendations from family, friends and the 200,000+ strong Irish Road Trip community.
The Best Things to do in Donegal over 3 Adventure-Packed Days
Day 1 – Craggy Cliffs and Coastline
OK, lets get accomodation for the night out of the way first.
Tonight we’ll be staying in Gweedore – I’m going to recommend An Chuirt, Gweedore Court Hotel (#NotAnAd), but you can stay whereever tickles your fancy based on your budget.
Check out our map of recommended places to stay in Ireland if you want to explore more options.
Stop #1 – Slieve League
The first stop of the day takes us to the Slieve League Cliffs.
Towering above the ocean at 2000 foot (Twice the height of the Cliffs of Moher), the Slieve League Cliffs are an adventurers dream.
On a clear day the cliffs offer breath-taking views across Donegal Bay, Sligo and Mayo, and they’re perfect for those that may be unable to partake in any strenuous activity (you can drive right the way up to them) or for those looking to stretch the legs and get the heartrate up with a more vigorous climb.
Grab a coffee or an ice cream from the little cart at the base of the steps and sit back and absorb the mighty sight in front of you.
Stop #2 – Malin Beg and Silver Strand Beach
Slieve League to Malin Beg – 37 minute drive
Silver Strand Beach is one of those places that makes me question why I’m living in Dublin.
Whether you’re sitting on the grass above and gazing down at it, or walking along the sandy shores and listening to the waves crash, this horse-shoe shaped beach is an unspoiled gem.
Take your time here and bask in the brilliance that surrounds you.
Stop #3 – Glencolmcille Folk Village and/or beach
Malin Beg to Glencolmcille – 15 minute drive
Our next stop is the Folk Village in Glencolmcille.
This is thatched-roof replica of a rural village offers a glimpse into what daily life was like in years past.
Each cottage is an exact replica of a dwelling used by locals in each of the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries.
Wander through the village at your lesure or take a guided tour if it tickles your fancy.
If the Silver Strand gave you a lust for sea air, you can also take a stroll along Glencolmcille beach.
#Stop 4 – Spin along the Glengesh Pass
Glencolmcille to Glengesh – 27 minute drive
The chances of encountering another road like the one at the Glengesh Pass is slim to none.
It meanders through the almost endless sloping mountainous terrain that connexts Glencolmcille to Ardara, with more twists and turns than my stomach cares to remember.
Pro tip: as you’re approaching Glengesh from the Glencolmcille side, you’ll come across a little van selling coffee, with a bench close by. Stop off here and you’ll get some great views of the valley below.
#Stop 5 – Assaranca Waterfall
Glengesh to Assaranca – 16 minute drive
I found this place by complete fluke.
We had just driven along Glengesh and had managed to get semi lost. We kept driving away hoping that we’d happen upon something interesting and BANG! Assaranca Waterfall.
What I love about this place is that it’s literally at the side of the road, so if it’s raining away you can kick back in your car, lower the window a tad and soak up the sights and the sounds.
A lovely little surprise.
Stop #6 – the Caves of Maghera and Maghera Strand
Assaranca to Maghera Strand – 4 minute drive
Our next stop is just one kilometre from Assaranca Waterfall – Maghera Strand.
Maghera Strand is wild. That’s the only way to describe it.
But wild in the best possible sense – it’s exactly as nature intended. Pure raw natural beauty.
Maghera Strand – “The Desert Beach” This stunning beach is located on one of west Donegal’s most remote peninsulas. It’s a wonderful thing because due to its remote location, everything here & all its surroundings for miles are totally pristine! Not a single piece of litter, no shops, no busy roads & strangely enough barely any people either. With it’s sandy shore & sand dunes stretching as far as the eye can see you can understand why some folk call it ‘The Desert Beach’. The perfect area to let your worried mind roam free… Maghera Strand is shielded from the elements under ‘Slievetooey Mountain’ on the left. Within the base of this mountain can be found over 10 sea caves. These caves travel deep within this mountain & can only be accessed during low tide. I couldn’t reach them on this visit but can’t wait to return to investigate them in low tide. Would you explore this beach along Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way & it’s secret caves if given the chance?
You’ll find the Maghera Caves beneath Slievetooey mountain and some of the 20 caves are accessible when tides are low from Maghera Strand.
Note: you need to be extremely careful of tides and strong currents – check locally regarding times.
Stop #7 – Lunch in Ardara
Maghera Strand to Ardara – 17 minute drive
By this stage you’re probably starving, so we’ll stop for a bit of food not far from Maghera Strand.
I’ve eaten in Sheila’s Coffee and Cream in Ardara twice now and both times it was brilliant.
If the weather is good, grab a seat outside and watch the world pass you by.
Fuel up and get read for a busy afternoon and evening.
Stop #8 Option 1 – Mount Errigal
Ardara to Errigal – 56 minute drive
Stop 8 will depend on your fitness levels along with whether or not you fancy going on a hike.
Mount Errigal, the tallest peak in Donegal, towers over the other Derryveagh Mountains at an impressive 2,464 ft. If you’ve ever driven around Donegal, the chances are you’ll have gawked at Errigal’s dramatic quartzite peak from afar, as it’s visible from many places across the county.
If you’re looking to climb Mount Errigal, the best place to access it is from the little village of Dunlewey. You’ll find a small car park at the foot of the mountain where you can begin your ascent.
I’ve never climbed Mount Errigal, but I know a number of people who have and that wouldn’t be overly experienced climbers.
For those of you that want to climb it, here’s a great guide from Michael Guilfoyle.
Stop #8 Option 2 – Glenveagh National Park
Ardara to Glenveagh – 1 hour 2-minute drive
If you have a good bit of time in Donegal, you could easily squeeze in Mount Errigal and Glenveagh National Park, but if you’re on a tight schedule or if hiking isn’t your thing, here’s another option to fill your afternoon.
Spanning an impressive 16,000 hectares, Glenveagh encompasses most of the Derryveagh Mountains, the Poisoned Glen and part of Errigal Mountain.
For those looking to get a lungfull of fresh air, there are several walks you can choose from.
When you’re there, make sure to drop by Glenveagh Castle, situated on the shores of Lough Veagh.
Day #1 Wrap up
You should be well and truly wrecked come evening time.
Head on back to the hotel and chill for the evening.
If you’ve yet to grab a bite to eat, drive to Leo’s Tavern for dinner – it’s is a leisurely 9-minute spin from the hotel.
Day #2 – Cliffs, Forests and Castles
Set your alarm for nice and early on the morning of #DayTwo.
Tonight, we’ll be staying somewhere a little unique thanks to the folks at Portsalon Luxury Camping (#NotAdAd).
Fuel up with a good breakfast and hit the road.
Stop #1 – A 360 view of Donegal from Horn Head
Gweedore to Horn Head – 37 minutes drive
Our first stop of #DayTwo takes us up to Horn Head, close to the little town of Dunfanaghy.
There’s two options for this stop – you can throw on the walking boots and head off on a walk along the cliffs (takes roughly three hours), or you can drive the Horn Head loop.
For those that want to walk it, John O’Dwyer provides a fantastic guide in the Irish Times here.
If you’d prefer to avoid the walk, the drive around Horn Head is also fantastic.
There are two viewing points that you can get out at and admire the scenery that surrounds you; the first is on the north side and here cliffs dominate.
The second overlooks Dunfanaghy with Muckish and the Derryveagh mountains providing the perfect backdrop.
Stop #2 – Killahoey Beach
Horn Head to Killahoey Beach – 13 minute drive
You’ll hear Killahoey Beach often referred to as Dunfanaghy beach – it’s a gorgeous Blue Flag beach that’s popular for watersports.
Stop off here, take the shoes and socks off and get a lungful of Atlantic air as you trudge along the shore.
Stop 3 – Ards Forest Park
Killahoey Beach to Ards Forest Park – 12-minute drive
Our next stop is to Ards Forest Park where you can choose from nine different trails to head off on.
Over the course of your stroll you’ll encounter sand dunes, beaches, salt marshes, saltwater lakes, rock face and, of course, coniferous and deciduous woodlands.
You’ll also happen upon the remains of four ring forts together with a holy well and a mass rock.
Grab a coffee in Ards Coffee Tree and head off on your merry way.
Stop 4 – Doe Castle
Ards Forest Park to Doe Castle – 13-minute drive
Doe Castle is one of those structures that looks like it was plucked straight from a Disney movie.
The castle was strategically built out on a jutting rock that places it within the protection of an inlet from Sheephaven Bay.
You can access the grounds of the castle for free or you can take a guided tour for €3 euro per person.
If you’d like to read about the history of the castle before visiting, you can do so here.
Fancy checking out more of Ireland’s castles? Here are 7 of the best medieval castles Ireland has to offer.
Stop 5 – The Loop around Tra Na Rossan
Doe Castle to Downings – 16-minute drive / Downings to Tra Na Rossan – 13-minute drive
I’ve tried and tried to find what this drive is called (maybe there’s no name for it) but I haven’t had any luck – if there is a name for it, let me know in the comments below and I’ll update the guide.
I did a trip around Donegal a few months ago and this, for me, was the best part of the trip.
The sun was blazing, the roads were quiet, and around every narrow bend some new, unexpected piece of scenery slapped me in the face.
From Doe Castle, you want to point the Batmobile in the direction of ‘Downings’ and continue on to ‘Tra Na Rossan view’ (it’s marked out on Google Maps).
Pull in to the first safe spot you find at the side of the road and just soak up the view.
Stop 6 – Lunch at the Singing Pub
Tran a Rossan view to the Singing Pub – 6-minute drive
If you land here on a sunny day, grab a seat outside and enjoy the view.
I was driving by here and it was the name that caught my eye, so I decided to head up to see what it was all about.
The lads serving on the day were a bit of craic and more than happy to chat away, offering a good dollop of local knowledge along with a decent feed.
Stop #7 – Lough Salt for an absolute peach of a view
The Singing Pub to Lough Salt – 20-minute drive
This was another highlight of my trip because I didn’t know this place existed – I simply saw a road that caught my eye and kept driving.
Lough Salt is a small mountain lake located at the base of Lough Salt Mountain.
Keep driving until you come to the little parking area that’ll be on your left as you drive up an incline.
From here, you can check out the lake to your left. When you’ve had your fill, take a look around to your right and you’ll see a small grass hill.
Cross the road and climb up it. The 360 view you’ll be treated to is just out of this world.
On the day that I visited, I took a book with me and sat for an hour or so.
Stop #8 – Fanad Head Lighthouse
Lough Salt to Fanad head – 40-minute drive
You’ll see Fanad Head Lighthouse dominate many guides around the best things to do in Donegal.
There’s no real mystery why – it’s a special place.
The drive to and from Fanad Lighthouse is worth the trip alone, as you pass through the beautifully quaint countryside that leads to it.
Standing proudly between Lough Swilly and sandy Mulroy Bay, Fanad Head Lighthouse has been voted one of the most beautiful lighthouses in the world.
The whole craggy coastal area that surrounds the lighthouse is just out of this world.
Sit up on the stone wall to the left of the lighthouse and switch off for a while. Soak up the sounds of the ocean and bask in the beauty of one Ireland’s most spectacular corners.
Fancy exploring Cork, Kerry, Galway, and Mayo over the course of a 5-day road trip? Here’s our full 5-day road trip guide.
Stop #9 – Ballymastocker Bay
Fanad Head to Ballymastocker Bay – 22-minute drive
Ballymastocker Bay is a superb Blue Flag beach, and it’s our final stop for day two of our road trip.
Once voted the 2nd most beautiful beach in the world by the Observer Magazine, it offers tremendous views out towards the Inishowen Peninsula.
When you’re finished here, take the short spin to Portsalon Beach and have a ramble or just kick-back and take it all in.
Day #2 Wrap Up
At this stage of the day you should be well and truly wrecked, but content that you’ve filled your day with a tonne of exploring.
Grab a bite to eat in the Pier Restaurant (7-minute drive from where you’re staying) and get back to enjoy your unique bed for the night.
Tonight, you’re glamping in Portsalon Luxury Camping, which is nestled on a hillside and enjoys spectacular views of Lough Swilly, Mulroy Bay, Knockalla mountain and the Inishowen Peninsula.
Kick-back in a hammock and listen to the crackle of the fire from your woodburning stove.
Day #3 – Forts, Panoramic Views and so Much More
So we’re on to our final lap of the road trip as we move into day 3.
Today, we’re looking to check out as much as possible before we have to wrap up the road trip.
If you can, get up early and enjoy the sunrise from your bed and then get on the road nice and early.
Stop #1 – Grianan of Aileach
Portsalon Luxury Camping to Grianan of Aileach – 1-hour drive
The Grianan of Aileach is a hillfort that sits on top of the 801 ft high Greenan Mountain at Inishowen.
According to these lads, the stone fort is said to date back to the 1st century on the site of an early Iron Age multivallate hillfort.
The Grianan of Aileachis a hillfort atop the 244 metres high Greenan Mountain at Inishowen in Ireland. The main structure is a stone ringfort, thought to have been built by the Northern Uí Néill, in the sixth or seventh century, although there is evidence that the site had been in use before the fort was built. . . 📷 All rights and credits reserved for respective owners @tomarcherphoto . . #travel #nature #naturelovers #natureonly #nature_shooters #natureperfection #naturestyles #powerofnature #naturephotography #natureobsession #beautifuldestinations #amazingdestinations #naturelovers #naturewalk #natureshots #beautifulnature #breathtakingnature #natureobsession #crystal #perfect #travelstoke #awesomeearth #awakethesoul # #beautifulmoments #inspiredtravel #passport #traveltheworld #explore #ireland #ringfort
The drive up to Grianan of Aileach is worth the trip alone.
When you reach the top you’ll be treated to a magnificent 360 view that takes in Lough Swilly, Lough Foyle and the gorgeous countryside of the Inishowen Peninsula.
Stop #2 – Dunree Head
Grianan of Aileach to Fort Dunree Military Museum – 40-minute drive
Our second stop of the day takes us to Dunree Head to check out Dunree Fort and the military museum.
The Museum is positioned in a wonderful setting that overlooks Lough Swilly on the on the Inishowen Peninsula.
There are several weather-beaten barracks which you can have a gander at and if you fancy along with an audiovisual presentation.
Stop #3 – Mamore Gap
Dunree Head to Mamore Gap – 15 minutes drive
If you’ve never visited Mamore Gap before, then you’re in for a treat.
Found on the Inishowen Peninsula this immensely scenic drive twists and turns through the gap along a steep route.
It’s hard not to admire the sheep and cyclists battling their way up the steep hillsides as your car (mine did anyway) struggles against the incline.
Once you reach the summit of Mamore Gap it’ll immediately become evident why this is one of the best things to do in Donegal.
The view from the top is one of those scenes that paints itself upon your mind forever.
Wild. Remote. Unspoiled. Mamore Gap will take your breath away.
Ever wanted to check out the Northern Lights? Did you know you can see them light up the sky above Donegal? Click here for more info and tonnes of photos.
Stop #4 – Glenevin Waterfall
Mamore Gap to Glenevin Waterfall – 13-minute drive
The first time I laid eyes upon Glenevin Waterfall it mustered up images in my mind of the first Jurassic Park movie.
The waterfall looks like something that you’d find on a prehistoric island from a land that time forgot.
Once you’ve parked the car, you’re around a 15 minute walk that’ll take you along a lovely pathway that’s surrounded by trees.
Glenevin Waterfall is well worth adding to your road trip itinerary.
Stop #5 – Malin Head
Glenevin Waterfall to Malin Head – 31-minute drive
Our next stop takes us to Malin Head – the most northerly point of the island of Ireland.
After visiting Malin Head recently, the one thing that hit me, and that stuck with me long after my visit, was the sheer power of mother nature.
As I stood and gazed out at the jagged rocks that jutted from the water nearby, I was half deafened from the whistle of the gales that whipped over the Atlantic coupled with the sound of water crashing against rock.
There are several walks you can do here – the road walk to Banbas crown is roughly 12km and will take you around 5 hours depending on fitness levels.
As you explore Malin head, keep an eye out for a large ‘EIRE’ on the ground nearby, written out in white stones to remind aircraft that they were flying over a neutral state during the war.
Stop #6 – Kinnagoe Bay
Malin Head to Kinnagoe Bay – 40-minute drive
Our 3-day road trip wraps up at the gorgeous Kinnagoe Bay.
You can view the bay from the road above or take a walk down to the sand and finish off your road trip in style.