The lovely little village of Ardara in Donegal is the perfect base to explore from.
Arguably one of the most charming towns in Donegal, Ardara is a stone’s throw from endless things to see and do.
Once voted the best village to live in in Ireland by the Irish Times, it’s also the festival capital of Donegal. Not bad for a town with a population of 732!
In the guide below, you’ll discover everything from things to do in Ardara to where to eat, sleep and drink. Dive on in!
Some quick need-to-knows about Ardara in Donegal
Although a visit to Ardara in Donegal is fairly straightforward, there are a few need-to-knows that’ll make your visit that bit more enjoyable.
2. A charming base to explore from
Ardara showcases life in ‘rural Ireland’ at its very best. The village is beautifully maintained, there’s heaps of traditional pubs and there’s countless restaurants where you’ll get a fine feed. It’s also close to many of the best places to visit in Donegal.
3. Best village to live in Ireland
Back in 2012 the Irish Times crowned Ardara as the best village to live in in Ireland. Fast forward to 2022 and, while a lot has changed, that’s arguably still the case. The village is a wonderful alternative to the hustle and bustle of nearby Donegal town and a weekend here offers an insight into life in a quaint Irish village.
Sitting on the gentle Owentocker River, the colourful village of Ardara in Donegal is surrounded by the spectacular scenery that west Donegal boasts by the boatload.
Just a few moments from that stunning coastline, the rolling Bulestack Mountains provide the perfect backdrop for a number of festivals that form part of the village’s vibrant music scene.
From the trad sounds of the Cup of Tae Festival in May to the banjo-lead tunes emanating from the Ardara Bluegrass Festival in July, this little town punches well above its weight.
But music isn’t the only thing that keeps Ardara ticking.
Things to do in Ardara (and nearby)
While there aren’t many things to do in Ardara, the area around the town boasts countless attractions, many of which are often missed by those visiting.
Below, you’ll find some of the finest waterfalls in Donegal, stunning beaches and some of the highest sea cliffs in Europe.
1. Assaranca Waterfall
One of Ireland’s most charming waterfalls, Assaranca Waterfall is a gem that’s just a 15-minute drive from Ardara. Regardless of the season, its beauty is well worth the visit.
The cascading water forks at the top into several streams before converging into a powerful finish at the base. There’s parking right next to it (literally!).
2. Glengesh Pass
A high mountain pass cutting through the Glengesh and Mulmosog mountains, Glengesh Pass twists its way between dramatic rising hillsides to form a gorgeous green vista.
There’s a small car park looking north that’s easy to find and comes with a small wall to sit on where you can take in the views.
3. Caves of Maghera
Only one km from Assaranca Waterfall, the mysterious Maghera Caves are situated beneath Slievetooey mountain and some are accessible at low tides from Maghera Strand.
The beach is sublime by itself but if you’re in a mood to explore then there are over 20 caves, 8 arches and 5 tunnels to check out (read this guide before visiting).
4. Narin/Portnoo Beach
Portnoo Beach is a handy 15-minute spin from Ardara and it’s a lovely destination for an early morning or pre-sunset ramble.
Portnoo/Narin is a 2km Blue Flag beach that’s sat near Dunmore Head and it’s backed by an extensive sand dune system.
It’s one of several nearby beaches and, although it packs out during summer, it’s relatively quiet throughout the year.
5. Malin Beg
Malin Beg Beach (aka Silver Strand) is one of the most beautiful beaches in Ireland and it’s a joy to admire from above and below.
The one drawback to this beach is that you need to descend 174 steps to get to it, which can make it a no-go for those with mobility issues.
6. Slieve League
If you’re looking for things to do in Ardara in Donegal and nearby, take the 35-minute spin out to the towering Slieve League Cliffs.
On a clear day, the views here are sensational. And, while there’s been controversy in recent months over the parking situation (you now have to pay and there’s time limits), it’s a lovely spot for a morning out.
7. Doon Fort
Let your medieval imagination run wild at the fairytale-like Doon Fort (sometimes referred to as the ‘Ardara Fort’.
A 15-minute drive from Ardara, the fort now consists of circular walled ruins set on a small island in Doon Lake. Thought to be the home of the O’Boyle Chieftains, the exact date of its construction is unknown but is undeniably picturesque.
Ardara restaurants and pubs
There are several different places to eat in Ardara in Donegal, from cafes and pub grub to slightly fancier spots for a bite to eat. And there’s some mighty pubs. In the section below, you’ll discover out favourite spots for a bite to eat and a pint in this lively little town!
Nancy’s is a staple of Ardara for many years now and its age is reflected in the lovely rustic interior that’s full of wood finishes and stone floors. Not only will you be set for a few creamy pints here, they also do a fantastic food selection including fresh oysters.
With the name a clever amalgamation of the names of brother and sister owners Michael and Charlene Kennedy, you’ll get a warm welcome at Mickalene’s on Main Street. Winner of Gastro Pub of the Year Ulster 2019 at the Food Awards Ireland, their fare is hearty, well-sourced and tasty!
3. Charlie’s West End Cafe
With an exterior and interior that epitomises a classic cosy café, Charlie’s West End Café doesn’t disappoint. If you’ve enjoyed a few pints the night before, then their all day breakfast will do just the trick! Don’t miss their indulgent homemade quiches either.
4. The Corner House
Settled right in the apex of the town centre, the Corner House Bar is also steeped in the history of Ardara. Come down for a pint and a mighty atmosphere with the sound of music, where musicians descend from all over the world during summer.
5. Sheila’s Coffee and Cream
Set inside the grand stone exterior of the old courthouse, Sheila’s Coffee and Cream is unmissable (especially if you visit when the weather’s good and people are sat outside)! As well as the classic café favourites like coffees, teas and delicious desserts, Sheila’s will also sort you out with a gorgeous homemade Beef and Guinness stew.
6. Teagues Bar
If you were to construct a pub crawl of Ardara, then this spot at the top of Main Street would be a fine place to start. It’s unfussy décor and friendly atmosphere mean you can sit back and enjoy your pint without too much bother.
7. Doherty’s Bar
Lying at the other end of my imaginary pub crawl is Doherty’s, where its bright pink and green exterior would be hard to miss, even after a few too many! There’s live music and a fine food selection here (including pizza) to keep the good times rolling.
8. The Beehive Pub
Another famous old bar, literary luminaries such as Dylan Thomas and Brendan Behan are said to have enjoyed a pint or two in the Beehive. Established in 1858, this Main Street institution is still home to a fine atmosphere full of good drink and great music.
Where to stay in Ardara in Donegal
If you drop into our Ardara accommodation guide, you’ll find 11 places to stay in Ardara that 1, have incredible reviews and 2, are located nice and central.
Below, you’ll find a mix of hotels (there’s only the one!), B&Bs, guesthouses and funky Airbnbs in Ardara in Donegal.
1. Hillhead House
With stunning mountain views and a plush homely interior, Hillhead House is a cracking spot to stay in. Very close to town with all its pubs and bars but still with a country setting, you’ll get the best of both worlds here.
2. Nesbitt Arms Boutique Hotel
With 49 well-furnished bedrooms to choose from and some superb dining options, you’ll always feel taken care of at the family-run Nesbitt Arms Boutique Hotel. Located right in the middle of town, you’ll be at the heart of the action in Donegal’s festival capital.
3. Auntie B’s
Particularly popular with couples, Auntie B’s is a cosy spot just out of town with great views of the surrounding scenery. Enjoy free Wi-fi as well as well as an à la carte choice or full Irish/English breakfast to get your day going each morning.
FAQs about visiting Ardara in Donegal
We’ve had a lot of questions over the years asking about everything from ‘What are good things to do in Ardara during winter?’ to ‘Where’s good for food?’. In the section below, we’ve popped in the most FAQs that we’ve received. If you have a question that we haven’t tackled, ask away in the comments section below.