The lovely little village of Ardara in Donegal is one of our favourite villages in Ireland.
This is the main reason that we make it our base any time we visit Donegal for a weekend of exploring.
Another solid reason is that it’s set nice and close to many of the best things to see in Donegal, from hikes and walks to waterfalls, beaches and much more.
Not only was Ardara named the best village to live in Ireland by the Irish Times in 2012, it’s also the festival capital of Donegal. Not bad for a town with a population of 732! But what else makes the place special? Read on to find out.
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Ardara in Donegal: One of our favourite villages in Ireland
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
As I mentioned earlier, one of the reasons that we return to the village of Ardara in Donegal time and time again is the location.
The beauty of staying in Ardara is that it’s a stone’s throw for a tonne of different things to see and do, without having to drive too far.
1. 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.
2. 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!).
3. Maghera Caves and Beach
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. 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.
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.
In the section below, you’ll discover out favourite spots for a bite to eat in this lively little town!
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!
2. Charlie’s West End Café
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 €9 all day breakfast will do just the trick! Don’t miss their indulgent homemade quiches either.
3. The Nesbitt Arms Hotel
One of the nicest places to stay in Ardara, their food isn’t bad either. With four busy dining areas, that superb food is locally sourced and exquisitely prepared.
Go for a drink in their traditional Ramblers bar first, before soaking up their craft beer with a fine feed. Interestingly enough, this is also the only hotel Ardara has to offer.
4. 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.
Pubs in Ardara
The mighty little village of Ardara in Donegal is home to what are arguably some of the best pubs on the Wild Atlantic Way.
Below, you’ll discover a handful of pubs where you can happily whittle away an everning after a day spent exploring some of the best places to visit in Donegal.
A short stroll across the river from Shelia’s is Nancy’s (unrelated!), 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.
2. 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.
3. The Beehive
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.
4. 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.
5. 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.
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.
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.
4. Secret Cottage
One of Ardara’s prettiest places to stay, the old-world rustic interior of the Secret Cottage is undeniably romantic, and its charming thatched roof only adds to the allure. Secluded but within walking distance of all the pubs, it’s an ideal location (the lack of stairs is very welcome after a few pints!).
FAQs about visiting Ardara in Donegal
Since mentioning the town in a guide to Donegal that we published several years ago, we’ve had hundreds of emails asking various things about Ardara in Donegal.
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.
What are the best things to do in Ardara?
- Glengesh Pass
- Doon Fort
- Maghera Caves and Beach
- Assaranca Waterfall
Where are the best places to eat in Ardara?
- Sheila’s Coffee and Cream
- The Nesbitt Arms Hotel
- Charlie’s West End Café
What are the best places to stay in Ardara?
- Secret Cottage
- Auntie B’s
- Nesbitt Arms Boutique Hotel
- Hillhead House