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Why Portsalon Beach (AKA Ballymastocker Bay) Really Is One Of Ireland’s Finest

Why Portsalon Beach (AKA Ballymastocker Bay) Really Is One Of Ireland’s Finest

There are few beaches in Donegal like the stunning Portsalon Beach, aka Ballymastocker Bay.

You’ll find it alongside the town of Portsalon where it has been delighting locals and tourists alike for many a year.

Locals, tourists and… Taylor Swift, but more on that in a minute. Below, you’ll find info on the viewing point and everything else you need to know.

Some quick need-to-knows about Portsalon Beach

Portsalon Beach

Photos via Shutterstock

Although a visit to Ballymastocker Bay is fairly straightforward, there are a few need-to-knows that’ll make your visit that bit more enjoyable.

1. Location

Portsalon Beach is located on the north eastern side of Fanad Peninsula. It’s a 20-minute spin from both Ramelton and Rathmullan, a 25-minute drive from Downings and a 30-minute drive from Letterkenny.

2. Parking

There’s parking near the southern end of the beach (here on Google Maps) and there are also toilets on-site and a couple of picnic benches. The car park can get crowded here during the warmer summer months, so make sure to arrive earlier to secure a spot.

3. Swimming

Portsalon’s Blue Flag means that it’s an exceptionally clean beach and you can swim in these waters. Lifeguards are on duty between June and September from 12pm until 6:30pm, but always be careful and don’t enter the water in poor conditions. 

4. Taylor Swift

Randomly, the American pop star was indeed here in the summer of 2021! Portsalon’s famous footbridge was in the background of a photo she posted to Instagram. Don’t anyone tell you Donegal doesn’t draw the big names!

5. Water safety (please read)

Understanding water safety is absolutely crucial when visiting beaches in Ireland. Please take a minute to read these water safety tips. Cheers!

About Portsalon Beach


Photos via Shutterstock

Also known as Ballymastocker Bay, Portsalon is a beautiful Blue Flag beach with long stretches of sand for rambling, clear water to swim in, plenty of waves for the surfers and sheltered coves for escaping the wind. 

The beach is approximately 1.5km long and lies along the R268 between Rathmullan and Fanad Head. In fact, the approach is as spectacular as the beach itself and we’ll chat a bit about that in the next section. 

Believe it or not, The Observer once voted Portsalon as the world’s second most beautiful beach so head up here and see if you agree!

Things to do at Portsalon Beach

There’s a handful of things to do in and around Portsalon Beach, the best of which is the view point before you enter the town.

However, the beach walk and the dining-with-a-view options are also well worth considering.

1. Admire it from above, first

portsalon view point

Photo via Google Maps

When you first lay eyes on Ballymastocker Bay, you may well be inclined to agree with The Observer as the approach from above is remarkable!

Drive up towards Portsalon along the R268 via a twisting clifftop route along the side of Croaghaun Mountain and you’ll be greeted with some glorious views of the beach on approach.

Make sure to pull over into the small viewing point and soak up all of the views (here on Google Maps). And it’s not just the beach you’ll see. It’s basically an epic panorama of the whole Fanad Peninsula and Lough Swilly, so take it all in!

2. Then head for a saunter along the sand

Portsalon beach donegal

Photo by Monicami/shutterstock

But as great as the views are, you’ll eventually be itching to get down to that expanse of golden sand and go for a ramble. 

And at 1.5km in length, there’s plenty of sand too. Especially if you time your visit right during the day, as the beach near enough trebles in width when the tide is out! 

Speaking of timing, another way of getting the most out of a little saunter here is to arrive bright and early for sunrise – it’s a way of seeing an already spectacular beach drenched in a blanket of golden rays. 

3. Or flick off your shoes and head for a paddle

Ballymastocker Bay donegal

Phot by Chris Hill via Failte Ireland

Surely you must be tempted to dip your toes in the pristine waters of the world’s second-most beautiful beach?! 

After you’ve enjoyed the sand and the gorgeous surrounding views, kick off your shoes and go for a little paddle in the clear blue waters of Portsalon. 

If you enjoy the feel of the water and would like to explore further, then there are kayak tours of the bay you can go on that’ll give you a cracking new perspective of the beach and the beautiful landscape behind it. 

Places to visit near Portsalon Beach

One of the beauties of Ballymastocker Bay is that it’s a short spin away from many of the best places to visit in Donegal.

Below, you’ll find a handful of things to see and do a stone’s throw from Portsalon!

1. Great Pollet Sea Arch (15-minute drive)

great pollet sea arch

Photo via Shutterstock

Just a 15-minute drive north of Portsalon Beach is a wildly different scene and it’s headlined by the stunning Great Pollet Sea Arch. Ireland’s largest sea arch, it was formed as a result of thousands of years of pounding from the Atlantic’s waves and the erosion has left a unique sight. 

2. Fanad Head Lighthouse (20-minute drive)

fanad lighthouse in donegal

Photo left: Artur Kosmatka. Right: Niall Dunne/shutterstock

Head right to the top of the Fanad Peninsula to see the historic Fanad Head Lighthouse. While the present lighthouse dates back to 1886, there’s actually been a lighthouse here since 1817 (following a shipwreck six years earlier). As well as its interesting past, you’ll also be treated to some cracking views too. 

3. Rathmullan (20-minute drive)

things to do in Rathmullan

Photos via Shutterstock

If you want to get stuck into a bit of food and a creamy pint or two, then head down to the little fishing town of Rathmullan. No visit to Rathmullan is complete without a bite to eat in Belle’s Kitchen, while the Beachcomber Bar is a great sport for a pint with a view. 

FAQs about visiting Ballymastocker Beach

We’ve had a lot of questions over the years asking about everything from ‘Where do you park?’ to ‘When is high tide?’.

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.

Where is the Portsalon Beach viewing point?

The viewpoint is along the R268 as you drive down into Portsalon. Just make sure to drive slow as you approach and to be vigilant as it’s near a bend.

Was Taylor Swift actually at Ballymastocker Bay?

Although she never confirmed it, she posted a picture on Instagram in summer 2021 that showed what appeared to be the bridge on Portsalon Beach in the background.

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Saturday 9th of July 2022

Can the beach be accessed by wheelchair

Keith O'Hara

Saturday 16th of July 2022

Hey Jenny - according to Donegal county council the only wheelchair friendly beaches in the county are: Bundoran, Culdaff, Downings, Fintra, Lady's Bay, Lisfannon, Murvagh, Naran Portnoo, Port Arthur, Portnablagh, Rathmullan, Rossnowlagh and Stroove.


Tuesday 13th of August 2019

I was there over the long weekend. Knockalla campsite is 3 mins from the beach and the beach makes brittas bay look like Bray seafront. The sand is like powder and the sea stays nice and shallow. Lifeguards on duty too and so much space to fly a kite or Chuck a frisbee or just flake out.


Wednesday 14th of August 2019

Sounds like you had a solid day at the beach, Jer!

The last time I was at Ballymastocker the rain was pouring down, so we admired through the car window...

Cheers for commenting.


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