The subject of the best beaches in Donegal is one that can fire up a fine bit of debate.
After all, Donegal is home to some of the best beaches in Ireland, so there’s tough competition for the top spot.
From Carrickfinn and Kinnagoe Bay to some of the more hidden beaches in Donegal, there’s heaps of gloriously sandy stretches in this county, as you’ll discover below.
Water safety warning: Understanding water safety is absolutely crucial when visiting beaches in Ireland. Please take a minute to read these water safety tips. Cheers!
What we think are the best beaches in Donegal
The first section of our guide is packed with what we think are the best beaches in Donegal – these are places that one or more of the team have visited and loved.
Below, you’ll find everywhere from Culdaff and Tullagh Bay to Silver Strand and more. Dive on in!
1. Kinnagoe Bay
The waters here are the resting place of La Trinidad Valencera, a shipwreck from the Spanish Armada in 1588 (look out for the plaque).
The wreck attracts many fish including pollack, bass, flounder and wrasse which can be caught by fishing from the rocks and beach. It’s also a popular for surfing.
2. Ballymastocker Bay
Also known as Portsalon Beach, the incredible Ballymastocker Bay is an idyllic 2km stretch of pure white sand.
Once voted “second most beautiful beach in the world” by Observer magazine, this beach will delight you from the minute it creeps into view until the moment you leave.
The beach here received worldwide attention a few years back when some eagle-eyed Instagram users spotted that Taylor Swift posted a snap from its sand!
This is one of the best beaches in Donegal if you’re visiting with someone who has restricted mobility – you’ll get a great view from the parking area here.
3. Silver Strand/Malin Beg
Silver Strand Beach (aka Malin Beg) is another of the many Donegal beaches that doesn’t receive half the credit that it deserves.
Simply put – Silver Strand is an unspoiled gem. This is a horseshoe-shaped beach that can be found just down the road from the little town of Glencolmcille.
Whether you kick-back with a picnic on the grass above and gaze down, or head for a stroll along the sandy shore, this beach is guaranteed to delight.
Tramore near Dunfanaghy is one of the more hidden beaches in Donegal, and you’ll need to take a 30-minute walk from a car park on the edge of a wooded area to reach it.
There’s a couple of things to note here – the first is that swimming isn’t allowed, as there are strong tip tides. The second is that this place is glorious, and you may even have it all to yourself if you visit outside of summer.
If you have a bit of time to play with, grab breakfast or lunch from one of the restaurants in Dunfanaghy and take the leisurely stroll out to the sand. This place really is special.
5. Culdaff Beach
The two are separated by the headlands of Black Rock and Lady’s Rock which fact out towards the Scottish Islands.
If you visit on a clear day, you’ll have views of Bunagee Pier, Inishtrahull Island, local headlands and the rolling coastal Donegal hills.
6. Boyeeghter Bay
When you hear people chatting about secret beaches in Donegal, the chances are the conversation will have been sparked by Boyeeghter Bay.
This beach used to be a bit of a nightmare to reach, but in 2022 a new car park and trail launched. It now takes 20 minutes or so to reach (the walk is tough!).
A warning – you can’t swim here and you need to be very careful about the tide times as the water can rush in from both sides.
7. Tullagh Bay
Tullagh Bay is a peach of a beach. It’s another that’s located on Inishowen (the northern side of the peninsula) and it’s shaped like a big golden horseshoe.
Surrounded by mountainous scenery, Tullagh’s unique shape makes it a favourite amongst photographers. It’s backed by grassy dunes and it’s turquoise water gives it an almost tropical appearance.
More breath-taking Donegal beaches worth visiting
The second section of our guide contains many of the most popular Donegal beaches, most of which you’ll have likely come across.
Below, you’ll find everywhere from Killahoey and Carrickfinn to arguably some of the best beaches in Donegal.
1. Marble Hill
The sand dunes are home to many wildflowers and nesting birds including the corncrake which has a grating call.
This is one of the best beaches in Donegal for swimming during the summer, as there’s lifeguards on duty.
2. Tra Na Rossan
Irish folk will know that “Tra” means “beach” and this one is well off the beaten track on the glorious and often-missed Rosguill Peninsula.
Surrounded by wild coastal scenery, Tra na Rossan Beach is a great spot for a stroll. You might even spot seals bobbing just offshore.
If you fancy a walk with a view, aim for the hill at the far end of Tra Na Rossan (the hill just behind the hostel). The views from up near here are out of this world (just be careful).
3. Five Finger Strand
Bordered by dunes up to 30 metres high (some of the highest Miram grass dunes in Europe, as it happens), Five Fingers Strand is named after the 5 sea stacks just offshore.
Park near the whitewashed St Mary’s Church (one of the oldest Catholic churches in Ireland) and walk to the sandy beach. Riptides make it extremely dangerous for swimming, so please keep your feet on dry land.
Fiver Finger Strand, like Portsalon Beach, is another of the best Donegal beaches for soaking up a view from afar – aim for this spot and you’ll be treated to the view above.
4. Rossnowlagh Beach
Situated around 8km south of the historic town of Donegal, Rossnowlagh Beach will (quite literally, at times…) take your breath away.
It’s a popular spot amongst local and visiting surfers (there’s surf schools in the area) and it’s a lovely spot for a ramble regardless of time of year.
If you fancy a pint with a view, head up to the Smugglers Creek Inn where you’ll be treated to a glorious vista while you sip away.
5. Killahoey Beach
Killahoey Beach (aka Dunfanaghy Beach) is one of many Donegal beaches that comes alive during the summer months when tourists descend upon the town.
It’s situated on the western side of Sheephaven Bay and it sits at just under 1.5 kms in length, so it’s a fine spot for a short ramble.
Thers’s lifeguards on duty during the summer and you can soak up views of Horn Head, Muckish Mountain and the Rossguill Peninsula as you walk.
6. Portnoo / Narin Beach
At low tide, you can walk across to Inishkeel Island (please be careful and check tide times in advance) with its historic church, holy wells and carved stone slabs.
You’ll find lifeguards of duty during the summer as this is one of the more popular Donegal beaches amongst swimmers.
7. Carrickfinn Beach
Edging the runway at Donegal Airport, it’s Carrickfinn Beach that’s to thank for Donegal Airport being crowned the most scenic in the world.
Carrickfinn Beach has extensive white sands and turquoise waters that would not look out of place on a Caribbean island on a sunny day.
Backed by sand dunes covered with machair grass, this scenic area is home to many rare plant species which provide an unforgettable carpet of blooms in spring and summer.
Often overlooked beaches in Donegal
People often ask us about hidden beaches in Donegal. To be honest, we don’t know of any.
Many of the supposedly secret beaches in Donegal are ones that lay a little off the beaten path.
1. Maghera Beach
Maghera Beach is arguably best known for its caves, many of which are accessible, but ONLY when the tide is out – only enter them if you can read tide times.
As was the case with some of the Donegal beaches mentioned above, swimming is not recommended here as the tides are strong.
2. Falcarragh Beach
Like many beaches in Donegal, Falcarragh Beach goes by several different names (Back Strand or Drumnatinny Beach). It’s part of a special area of conservation and it’s a joy to saunter along.
It was awarded Green Coast status in recognition of its ‘high environmental quality’. Interestingly, the coastline takes on something of a turquoise colour and makes for a pretty spectacular scene.
3. Downings Beach
The beach at Downings is regarded by many as one of the best beaches in Donegal and for good reason.
With clean Blue Flag waters and lifeguard service during the summer, it has good facilities including a car park and toilets. On a windy day, enjoy the view from the Harbour Bar nearby.
4. Pollan Bay
Pollan Bay (aka Ballyliffin Beach) comes alive during the summer months when tourists flock to the popular town of Ballyliffin. At 2.5km in length, it’s one of the longer beaches in Donegal and it’s a great destination for an early morning stroll.
You tend to get excellent views here on a clear day, with vistas of Malin Head, Glashedy Island and the Isle of Doagh often on offer. You’ll regurally see watersports taking place just off the shore as the beach is very exposed.
5. Buncrana Beach
So, there’s several beaches in Buncrana which gives you a bit of option during those busy summer months (Buncrana Beach, Lady’s Bay, Porthaw Beach and Stragill Bay Beach).
The ‘main’ Buncrana Beach is arguably the best and, if you visit, grab a coffee from Tank and Skinny’s and head for a ramble along the sand while admiring the views out across the waters of Lough Swilly.
The beach here makes a good starting point for the Inishowen 100, especially if you’re cycling it and need a caffeine kick.
6. Murvagh Beach
Murvagh Beach is one of the many beaches in Donegal that rocks Blue Flag status for the quality of its water. It’s a lovely spot for a ramble or a swim when conditions are good.
You’ll find lifeguards on duty here during the busy summer months (usually at weekends in June and then throughout July and August). Also, at a 15-minute spin away, it’s one of the more popular beaches near Donegal Town.
7. Lisfannon Beach
On a clear day, you’ll have views of everything from Inch Island and Knockalla Mountain to the surrounding coastline. You can also expect to find plenty of wildlife here, from Lapwings and Reed Buntings to Yellowhammers and plenty more.
8. Stroove Beach
Last but by no means least in our guide to the best beaches in Donegal is Stroove Beach (aka Big White Bay). You’ll find it near Inishowen Head right next to the lighthouse.
The views are glorious from Stroove Beach and you can see over to the distant Scottish island (and whisky haven!) of Islay on a clear day. It’s also the starting point for the excellent Inishowen Head Loop.
FAQs About Donegal Beaches
We’ve had a lot of questions over the years asking about everything from ‘What are the best beaches in donegal for swimming?’ to ‘Which are quiet in summer?’.
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 beaches in Donegal?
What are the best Donegal beaches for surfing?
Gillian Birch is a travel writer and published author. She has travelled the world and uses her personal journals and memories to write about her many travel experiences, particularly those that involved adventures in Ireland.