Downings is one of several towns in Donegal that we find ourselves returning to over and over again.
And, while the Harbour Bar with its creamy pints and ocean views is part of the reason, it’s the seaside location, the rural bliss and the proximity to endless attractions that give it its Zing!
In the guide below, you’ll find everything from things to do in Downings to where to eat, sleep and drink while you’re there.
Some quick need-to-knows about Downings
Although a visit to Downings is fairly straightforward, there are a few need-to-knows that’ll make your visit that bit more enjoyable.
Part of the Rosguill peninsula, Downings is in County Donegal on the north coast of Ireland, and it overlooks the beautiful Sheephaven Bay. It’s a 25-minute drive from Dunfanaghy and a 35-minute drive from both Letterkenny and Falcarragh and a
2. A unique base to explore from
Downings is a lovely little seaside base to explore a good chunk of this corner of Donegal. Tackle the Atlantic Drive, visit the Fanad Peninsula, spend a day explore Glenveagh or tackle one of the many other nearby attractions (see below).
3. Busy in summer, quiet during the year
Like many coastal towns and villages in Ireland, Downings attracts the hoards in the summer months, but it is much quieter outside that season. This, in combination with the area’s many natural beauty spots, make it a terrific place to visit in the spring or autumn to explore in peace and quiet.
You’ll find Downings on the stunning Rosguill Peninsula – a corner of Donegal that’s arguably overlooked by many that visit. Home to Downings Beach and some glorious views out over the mighty Sheephaven Bay, it’s a little slice of paradise when the weather’s fine.
The town is part of a Gaeltacht (Irish speaking) area and it’s thought that the name Downings means some variation of ‘The Forts’, due to the number of ancient hill forts that are dotted around the area.
In a previous life, Downings thrived on the back of its fishing port, however, in 2022, tourism is it’s biggest industry. Luckily there’s a handful of things to do in Downings and there’s endless places to visit nearby, so many people use it as a base to explore from.
Things to do in Downings and nearby
There’s a handful of things to do in Downings and you’ll find many of the best things to do in Donegal a short spin away.
Below, you’ll find everything from hikes and walks to beautiful beaches, castles and much more.
1. The Wild Atlantic Drive
The Atlantic Drive takes you around the Rosguill Peninsula and you can kick it off from Downings. It follows an easy-to-follow route (see map above) and takes in some breath-taking scenery.
Now, you can include a visit to Boyeeghter Bay if you like, but I’ve cut that section off in the map (info on getting to the bay below).
The drive itself only takes around an hour, but allow more if you plan on stopping off along the way (you should!).
2. Downings Bay Beach
Downings Beach is a Blue Flag beach (the award means it is very clean) and it’s manned by lifeguards in the summer months. It’s a lovely spot for a stroll, especially when the sun starts to drop.
Although it’s pretty quiet during the year, this beach gets mobbed during the warmer summer months, as does nearby Tra Na Rossan.
3. Tra Na Rossan Beach
Tra Na Rossan is seated between giant rocky hills on either side, the slopes of the hills abundant with lush green ferns, wildflowers and purple bloom heather.
Now, you can get a good view of it from above as you spin along the Atlantic Drive, or you can tip on down to the car park and head for a ramble along the sand.
This is a magical place to walk, especially in the early morning as the sun starts to rise. The chances are you’ll have it all to yourself, too.
4. Murder Hole Beach
Also known as Boyeeghter Bay, the name Murder Hole Beach is thought to come from the 19th century, when rumour has it a young woman fell from a cliff near the beach.
But it might also originate from the dangerous currents that make swimming an absolute no-go. Nevertheless, it’s a lovely place to visit and certainly well worth walking around.
You can access it via the hill to the end of Tra Na Rossan, but it’ll take you a good 45 minutes. The better access point is the brand new trail near Melmore.
5. Jaws II Watersports
Whether you’re into surfing, sailing, stand up paddleboarding, kayaking or wind surfing, Jaws II Watersports has you covered. Here, you can access professional coaching and there’s also a kids club in the summer months for those aged 8 to 16 years old.
If you’ve ever wanted to try stand-up paddle boarding (which is a lot easier than surfing because the board is a lot bigger and easier to balance on), you can take lessons from the qualified instructors.
It’s a great way to exercise and explore the stunning Donegal coastline at the same time. This is a handy option if you’re looking for things to do in Downings with a group.
6. Ards Forest Park
A 25-minute drive away, Ards Forest Park covers 480 hectares and includes habitats such as sand dunes, beaches, salt marshes, lakes, rock faces and coniferous and deciduous woodlands.
There are plenty of trails to choose from. Set aside five to six hours if you would like to do the full circuit of the park. The park is home to beaches, cliffs and glorious woodland.
7. Doe Castle
Doe Castle is a 15-minute drive from Downings. The medieval stronghold of the MacSweeney family, the fortress was built in the 1420s. Look out for the carved and ornamented MacSweeney grave-slab, dating from 1544 inside the tower house and there are display panels throughout that chronicle the castle’s history.
The MacSweeneys may have originated in Scotland or Ireland, with Mac Suibhne clan forced out of their lands in Argyll by Robert the Bruce in the 14th century.
The three Mac Suibhne clans were again forced off their lands in Ireland by Oliver Cromwell in the mid-17th century and many descendants later dropped the Mac prefix.
8. Glenveagh National Park
A 30-minute drive from Downings, Glenveagh National Park is home to Glenveagh Castle, the lake and a national park. There are nature-based activities for families to take part in and walking trails that allow you to explore this natural, beautiful space.
The 19th century castellated mansion was inspired by the Victorian notion of a romantic, highland retreat and attracts many budding landscape photographers.
Glenveagh Castle Gardens constructed in the late 1880s are open all year round and are free to visit, and include a courtyard, a walled garden, the pleasure grounds and woodland gardens. Visit in late March, April and early May for the best rhododendron displays.
9. Fanad Head Lighthouse (35 minutes away)
Fanad Lighthouse is a working lighthouse at the mouth of Lough Swilly and was once voted one of the most beautiful lighthouses in the world. It’s been a working lighthouse since 1817 and a tourist attraction since 2016.
With its views out over the Donegal coastline, it’s easy to see why it’s such a hit with visitors. Take part in a fully guided tour that offers you the opportunity to climb the tower. There are also off the beaten track coastal walks.
Accommodation in Downings
If you’re looking for accommodation in Downings, you’ve a mix of hotels and self-catering options on offer. Here are some to consider:
1. Beach Hotel & Restaurant
Newly renovated, this place is one of the more popular beach hotels in Donegal. It has 30 modern and stylish ensuite bedrooms, a mix of double, twin and adjoining family rooms. There are two bars, the modern yet comfortable lounge and the traditional Teach An tSolias that offers live entertainment at weekends and every night during the summer months.
2. Downings Coastguard Cottages
Downings Coastguard Cottages offer views over Sheephaven Bay—a great place to relax and watch the changing light washes over the Atlantic waters and mountains. Each cottage has three bedrooms and a spacious lounge with a fully-fitted modern kitchen. The master bedroom is ensuite and there is oil central heating to ensure the cottages are cosy all year round.
3. Self-catering apartments
As you might expect, there are plenty of other self-catering options in the Downings area where you can stay for a few days, a week or longer. The resort has lots of pubs and restaurants too, so eating out options (with takeaways too) are plentiful if you want a night off cooking.
Pubs in Downings
There’s some mighty pubs in Downings and, as the photo above will reveal, they pack a fine punch. Here’s three of our favourites:
1. Harbour Bar
The Harbour Bar offers drinkers amazing views out over the village and Sheephaven Bay. Stop here for a pint of the black stuff and enjoy your drink al fresco in the summer months or beside the open turf fires when the weather is colder. Packed to the hilt with character, the pub is a must-visit when in Downings.
2. The Singing Pub
This stand-out stone building with its thatched roof and red door has a children’s play park outside and a seafood chowder that visitors rave about. There are plenty of other fish and seafood choices too; fitting, given the location. The mussels on the menu are caught nearby, so well worth trying. Note that this is a 5-minute drive from Downings.
3. The Wee Bar Downing’s
The Wee Bar is another great spot for a pint. Recently refurbished, this pub in the heart of Downings and part of the Downings Bay Hotel is the place to be for entertainment, sports and craic. There’s a big screen TV for all the matches and you can grab a bite to eat in the JC Bar or the Haven Restaurant.
Restaurants in Downings
There’s restaurants in Downings for those of you in search of a feed. Below, you’ll find three of our favourites, including the brilliant Goose & Gander Pizzeria:
1. Goose & Gander Pizzeria
Originally, a pop-up, the Goose & Gander Pizzeria is a now a permeant fixture in Downings where you will find traditional, wood-fired pizzas and delicious cocktails. The pizza bases are made from thin sourdough, with toppings such as chorizo, smoked bacon, garlic and peppercorn salami or Clonakilty black pudding, Gorgonzola blue cheese, garlic roasted mushrooms and onion, vine tomato.
2. Fisk Seafood Bar
Eat locally sourced fish and seafood at Fisk’s, with its beautiful views of Donegal beach and Rosapenna, located next to the Harbour bar. While the ever-popular fish and chips is on the menu here, there are some cracking other dishes such as fish tacos featuring the catch of the day and served with coleslaw and a spiced mayo.
3. The Galley
The Galley is on Downings’ Main Street and open from 10am to 5pm, Mondays to Thursdays, and to 9pm Fridays and Saturdays, 8pm Sundays. If you’re self-catering, why not go for the breakfast takeaway, which includes a breakfast muffin of egg, sausage and bacon, or a bacon stack, bacon and Maple syrup on pancakes.
FAQs about Downings in Donegal
We’ve had a lot of questions over the years asking about everything from ‘Are there many things to do in Downings?’ 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.
What are the best things to do in Downings?
Head for a ramble on Downings Beach, tackle the Atlantic Drive, take a spin to Tra Na Rossan or kick-back with a pint with a view at the Harbour Bar.
Is Downings worth visiting?
Downings makes a great base to explore from. It’s located on the stunning Rosguill Peninsula right by the sea and surrounded by things to see and do.
Emma Baird is a lifestyle editor and novelist. She has worked in the communications industry for more than 25 years, and loves animals, the countryside and lingering in a great pub for the food and the craic.