The delightful coastal village of Dunfanaghy is one of our favourite towns in Donegal.
Home to breath-taking beaches and several excellent places to eat and drink, it’s also a stone’s throw from many of Donegal’s top attractions.
In the guide below, you’ll find everything from things to do in Dunfanaghy to where to eat, sleep and drink while you’re there.
Some quick need-to-knows about Dunfanaghy
Although a visit to Dunfanaghy is fairly straightforward, there are a few need-to-knows that’ll make your visit that bit more enjoyable.
2. A stunning seaside town
Dunfanaghy is a stunning coastal town in the shadow of the mighty Derryveagh Mountains. It is surrounded by some of the most beautiful beaches, headlands, cliffs and forests in the county and is known for its dramatic coastal scenery.
3. A great base to explore from
Dunfanaghy is close to many of North Donegal’s top attractions. Beautiful sandy beaches nearby include Killahoey Beach and Marble Hill. Just a short drive away are Horn Head, Ards Forest Park and Friary, Doe Castle and Glenveigh National Park (more below).
Dunfanaghy is a scenic little village and former fishing port with a population of around 300. The main street is typical of Irish communities with colourful terraced houses and local businesses.
There’s a small central square with a market house (1847) and a quay that was once used for corn exports. The three-mile long Killahoey Strand is a a long sandy beach that’s arguably one of Donegal’s finest.
In 1942, an RAF aircraft made an emergency landing on the sand. It was feared that the plane would be lost to the tide, but 200 locals turned out and hauled it to safety.
After refuelling and an overnight stay, the crew and plane were able to continue with their mission. The town has excellent amenities including a golf course, several churches, art galleries, craft shops, pubs and restaurants.
The workhouse is now a museum and interpretive centre showing the effects of the Great Famine (1845-52) which severely affected Dunfanaghy.
Things to do in Dunfanaghy
There’s a handful of things to do in Dunfanaghy 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. Head for a ramble along Killahoey Beach
Less than 1km east of Dunfanaghy, Killahoey Beach has crystal clear waters and golden sand stretching for 3km. It’s a popular spot for swimming and watersports and has a lifeguard service in summer.
Now, you’ll find this beach pretty quiet throughout the year. However, like many of the best beaches in Donegal, it comes alive during fine summer days.
The sands and dunes are a haven for wildlife and horse riding can be enjoyed along the beach.
2. Step back in time at the Workhouse
The Workhouse is a community heritage centre that was originally built in 1843. Workhouses were places that provided for those in the community that could not provide for themselves.
Visitors to the Workhouse can have a nosey around the craft shop, see the Famine Exhibition, kick-back with a coffee in the cafe or head off on the Heritage Trail.
The Heritage Trail is accompanied by an audio guide that offers an insight into local points of interest.
3. Or saunter along the sand at nearby Marble Hill
Another picturesque beach nearby is Marble Hill Strand, 6km east of Dunfanaghy. At high tide, the sandy beach is separated into two smaller coves which are popular for yachts and boats to moor during the summer.
It is easy to access from the N56. After passing Port-na-Blagh Harbour, follow signs marked Scenic Route and enjoy stunning scenery on the approach to Marble Hill Beach.
It’s popular for swimming, surfing, walking, sandcastle and picnics. The Shack serves snacks and ice cream and the Shandon Hotel bar has more refreshments.
3. Take the walk out to Tramore
Tramore Beach is 4km west of Dunfanaghy and, unlike its neighbours, it is not safe for swimming as it has dangerous currents and rip tides. The name Tramore is common in Ireland. It means “big beach” and this curving sandy bay is over 3km long.
There’s a pleasant ramble to access Tramore Beach from Dunfanaghy along a forest trail and dunes. From Dunfanaghy, head towards Horn Head. After crossing the bridge, look for the car park and a tree-lined footpath to the beach.
The walk takes about 45 minutes and is particularly stunning at sunset.
4. Drive up to see the mighty Horn Head
Horn Head is a must-see. There’s a looped drive up to see it and a nice 30-minute walk to the Napoleonic Signal Tower if you want to stretch the legs. From the small car park you can climb 100 metres up to the lookout post.
It has panoramic views across the sea to Tory Island, then turning clockwise, take in stunning views of the Rosguil Peninsula, Muckish and Errigal Mountains, New Lake and Tramore Beach.
For a circular drive, return to the junction and turn left over a cattle grid. It takes you in a loop past several notable viewing points back to Dunfanaghy.
5. Or spend a morning wandering around Ards Forest Park
Just 8 minutes’ drive from Dunfanaghy, Ards Forest Park is a beautiful place to visit near Creeslough. Managed by Coilte, there is a small entrance fee but it’s well worth it.
This forest park includes a network of trails and boardwalks connecting several sandy beaches, national monuments, sculptures and archaeological features. You can pick up a Coilte guide book from any tourist information office.
Families can enjoy the playground and picnic tables, go paddling, build sandcastles and see ducks and water lilies on Lough Lily. Open 8am to 9pm in summer, and until 4.30pm in winter.
6. See the fairy-tale-like Doe Castle
Overlooking the sea from its craggy viewpoint, Doe Castle is 13km southeast of Dunfanaghy. It is one of the best 16th century castles in Donegal. Once the stronghold of the Sweeney Clan, it was abandoned in 1843 but the empty shell has been well preserved.
Take a guided tour (Fridays, Saturdays and Sunday during the summer) and explore inside the keep with its oak floors and staircase. Don’t miss the old churchyard, accessed from a path on the right hand side of the car park.
It is one of the oldest burial grounds in the county and it’s arguably one of the more unique castles in Donegal.
7. Conquer nearby Muckish or Errigal
There’s some glorious walks in Donegal and keen hikers will enjoy the challenge of ascending two of the Seven Sisters. Although higher, at 751m, Mount Errigal is an easier climb with a clear path. Muckish is a tougher, less popular climb, topping off at 666 metres.
The Irish name for Muckish is An Mhucais, which means pig’s back. When you see the two peaks, you will clearly see how it got its name! There is an old miner’s track up Muckish, which is a steep and strenuous route, or take the easier but marshier Rock Quarry route.
The summit of Muckish closely resembles the moon with piles of rocks and a cross. However, the views are impressive, cloud and wind permitting!
8. Or stroll around the incredible Glenveagh National Park
Just 20km from Dunfanaghy village, Glenveagh National Park is on the shores of Lough Veagh. It boasts lakes, waterfalls, oak woodland and outstanding mountain scenery that’s among the best in Ireland.
Set in the Derryveagh Mountains, this 170km² park includes Glenveagh Castle, built in 1873 as a castellated mansion. There are miles of walks and cycle trails within the park, around the castle and gardens.
Drop in at the Visitor Centre and Castle Tearooms and check out the seasonal events hosted in this scenic national park.
9. Take the ferry from Magheroarty Pier to Tory Island
Pop across to Tory Island on the passenger ferry MV Queen of Aran which runs daily from Magheroaty Pier. Tory (Toraigh) Island lies 14km offshore and is Ireland’s most remote inhabited island.
Just 5km long, it has four towns: An Baile Thoir (East Town), An Baile Thiar (West Town), An Lár (Middletown) and Úrbaile (Newtown). Adults tickets are €25 for adults with concessions for families and islanders.
Pets and bikes are permitted and the trip takes 45 minutes each way. Take a guided tour, boat trip or rent an electric bike to get around the island.
10. Or do the Atlantic Drive from Downings
Head around Sheephaven Bay to Downings and enjoy the scenery on the Grand Atlantic Drive. It’s a short but spectacular 12km route around the Rosguill Peninsula. The stunning natural beauty and coastal scenery will take your breath away!
Kick your drive off at Downings Beach and then head off on your merry way. Highlights include Tra Na Rossan and, if you fancy a bit of a detour, the brand new trail to the hidden gem that is Boyeeghter Bay.
Hotels in and around Dunfanaghy
There’s some brilliant hotels in Dunfanaghy – one of which is regarded as one of the best hotels in Donegal. Here are our favourites:
1. Arnolds Hotel
Stay in the heart of Dunfanaghy at the three star Arnolds Hotel on Main Street. It has modern well furnished double, family and twin rooms with ensuite bathrooms, flatscreen TV, Wi-Fi and tea/coffee facilities. Opt for a sea view across Killahoey Beach and Sheephaven Bay or enjoy peaceful views of the walled garden.
2. Shandon Hotel
Located on Marble Hill Strand, the Shandon Hotel and Spa offers superb sea views from almost every room. It has 68 ensuite bedrooms furnished to a high standard of luxury. There’s a bar, swimming pool, sauna and jacuzzi for guests as well as a spa, gym and hair salon. Enjoy drinks in one of two bars and fine dining with ocean views in the Marbles Restaurant.
3. The Mill
Ideal for couples, The Mill is a well appointed guest house in Dunfanaghy with ensuite guest rooms, some with lake views. It has a garden, free parking and Wi-Fi. Start the day with a buffet or cooked breakfast before heading out to explore.
Pubs in Dunfanaghy
There’s some lovely old-school pubs in Dunfanaghy that make a great base for a bit of respite after a long day spent exploring. Here are three of our favourites:
1. Patsy Dan’s Bar
With low ceiling, a real turf fire and a homely atmosphere, Patsy Dan’s Bar is a traditional pub on Dunfanaghy’s Main Street. It echoes to the beat of live music and trad sessions on most evenings, so bring your fiddles, whistle and best singing voice! If you want food with your Guinness, the Rusty Oven Pizza is right next door in the covered garden.
2. The Oyster Bar
Irish music, cold beer and good food come together at the popular Oyster Bar on Main Street. This busy social hub is a winner with locals and visitors alike. It offers trad sessions, live music and pool tables along with dancing on Fridays and Saturdays.
3. Molly’s Bar
Molly’s Bar is another good option in the town. There’s a nice beer garden to the rear of this family-friendly pub on Main Street. The refurbished bar has live music on weekends and nightly during the summer.
Places to eat in Dunfanaghy
As there’s a fair bit of choice on offer, we’ve a dedicated guide to the best restaurants in Dunfanaghy. However, I’ll show you my favourites below:
Lizzie’s Diner on Main Street is a great place for tasty food, starting with a full Irish breakfast. For lunch, we hear the Seafood Chowder with wheaten bread is a great choice and for dinner, the burgers with salad and fries are delicious. BYO wine with a small corkage charge.
2. The Rusty Oven – Pizzeria
Right next to Patsy Dan’s Bar, the Rusty Oven has outdoor tables in their sheltered undercover garden. Open from 5-10pm, they cook up tasty pizzas in the wood-fired oven using genuine Buffalo Mozzarella. Easy to find from Market Square – just follow your nose!
3. Muck ‘n’ Muffins
Muck ‘n’ Muffins is a delightful coffee shop above a ground floor pottery studio. Overlooking the square and pier, this former grain store has been beautifully renovated and the cafe does it proud with speciality coffee and tea, hot chocolate, soup, toasties, wraps, sandwiches, quiche, fajitas, salads, cakes, gluten-free options and of course muffins! You can browse the hand-turned Dunfanaghy pottery while you’re there and pick a beautiful souvenir of jewellery, candles or tableware.
FAQs about Dunfanaghy
We’ve had a lot of questions over the years asking about everything from ‘Is the town worth visiting?’ to ‘Where’s good to eat?’.
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.
Are there many things to do in Dunfanaghy?
Yes! You can visit, Killahoey Beach, walk to Tramore, spin up to Horn Head and, when you’re done, visit one of the endless nearby attractions.
Is Dunfanaghy worth visiting?
Yes, even if you’re just passing stop and see the beach. The big draw here isn’t that there’s heaps of things to do in Dunfanaghy, it’s that it makes the perfect base to explore north Donegal from.
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.