Named after Saint Colm Cille, Glencolmcille is a tiny Irish speaking Gaeltacht village on the Sliabh Liag Peninsula.
Part of the Wild Atlantic Way, it’s one of the most charming towns in Donegal and it’s an excellent base to explore the county from.
In the guide below, you’ll find everything from things to do in Glencolmcille to where to eat, sleep and drink while you’re there.
Some quick need-to-knows about Glencolmcille
Although a visit to Glencolmcille is fairly straightforward, there are a few need-to-knows that’ll make your visit that bit more enjoyable.
Situated on the westernmost tip of southwest Donegal, Glencolmcille (Gleann Cholm Cille in Irish) is a small coastal community overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. It’s a 10-minute drive from Carrick, a 25-minute drive from Killybegs and a 30-minute drive from Ardara.
2. A stunning seaside village
Like many villages on this peninsula, Glencolmcille is in a stunning location surrounded by lush green hills and an awesome Atlantic coastline. Glencolmcille has featured as a film location for several movies including The Railway Station Man (1992) starring Julie Christie and Donald Sutherland.
3. A great place to explore from
Surrounded by wild landscapes, rolling hills, idyllic sandy beaches, cascading waterfalls and sheer sea cliffs, Glencolmcille is the ideal base for exploring the peninsula. It is 15km from the world-famous Slieve League Cliffs and a short drive from beautiful Malin Beg Beach and Glen Head. Return to the village for an evening of lively craic in the pubs.
Presiding over rugged landscapes and breathtaking ocean views, the tiny community of Glencolmcille has around 200 residents. It is a strong Gaeltacht community and home of Oideas Gael, an Irish-language learning institute established in 1984 to promote the Irish language and culture.
The village has a post office, petrol station, grocery store, cafe, restaurant, take-aways, several guesthouses and two pubs. Saint Columba’s Catholic Church remains the central place of worship and the former parish priest, The Very Reverend James Canon McDyer (1910-1987), led the movement promoting the rights of rural people.
Glencolmcille is the location of National Monument #139, which is made up of four historic sites: Glencolmcille Cashel and Court Cairn constructed in 3000BC and the start of a 15-stage pilgrimage; Glencolmcille Church and Holy Well; Malin Beg Ringfort and Church of St Kevin, and Malin More with its portal tomb circa 2000BC.
Things to do in Glencolmcille and nearby
There’s a handful of things to do in Glencolmcille 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. Tackle one of the looped walks
The best way to absorb the stunning scenery around Glencolmcille is on one of the loop walks nearby. The 8km Tower Loop explores lanes around the village, passing a river, ocean views, inscribed pillars and the 5000 year-old Mannernamortee Megalithic Tomb.
The strenuous 13km Drum Loop explores the eastern summit of Beefin and Gaveross Mountain before heading to the hamlet of Drum and then joins the short Tower Loop.
The scenic 5km Glen Loop Walk starts from Beefan and heads to the Napoleonic Watchtower on Glen Head. It continues along the cliffs to Glenlough, a deserted fishing village and ends in Port after taking in some of the best ocean views.
2. Step back in time at the Glencolmcille Folk Village
The recreated Glencolmcille Folk Village is a clachan, a cluster of thatched roof cottages that represent a typical rural village in times gone by. It was created in 1967 and operates as a fascinating living history museum of rural Irish life from the 18th to 20th centuries.
Each building offers a glimpse of traditional Irish life with furniture, tools, beds and authentic methods of cooking and heating. The buildings include a schoolhouse, fisherman’s cottage and a pub-store.
Learn about Irish music, crafts and dances and enjoy the superb views of Glen Bay Beach.
3. See the stunning Glencolmcille Cliffs
The majestic Glencolmcille Cliffs are just south of the better-known Sliabh Liag (Slieve League) sea cliffs that are among the highest in Europe.
Located on the narrow headland known as Sturrall Ridge, these cliffs are reached along a 2.5km clifftop walk from Glencolumbcille village. The peninsula reaches out into the surf but due to eons of wave erosion, it is just one metre wide in places.
Topped with a Napoleonic watchtower, it’s an incredible spot to stand and admire the powerful surf dashing the rocks.
4. Saunter along the stunning Malin Beg Beach
Malin Beg Beach (Silver Strand) is a secluded beach at the foot of the steep horseshoe-shaped cliffs. The best viewpoint of this beauty spot is from the Discovery Point at Silver Strand Beach on the Wild Atlantic Way.
Access to the sandy beach is down a steep series of sloping steps. It’s an impressive beach for a stroll in the company of crashing waves, salt-laden breezes and crying gulls.
On the western headland you can spot the remnants of fortifications and Rathlinn O’Birne Island just beyond.
5. Take a spin over to see the Slieve League Cliffs
One of the must-see attractions near Glencolmcille is the breathtaking Slieve League Cliffs. The 15km coastal drive is stunning in itself and when you reach the 601 metre-high cliffs you’ll feel you are literally on top of the world.
These sea cliffs are three times higher than the famous Cliffs of Moher! Visit the Cliffs Centre for more information and then drive to the main viewing area or walk up to the viewpoint.
If you’re up for a challenge, hike along the Pilgrim’s Path to the summit and check out the vertiginous drop below (experience is needed for this hike!).
6. Visit the Caves of Maghera and Maghera Strand
Maghera Beach stretches out into the bay at the foot of Slievetooey Mountain. It can be dangerous with strong currents and rapid tides so take special care and visit at low tide.
There’s a car park and 200 metre walk to the 5km long sandy beach which is perfect for a stroll at low tide. There’s also 20 sea caves, 8 arches and 5 tunnels which are the source of many legends, tall tales and folklore.
7. Listen to the water crash at Assaranca Waterfall
While you’re in the area, the Assaranca Waterfall is just one kilometre southeast of Maghera Strand. It’s one of the most beautiful waterfalls in Donegal with a torrent of white water cascading down the rocks to the pool below.
The waterfall can easily be seen from the coast road between Ardara and Maghera Beach. There’s a handy free lay-by for parking with space for 10 cars.
Bring your camera – the cascade and lush surroundings are wonderful with great photo ops from the base of the falls!
8. Spin along the bendy road at Glengesh
Described as a “mad and magical road through the mountains of Donegal”, the snaking road through the Glengesh Pass is a thrilling road trip. It can be traversed by car, walking or cycling and the bends deliver outstanding mountain views at every twist and turn.
The Glengesh Pass is on the road between Glencolmcille and Ardara and is one of Donegal’s hidden gems. Stop at the coffee cart at the top of the pass and then savour the drive through this scenic high mountain pass.
Hotels in Glencolmcille
If you’re looking for places to stay around Glencolmcille, you’ve a mix of guesthouses and self-catering options on offer. Here are three suggestions:
1. Ionad Siul
Handily situated a short walk from Oideas Gael, Glencolmcille Folk Village Museum and Glencolmcille Beach, Ionad Siul is a popular guesthouse with bed and breakfast and self-catering options. Ensuite double and twin rooms are well furnished with free Wi-Fi and tea/coffee. There’s a comfy guest lounge with leather sofas in front of the fire. It’s also very affordably priced.
2. Gleann Dobhar
Welcome to Gleann Dobhar, a family-run bed and breakfast in the heart of Glencolmcille parish. Guests can look forward to comfortable bedrooms with ensuite bathrooms, free Wi-Fi and a guest lounge for relaxing. As well as serving up a delicious breakfast, the guesthouse boasts home baking and free-range eggs from their own chickens.
3. Dolmen Cottage
Dolmen Cottage is a pretty 2 bedroom whitewashed cottage to sleep 5. Well furnished for a comfortable stay, it has an open living room, separate TV room and well-equipped kitchen with dishwasher and washing machine. Enjoy off-road parking and a garden with countryside views. Just across the road is Caherconnell Ring Fort and Tea Room.
Pubs and restaurants in Glencolmcille
There’s some mighty pubs and restaurants in Glencolmcille for those of you in need of feeding (or watering!). Here are our favourites:
1. Glen Head Tavern
Close to John Eoinin’s, Glen Head Tavern is a busy pub in Glencolmcille with friendly service and a fully-stocked bar. It serves excellent food, or you can order from the food truck chippie and they’ll deliver to the pub! Hang around and enjoy live music and friendly conversation.
2. Roarty’s Bar
Part of a busy motel on Main Street in Cashel, Roarty’s Bar is a traditional tavern with a lively bar. Friendly bartenders and regulars make you feel welcome and there’s great music, fiddlers and craic. They pull a fine Guinness too!
3. John Eoinín’s
For a pint and some tasty pub grub, John Eoinin’s is one of the top pubs in Glencolmcille with panoramic views through the picture windows. They serve a good menu of food from 1pm to 8pm and the waiter service is friendly and professional. Their burgers and fish and chips are recommended!
4. An Chistin @ Cook’s Pantry
Known for serving excellent European cuisine, An Chistin is in the heart of Glencolmcille. It serves breakfast, lunch and dinner and specialises in fresh seafood and locally sourced meats. Restaurant quality meals are complemented by freshly made scones, Donegal’s Hatter Coffee and generous light bites.
5. Benny’s Chipper
After a busy day exploring, a take-out from Benny’s Chipper could be just the thing for hungry appetites. Known for its quality, Benny’s serves a range of tasty meals including fresh locally caught fish and chips, and prime burgers made from 100% Irish beef. They also do chicken goujons, sausages and more. Give ‘em a try, why don’t you!
FAQs about Glencolmcille in Donegal
We’ve had a lot of questions over the years asking about everything from ‘Where’s good for food?’ to ‘What is there to do?’.
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 Glencolmcille?
There’s Glencolmcille Folk Village, the beach, the various walking trails and endless places to see a very short spin away from the town.
Is Glencolmcille worth visiting?
Yes, this is a gorgeous little town that’s arguably one of the most scenic in the county. It’s a great base to explore from and there’s some lovely walks in the area.
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.