Located on the dramatic coastline of southwest Donegal, Killybegs is the largest working harbour in Ireland.
Tucked away on the south coast of the county, this busy fishing town is a hive of activity throughout the year and is home to a fine bit of history.
And, while there isn’t a huge number of things to do in Killybegs, it make a good base to explore this corner of Donegal from, as you’ll discover below.
Some quick need-to-knows about Killybegs
Although a visit to Killybegs is fairly straightforward, there are a few need-to-knows that’ll make your visit that bit more enjoyable.
The busy harbour town of Killybegs is located on the Wild Atlantic Way on the south coast of Donegal. It’s a 15-minute drive from Carrick, a 20-minute drive from Ardara and a 25-minute drive from Donegal Town.
2. The largest fishing port in Ireland
Killybegs’ claim to fame is that it is Ireland’s largest fishing port – who’d have thought it! The sheltered location of this natural deep-water harbour is just a short distance from Donegal Bay. The bustling port exports some of Ireland’s finest produce from land and sea.
3. A stone’s throw from plenty to see and do
Killybegs is a typical working harbour town, but it makes a fine base for visitors as it’s within easy reach of many of the best places to visit in Donegal, from the Slieve League Cliffs and Glengesh Pass to hikes, walks and beaches (more on this below).
The harbour town of Killybegs is on the north side of Donegal Bay. Steeped in history and culture, the Irish name Na Cealla Beaga means “little cells’”. referring to the early monastic huts in this area.
In 1588, the Spanish galleon La Girona was repaired in the harbour before heading north. It sank in storms before reaching England. The 12-metre deep-water harbour and €50 million pier is home to the largest fishing fleet in Ireland.
As well as pelagic trawlers, it accommodates cruise boats, pleasure vessels and cargo ships. The summer festival includes the traditional “Blessing of the Boats”.
The town has a population of around 1300, and is home to a campus of the Letterkenny Institute of Technology.
Things to do in Killybegs
As there’s so much to see and do around the town, we have a dedicated guide on the best things to do in Killybegs.
However, I’ll take you through some of our favourite places to visit below. Dive on in!
1. Take the Slieve League boat tour
Don’t miss the opportunity to sail out of Killybegs Harbour and see the staggering Sliabh Liag cliffs towering above for almost 600 metres. The cruise includes an informative commentary as you pass Rotten Island Lighthouse (1838) and St John’s Point Lighthouse (1831).
As you cruise along the coastline, you may even spot caves, dolphins, seabirds, puffins, seals, basking sharks and marine life. Pass Drumanoo Head, pretty Fintra Beach and Muckross Head before reaching the cliffs.
The “Giant’s Desk and Chair” marks the high point at 601 metres making these the highest accessible sea cliffs in Europe.
2. Explore the area on the Killybegs Walk and Talk Tour
Starting from the information Centre on Shore Road, the guided Killybegs Walk and Talk Tour lasts about 1 3/4hours. Learn about the fishing and carpet-making industries that put Killybegs on the map.
The loop walk passes many key medieval sites and noteworthy buildings including 16th century grave slab of the Chief Neil Mor MacSuibhne, St. Mary’s Church of the Visitation and the residence of the late Bishop Mc Ginley ‘Bruach na Mara’.
You’ll also see the Corn Store (18th century), the remnants of St. Catherine’s Church and Graveyard, the ruins of the 14th century residence of the Bishops of Raphoe and St. Catherines’s Holy Well.
3. Visit one of many nearby beaches
Just around the headland west of Killybegs is the curving sandy beach of Fintra, a 5 minute drive from the town. Backed by dunes, this Blue Flag beach is ideal for walking, sandcastles, beach sports and paddling in the lagoon.
Further west, Malin Beg (35-minute drive) is a secluded bay with horseshoe shaped cliffs, accessed down steep slopes and steps. Maghera Beach (30 minutes north of Killybegs) has over 20 caves, eight arches and five tunnels at the foot of Slievetooey Mountain.
4. Or one of endless nearby attractions
Killybegs has plenty more fascinating attractions and things to do. The town has a Maritime and Heritage Museum in the former Donegal Carpets building as well as an interesting Heritage Trail.
The Tourist Information Centre has more details about guided hikes, eco tours, boat trips, golf, horse riding, climbing and fishing trips.
Hotels in Killybegs
There’s some excellent guesthouses and hotels in Killybegs for those of you that fancy spending the night. Here are three to check out:
1. Tara Hotel
Overlooking Killybegs Harbour, the contemporary Tara Hotel Killybegs has 26 tastefully furnished guest rooms (double, twin and family size) and five suites offering all the amenities of a first class hotel. Enjoy tasty Irish breakfasts and outstanding meals in the Turntable Restaurant onsite before heading off exploring the Wild Atlantic Way.
2. The Ritz Accommodation
Conveniently located in the heart of Killybegs, the Ritz offers smart budget-friendly accommodation in the former Ritz Cinema. Recommended by Lonely Planet and Rough Guide, this up-market hostel offers rooms with TV, (some with ensuite), self-catering facilities, free Wi-Fi, complimentary continental breakfast and all the comforts of a more expensive hotel.
3. The Fleet Inn
You’ll get a warm Irish welcome at the Fleet Inn on Bridge Street. As well as being a well-appointed guesthouse with comfy rooms, king-size beds and ensuite bathrooms, it also has a bar for cocktails. The separate restaurant has an excellent menu of fine dining.
Pubs in Killybegs
There’s some lovely, old-school pubs in Killybegs that make a great evening destination after a long day on the road. Here are our favourites:
1. Harbour Bar
Overlooking the working port, the Harbour Bar is situated on Bridge Street. This traditional pub has a well-stocked bar, pool table and pub games. It’s a good haunt for relaxing with a glass of wine or beer after a busy day and tucking into a tasty steak, seafood or fish dinner.
2. Hughie’s Bar
With its traditional exteriors and central location on Main Street, Hughie’s Bar is a popular local pub, lounge and restaurant serving tasty bar food. They have a well-stocked bar with a full gin menu and superb signature cocktails. It really buzzes on weekends for cocktails and Irish ales, live music on Fridays and a DJ on Saturdays.
3. The Galleon Bar
The Galleon Bar is one of the most popular pubs in Killybags. Located at the Cope House, it has a friendly bar, pool tables, arcade games and live music on weekends. Great Guinness and tasty pub grub available.
Restaurants in Killybegs
As the town is somewhat of a foodie hot-spot, we’ve a dedicated guide to the best restaurants in Killybegs. However, I’ll give you my favourites below:
1. Anderson’s Boathouse Restaurant
The award-winning Anderson’s Boathouse is a top notch seafood restaurant run by chef Garry and his wife Mairead. Garry brings his expertise to Killybegs after working in Claridges with Gordon Ramsey, no less. Overlooking Killybegs Harbour, their fabulous menu includes Seafood Chowder (voted Ireland’s Best in 2019 and 2020).
2. The Fleet Inn Guesthouse & Restaurant
Tucked away on Bridge Street, the Fleet Inn combines guesthouse accommodation with a popular restaurant and pub. Open daily from 5pm, the restaurant serves exceptional cuisine such as Soup of the Day with Guinness Bread or Sous Vide Chicken with Wild Mushroom and Truffle Tortellini.
3. Killybegs Seafood Shack
Located on the Pier, Killybegs Seafood Shack is ranked #1 TripAdvisor for Quick Bites. Where better to enjoy Killybegs’ freshly caught seafood than sitting on the harbour overlooking the boats! Cooked fresh to order, they serve delicious fish and chips, calamari, scampi and a popular Seafood Mix with chips, big enough to share!
FAQs about Killybegs in Donegal
We’ve had a lot of questions over the years asking about everything from ‘What is there to do?’ 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.
Are there many things to do in Killybegs?
There’s a handful of things to do in the town, from the walking tour and the Heritage Trail to the coastal boat tour. There’s endless places to visit a short spin away.
Is Killybegs worth visiting?
If you’re nearby, it’s worth a quick nosey around. If you’re hungry, there’s some great food options. It’s a busy fishing town and not a bad base to explore 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.