The Best Places to see in Donegal

Places to see in Donegal

There’s an almost endless number of amazing places to see in Donegal, regardless of whether you have 2 days to spare or 8.

There’s an almost endless number of amazing places to visit during a trip to donegal. From the cliffs at Slieve League to the Atlantic to the magnificent Inishowen Peninsula, Donegal is an unmissable corner of Ireland. There’s an almost endless number of amazing places to visit during a trip to donegal. From the cliffs at Slieve League to the Atlantic to the magnificent Inishowen Peninsula, Donegal is an unmissable corner of Ireland.

Slieve League Cliffs

You’ll find the towering Slieve League Cliffs in the Gaeltacht region of Donegal. Standing at an impressive 601m above sea level (twice the height of the Cliffs of Moher), Slieve League are the highest accessible sea cliffs in Europe. On a clear day the cliffs offer breath-taking views across Donegal Bay, Sligo and Mayo, and they’re perfect for those that may be unable to partake in any strenuous activity (you can drive right the way up to them) or for those looking to stretch the legs and get the heart-rate up with a more vigorous climb. Grab a coffee or an ice cream from the little cart at the base of the steps and sit back and absorb the mighty sight in front of you.

Mamore Gap

If you’ve never visited Mamore Gap before, then you’re in for a treat. Found on the Inishowen Peninsula this immensely scenic drive twists and turns through the gap along a steep route. It’s hard not to admire the sheep and cyclists battling their way up the steep hillsides as your car (mine did anyway) struggles against the incline. Once you reach the summit of Mamore Gap it’ll immediately become evident why this is one of the best things to do in Donegal. The view from the top is one of those scenes that paints itself upon your mind forever. Wild. Remote. Unspoiled. Mamore Gap will take your breath away.

Grab an out-of-this-world view of Donegal from Horn head

You'll find Horn Head, close to the little town of Dunfanaghy. You can throw on the walking boots and head off on a walk along the cliffs (takes roughly three hours), or you can drive the Horn Head loop. For those that want to walk it, John O’Dwyer provides a fantastic guide in the Irish Times here. If you’d prefer to avoid the walk, the drive around Horn Head is also fantastic. There are two viewing points that you can get out at and admire the scenery that surrounds you; the first is on the north side and here cliffs dominate. The second overlooks Dunfanaghy with Muckish and the Derryveagh mountains providing the perfect backdrop.

Have a Gawk at Malin Beg and Silver Strand Beach

Silver Strand Beach is one of those places that makes me question why I’m living in Dublin. Whether you’re sitting on the grass above and gazing down at it, or walking along the sandy shores and listening to the waves crash, this horse-shoe shaped beach is an unspoiled gem that’s missed on many Donegal itineraries. Take your time here. Gulp down fresh sea air. And bask in the brilliance that surrounds you.

Glencolmcille Folk Village and/or beach

The Folk Village in Glencolmcille is a thatched-roof replica of a rural village that offers a glimpse into what daily life was like in the area in years past. Each cottage is an exact replica of a dwelling used by locals in each of the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries. Wander through the village at your leisure or take a guided tour if it tickles your fancy. If you visited Silver Strand earlier in the day and have a hankering for more sea air, you can take a stroll along Glencolmcille beach.

Spin along the Glengesh Pass

The chances of encountering another road like the one at the Glengesh Pass is slim to none and it’s easily one of my favourite places to visit in Donegal. It meanders through the almost endless sloping mountainous terrain that connects Glencolmcille to Ardara, with more twists and turns than my stomach cares to remember. Pro tip: as you’re approaching Glengesh from the Glencolmcille side, you’ll come across a little van selling coffee, with a bench close by. Stop off here and you’ll get some great views of the valley below.

Listen to the water crash from Assaranca Waterfall

I found this place by complete fluke about 3 years ago. We had just driven along Glengesh and had managed to get semi lost. We kept driving away hoping that we’d happen upon something interesting and BANG! Assaranca Waterfall. What I love about this place is that it’s literally at the side of the road, so if it’s raining away you can kick back in your car, lower the window a tad and soak up the sights and the sounds. A lovely little surprise.

Drop by the Caves of Maghera and Maghera Strand

Maghera Strand is wild. That’s the only way to describe it. But wild in the best possible sense – it’s exactly as nature intended. Pure raw natural beauty. You’ll find the Maghera Caves beneath Slievetooey mountain and some of the 20 caves are accessible when tides are low from Maghera Strand. Note: you need to be extremely careful of tides and strong currents – check locally regarding times.

Climb Mount Errigal or Admire it from afar

Mount Errigal, the tallest peak in Donegal, towers over the other Derryveagh Mountains at an impressive 2,464 ft. If you’ve ever driven around Donegal, the chances are you’ll have gawked at Errigal’s dramatic quartzite peak from afar, as it’s visible from many places across the county. If you’re looking to climb Mount Errigal, the best place to access it is from the little village of Dunlewey. You’ll find a small car park at the foot of the mountain where you can begin your ascent.

Ramble through Glenveagh National Park

Spanning an impressive 16,000 hectares, Glenveagh encompasses most of the Derryveagh Mountains, the Poisoned Glen and part of Errigal Mountain. For those looking to get a lungfull of fresh air, there are several walks you can choose from. When you’re there, make sure to drop by Glenveagh Castle, situated on the shores of Lough Veagh. On of the best things to do in Donegal for those that enjoy exploring through walking.

Stroll Along Killahoey Beach

This is one of Donegal's many hidden gems that often fail to be picked up in tourist guides (which makes them far less likely to be busy). You'll find Killahoey Beach (often referred to as Dunfanaghy beach) located close to the town of Dunfanaghy on the northern coast of County Donegal. Stop off here, take the shoes and socks off and get a lungful of Atlantic air as you ramble along the shore.

Visit the wild and rugged Arranmore Island

You’ll find Arranmore Island around 5 km off the Donegal coast. This mighty island is a wild and rugged hidden gem that boasts magnificent cliff views, dramatic sea caves and lovely golden sandy beaches. Explore the island by day, and kick-back by an open turf fire and listen to some traditional Irish music in one of the islands lively pubs by night. At around seven square miles in size, Arranmore island is the second largest of Ireland’s inhabited islands. For those looking to explore, the island has many marked trails that’ll take you past an ever-changing tapestry of natural beauty, from sandy beaches to craggy cliffs. The island, which has been inhabited since prehistoric times, has a rich and vibrant heritage and culture, and many Gaelic traditions still thrive here.

Get up-close with nature at Ards Forest Park

Next up is Ards Forest Park where you can choose from nine different trails to head off on. Over the course of your stroll you’ll encounter sand dunes, beaches, salt marshes, saltwater lakes, rock face and, of course, coniferous and deciduous woodlands. You’ll also happen upon the remains of four ring forts together with a holy well and a mass rock. Grab a coffee in Ards Coffee Tree and head off on your merry way.

Drop by Doe Castle

Doe Castle is one of those structures that looks like it was plucked straight from a Disney movie. The castle was strategically built out on a jutting rock that places it within the protection of an inlet from Sheephaven Bay.You can access the grounds of the castle for free or you can take a guided tour for €3 euro per person. If you’d like to read about the history of the castle before visiting, you can do so here.

Visit Lough Salt for an absolute peach of a view

Lough Salt is a small mountain lake located at the base of Lough Salt Mountain. Pop it into Google Maps and keep driving until you come to the little parking area that’ll at the top of the hill. From here, you can check out the lake. When you’ve had your fill, take a look around and you’ll see a small grassy hill. Cross the road and climb up it. The 360 view you’ll be treated to is just out of this world. On the day that I visited, I took a book with me and sat for an hour or so.

Let your mouth drop at Fanad Head Lighthouse

You’ll see Fanad Head Lighthouse dominate many guides around the best things to do in Donegal. There’s no real mystery why – it’s a special place. The drive to and from Fanad Lighthouse is worth the trip alone, as you pass through the beautifully quaint countryside that leads to it. Standing proudly between Lough Swilly and sandy Mulroy Bay, Fanad Head Lighthouse has been voted one of the most beautiful lighthouses in the world. The whole craggy coastal area that surrounds the lighthouse is just out of this world. Sit up on the stone wall to the left of the lighthouse and switch off for a while. Soak up the sounds of the ocean and bask in the beauty of one Ireland’s most spectacular corners.

Embrace the breeze at Ballymastocker Bay

Next on the list is another beach - a world famous one. Ballymastocker Bay is a superb Blue Flag beach that was once voted the 2nd most beautiful beach in the world by the lads at the Observer Magazine. For those that visit, you’ll be treated to tremendous views out towards the Inishowen Peninsula. Well worth a visit and a ramble.

Grianan of Aileach Hillfort

The Grianan of Aileach is a hillfort that sits on top of the 801 ft high Greenan Mountain at Inishowen. The stone fort is said to date back to the 1st century on the site of an early Iron Age multivallate hillfort. The drive up to Grianan of Aileach is worth the trip alone. When you reach the top you’ll be treated to a magnificent 360 view that takes in Lough Swilly, Lough Foyle and the gorgeous countryside of the Inishowen Peninsula.

Dunree Fort

The next activity takes us out to Dunree Head to check out Dunree Fort and the military museum. The fort was originally constructed as part of a series of structures developed to defend Lough Swilly during the Napoleonic Wars. The Museum is positioned in a wonderful setting that overlooks Lough Swilly on the on the Inishowen Peninsula. There are several weather-beaten barracks which you can have a gander at and if you fancy along with an audiovisual presentation.

Glenevin Waterfall

The first time I laid eyes upon Glenevin Waterfall it mustered up images in my mind of the first Jurassic Park movie. The waterfall looks like something that you’d find on a prehistoric island from a land that time forgot. Once you’ve parked the car, you’re around a 15 minute walk that’ll take you along a lovely pathway that’s surrounded by trees. Glenevin Waterfall is well worth adding to your road trip itinerary.

Malin Head

After visiting Malin Head recently, the one thing that hit me, and that stuck with me long after my visit, was the sheer power of mother nature. As I stood and gazed out at the jagged rocks that jutted from the water nearby, I was half deafened from the whistle of the gales that whipped over the Atlantic coupled with the sound of water crashing against rock. There are several walks you can do here – the road walk to Banbas crown is roughly 12km and will take you around 5 hours depending on fitness levels. As you explore Malin head, keep an eye out for a large ‘EIRE’ on the ground nearby, written out in white stones to remind aircraft that they were flying over a neutral state during the war.

Kinnagoe Bay

Although it could easily pass for a beach in Ibiza, Kinnagoe Bay is most definitely in Donegal, and it's easily one of my favourite beaches in Ireland. Whether you admire it from above or from down at shore level, you'll be treated to magnificent views while you listen to waves crash around you.

Dunree Fort

The next activity takes us out to Dunree Head to check out Dunree Fort and the military museum. The fort was originally constructed as part of a series of structures developed to defend Lough Swilly during the Napoleonic Wars. The Museum is positioned in a wonderful setting that overlooks Lough Swilly on the on the Inishowen Peninsula. There are several weather-beaten barracks which you can have a gander at and if you fancy along with an audiovisual presentation.