You’ll find Rathmullan tucked away on the shores of Lough Swilly on the Fanad Peninsula.
It’s surrounded by wonderful scenery, gorgeous beaches, peninsulas, loughs and walks, and near attractions like Fanad Lighthouse, Rathmullan Abbey and the lively town of Letterkenny.
In the guide below, you’ll find everything from things to do in Rathmullan to where to eat, sleep and drink while you’re there.
Some quick need-to-knows about Rathmullan
Although a visit to Rathmullan is fairly straightforward, there are a few need-to-knows that’ll make your visit that bit more enjoyable.
2. A lovely seaside base to explore from
Rathmullan is situated on the western shore of Lough Swilly. From here, you’ve everything from the Inishowen Peninsula and Glenveagh National Park to islands, beaches and more (see things to do in Rathmullan below).
3. The Flight of the Earls
Rathmullan is an important historical village because of the Flight of the Earls which took place in 1607 and proved to be a major turning point in Ireland’s history. At the time, Hugh O’Neill, the 2nd Earl of Tyrone, and Rory O’Donnell, the 1st Earl of Tyrconnell, and followers, left Ulster for mainland Europe. Their exile symbolized the end of the Gaelic order.
Nowadays, Rathmullan is a popular seaside escape for those looking for a break from the everyday rat race. Its facilities include shops, a resource center, places of interest, hotels and churches.
There are also the remains of a friary that was sacked by the English in 1595, which was later turned into a fortified mansion in anticipation of a French invasion during the early 19th century Napoleonic wars.
You’ll find the remains of a Martello tower here too – another precaution against French invasion built at that time.
The Lough Swilly Deep Sea Fishing Festival held in June emphasises the importance the sea plays in the lives of those in the area and there are many other festivals associated with the area, such as the film festival, the Flight of the Earls festival, the Choral Weekend, the Walking Weekend and the Polar Plunge (only for the very brave!)
Things to do in Rathmullan and nearby
There’s a handful of things to do in Rathmullan 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. Spend a fine morning sauntering along Rathmullan Bay Beach
Your first port of call upon arrival in Rathmullan is the beach of course. Autumn, winter, spring and summer, the beach is a great place for a stroll.
A sunny day in the height of summer is the best time to see it – a long stretch of golden sands flanked by gentle hills and the roll of waves that break on the shore.
You can swim and surf here, but why not pack a picnic and watch the world go by while tucking into food alfresco?
2. Step back in time at Rathmullan Abbey
Rathmullan Abbey was closed to the public in 2015 on Health and Safety grounds, as various sections of the 500-year-old building were in a state of collapse and only held together by the enclosing ivy.
However, Donegal County Council has carried out conservation work on the ancient abbey and access to it has now been restored. First built by the McSwiney’s of Fanad in around 1518, it was built as a priory for Carmelites, but in 1595, the Abbey was plundered.
First by Captain George Bingham from Sligo and in 1601, Captain Ralph Bingley took over the building and used it as a barracks. Some years later, Bishop Andrew Knox converted it into a palace. His family occupied the former abbey until the end of the 1600’s, after which it became derelict.
3. Hit the water with Lough Swilly Ferry
The Lough Swilly Ferry takes you to Buncrana and operates through June to September when there are eight return services every day and you can travel as an on-foot passenger (there is no extra charge for bicycles), by car, motorbike or minibus.
No pre-booking is necessary and the short journey is a fine way to appreciate the surrounding coastline and all that it has to offer.
Terrific on a fine day when the blue skies above highlight the turquoise waters underneath and once you reach the other end, there is another of Donegal’s lovely towns to explore.
4. Abseil, kayak under moonlight or hike with Eco Atlantic Adventures
Are you someone who gets their thrills from the great outdoors? Step forward Eco Atlantic Adventures. The abseiling, kayaking and hiking tours on offer use the natural landscape, geology and natural resources with the utmost care for the environment.
You can kayak out from Rathmullan Beach in the early evening as the sun sets and return there under moonlight. Or push those adrenaline buttons to the limit with a giant abseil, lowering yourself slowly as you walk horizontally against the vertical wall.
5. Head off on the Ballyboe to Millbrook Loop
Still on the outdoor exercise theme, try the Ballyboe to Millybrook Loop for a bracing, blow those cobwebs away walk. The trail is just under six kilometres (about one and half hours, depending on your pace).
It takes you clockwise along the shores of Lough Swilly, before climbing the ‘Long Hill’ and returning to the town along the ‘Red Brae’. Your start point is the car park beside the beach, from where you turn left past the village putting green.
Take your binoculars with you, so that you can study the wild fowl and birds out on the lough.
6. Visit the breath-taking Ballymastocker Bay
Ballymastocker Bay on the Fanad Peninsula is only a 15-minute drive from Rathmullan and another beach well worth visiting when you are staying in the area. It is a long sandy beach that stretches for more than a mile on the western shore of Lough Swilly.
The beach stretches from Portsalon to the Knockalla Hills and was once voted second most beautiful beach in the world. It has won a Blue Flag award (this relates to cleanliness and sustainability) and from the beach, you are afforded views of the Knockalla Mountain.
7. Or the impressive Fanad Head Lighthouse (35 minute drive)
Fanad Head Lighthouse is one of three Signature Discovery Points on the Wild Atlantic Way and it’s incredibly impressive. The lighthouse is a not-for-profit social enterprise that is run by a voluntary local committee and is a working lighthouse, voted one of the most beautiful lighthouses in the world.
Naturally, it attracts both keen and amateur photographers, eager to capture the lighthouse and the scenery behind it. On offer for visitors are fully guided tours, where the expert volunteers talk about the lighthouse and its history and you can climb the tower.
8. While away an afternoon in Letterkenny Town
Letterkenny is a 17th century market town that grew in importance once the railways came there in the 19th century. Here you will find the Donegal County Museum, which gives an excellent overview of the area’s history.
There’s also Tropical World, a hit with children and adults alike, and the independent bookshop Universal Books, where you will find rare Donegal and Irish books.
Places to stay in Rathmullan
There’s a mix of self-catering homes and hotels in Rathmullan for those of you that fancy staying the night. Here are some worth checking out:
1. Rathmullan House Hotel
Rathmullan House is a Georgian family-run country house on the shores of Lough Swilly. Stay here and you will only be a mere stone’s throw from the three kilometre long beach. The house is set in wooded gardens so often a favourite of couples seeking a romantic, quiet getaway weekend.
2. Rathmullan Village Apartments
Rathmullan Village Apartments are modern two bedroom apartments right in the centre of Rathmullan. The village amenities are within easy walking distance including the beach, the pubs, shop and cafes. Accommodation comprises kitchen-dining-living room, double bedrooms (the master bedroom has an ensuite shower room), bathroom with bath and overhead shower.
3. Lots more self-catering options
Like many of the towns in this part of the world, there are plenty of other self-catering options to choose from in Rathmullan, with a mix of big and small apartments and holiday homes to rent. Whether you are visiting the area with your other half, your family, extended family or a group of friends celebrating a special occasion, there is something to suit.
Pubs in Rathmullan
There’s some mighty pubs in Rathmullan. One of the most popular treats visitors to a view and a half, as you can see above. Here are our favourties:
1. Beachcomber Bar
The Beachcomber Bar is a long-established pub with a fabulous, seafront setting that offers panoramic views over Lough Swilly towards Inch Island and the Inishowen Peninsula. Look out over them while sipping your pint of Guinness in the beer garden. The pub has also built a reputation for great bar food.
2. White Harte
The White Harte is a traditional Irish pub you’ll find in the centre of the village that overlooks the pier, the beach and the putting green. The building started life in 1901 and it was named after the first ship that docked at the pier afterwards. The pub has been run by the McAteer family for over 50 years.
3. Batt’s Bar
Batt’s Bar is part of Rathmullan House and open for teas, coffees, drinks and light snacks from 12.30pm – 4.30pm every day. The name comes from the family that occupied the house for more than 100 years, though, ironically, many members of the family were known as strict teetotallers.
Restaurants in Rathmullan
Although there isn’t a huge number of restaurants in Rathmullan, the ones that call the town home pack a fine punch. Here are our favourites:
1. Belle’s kitchen
Belle’s Kitchen is near the Pier area that leads down to Rathmullan beach. It serves high quality local produce and a wide range of a la carte/snack menu dishes, breakfast options, cakes and other desserts including the homemade crepes with a number of different toppings. Specials include savoury fish cakes, rabbit stew and wild boar.
2. Pavilion (Pizza & Craft Beer)
For alfresco dining by the sea, Pavilion, which is part of the Rathmullan House Hotel is the place to go for pizzas, craft beers and home-made ice-creams. The pizzas are stone-baked for those thin, crispy bases – expect Parma ham, Gaeta olives and more – and the beers sourced from the local Kinnegar brewery.
3. The Cook & Gardener
Also part of Rathmullan House Hotel, the Cook & Gardener champions local suppliers in its dishes and uses produce from the hotel’s walled garden. The menu is seasoned and varied, and expect dishes such as slow-cooked Irish pork belly, pan-seared fillets of fish landed in nearby Greencastle and roast rump of Irish lamb.
FAQs about Rathmullan in Donegal
We’ve had a lot of questions over the years asking about everything from ‘Whether it’s worth visiting?’ to ‘Where is there to see nearby?’.
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 Rathmullan?
There’s the Ballyboe to Millbrook Loop, Eco Atlantic Adventures, the Lough Swilly Ferry, Rathmullan Abbey and Rathmullan Bay Beach.
Is Rathmullan worth visiting?
We tend to stop in Rathmullan for a bite to eat whenever we’re nearby. It’s also a great base to explore from, if you’re looking for a night or 2 away.
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.