Around Ireland In 18 Days: A Coastal Road Trip Of A Lifetime (Full Itinerary)

Day 14. Gweedore to Portsalon

Set your alarm for nice and early. I know I’m like a broken record saying this at this point, but you’ve a mighty day ahead.

Fuel up with a good breakfast and hit the road.

1. A mighty view at Horn Head

horn head donegal
Photo by Susanne Pommer/shutterstock

You’re a 35-minute drive from where you stayed last night (if you took my recommendation) to our first stop of the day – Horn Head.

There’s two options for this stop – 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.

If you’d prefer to avoid the walk (which we’ll be doing for this trip), the drive around Horn Head is also fantastic.

There are two viewing points where 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.

2. Killahoey Beach

Dunfanaghy in Donegal
Photo via LR-PHOTO on shutterstock.com

You’ll hear Killahoey Beach (13 minutes from Horn Head) often referred to as Dunfanaghy beach – it’s a gorgeous Blue Flag beach that’s popular for water sports.

Stop off here, take the shoes and socks off and get a lungful of Atlantic air as you trudge along the shore.

3. Ards Forest Park

ards forest park donegal
Photo by shawnwil23/shutterstock

Our next stop is to Ards Forest Park (12-minute drive) 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 ringforts together with a holy well and a mass rock. Grab a coffee in Ards Coffee Tree and head off on your merry way.

3. Doe Castle

Doe Castle donegal
Photo via Tourism Ireland

Doe Castle (13-minute drive) 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.

Related read: Check out our guide to 28 of the best Irish castles that are worth visiting during your trip.

4. The Loop around Tra Na Rossan

Tra Na Rossan
Photo by Chris Hill

The drive we’re about to do is called the Atlantic Drive. It’ll take you 15 minutes to get from Doe Castle to Downings and then 13 minutes to get out to the viewing point above. 

I did a trip around Donegal a few months ago and this, for me, was the best part of the trip. The sun was blazing, the roads were quiet, and around every narrow bend some new, unexpected piece of scenery slapped me in the face.

From Doe Castle, you want to point the Batmobile in the direction of ‘Downings’ and continue on to ‘Tra Na Rossan view’ (it’s marked out on Google Maps).

Pull in to the first safe spot you find at the side of the road and just soak up the view.

5. Lunch at the Singing Pub

the singing pub donegal
Photo via thesingingpub.ie/

You’re a 5-minute spin from a solid spot for a bit of lunch.  If you land at the Singning Pub on a sunny day, grab a seat outside and enjoy the view.

I was driving by here and it was the name that caught my eye, so I decided to head up to see what it was all about.

The lads serving on the day were a bit of craic and more than happy to chat away, offering a good dollop of local knowledge along with a decent feed.

6. Lough Salt for an absolute peach of a view

Lough Salt Donegal
Photo by Mark McColl (Shutterstock)

This was another highlight of my trip because I didn’t know this place existed – I simply saw a road that caught my eye and kept driving.

Lough Salt (20-minute drive from the Singing Pub) is a small mountain lake located at the base of Lough Salt Mountain.

Keep driving until you come to the little parking area that’ll be on your left as you drive up an incline.

From here, you can check out the lake to your left. When you’ve had your fill, take a look around to your right and you’ll see a small grass 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.

7. Fanad Head Lighthouse

fanad lighthouse
Photo by shawnwil23 (Shutterstock)

You’ll see Fanad Head Lighthouse (40 minutes from Lough Salt) 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.

8. Ballymastocker Bay

ballymastocker beach
Photo by Peter Krocka/shutterstock

Ballymastocker Bay (22 minutes from Fanad) is a superb Blue Flag beach, and it’s our final stop for day two of our road trip.

Once voted the 2nd most beautiful beach in the world by the Observer Magazine, it offers tremendous views out towards the Inishowen Peninsula.

When you’re finished here, take the short spin to Portsalon Beach and have a ramble or just kick-back and take it all in.

9. Glamping by the Beach

glamping in donegal
Photo via Portsalon Luxury Camping

You’ll be relieved to know that you’re a short 10-minute drive from our final stop of the day. At this stage, you should be well and truly wrecked, but content that you’ve filled your day with a tonne of exploring.

Grab a bite to eat in the Pier Restaurant (7-minute drive from where you’re staying) and get back to enjoy your unique bed for the night.

Tonight, you’re glamping in Portsalon Luxury Camping, which is nestled on a hillside and enjoys spectacular views of Lough Swilly, Mulroy Bay, Knockalla mountain and the Inishowen Peninsula.

Kick-back in a hammock and listen to the crackle of the fire from your wood-burning stove.

14 COMMENTS

  1. I have been using your guide for the past few months to plan my Ireland trip set for April 2019. I figured it was about time I dropped a comment!! 🙂 Your guide has helped me tremendously as it seems to encompass everything we are looking to find in Ireland…. raw natural beauty, unique experiences, good coffee, and good beer! Can’t thank you enough. I hope to comment again once we return!

    • Ah, thank you. I’m glad. Getting comments like this make it worth it.

      I hope you’re trip goes well.

      Cheers,

      Keith

  2. This is seriously the best travel guide ever. I was getting stressed because I’ll be solo traveling all of March and haven’t planned much (by design) and this gives the perfect outline of exactly the things I want to do and see. So thank you for the enormous amount of time this must have taken. So much appreciated.

    • Haha! Cheers dude.

      Glad you found it useful. This took roughly 3 weeks of research and writing… and rewriting.

      I hope the trip goes well.

      Keith

  3. We’re traveling to Ireland in November, 2019 and thank you very much for your outline and information. Question: On maps, it shows Northern Ireland almost like another country. Do you need anything to pass from Ireland to Northern Ireland and back, or is it all in the same? Seems trivial, but it could make a big difference if we plan to do things in Northern Ireland and then we could possibly not have the proper travel documents. Also, do you know if your passport is all you need or if you need a travel visa? Thanks for your time. Have a great day!. WandanTexas

    • Hi Wanda,

      You’re welcome.

      Northern Ireland is technically part of the UK, so it is regarded as a different country.

      Currently, there is no form of ‘hard’ border, but there’s been a lot of talk about the potential of one with Brexit looming.

      If you’re driving a rental car, this is where things can get tricky. I had one from Europa car recently and was told I’d be automatically charged (they have GPS devices within the rental) whenever my car passed into Northern Ireland – the max total charge was 90 euro, I believe.

      If you’re renting a car, be sure to check this in advance.

      I hope this helps.

      Keith

  4. Hi,
    This is a great guide, but if you had a few extra days…
    Three Castle Head is also stunning. You are close enough to it when you are heading for brow head. Well worth it!
    Lough Hyne in Skibbereen is also beautiful, lovely forest walk and salt water lake to swim in. Night time kayaking with the bioluminescent water a must!
    Enjoy,
    Joanne

    • Thanks for the recommendations Joanne.

      Love Lough Hyne in particular. Did the forest climb with my dad last summer on a hot day in July – great spot!

  5. Question for Keith and others. We have a wonderful opportunity to spend a month in Ireland and in previous trips we’ve enjoyed many of the same activities you do…hiking, enjoying the featured sights and geography in general, informal dining, great pubs, etc. We have never been north of Westport, county Mayo. Would it be worth it to spend a week in the Sligo / Donegal region? If yes, we would rent a house for the week. Is there a town that would be central to this region that you could recommend as a home base? We would be there in late August/early Sept 2020.
    Thanks in advance for your response (or anyone else who could add their thoughts)

    • Hi Bill.

      Abbbbbbbbbbbsolutely spend a week in Sligo and Donegal.

      There’s a tonne of things to do in both, regardless of whether you decide to do something active or just chill.

      Personally, I’d spend half in Sligo and half in Donegal.

      Here’s a guide to 48 hours in Sligo that should help, along with a 3-day guide to the best things to do in Donegal.

      In terms of where to stay – I love Strandhill and Rosses Point. For Donegal, it’s hard to beat Ardara.

      I hope this helps!

      Keith

  6. Hi Keith,
    I am planning our road trip to Ireland in october and I love your Instagram account. I like to use your suggestions for our schedule.
    On day 11 you suggest to leave Westport and Achill on the same time (16:55) ? So this is a pretty long day 😉 I prefer to stay an extra night on Achill Island. What do you think?
    Thanks
    Uli

    • Aha! OK, that’s clearly a mistake on my part. I’ll get those times updated!

      I love Achill, personally.

      There’s nothing bad that can come from a second night spent there.

  7. Hi Keith,

    I am considering travelling to Ireland this summer via road-trip and AirBnBs. While researching, I found your blog and found it very helpful and resourceful.

    I am travelling from New Delhi (India) with my extended family (infants, toddlers, siblings, wife, parents etc.). Assuming this might be our only trip to Ireland together as a family, I am interested in covering Ireland comprehensively within a limitation of 11-13 days.

    Is it possible to shorten the suggested 18-day itinerary to the above duration by bypassing some of the locations or sites. I understand this would mean we missing a few locations, but need your help.

  8. Really digging this blog!! I have the travel blog so bad and Ireland is next on the list – your recommendations are speaking to me! Thanks for taking the time to create all the wonderful road trips / ideas.

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