There are that many things to do in Donegal that you could spend a month exploring and you’d have only scratched the surface.
From cliffs and historical sites to hidden waterfalls and islands, Donegal is home to some of the best things to do in Ireland.
In the guide below, you’ll find heaps of places to visit in Donegal on a staycation in 2021 or during your trip to Ireland!
Sidenote: If you’re planning on spending a few days in Donegal, hop into our Donegal road trip guide.
Table of Contents
The best things to do in Donegal
- Visit the Slieve League Cliffs (Sliabh Liag)
- Soak up a view of Muckross Head
- Head off on the Glen Loop walk
- Sping along the road at Glengesh Pass
- Take a ferry to Arranmore Island
- Head for a ramble in Glenveagh National Park
- Walk along Marble Hill Strand at sunset
- Have a nosey around Doon Fort
- Gaze out at the waves from the Tra Na Rossan viewpoint
- Visit Ballymastocker Bay – one of the best beaches in Ireland
1. The Sliabh Liag Cliffs
You’ll often see the mighty Slieve League Cliffs reign supreme in many guides to the best things to do in Donegal, and it’s no surprise why – they’re out of this world!
The cliffs reach a height of 1,972 feet/601 meters, which makes them nearly 3 times higher than the Cliffs of Moher and almost twice the height of the Eiffel Tower in Paris.
Pretty damn impressive. From the top of the Sliabh Liag Cliffs, you’ll be treated to views out across Donegal Bay and all the way to Sligo and beyond.
2. Muckross Head (one of my favourite places to visit in Donegal!)
You’ll find the little peninsula known as Muckross Head 2km from Kilcar village and 10km from the fishing town of Killybegs.
This is one of the many places to visit in Donegal that doesn’t get half the credit or the attention that it deserves.
You’ve two options here. You can either drive onto the peninsula, park up for a bit and head for a ramble along the sand or you can admire the beach from above.
If you fancy seeing it from above, there’s a little bit of space to pull in along Towney Road. Just ensure that you pull in safely and that you don’t obstruct the road.
3. The Glen Loop Walk
If you’re in search of things to do in Donegal that’ll get you out and about and that’ll treat you to some incredible views, this walk should tickle your fancy.
I first heard of the Glen Loop Walk from a bloke in a B&B in Newport in County Mayo. He described it as ‘The finest coastal trail in Ireland’.
I’ve been itching to give it a go since then! This is a 3 – 4-hour walk that’ll treat you to magnificent coastal views throughout. Here’s a guide to the walk that you can follow.
A post-walk feed: When you finish your ramble, head to An Chistin – a brilliant little cafe in Glencolumbkille village – and make your belly happy!
4. Doon Fort
Doon Fort is arguably the most unique fort in Ireland. That’s saying a lot, considering the hefty competition from the likes of Dún Aonghasa on Inis Mór
You’ll find the fort finely plonked on an island in the centre of Loughadoon, not far from the little coastal villages of Narin and Portnoo and the buzzy village of Ardara.
It’s thought that the fort was once the residence of the O’Boyle Chieftains. Read more about the history of the fort and how to get to it in our guide to Doon Fort.
4. Knockamany Bens
If you’re looking for things to do in Donegal when the weather is sh*te, get yourself to the magnificent Inishowen Peninsula.
There are plenty of different places where you can admire a view without leaving the car. One of those places can be found on the Lagg road that leads to Malin Head.
When the road along the coast starts to rise around the Knockamany Bens, you’ll get the chance to pull in and soak up the view above.
There’s a nice little viewing point where you can park up and gaze out at the view. You’ll get an eyeful of everything from Five Fingers Strand to Tory Island on a clear day.
5. Fanad Lighthouse
You’ll see Fanad Head Lighthouse dominate many guides to 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 surrounds 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.
Sit up on the stone wall to the left of the lighthouse and soak up the sounds of the ocean and bask in the beauty of the most spectacular corners of Ireland.
6. Ballymastocker Bay / Portsalon Beach
If you’re wondering what to do in Donegal with a person with limited mobility, take them to the viewing point up near Portsalon Beach.
They won’t have to hop out of the car and the view is out of this world! Ballymastocker Bay is a superb Blue Flag beach that was once voted the 2nd most beautiful beach in the world by the Observer Magazine.
If you arrive on a clear day, you’ll be treated to tremendous views out towards the Inishowen Peninsula. When you’re finished admiring it from above, ramble down for a stroll on the sand.
7. Malin Head (one of the best places to see in Donegal according to Tripadvisor)
A visit to Malin Head tends to top most guides to the best things to do in Donegal. This is one of those places that’ll make you really appreciated Ireland’s beauty.
There’s no messing and no fancy visitor centres – just Ireland in all its glory Malin Head is the most northerly point on the island of Ireland.
I visited here recently and the one thing that hit me (literally…) was the sheer power of mother nature.
As I stood and gazed out at the jagged rocks that jutted out of 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.
8. Silver Strand Beach
Silver Strand Beach is another of the many Donegal attractions that doesn’t get half the credit that it deserves. This is hands-down one of the best beaches in Ireland.
Silver Strand is an unspoiled horseshoe-shaped beach that can be found a stone’s throw from the little town of Glencolmcille.
Whether you’re sitting on the grass above and gazing down, or walking along the sandy shore and listening to the waves crash, this beach is guaranteed to delight.
9. A pint with a view
Donegal is home to many a mighty pub. One of my favourites is the Beachcomber Bar in Rathmullen in Donegal, a handy 20-minute drive from the glorious Ballymastocker Beach.
The Beachcomber Bar offers those that visit panoramic views over Lough Swilly towards Inch Island and the Inishowen Peninsula.
If you enjoy kicking back with a pint (or an Irish coffee) with a view that’ll knock you sideways, this places is worth nipping into!
10. The Inishowen 100
The Inishowen 100 is arguably one of the most scenic drives in Ireland. This is a 160km scenic drive that loops around the windswept Inishowen Peninsula.
The route takes in many of popular Donegal attractions (like Mamore Gap) and it’ll have you ooohing and ahhing from start to finish.
You’ll want to allow at least 4 to 5 hours to complete the Inishowen 100 drive as you’ll be hopping out often.
11. Spend a night having the buzz in Ardara
There’s no end to the number of brilliant little villages in Donegal where you could happily spend a night or five. One of the best, in my opinion, is Ardara (see our Ardara hotel guide for info on where to stay).
I spent a random night with a friend here about 3 years ago. It was one of those nights that was never planned.
We had spent the day doing some of the things to do in Donegal listed above and below and then ended up staying in Nancy’s Bar for about 5 hours longer than initially intended.
If you’re wondering what to do in Donegal with a group of friends, I can’t recommend pairing a day of hiking with a night in Ardara enough. A great little spot.
12. Horn Head
Horn Head is one of those places that tends to make you feel like the world has momentarily slipped off of its axis.
The views (especially if you head off on one of the walks), the fresh Atlantic air and the roar of the wind and waves combine to shock the senses all at once.
If you don’t fancy a ramble, there’s a nice looped drive from Dunfanaghy that’ll take you up to the viewing point above.
Horn Head is another of the many places to visit in Donegal that often gets missed. Grab some lunch in one of the restaurants in Dunfanaghy and tip up to the viewing point above after.
13. Glengesh Pass
The bendy road at Glengesh Pass is one of the most unique roads in Ireland. The road here swivels and twists through the mountains near Ardara.
The road at Glengesh Pass is a little bit mental. And that’s what makes it so brilliant, regardless of whether you’re travelling on foot or by bike or car.
14. Arranmore Island
Ireland’s home to many a hidden gem and Arranmore Island is most definitely one of them. You’ll find the wild and remote Arranmore Island around 5 km off the Donegal coast.
You can explore the island by day and chill by an open turf fire and listen to some traditional Irish music in one of the island’s lively pubs by night.
If you’re looking for slightly off-the-beaten-track things to do in Donegal, take a ferry over to Arranmore and spend a day exploring the island.
15. Soak up a view from a hot tub
If you’re planning a trip to Donegal and you’re looking to carve out some chill time, pop the Shandon Hotel on your to-sleep-in list.
The hotel has been recently renovated, it has a beautiful beach on its doorstep and it’s home to a hot tub with a view that’ll knock you on your arse.
Or, visit one of the many other mighty hotels in the county. Here’s some hotel guides to have a nosey at:
- 19 of the best hotels in Donegal
- 7 of the best spa hotels in Donegal
- The best luxury accommodation and Five Star hotels in Donegal
16. Or spend a night somewhere unique
There’s heaps of unique places to stay in Donegal where you can spend a night or three. Below, you’ll find some guides on the quirkiest accommodatyion the county has to offer:
- 21 of the most unique Airbnbs in Donegal
- 11 of the most scenic places to go camping in Donegal
- 17 of the quirkiest places to go glamping in Donegal
- 29 of the most scenic Donegal cottages to rent this year
17. Glenevin Waterfall
I’ve always thought that Glenevin Waterfall is a little bit like something you’d expect to find on some remote island off the coast of Thailand.
There’s a tropical and almost prehistoric feel to it and I mean that in the best possible sense. You’ll find the waterfall on the Inishowen Peninsula, not far from the village of Clonmany.
To get to it you need to walk through Glenevin Valley (the walk to the waterfall is handy and is around 1 km). This place is well worth adding to your Ireland itinerary.
18. Keep an eye out for the Northern Lights
OK, so a lot of different factors need to come into play in order for you to be able to see the Northern Lights in Ireland. You can’t just rock up there tomorrow and expect to see them.
There are several places in Ireland where you can, when the conditions are right, see the Northern Lights shine bright. One of those places is County Donegal.
In the photo above you’ll see the lights shining bright at Malin Head a couple of years back. This is definitely one of the more unique things to do in Donegal to add to your bucket list.
19. Kinnagoe Bay
If you’re wondering what to do in Donegal on a rare warm and sunny day, get yourself down to the gorgeous Kinnagoe Bay.
This is a secluded beach on the Inishowen Peninsula that’s backed by a steep green hill, making it look like something from a far more tropical climate.
If you don’t fancy heading down to the beach itself, you can always grab a fine view from the road (pull in safely) above.
20. Glencolmcille Folk Village
The Glencolmcille Folk Village is a thatched-roof replica of a rural Irish village that offers a glimpse into what daily life was like in Ireland in years gone.
Each of the cottages in the village is an exact replica of a dwelling from the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries. You can wander through the village at your leisure or take a guided tour.
There’s also a beach nearby if you fancy stretching the legs and sucking down some ocean air.
21. Murder Hole Beach
You’ll often hear Boyeeghter Strand near Melmore Head referred to as ‘Murder Hole Beach‘. Very sinister altogether!
This is arguably one of the most beautiful beaches in Ireland. When the tide is out, as is the case in the photo above, there are two beaches which then turn into one when the tide rolls back in.
Now, Murder Hole Beach comes with a catch – getting to it is a bit of a grey area. The main route to the beach is via private land. However, in this guide, you’ll find how to go about getting to it.
22. Donegal’s ‘Hidden’ Waterfall
The secret waterfall in Donegal, as it’s often referred to as, is another of the Donegal attractions that you need to use private land to access.
Not ideal! You’ll find the hidden waterfall on the Slieve League peninsula on the coast at Largy village, between Killybegs and Kilcar.
I’m going to recommend that, if you plan on visiting the waterfall, you make an effort to get in touch with the person that owns the land to ensure that you have permission to cross it.
Before you attempt to visit Donegal’s ‘hidden’ waterfall, take a minute to read this guide. Visiting the waterfall can be extremely dangerous and you need to be very sure of tide times.
23. Narin/Portnoo Beach
The beach at Narin/Portnoo is one of our favourite beaches in Donegal. It’s also a Blue Flag beach, which makes it the perfect place for a very chilly swim when the weathers half-decent.
There’s a lifeguard on duty at Narin/Portnoo during the warmer summer months and you’ll find toilets, parking and places to eat and drink nearby.
24. The Mount Errigal Loop
Mount Errigal is the highest peak in the magnificent Derryveagh mountain range. There’s a walk here which you’ll recognise if you read our guide to 88 of the best hikes in Ireland.
Climbing Mount Errigal can take between 2.5 to 3 hours and it treats walkers to unbeatable views of the Derryveagh Mountains and the rolling Donegal countryside from the top.
If you’re looking for places to visit in Donegal that tend to be void of flocks of tourists, get yourself up Errigal (make sure to prepare appropriately for the climb).
25. Carrickfinn Beach
Carrickfinn Beach shot to fame a few years ago when a video of a plane landing in the nearby Donegal Airport went viral.
In a nutshell, you can see this gorgeous little beach when you’re coming into land. If you’re after a place for an early morning ramble, try and get here for sunrise.
The last couple of times that I was here nice and early I pretty much had the entire beach to myself.
26. Dunlewey Church
The Church of the Sacred Heart in Dunlewey (a handy 15-minute spin from Glenveagh) looks a little bit like something whipped from a fairytale.
You’ll find it on the shores on Lough Dunlewey… and at the foot of the tallest peak in Donegal, Mount Errigal. Very scenic altogether.
27. Assaranca Waterfall
Next up is Assaranca Waterfall. You’ll find this hidden gem just past the little village of Leaconnell. This is a handy one to pair up with a visit to Maghera Beach, as it’s only 1km away.
The first time that I visited Assaranca it was by complete fluke – it was lashing rain and we just stumbled upon it while looking for our B&B.
There’s a handy little area to pull in right next to the waterfall, which should make it ideal for those of you travelling with someone that has limited mobility.
28. The Caves of Maghera and Maghera Strand
Maghera Strand is wild – 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.
29. Glenveagh National Park
Glenveagh National Park tops TripAdvisor’s list of the best things to do in Donegal, and I can’t see many arguing with them.
I love Glenveagh. It’s here that you’ll find 16,000 hectares of perfection. For those looking to get a lungful of fresh air, there are several Glenveagh National Park walks you can choose from.
My favourite hike here is the Derrylahan Nature Trail – it’s short enough (takes a little under an hour to complete) and it offers brilliant views of the beautiful Glenveagh Valley.
You can also drop into Glenveagh Castle when you visit and grab a cup of coffee in the cafe on the grounds, if you fancy.
30. The Rosguill Peninsula
If you’re wondering what to do in Donegal that’ll take you a little off-the-beaten-path, get yourself to the Rosguill Peninsula and take the Atlantic Drive.
This is a beautiful 12km route that’ll take you around the peninsula and that’ll offer you magnificent views throughout.
I did a trip around Donegal a few months ago and this, for me, was the highlight. The sun was blazing, the roads were quiet, and around every narrow bend some new, unexpected piece of scenery slapped me in the face.
You’ll catch the view above at ‘Tra Na Rossan view’ (it’s marked out on Google Maps). There’s very limited space to pull in so be careful.
31. Grianan of Aileach
The Grianan of Aileach is a hillfort that sits on top of the 801 ft high Greenan Mountain on the Inishowen Peninsula.
This stone fort dates back to the 1st century and it’s situated 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 everywhere from Lough Swilly to Lough Foyle.
If you’re after places to visit nearby, there’s plenty of things to do in Letterkenny to keep you amused!
32. Spend a night in a castle
Lough Eske is one of the few castle hotels in Ireland that I’ve spent a night in… and it was class! If you’re looking for a very unique place to stay, give this place a crack!
Now, you don’t have to stay in Lough Eske Hotel to have a ramble around inside. You could head in for a bite to eat (there are starters for between €8 and €10). Or you could just nip in for a coffee and a have a nosey around.
33. Dunree Fort and Dunree Head
Dunree Fort and its military museum is the perfect spot to absorb some history along with a serious bit of scenery.
The museum is positioned in a wonderful setting that overlooks Lough Swilly on the Inishowen Peninsula.
There are several weather-beaten barracks that you can have a gander at and, if you fancy, you can listen/watch an audiovisual presentation.
Tip: There’s a lovely little cafe here (the Coffee Cup Dunree) that’s perfect for those of you in need of a pick-me-up.
34. Mamore Gap
Spinning along Mamore Gap is another one of my favourite things to do in Donegal. If you’ve never visited Mamore Gap before, then you’re in for a treat.
This immensely scenic drive twists and turns through the gap along a steep route. 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. Cycle this if you can. If you can’t, make sure to pull in safely, hop out of the car and bask in its brilliance.
35. Head for a walk on Rossnowlagh beach and then enjoy food with a view
You’ll find our next beach, Rossnowlagh, a handy 8 kilometres from the buzzy Donegal Town. The beach here stretches from the craggy cliffs at Coolmore to the rocky outcrop at Carrickfad.
Known and loved by surfers the country over, Rossnowlagh Beach is a fine spot for a swim, a walk or a bit of surfing (it was awarded the coveted Blue Flag award in 2019).
When you’ve finished your ramble, head on up to Smugglers Creek Inn. You can grab a bit of food (or a pint…) and enjoy an incredible view out over the beach below.
36. Culdaff Beach
Culdaff is a very hidden gem. You’ll find it on the Inishowen Peninsula in one of the most scenic corners on our little island.
There are two beaches at Culdaff – a small beach and a big beach. The two are separated by rocky headlands and, if you visit during the colder months, you’ll find both reasonably quiet.
In the warmer months, the Culdaff is a popular spot for swimmers and watersports. The beach is a handy saunter away from the village and it’s only a 25-minute drive from the magnificent Malin Head.
37. Walk with Alpacas at Ireland’s most northerly point
If you’re wondering what to do in Donegal with kids (or with animal lovers), this next activity should tickle your fancy.
Yes, you can go walking with alpacas up around Malin Head. Those that head off on the Wild Atlantic Alpaca tour can navigate the hills of Donegal with their very own alpaca as a guide.
You’ll get to marvel at the spectacular Malin Head, soak up views of Glashedy Rock and the Isle of Doagh and do some in the company of a friendly (and fluffy!) alpaca.
38. Wild Ireland (one of the most unique things to do in Donegal)
You’ll find ‘Wild Ireland‘ in Burnfoot in Donegal, a handy 15-minute drive from Derry City and less than an hour from the mighty Malin Head.
The sanctuary is one of the newest tourist attractions in Donegal, having only opened its doors to the public in 2019.
It’s here that you’ll find an ancient woodland that’s inhabited by some very exotic and wildlife, like brown bears, wolves, red deer, monkeys, wild boar and lynx.
39. Ards Forest Park
Ards Forest Park is another one of those places to visit in Donegal that tends to get overlooked quite a bit, which is a shame.
Why? Well, there’s 9 (yes, 9!) different trails here to ramble along. Over the course of your stroll, you’ll find:
- Sand dunes
- Salt marshes
- Saltwater lakes
- Rock face and, of course, lots of gorgeous woodland
40. Killahoey Beach
You’ll often hear Killahoey Beach often referred to as Dunfanaghy beach. This is a gorgeous Blue Flag beach that’s popular for watersports.
Stop off here, take the shoes and socks off and get a lungful of Atlantic air into you as you trudge along the shore.
41. Tory Island
If you’re in search of unique things to do in Donegal, a visit out to Tory Island, the most remote inhabited island in Ireland, is a must.
You’ll find Tory Island 14.5 km off the coast of Donegal where it’s home to a rugged landscape along with a number of archaeological and monastic sites.
The island’s remoteness has ensured that many of its ancient Irish traditions have remained intact. The most notable of these traditions is the appointment of a king of the island (also known as ‘Rí Thoraí’).
Those that visit can have a nosey around ancient sites, like the round tower that was used by monks to stay safe from Viking raids and explore the wild and beautiful landscape.
42. Marble Hill
Marble Hill Beach is simply mighty. I spent a couple of nights in the Shandon Hotel last April and Marble Hill was on its doorstep.
When I was checking into the hotel, the chap at reception mentioned that if I could drag myself out of bed early enough, the sunrise on Marble Hill would be one that I’d remember for a long time to come. He hit the nail on the head.
During the warmer months, the beach here is popular with swimmers and surfers. On the chilly morning that I was here, I had the whole place to myself.
43. Visit Donegal Castle (one of the best things to do in Donegal, according to TripAdvisor)
According to Tripadvisor reviews, a visit to Donegal Castle is one of the (2nd at the time of writing) best things to do in Donegal, based on 533 reviews.
Donegal Castle was constructed by the O’Donnell chieftains during the 15th Century. Then it was burnt to the ground and rebuilt in the 16th century by Sir Basil Brooke.
If you fancy having a look around inside, tours leave every hour and they last for 30 minutes. Tickets range from €3 for kids to €13 for a family.
44. Surfing in Bundoran
The lively little seaside town of Bundoran is known and loved by surfers the island over. If you fancy trying your hand at surfing, you can take to the waves with a number of surfing schools in the area that’ll show you the ropes.
If you just fancy a stroll, grab a coffee from the town and then head for a saunter along Tullan Strand. This a lovely little spot (if the weather isn’t mental) to stretch the legs.
45. Stroove beach and Lighthouse
You’ll find Stroove Beach and its lighthouse on the Inishowen Peninsula, not far from the little village of Greencastle.
There’s a gorgeous little sandy beach here that’s perfect for a picnic if you visit on a fine day… or if you’re hardy and not bothered by the cold!
The beach here was awarded an International Blue Flag award in 2019, which means it’s also a fine spot for a swim.
46. Lough Salt
Lough Salt 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/right depending on which side you approach from.
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 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 flaked out for an hour or so.
48. Fintra Beach
Fintra Beach is a handy option for those of you looking for things to do in Donegal near the Slieve League Cliffs.
You’ll find the beach a stone’s throw from the buzzy little fishing village of Killybegs. Fintra is gorgeous and it tends to be pretty quiet. Park up and head out for a ramble.
49. Walk the Bluestack Way
If you’re looking for a long aul ramble (5 to 6 days), the Bluestack Way awaits. This is 65km long route that starts in Donegal Town and finishes in Ardara.
The route takes walkers across the Bluestacks, though a very unspoiled slice of Donegal. The route can be broken up into chunks (here’s a full guide to follow):
- Lough Eske to Disert
- Disert to Glenties
- Glenties to Ardara
Wondering what to do in Donegal? Use this map!
The map above is packed with 45+ things to do in Donegal. You can use it to zoom in on where you are to discover things around you worth doing.
Are there places to visit in Donegal that we’ve missed? Let me know in the comments below and I’ll add them to the map!
Frequently Asked Questions about things to do in Donegal
I get a lot of emails from people planning a visit to Donegal. I’m going to try and tackle the most frequently asked below.
if you have a question that isn’t covered, pop and comment into the comments section below and I’ll get back to you ASAP.
What are the best things to do in Donegal?
- Grab one of the best views in Donegal at Sliabh Liag
- Take the ferry to Arranmore Island
- Spend a night having the buzz in Ardara
- Let time stand still at Horn Head
- Spin along the bendy road at Glengesh
- Listen to the water crash at Glenevin Waterfall
- Experience Mother Nature at her finest at Malin Head
What are the most unique places to visit in Donegal?
- The ‘secret’ waterfall
- Doon Fort
- Glengesh Pass
- Mamore Gap
Where should I base myself for a Donegal road trip?
If it was me, I’d stay in either Ardara, Letterkenny or on Inishowen, but it depends on 1, what you want to see, 2, how long you’re there for and 3, how much driving you’re willing to do.
Have any other places to visit in Donegal that you’d recommend?
If there are other things to visit in Donegal (or pubs or restaurants that you’d recommend) let me know in the comments below.
This guide was last updated on Jan 3, 2021.