22 of the Best Things to do in Donegal on an Adventure-Packed 3-Day Road Trip (Full Itinerary)

Grianan of Aileach donegal
Photo by Tom Archer

Donegal is deadly.

I’m not just saying that because it has a ring to it – it genuinely is.

Nestled in the uppermost corner of Ireland’s rugged northern coastline, Donegal is Ireland’s 4th largest county, and it’s home to an ample number of adventure opportunities.

If you’re planning a trip, or just curious, here are the best things to do in Donegal (in my opinion) over the course of three days that’ll leave many a happy memory.

First things first - here's what we'll be checking out

The Slieve League Cliffs
Malin Beg and Silver Strand Beach
Glencolmcille Folk Village and/or beach
Glengesh Pass
Assaranca Waterfall
The Caves of Maghera and Maghera Strand
Mount Errigal
Glenveagh National Park
A 360 view of Donegal from Horn Head
Killahoey Beach
Ards Forest Park
Doe Castle
The Loop around Tra Na Rossan
Lough Salt
Fanad Head Lighthouse
Ballymastocker Bay
Grianan of Aileach
Dunree Head
Mamore Gap
Glenevin Waterfall
Malin Head
Kinnagoe Bay

The Best Things to do in Donegal over 3 Adventure-Packed Days

the best things to do in donegal

Day 1 – Craggy Cliffs and Coastline

OK, lets get accomodation for the night out of the way first.

Tonight we’ll be staying in Gweedore – I’m going to recommend An Chuirt, Gweedore Court Hotel (#NotAnAd), but you can stay whereever tickles your fancy based on your budget.

Check out our map of recommended places to stay in Ireland if you want to explore more options.

Stop #1 – Slieve League

The first stop of the day takes us to the Slieve League Cliffs.

Towering above the ocean at 2000 foot (Twice the height of the Cliffs of Moher), the Slieve League Cliffs are an adventurers dream.

slieve league cliffs donegal
Photo © The Irish Road Trip

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 heartrate 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.

Stop #2 – Malin Beg and Silver Strand Beach

Slieve League to Malin Beg – 37 minute drive

Silver Strand Beach is one of those places that makes me question why I’m living in Dublin.

Silver Strand Beach donegal
Photo via Failte Ireland

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.

Take your time here and bask in the brilliance that surrounds you.

Stop #3 – Glencolmcille Folk Village and/or beach

Malin Beg to Glencolmcille – 15 minute drive

Our next stop is the Folk Village in Glencolmcille.

This is thatched-roof replica of a rural village offers a glimpse into what daily life was like 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 lesure or take a guided tour if it tickles your fancy.

If the Silver Strand gave you a lust for sea air, you can also take a stroll along Glencolmcille beach.

#Stop 4 – Spin along the Glengesh Pass

Glencolmcille to Glengesh – 27 minute drive

The chances of encountering another road like the one at the Glengesh Pass is slim to none.

It meanders through the almost endless sloping mountainous terrain that connexts Glencolmcille to Ardara, with more twists and turns than my stomach cares to remember.

glengesh pass donegal
Photo © The Irish Road Trip

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.

#Stop 5 – Assaranca Waterfall

Glengesh to Assaranca – 16 minute drive

I found this place by complete fluke.

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.

Assaranca Waterfall donegal
Photo © The Irish Road Trip

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.

Stop #6 – the Caves of Maghera and Maghera Strand

Assaranca to Maghera Strand – 4 minute drive

Our next stop is just one kilometre from Assaranca Waterfall – 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.

Maghera Strand – “The Desert Beach” This stunning beach is located on one of west Donegal’s most remote peninsulas. It’s a wonderful thing because due to its remote location, everything here & all its surroundings for miles are totally pristine! Not a single piece of litter, no shops, no busy roads & strangely enough barely any people either. With it’s sandy shore & sand dunes stretching as far as the eye can see you can understand why some folk call it ‘The Desert Beach’. The perfect area to let your worried mind roam free… Maghera Strand is shielded from the elements under ‘Slievetooey Mountain’ on the left. Within the base of this mountain can be found over 10 sea caves. These caves travel deep within this mountain & can only be accessed during low tide. I couldn’t reach them on this visit but can’t wait to return to investigate them in low tide. Would you explore this beach along Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way & it’s secret caves if given the chance?

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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.

Stop #7 – Lunch in Ardara

Maghera Strand to Ardara – 17 minute drive

By this stage you’re probably starving, so we’ll stop for a bit of food not far from Maghera Strand.

I’ve eaten in Sheila’s Coffee and Cream in Ardara twice now and both times it was brilliant.

If the weather is good, grab a seat outside and watch the world pass you by.

Fuel up and get read for a busy afternoon and evening.

Stop #8 Option 1 – Mount Errigal

Ardara to Errigal – 56 minute drive

Stop 8 will depend on your fitness levels along with whether or not you fancy going on a hike.

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.

mount errigal things to do in donegal
Photo by Martin Flemming Via Failte Ireland

I’ve never climbed Mount Errigal, but I know a number of people who have and that wouldn’t be overly experienced climbers.

For those of you that want to climb it, here’s a great guide from Michael Guilfoyle.

Stop #8 Option 2 – Glenveagh National Park

Ardara to Glenveagh – 1 hour 2-minute drive

If you have a good bit of time in Donegal, you could easily squeeze in Mount Errigal and Glenveagh National Park, but if you’re on a tight schedule or if hiking isn’t your thing, here’s another option to fill your afternoon.

Spanning an impressive 16,000 hectares, Glenveagh encompasses most of the Derryveagh Mountains, the Poisoned Glen and part of Errigal Mountain.

glenveagh national park donegal
Photo by Chris Hill via Failte Ireland

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.

Day #1 Wrap up

You should be well and truly wrecked come evening time.

Head on back to the hotel and chill for the evening.

If you’ve yet to grab a bite to eat, drive to Leo’s Tavern for dinner – it’s is a leisurely 9-minute spin from the hotel.

Click ‘2’ below to check out day 2 of our Donegal road trip 😘