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33 Best Things To Do In Donegal In 2022 (Hidden Gems And Tourist Favourites)

33 Best Things To Do In Donegal In 2022 (Hidden Gems And Tourist Favourites)

Take guides to the best things to do in Donegal with a pinch of salt (yep, including this one).

This county boasts an absolute bounty of attractions and it’s almost impossible to label any one of them as the ‘best’.

In this guide, we’ve taken the most popular places to visit in Donegal (along with several ‘hidden’ gems) and popped them together for you in an easy-to-browse guide.

At the end, we’ve also included a Google Map with hundreds of Donegal attractions plotted that makes it easy to find places to go. Dive on in!

The best things to do in Donegal (a quick overview)

County Donegal Guide

Photos via Shutterstock

The first section of this guide will give you a nice, quick insight of the most popular things to do in Donegal, like the various hikes, walks, towns and villages.

The second section of the guide goes into the specific places to visit in Donegal, like the magnificent Inishowen Peninsula and Malin Head.

1. Hikes and walks

Glenveagh Castle

Photos via Shutterstock

Arguably some of the best things to do in Donegal involve popping on a pair of walking shoes and heading off along one of the county’s endless trails.

Now, for some of the walks in Donegal, you won’t need a huge amount of planning while for others, like Muckish, you’ll need to have decent hiking experience. Here are some of our favourites:

2. Tourist favourites

Slieve League Cliffs

Photos via Shutterstock

Certain Donegal attractions tend to get a fair bit more attention than others. This is usually down to them being easily accessible/near the main villages and towns in Donegal.

Below, you’ll find some of the more popular places to visit in Donegal, like Ireland’s most northerly point and some of the highest sea cliffs in Europe:

3. Beaches galore

nicest beaches in donegal

Photos via Shutterstock

There’s some mighty beaches in Donegal and, while many get packed out during the summer months, most are reasonably quiet throughout the rest of the year.

From the hidden gem that is Tramore near Dunfanaghy to the well-trodden shores of Marble Hill, here are a few of our favourite sandy stretches:

4. Unique attractions

secret waterfall donegal

Photos via Shutterstock

There are plenty of places to see in Donegal that lay a little bit off-the-beaten-path and that rarely make it onto the covers of shiny tourist handbooks.

Which is a shame, because places like Maghera Strand and Arranmore are well worth visiting. Here are some of the more unusual things to do in Donegal:

5. Towns and villages

donegal towns

Photos via Shutterstock

Before you decide on what to do in Donegal, it’s worth taking a bit of time to decided where you’ll base yourself on your Donegal road trip.

Some of the best places to visit in Donegal are the lovely little towns and villages that you’ll find dotted around the county. Here are our favourites:

The most popular places to visit in Donegal

places to visit in inishowen

Photos via Shutterstock

The next section in our guide to the best things to do in Donegal focuses on specific places to visit and things to see/do. You’ll find the most popular Donegal attractions in this section.

Later in the guide you’ll discover hikes and walks and the more unusual places to visit in Donegal.

1. The Sliabh Liag Cliffs

slieve league cliffs

Photo left: Pierre Leclerc. Right: MNStudio

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 – the views from here on a clear day are 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. Malin Head

malin head

Malin Head: Photo by Lukassek (Shutterstock)

At Malin Head there’s no messing and no fancy visitor centres – just the Donegal coast in all its glory. This is the most northerly point on the island of Ireland but, while it attracts the crowds, many leave feeling underwhelmed.

If you plan on visiting, it’s worth getting a sense of what there is to do (see here) before you arrive. There’s a nice coastal ramble and there’s several historical sites to have a nosey at.

You’ll find toilets in the car park along with a little coffee cart. Just keep in mind that, as a visited here is listed as one of the best things to do in Donegal in many tourist guidebooks, it gets very busy during summer.

It’s also one of the more notable places to see the Northern Lights in Ireland during certain conditions.

3. Fanad Lighthouse

fanad lighthouse in donegal

Photo left: Artur Kosmatka. Right: Niall Dunne/shutterstock

You’ll find Fanad Head Lighthouse stood proudly between Lough Swilly and Mulroy Bay on the Fanad Peninsula.

The drive to and from Fanad Lighthouse is worth the trip alone, as you pass through some beautifully quaint countryside to reach it.

Once voted one of the most beautiful lighthouses in the world, you can either take a guided tour or admire it from afar (you can park next to the viewpoint).

4. The Inishowen 100

mamore gap donegal

Photos by Ondrej Prochazka/Shutterstock

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.

5. The beaches

kinnagoe bat donegal

Photos by Chris Hill via Tourism Ireland

Some of the most memorable places to visit in Donegal are its sandy stretches. However, it’d be wrong of us to single out one (or five..) as many are well worth sauntering along.

From the breath-taking Kinnagoe Bay (above) which looks like something from South East Asia to the often-missed Silver Strand, there’s plenty to choose from.

See our guide to Donegal’s finest beaches for a taste of what’s on offer.

6. Visit Donegal Castle

Donegal Castle

Photos via Shutterstock

If you like to plan your trip off Tripadvisor reviews scores, then a visit to our next stop is one of the best things to do in Donegal.

The ancient 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 during the summer months.

There’s also plenty of things to do in Donegal Town, if you fancy exploring more of the area while your there (there’s also lots of great restaurants in Donegal Town if you fancy a feed).

7. Assaranca Waterfall

Assaranca Waterfall Ardara

Photos via Shutterstock

Next up is Assaranca Waterfall. You’ll find this peach of a spot a stone’s throw from Ardara and it’s a handy one to pair up with a visit to Maghera Beach, as it’s only 1km away.

One of the beauties of Assaranca is how accessible it is – the parking area is on the side of the road and the waterfall is right next to it.

It’s most impressive after heavy rainfall and it’s a handy option for those of you wondering what to do in Donegal with someone that has limited mobility (it’s about 20 feet from the parking area).

8. Glenveagh National Park

Glenveagh Castle

Photos via Shutterstock

Glenveagh National Park is home to 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.

One of the most popular walks 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.

9. Arranmore Island

arranmore island

Photo by Patrick Mangan (Shutterstock)

Donegal’s islands don’t get half the credit that they deserve. One of the more popular islands is Arranmore Island, located around 5 km off the 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.

There’s a lighthouse, plenty of trails and the kind of raw, unspoiled beauty that you’ll only find on a sparsely populated island.

10. Glenevin Waterfall

Glenevin Waterfall donegal

Photos by The Irish Road Trip

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).

Unique and unusual things to do in Donegal

how to get to murder hole beach

Top left photo via Shutterstock. All others via Gareth Wray

Some of the best things to do in Donegal are, in my opinion, the places that either 1, take you off-the-beaten-path or 2, treat you to a nice, unique experience.

This section of the guide is packed places to visit and things to see in Donegal that tend to get missed by many visiting the county.                    

1. Murder Hole Beach

murder hole beach donegal

Photos via Shutterstock

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.

In early 2022, a brand new trail and car park launched at the beach which makes getting to it a whole lot easier (info here).

2. Donegal’s ‘Hidden’ Waterfall

hidden waterfall donegal

Photo by John Cahalin (Shutterstock)

The secret waterfall in Donegal, as it’s often called, is another of the Donegal attractions that you need to use private land to access.

You’ll find the hidden waterfall on the Slieve League peninsula on the coast at Largy village, between Killybegs and Kilcar.

Visiting here poses a real risk to your safety and you should only visit if you understand the tide times (see our guide to finding it).

3. Doon Fort

doo fort in donegal

Photos by Lukassek/shutterstock

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 it 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

Five finger Strand donegal

Photo by shawnwil23/shutterstock.com

If you’re looking for things to do in Donegal when the weather is cat, 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 Finger Strand to Tory Island on a clear day.

5. Glengesh Pass

glengesh pass ardara

Photos by Lukassek/shutterstock.com

The bendy road at Glengesh Pass is one of the most unique roads in Ireland. It connects the towns of Glencolmcille and Ardara and it’s a joy to spin along.

It’s best approached from the Glencolmcille side as you can pull in at the viewing point and then head on down through the valley.

It you visit, make sure to drive slowly and to keep an eye out for walkers and cyclists.

6. Quirky accommodation

shandon hotel and spa donegal

Photos via the Shandon Hotel and Spa

There’s some excellent hotels in Donegal, regardless of whether you’re after a swanky night away or if you’re looking for family-friendly stays.

Some, like the Shandon, boast mighty views (from hot tubs!) while others, like Lough Eske, boast luxury throughout. Here are some guides to have a nosey at:

7. The Caves of Maghera

Maghera Caves

Photos via Shutterstock

Maghera Strand is wild – wild in the best possible sense. It’s exactly as nature intended. Pure. Raw. Natural. Beauty. It’s also home to several caves.

You’ll find the Maghera Caves beneath Slievetooey mountain and some of the 20 caves are accessible when tides are low from Maghera Strand.

However, this is one of several places to visit in Donegal in this guide that comes with a warning – only enter if you can read tide times, as they pose a real risk to your safety.

8. Grianan of Aileach

Grianan of Aileach donegal

Photo left: Lukassek. Right: The Wild Eyed/Shutterstock

An 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!

9. Wild Ireland

wild ireland donegal

Photo left: Canon Boy. Right: andamanec (shutterstock)

You’ll find Wild Ireland in Burnfoot, 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.

If you’re looking for educational and fun things to do in Donegal for families, this is a great option.

10. Tory Island

photos of Tory Island In Donegal

Photos via shutterstock.com

Tory Island is one of the more unique places to visit in Donegal. It’s also the most remote inhabited island in Ireland!

You’ll find it around 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.

11. Dunlewey Church

dunlewey Church

Photo by Lukassek (Shutterstock)

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.

The setting here is a photographers dream as the church sits against a towering, mountain backdrop.

12. Glencolmcille Folk Village

Glencolmcille Folk Village Donegal

Photo left: Christy Nicholas. Right: 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.

If you’re after some of the best things to do in Donegal that offer an immersive insight into what ‘old Ireland’ was like, you won’t go wrong here.

13. Dunree Fort

dunree fort military museum

Photo left: Lukassek. Right: Lucky Team Studio/shutterstock

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.

What to do in Donegal if you fancy an active break

hikes in donegal

Photos via Shutterstock

If you’re wondering what to do in Donegal that’ll give your legs a big aul stretch, you’re in luck – Donegal is home to a nice mix of walks and hikes.

From the mighty Mount Errigal to some lesser known hills and peaks, there’s a walk to suit every level of fitness in the section below.      

1. The Mount Errigal Loop

mount errigal hike

Photos via shutterstock.com

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).

2. The Glen Loop Walk

Glencolmbcille cliffs

Photo by the gent that is Gareth Wray (you can buy a print here)

If you’re in search of things to do in Donegal that’ll get you out and about while treating you to some incredible views, this walk should tickle your fancy.

The Glen Loop Walk is a 3 – 4-hour trail that’ll treat you to magnificent coastal views throughout. You’ll follow a quiet track that takes you up to a Martello Watch Tower.

When you finish your ramble, head to An Chistin – a brilliant little cafe in Glencolumbcille village – and make your belly happy! 

3. Horn Head 

horn head donegal

Photo by Eimantas Juskevicius/shutterstock

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.

4. Mamore Gap

mamore gap donegal

Photos by Ondrej Prochazka/Shutterstock

Spinning along Mamore Gap is another of the more popular 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… literally at times! There’s several viewing areas where you can admire the scenery that surrounds it.

5. A walk and a pint with a view

Smugglers Innn

Photo by @Taratuite

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.

6. Wild Alpaca Way

alpacas in donega

Photos via Wild Alpaca Way on Facebook

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.

7. Ards Forest Park 

ards forest park in donegal

Photo left: shawnwil23, Right: AlbertMi/shutterstock

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
  • Beaches
  • Salt marshes
  • Saltwater lakes
  • Rock face and, of course, lots of gorgeous woodland

8. Surfing in Bundoran

bundoran donegal

Photo by MNStudio/shutterstock.com

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 surf 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.

While you’re there, tackle some of the many other things to do in Bundoran or nip into one of the restaurants in Bundoran for a bite to eat. This is a handy option if you’re searching for things to do in Donegal with a group.

9. Lough Salt 

Lough Salt Donegal

Photo by Mark McColl (Shutterstock)

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. 

10. The Bluestack Way

Bluestack mountains

Photo by ianmitchinson (Shutterstock)

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

Donegal attractions on a map

Donegal map with attractions

What the map looks like

 

 

So, we have the Google Map above ‘locked’. This isn’t ideal, I know – but here’s why we’ve done it (it takes seconds to access):

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  • By doing this, you’re helping us pay the bills (7 writers, an editor, website hosting costs, etc)
  • If you do sign up – thank you. You’re helping us to keep The Irish Road Trip alive

The Google Map above is packed with everything from walks and hikes to often-missed viewpoints, beaches, forests and things to do in Donegal for families.

It’s all colour coded and it’s very handy if you’re visiting the county and you’re looking to find places to visit around you. 

FAQs about places to see in Donegal

 

We’ve had a lot of questions over the years asking about everything from ‘What to do in Donegal with kids?’ to ‘Where’s good for a rainy day?’.

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.

What are the best things to do in Donegal?

Visit Sliabh Liag, take the ferry to Arranmore, soak up the views at Horn Head, spin along the bendy road at Glengesh or visit Glenevin Waterfall.

What are the most unique places to visit in Donegal?

The ‘secret’ waterfall, Doon Fort, Glengesh Pass and Mamore Gap are some of the more unique places to go in Donegal.

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Elizabeth

Thursday 30th of September 2021

Hi Keith, found this post enlightening. I’ve been over 7 trips & the Northwest has become my favorite. I’ll be taking my family over next summer, 2 grand boys in the mix so want them to be in love with Ireland as I am. They are not boys, 21 & 23 🥰 Your recommendations really fit the bill as to what I want them to experience. Thx I’ll try my best to plan the route we are staying in Inishowen for 1 week then traveling south to Galway, Doolin before giving them the Dublin experience. Can’t wait. Slainte!!! 👏🍀🇮🇪

nichola rafferty

Sunday 23rd of May 2021

Hey Keith Just come across your guide to Donegal and I’m fascinated! I grew up in Donegal ( Letterkenny) but moved away in my late teens ( many years ago now !) and reading your guide brings back many memories... and also you’ve mentioned places I didn’t know about ! I’m going back in June and this time I’m being a tourist, coming up through South Donegal in a campervan with my husband so I’m noting all your recommendations ( I’ve only a week so I think we might be back again !!) Keep up the great work thanks Nichola

Keith O'Hara

Wednesday 2nd of June 2021

Cheers Nichola! Glad you found it useful. Have a lovely (and hopefully sunny.....) trip later this month!

Elizabeth Doherty

Tuesday 11th of August 2020

Some great information there Keith!! North West Hiking and Hill Walking Tours does a guided hike up to the lakes in the Urris hills. Mamore Gap is in the Urris hills. It has the most spectacular views from the top. I did it last week and have some great photos ?

Gary Mc Donald

Saturday 1st of August 2020

Keith Really good one of the best things is An Port just outside Ardara. I think there is also a sea / coastal walk towards Slieve League. I think it was on 10 of the best walks in Ireland on lonely planet

Keith O'Hara

Tuesday 4th of August 2020

Thanks for the info Gary! I'll get this added in as soon as I get a chance! Enjoy the summer!

Majella brady

Saturday 6th of June 2020

Keith, there will be a new one to add now. Check out the new water activies in Moville!!!??

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