Howaya! This road trip guide is part of our 5 days in Ireland travel series.
In a nutshell, the series is made up of 5 different ways to spend 5 days in Ireland.
Each guide (you can find them all here) visits different counties and contains a full itinerary for each day along with advice on where to sleep and grab a post-adventure pint.
In this guide, you’ll find a 5-day road trip that’ll take you through Fermanagh, Sligo and Donegal. Dive on in below.
The Fermanagh, Sligo and Donegal Road Trip
- Day 1: Fermanagh and then on to Sligo
- Day 2: Sligo
- Day 3: Sligo and Donegal
- Day 4: Donegal
- Day 5: Donegal
Day 1: Fermanagh and Sligo
Now, where you start this road trip is entirely up to you. If you need to adjust the start point, fire away.
The first day of this mini-adventure takes you into County Fermanagh, where you’ll be walking Cuilcagh Mountain before visiting the Marble Arch Caves.
You’ll then grab a bit of food and take a spin out to Sligo (our base for night 1 and 2) to head off on a ramble known as the ‘Benbulben Forest Walk’.
The day’s then rounded off with a short drive to your accommodation for the night before tipping down the road for a post-walk feed.
1. Climbing Ireland’s Stairway to Heaven (arrive for 10:00)
You’ll often hear the boardwalk on Cuilcagh Mountain referred to ‘Ireland’s Stairway to Heaven‘ or ‘Ireland’s Great Wall‘ (not sure where they’re getting the ‘wall‘ from…)
The fine wooden boardwalk that you can see above sits on Cuilcagh, a mountain that straddles the Fermanagh and Cavan border.
The boardwalk covers an impressive 1.6km of Cuilcagh Mountain, making it very walker-friendly (especially for those with lower levels of fitness).
The walk here is reasonably handy. Hop into our guide to climbing Cuilcagh for info on difficulty levels, what’ll you need for the walk and more.
2. The Marble Arch Caves (arrive for 13:20)
The Marble Arch Caves are found a stone’s throw from where you’ll be finishing up your walk. They’re a series of natural limestone caves that are around 11.5 kilometres in length.
Interestingly enough, the caves form the longest known cave system in Northern Ireland. Those that nip along to the Marble Arch Caves will experience a natural underworld of;
- Winding passages
- Lofty chambers
The tour takes visitors on a short stroll down through the Marble Arch National Nature Reserve, before taking a short 10-minute underground boat journey and then a 1.5km walk through the show cave that you can see above.
Feeling hungry? If you’re in need of a light post-walk feed, drop into their cafe first.
3. The Benbulben Forest Walk (arrive for 16:30)
When you finish up at the caves, hop in the car and take the handy 1-hour drive to Sligo where you can head off on the Benbulben Forest Walk.
Stick ‘Benbulbin Walk’ (with an i not and e) into Google Maps and it’ll take you to the starting point (a car park) for the walk.
This is a glorious 1 and a half hour ramble that provides unbeatable views of Benbulben, arguably Ireland’s most distinctive mountain thanks to its almost table-top-like appearance.
According to the lads at Sligo Walks, the trail begins in a secluded forest area before later opening up and offering spectacular close-up views of Benbulben Head.
Over the course of the walk, you’ll also be treated to views of Donegal Bay, Slieve League, and Mullaghmore and Classiebawn Castle.
4. A bed for the night and a post-adventure feed and pint (arrive whenever)
When you finish up the walk, hop into your car and take the 25-minute drive out as far as the little town of Strandhill.
I’m going to recommend that you grab a base here for night 1 and 2. This ensures that you’re not driving constantly and it avoids the need to keep packing up and moving.
Strandhill is also home to a heap of great places to eat and a handful of gorgeous little pubs that are perfect for an evening of merriment.
There’s plenty of different places to stay in Strandhill, but if you’re looking for somewhere that’s good value, has great reviews and that’s a handy walk to pubs and restaurants, try this place.
Head to the Strand Bar for food (the stone-baked pizzas are cracking) and a few pints/cups of tea/whatever tickles your fancy.
Day 2: Sligo
You’ll be spending the whole of day 2 buzzing around Sligo. Get a bit of a lie-in and then prepare yourself for a day packed with walks, scenery and a fine bit of food and drink.
Grab a bit of breakfast from where you’re staying or from one of the cafes in Strandhill. You’ll need a bit of fuel for the first activity of the day.
1. The Knocknarea Queen Maeve Trail (Start the walk at 11:00)
As you’ve probably gathered, many of the best things to do in Sligo revolve around the county’s glorious landscape.
So, it’s probably no major surprise that the first activity of the day is a hike. We’re going to take the Queen Maeve Trail up Knocknarea, which should take around 1 and a half hours to complete.
Things to know about the climb
- When you leave the car park you’ll need to follow the stone path for around 1.2km
- From here, continue along the bog bridge to the summit
- You’ll be treated to panoramic views of Sligo from the top.
- Walk time: you should be able to finish it in under 2 hours
- Difficulty: strenuous
2: Lunch at Shell’s (arrive at around 13:10)
The chances are you’ll be pretty damn hungry after your climb so we’re going to head for food and coffee straight after.
Finish up your walk and take the 10-minute spin out to Shell’s. Fish and chips by the sea at Shell’s Café is a little slice of magic.
If you’re here on a fine day, grab a coffee to go and sip it while you sit on the wall opposite the cafe. You’ll have fine views of Benbulben off in the distance.
3. The Gleniff Horseshoe Drive (arrive for 15:30)
The third stop of the day is a 35-minute drive from Shell’s. Whack ‘Gleniff Horseshoe Drive’ into Google Maps and head off on your merry way.
This is a lovely little walk/cycle/drive that’ll take you through a part of Sligo that has graced many an Instagram feed.
The Gleniff Horseshoe Drive is a roughly six-mile loop of single lane road enveloped by spectacular mountain views.
Take your time on this drive. Get out of the car at will and bask in the beauty that inspired one of Ireland’s most celebrated poets (William Butler Yeats).
4. A stroll at Mullaghmore Head then food (arrive around 17:00)
When you finished the drive (or walk/cycle!) take the 10-minute drive out to the little village of Mullaghmore.
We’re going to head off on a stroll along the coastline of Mullaghmore. Set off from Bunduff strand and follow the coastline around to Mullaghmore head.
You’ll catch the view above along the way. If it’s a clear day, you’ll also be treated to gorgeous views of Donegal Bay and Slieve League, along with Benbulben and the Dartry Mountains.
When you’re finished, head to the nearby Pier Head Hotel and grab a big aul post-ramble feed.
5. Chill time and back to the nest
When you’ve finished eating, take the road by the coast back to Strandhill (it’s a 35-minute drive). Now, you’ve two options for the night.
As you’re staying somewhere nice and central (this place), you can take a short stroll to the village and head for a drink to round off the day.
Or, if you visit when the days are longer, you could head out as far as Culleenamore Beach (above). It’s 5 minutes from Strandhill and it’s a fine spot for a sunset stroll.
Day 3: Donegal
Our third day on the road takes us up along the coast to the magnificent county of Donegal. Your next few days are going to be packed with a good wallop of adventure.
You’ve a good bit of driving ahead of you today, but it’ll be broken up with plenty of walks, so don’t worry about being stuck in the car for too long!
Get a bit of a lie-in on the morning of day 3, grab some breakfast from Strandhill and then hit the road for 11:00.
1. Bundoran (arrive for 11:40)
Our first stop of the day is a 40-minute drive from Strandhill – whack Bundoran into Google Maps and head off on your merry way.
Aim for Tullan Strand and park up nearby. This a lovely little spot (if the weather isn’t mental) to hop out and stretch your legs.
2. A very fancy lunch (arrive around 13:00)
Now, this next stop is optional. You could just as easily drop into Donegal Town, visit Donegal Castle and grab a bite to eat nearby.
However, if you fancy grabbing a feed in a very swanky Irish castle, take the 27-minute drive from Bundoran to Lough Eske Castle Hotel.
If you ramble into their Gallery Bar, you can grab a starter for between €8 and €10 and a main from €18 upwards.
3. Fintra Beach (arrive for 15:10)
When you’ve finished eating, get on the road again and aim for Fintra Beach. We’re stopping here to break up the drive out to Slieve League.
It’s a 37-minute drive from Lough Eske to Fintra and you’ll find it a stone’s throw from the buzzy little fishing village of Killybegs.
The beach here is gorgeous and it tends to be pretty quiet. Park up and head out for a ramble if you fancy.
4. Muckross Head (arrive for 16:00)
Our next stop is Muckross Head. Now, this one’s a proper little hidden gem that many people visiting Donegal tend to miss.
You’ll find it a 17-minute drive from Fintra Beach and it’s well worth the spin. Now, you’ve two options here.
You can either park up for a bit and head for a walk along the sand or you can admire the beach from above.
If you fancy seeing it from above, there are some spaces to pull in at the site of the road across from the beach. Be careful if you’re pulling in here and do so safely.
5. The cliffs at Slieve League (arrive for 17:00)
Our final stop of the day takes us to the Slieve League Cliffs. The cliffs are a 25-minute drive from Muckross Head and the time spent in the car will be well worth it.
Towering above the ocean at 1,972 feet/601 meters, (over twice the height of the Cliffs of Moher), the Slieve League Cliffs are an explorers dream.
There’s ample opportunity for those of you in search of a lengthy walk and plenty of handy strolls for those looking to take it easy (note: this won’t be possible if you arrive at this time during the winter months).
Now, if you fancy a walk, park in the little car park just before the barrier. It’s a 45-minute walk from there to the view above.
If you’re with someone with limited mobility, just open the gate near the car park and drive on up. Just be careful of walkers and cyclists.
6. Food and a bed for the night
When you’ve had your fill of the cliffs, take the handy 8-minute drive to the little village of Teelin. I’m going to recommend that you stay here for the night.
Accommodation wise, the Rusty Mackerel is good value and the reviews are top-notch. There’s a pub and restaurant here, so you won’t have to do any more driving.
Kick back, get fed and toast another fine day of exploring with a few post-adventure pints or cups of whatever tickles your fancy.
Day 4: Donegal
Unfortunately, in order to avoid having to keep doubling back on ourselves, we’re going to have to stay in a few different places in Donegal.
Grab a lie-in on the morning of day 4 and try and get a decent feed before you check out of the Rusty Mackerel. There’s a solid day of exploring ahead.
1. Silver Strand Beach (arrive for 10:30)
You’ll find the magnificent Silver Strand Beach in Malin Beg, a little Gaeltacht village just south of Glencolumbkille and a handy 25-minute drive from Teelin.
Whether you’re chilling out on the grass above and gazing down at it, or rambling along the sandy shores and listening to the music of the waves crashing, this horseshoe-shaped beach is well worth dropping by.
2. The Glen Loop (start it around 11:30)
When you finish at Silver Strand, take the 15-minute drive to the little village of Glencolmcille. It’s time for a long aul ramble next.
I first heard of the Glen Loop Walk from a lad in a B&B in Newport in County Mayo. He described it as ‘The best coastal trail in Ireland’.
I’ve been itching to give it a crack 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. Note: you’ll need some decent walking shoes for this along with some water and snacks.
A post-walk feed: When you finish your ramble, head to An Chistin – a brilliant little cafe in the village – and make your belly happy!
3. Glengesh Pass (arrive around 17:00)
When you’ve finished eating, take the 25-minute drive out to the mighty Glengesh Pass. If you’ve never been here before, you’re in for a treat!
The road here meanders through the seemingly endless mountainous terrain that connects Glencolmcille to Ardara.
Hop out of your car (or dismount your bike) at the little viewing point that’ll be on your left as you approach the pass and admire the view from above.
4. Assaranca Waterfall (arrive around 17:45)
Our final stop of the day, Assaranca Waterfall, is a handy 15-minute spin from Glengesh. If you’re wrecked from the walk earlier, don’t worry.
You can literally pull up here and admire the waterfall from the side of the road – perfect for those of you visiting on a rainy day!
5. Food, music (hopefully) and a bed for the night
I’m going to recommend that you take the handy 12-minute drive to the gorgeous little town of Ardara and spend the night there. Check into the highly-rated Nesbitt Arms Hotel and plonk your bags down.
The hotel’s restaurant is excellent. So, when you’ve taken some time to relax after the long day on the road, head down for a bite to eat.
When you finish up, take a stroll to Nancy’s Bar. This is a gorgeous old-school pub that’s especially cosy in the winter thanks to a roaring fire. Kick back and chill for the evening.
Day 5: Donegal
The final day of this 5-day road trip will see you explore another chunk of Donegal. Now, as I’ve mentioned before, Donegal is a big-ass county and there’s two weeks worth of things to see and do.
If you fancy seeing what else there is to explore, hop into our guide to Donegal. You’ve another scenery-packed day ahead of you on day 5.
1. A walk in Glenveagh National Park (arrive for 11:30)
The first stop of your final day on the road is Glenveagh National Park, which is an hour-long drive from Ardara.
On the journey here, you’ll pass through the little village of Glenties at the foot of the Blue Stack Mountains before making your way up past Lough Finn.
You’ll then have a long aul spin before you arrive at the National Park. Glenveagh is made up of an impressive 16,000 hectares that include most of the Derryveagh Mountains, the Poisoned Glen and part of Errigal Mountain.
For those looking to get a lungful of fresh air, there are several walks that you can choose from here. If you’re looking for a reasonably handy walk, give the Garden Trail (a 1-hour looped trail) a bash.
2. Dunlewey Church (arrive around 14:00)
Stop 2 is a handy 15-minute spin from Glenveagh. The Church of the Sacred Heart in Dunlewey looks a little bit like something whipped from a fairytale.
You’ll find the Church on the shores on Lough Dunlewey… and at the foot of the tallest peak in Donegal, Mount Errigal. Very scenic altogether.
3. Killahoey Beach (arrive around 15:00)
You’re a 30-minute spin from our next stop – Killahoey Beach. You’ll find it a stone’s throw from the lovely little town of Dunfanaghy.
Hop out of the car and head for a ramble along the sand. If you’re in need of a bite to eat, head to Dunfanaghy and drop into Muck n Muffins – the food here is the business.
4. The Horn Head Loop (start around 16:20)
Our final activity for the day is the Horn Head Loop. This drive kicks off from the Market Square in Dunfanaghy village. Here are some directions to follow:
- From Dunfanaghy village, head for the Horn Head Road.
- Cross the long bridge and keep on driving until you come to a left turn (there’ll be a signpost with ‘Scenic Route‘).
- You’ll start to climb a steep hill from here.
- When you reach the end of this road you can turn right or left – take the right.
- Keep on driving (you’ll pass a little right turn with a cattle grid) until you come to the little (and I mean little) carpark that’ll be on your left.
- Park the car and stroll up to the viewing point. From here you’ll be treated to a 360 view of Donegal, with everything from Malin Head to Tory Island visible on a fine clear day.
- When you’ve had your fill get back into your car and head back the way that you came. You need to take the left turn where we noted the cattle grid earlier.
- This road will take you back down to Dunfanaghy and will offer you some excellent places to grab a view of Horn Head
And that’s a wrap
As I mentioned above, there’s no end to the number of things to do in Donegal – in the above guide we missed everywhere from the Inishowen Peninsula to Malin Head.