12 Things to Do In Donegal Town (And Nearby)

things to do in donegal town
Photo left: Noradoa/shutterstock. Right: Olde Castle Bar

If you’re in search of the best things to do in Donegal Town, you’ve landed in the right place.

Situated on the River Eske at the head of Donegal Bay, Donegal Town is a lively shopping hub and tourist town with plenty of things to see and do.

The port was invaded by Vikings in the 8th century which gave it the name Dun na nGall, meaning “Fort of the Foreigners”.

Steeped in O’Donnell clan history, it has a castle, a former cattle market (now The Diamond shopping plaza) and a good choice of eateries and watering holes. 

In the guide below, you’ll find a heap of things to do in Donegal Town at any time of the year. Dive on in!

Things to do in Donegal Town

things to do in donegal town
Photo left: Noradoa/shutterstock. Right: Olde Castle Bar

Before we hop into the guide, a quick note: if you fancy basing yourself in Donegal Town for a night or two, there’s plenty of great central hotels and B&Bs.

Have a look at either our guide to the best hotels in Donegal Town or our guide to the best B&Bs in Donegal Town to discover central accommodation with great reviews.

1. Fuel up with coffee-to-go from Contains Coffee

donegal town cafe
Photo by Jaromir Chalabala/shutterstock

If you’ve a day of ticking off the various things to do in Donegal Town planned, a finely poured coffee will kick-start your day of adventure with a bang.

It’s back to basics at Contains Coffee (the cafe is in an old shipping container), but Barista Ben certainly delivers a rich and tasty brew.

You’ll find it in a car park near the Diamond Centre, a stone’s throw from the first few activities in our guide.

2. …And then explore the town on foot

One of the best things to do in Donegal Town is to explore the area on foot (hopefully you’ll get a decent bit of weather when you visit…).

Coffee in hand, take a mosey around Donegal Town. It’s a lovely place for a wander with attractive buildings, a 2.5km riverside walk and a restored 15th century castle rising above the rooftops.

The town has colourful cottages, historic pubs, independent shops, a few churches and a famine graveyard to keep you busy awhile.  

3. Visit Donegal Castle (one of the most popular things to do in Donegal Town)

donegal castle tour
Photo left: KD Julius. Right: David Soanes

Located on the banks of the River Eske, Donegal Castle was built in 1474 by the ruling O’Donnell family.

This Norman Tower House looks more like a workhouse than a fairytale castle and has certainly seen its share of adventure and intrigue. It was burnt in the early 1600s by the fleeing O’Donnells.

The shell was handed over to Basil Brooke who fought for the English in the Nine Year War and he rebuilt it.

Recently restored, it has barrel-vaulted storerooms, a magnificent carved fireplace and an uneven “trip” stairwell to catch enemy intruders unawares.

If you’re wondering what to do in Donegal Town when it rains, the Donegal Castle tour is a solid (and dry…) option!

4. Explore Donegal from the sea on a water cruise (departs from the town)

Next up is arguably one of the most unique things to do in Donegal town. I’m talking, of course, about the Donegal Waterbus. There’s even a sing-song on the return journey (and why not!).

Opt for seats in the air-conditioned salon or the open deck, it’s the best way to enjoy the passing scenery and live commentary from the captain.

You’ll pass the bronze statue commemorating the Chieftain Red Hugh O’Donnell, Ballyboyle Island, The Hassans, the Old Coastguard Station, Belles Isle with its ruined castle, local oyster farms and a sizeable seal colony. 

5. Kick back with some live music at Reel Inn

the reel inn donegal town
Photo via Google Maps

After lubricating your vocal chords on the cruise, you may be in mind for some more live music. Located near the castle on Bridge Street, the Reel Inn offers award-winning Irish music with plenty of traditional songs and craic every night of the week.

This family-run business is famously known as the “Best pub for traditional Irish music and dancing in Co. Donegal”.

It’s a great place to enjoy a pint and listen to an impromptu performance of traditional music played on an assortment of fiddles, accordions and other Irish musical instruments

6. …Or grab a bite to eat in the cosy Olde Castle Bar

Olde Castle Bar donegal
Photo left: Olde Castle Bar on FB. Right: Google Maps

If you read our guide to the best restaurants in Donegal Town, you’ll recognise this place! If the Reel Inn is the place for musical entertainment, the Olde Castle Bar is the place for good food.

Next to the church on Castle Street, this leading seafood restaurant has been operating since the 1700s. It was probably a coaching inn and stables before that.

The O’Toole family continue to offer wonderful hospitality with a good selection of artisan beers, wines and spirits.

Their gastropub menu of freshly sourced seafood, steaks, lamb and poultry regularly nets them “Best in Ireland” awards in the McKennas Guides. 

Things to Do Near Donegal Town

OK, so, now that we’ve tackled what to do in Donegal Town, it’s time to have a look at the various things to do nearby.

Below, you’ll discover everything from castles and cliffs to waterfalls, craft fairs and lots, lots more. Go on – dive on in!

1. Have lunch in a castle at Lough Eske 

lough eske castle reviews
Photo via Lough Eske

Lough Eske Castle is the only five star hotel in Donegal (it’s also one of the best spa hotels in Donegal, but that’s a different story!).

Why not treat yourself to a fine lunch in an unforgettable setting at Lough Eske Castle? Dine like a king at this five star castle hotel which includes the Cedars Restaurant and Father Browne Bar.

The highly talented culinary team prepare food with a passion, whether it’s a special event or a Sunday lunch. From Glin Valley Chicken with Cepe Marmalade to Pheasant Braised with Celeriac, you’ll savor every bite. 

2. …And then walk it off with a saunter around the lake (or chill in the cosy castle)

Lough Eske Castle, in County Donegal
Photo via Lough Eske Castle

You’ll welcome a saunter around the grounds of Lough Eske Castle with its lakeside setting and boardwalk taking you right down to the water without getting muddy feet.

The Lough Eske Nature Loop Trail includes California redwoods, red deer and a host of wildlife on this peaceful stroll through nature.  

Or, if you fancy chilling, there’s some comfy spots to kick-back for a while with a coffee inside the castle.

3. Step back in time at Donegal Franciscan Friary 

Donegal Franciscan Friary 
Photo by Isabelle OHara/shutterstock

You’ll regularly see our next stop topping guides to the best things to do in Donegal Town, and for good reason – it boasts a wealth of history.

Founded by Red Hugh O’Donnell in 1474, the ruins of the Franciscan Friary are on the outskirts of the town overlooking Donegal Bay.

The most famous abbey resident was Friar Bernard MacGrath whose life echoes that of St Francis of Assisi. This once-wealthy friary was hugely influential from the 15th century until a devastating explosion by English troops in 1601.

Much of the stone was used to rebuild Donegal Castle and other local buildings. You can walk through the evocative ruins of the cloisters, chancel, nave and south transept.     

4. Have a wander around Donegal Craft Village  

Donegal Craft Village is a cluster of studios around a central courtyard. See artists busy spinning and weaving textiles, painting, glass blowing, jewellery making, printing and felting.

Close to Donegal on the Wild Atlantic Way it’s a great place to stop for freshly brewed coffee and homemade cakes in a timeless environment. 

5. Take a spin out to Donegal’s hidden waterfall (Largy Waterfall) 

hidden waterfall donegal
Photo by John Cahalin (Shutterstock)

Those that take the short detour along the coast to Largy will, with some effort, encounter one of the most incredible waterfalls in Donegal.

Often referred to as Donegal’s hidden waterfall, this place isn’t easy to find, and it can be very dangerous to get to.

You need to visit at the right time (info here) for safety reasons and you also need to be very careful with parking.

6. …And then soak up the views at Slieve League

Slieve league hike
Photo taken by MNStudio (shutterstock)

Standing 609m high, the Slieve League Cliffs are a remarkable sight and free to visit. The best views are from the Viewing Platform which can be accessed on foot (if you park in the first car park).

If you’d rather skip the walk, you can open the gate and take the narrow road up to the viewing area (be careful – there’ll be walkers making the same journey).

What to do in Donegal Town: Where have we missed?

I’m sure that we’ve unintentionally missed out on some brilliant things to do in Donegal Town.

If you have a place to recommend, let us know in the comments section below.

 

Gillian Birch is a travel writer and published author. She has travelled the world and uses her personal journals and memories to write about her many travel experiences, particularly those that involved adventures in Ireland.

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