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 tourist town that makes a great base to explore from.
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!
The best things to do in Donegal Town
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.
1. Fuel up with coffee-to-go (or something tasty!)
If you’ve a day of ticking off the various things to do in Donegal Town planned, a finely poured coffee (or something sweet!) will kick-start your day of adventure with a bang.
There’s a heap of great places to source your caffeine kick in the town. Our go-tos are Marina’s Café, Granny Mc’s Kitchen, Blueberry Cafe and Aroma Coffee Shop.
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
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 the Reel Inn
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
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
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)
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 is one of the handier walks in Donegal and it features 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. This is a handy option for those of you wondering what to do in Donegal Town or nearby when it’s raining.
3. Step back in time at Donegal Franciscan Friary
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. Visit one of many nearby beaches
There’s some stunning beaches in Donegal and, luckily enough, many are a short drive from the town centre.
The closest beach to Donegal Town is Murvagh Beach at a 15-minute drive away, however, Rossnowlagh Beach (20-minute drive) and Tullan Strand in Bundoran (25-minute spin) are within easy distance, too.
6. Take a spin out to Donegal’s hidden waterfall (Largy Waterfall)
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.
7. And then soak up the views at Slieve League
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).
7. Or visit one of endless other attractions
When you’ve finished with the various Donegal Town attractions, there’s no shortage of places to visit a short spin away. Here’s some more ideas for you with the drive times:
- Glengesh Pass (35-minute drive)
- Mullaghmore Peninsula (35-minute drive)
- Assaranca Waterfall (40-minute drive)
- Benbulben Forest (40-minute drive)
- Caves of Maghera (40-minute drive)
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.
FAQs about visiting Donegal Town
We’ve had a lot of questions over the years asking about everything from ‘What are some good things to do in Donegal Town for families?’ to ‘Where’s interesting nearby?’.
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 Town?
Kick-start your visit with a coffee and then head for a ramble around the town. Take a tour of Donegal Castle, visit Donegal Railway Heritage Centre and take the Waterbus.
What are good things to do near Donegal Town?
You’ve Slieve League, Assaranca Waterfall, Silver Strand, Mullaghmore, the secret waterfall, Muckross Head and much more (see our guide above).
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.