There’s some truly stunning villages and towns in Donegal.
The hard part, when planning your trip, can be deciding which one is best to base yourself in for a night or three.
From the hustle and bustle of Donegal Town to the rural bliss of Gweedore, there’s plenty to choose from, as you’ll discover below.
Our favourite villages and towns in Donegal
The first section of our guide is packed with what we think are the best towns in Donegal, based on personal experience from travelling around the county.
Below, you’ll find everywhere from Glencolmcille and Carrick to Portsalon, Ardara and more. Dive on in!
Named the best village to live in Ireland, Ardara is one of the most charming towns in Donegal. Known as the festival capital of County Donegal, it’s home to events ranging from the Cup an Tae Traditional Music Festival to The Melting Pot Festival.
The famous Donegal Tweed also hails from Ardara which was once a major manufacturing centre. To this day, you’ll find plenty of shops selling hand-made tweed goods on the high street.
Ardara also benefits from breathtaking natural surroundings. Located on the banks of the Owentocher River as it empties into Loughros Bay, the village enjoys a backdrop of rolling green hills.
Sitting on the west-edge of Sheephaven Bay, Dunfanaghy is a stunning former fishing village. The Derryveagh Mountains loom in the background, while the wild Atlantic Ocean laps the shores edging the village green.
Activities such as swimming, hill-walking, rock climbing, surfing, and horse riding are all on offer in and around the village. You also have Horn Head, Glenveagh National Park, Doe Castle and Ards Forest Park a short spin away.
There’s some excellent pubs and restaurants in Dunfanaghy, too!
Located on the other side of Sheephaven Bay on the Rosguill Peninsula, Downings is another fantastic coastal village in County Donegal. In a past life, Downings, or as it is sometimes known, Downies, was a major fishing port and a hub for tweed making.
While tourism is now the largest industry, both of these heritage industries survive to this day, with tweed outlets such as McNutts in the centre of the village, and regular deep water angling tours departing from the port.
Downings is the start and end point of the spectacular Atlantic Drive circular route, which takes in 12 km of breathtaking scenery from both sea and land. Some of the more popular attractions along the way are Tra Na Rossan Beach and Boyeeghter Bay.
Situated on the gorgeous Slieve League Peninsula, Glencolmcille is another of our favourite towns in Donegal. Packed full of history, the area is awash with relics and monuments from the past, including stone-age forts, medieval castles, and ancient churches.
The village is located in the heart of one of the largest Gaeltacht areas — an area in which Irish is the predominant language — providing an unrivalled cultural experience.
There are two lively pubs in the village, each offering regular trad music sessions with a focus on the distinctive fiddle music that Donegal is known for.
Tucked away on the edge of Ballymastocker Bay, the little village of Portsalon is a bit of a hidden gem. For a peaceful getaway amid some of the most spectacular scenery Ireland has to offer, there are few better choices.
The beautiful stone harbour is like something out of a watercolour painting, while the incredible Blue Flag Ballymastocker Beach boasts golden sands and deep blue ocean.
Ranked as the most beautiful beach in the world, it’s surprisingly quiet, adding to its charm. Visitors can enjoy surfing, swimming, kayaking, or just relaxing in the sunshine.
Gweedore isn’t actually a single town or village, rather a geographical area. As a predominantly Irish-speaking district, it’s a superb place to soak up ancient traditions.
Straddling the banks of the Clady River from the Atlantic Coast to the slopes of Mount Errigal, the region comprises stunning scenery, from craggy coastline and golden beaches to some of the highest peaks in the county.
The villages of Bunbeg, Derrybeg, Dunlewey, are among the most well-known in Gweedore, each boasting stunning pubs, cafes, museums, and cultural centres. You’ll find traditional Irish folk music, theatre, and art throughout the region.
Plus, with amazing scenery, there are plenty of chances to enjoy anything from mountain walking to snorkelling.
Situated on the banks of the River Glen, Carrick is a small and humble village with lots to offer. With the fantastic Slieve League Cliffs nearby, visitors can enjoy walking on the highest sea cliff in Europe as the wild Atlantic crashes below.
A looped walk takes you from the village through moody moors and invigorating coastal paths. There are plenty of other activities to enjoy as well. Carrick is home to Sliabh Liag Distillery where you can enjoy a tour and tasting.
The River Glen is great for fishing, while you can take a sightseeing boat tour from the nearby Teelin Pier. With bustling pubs, cafes, and restaurants, this little village also offers up plenty of good times.
Other popular towns and villages in Donegal
Now that we have our favourite Donegal towns out of the way, it’s time to see what else this county has to offer.
Below, you’ll find everywhere from Glenties and Bundoran to Letterkenny, Ballyshannon and more.
Incorporated in 1613, Ballyshannon is among the oldest towns in Donegal. However, its history dates back much further. Evidence suggests that the area was inhabited as far back as 4000 BC and very probably even earlier.
Located at the mouth of the River Erne, it has long been an important town in Irish History as a stronghold for the O’Donnell clan.
The town is brimming with history, with several museums, historic sites, and ancient attractions in and around Ballyshannon. It’s also rich in culture, boasting a number of excellent pubs, traditional music, great restaurants, and much more.
The Ballyshannon Folk Festival is worth checking out, taking place each year on the August Bank Holiday.
Located more or less in the heart of the county, Letterkenny is the largest of the many towns in Donegal. It sits on the banks of the River Swilly as it spills into the ocean via Lough Swilly. It’s an ideal base for exploring the rest of the county, but there are plenty of things within the town to keep you occupied too.
Boasting a vibrant atmosphere and nightlife, there’s some excellent pubs in Letterkenny and there’s some brilliant restaurants in Letterkenny, too. You’ll find a good mix of modern and traditional venues to suit all tastes.
The seaside town of Bundoran is the most southerly town in County Donegal and among one of the longest-serving tourist centres in the country. Nowadays, it’s recognized as a surfing mecca, and has been ranked among the top-20 places in the world for the sport.
There’s plenty of things to do in Bundoran, from stunning seaside walks to an array of natural attractions, such as the magical fairy bridges and the wishing chair. There are plenty of pubs featuring live trad sessions, as well as cafes and restaurants dishing up fantastic food.
Plus, with tons of accommodation options, it’s a top spot for everyone from families to solo travellers. This is one of the more popular towns in Donegal for good reason.
Enjoying gorgeous surroundings, Glenties sits where two glens meet at the confluence of the Owenea and Stranaglough rivers. The small village boasts a number of accolades, including many medals from the tidy towns awards.
It enjoys some great pubs, cafes, and restaurants, while the St. Connell’s Museum provides a fascinating glimpse into the past. The surrounding countryside is superb for walking and taking in some gorgeous scenery.
Glenties is also well-known for its unusual church, which features a rather unique roof. With several choices in terms of accommodation, Glenties offers a peaceful base from which to explore the sights and attractions of County Donegal.
With the wild Atlantic on one side, Lough Dunglow on the other, and the Dungloe River running through the town, Dungloe is surrounded by water. In fact, the gaelic name translates to the grey stepping-stone, in reference to the main crossing-point over the river.
Nowadays there’s a bridge, but fishing, river walks, and sailing the seas remain popular pastimes. Dungloe is the centre point and capital of The Rosses region, home to a variety of attractions and things to do.
One of the annual highlights is the Mary From Dungloe International Festival, a celebration of traditional music combined with a pageant to find the young woman who best captures the spirit of the festival.
6. Donegal Town
If you’re looking for towns in Donegal to explore from, our next stop should tickle your fancy. Enjoying a gorgeous location at the mouth of the Erske River, Donegal Town has got something for everyone.
History buffs will love Donegal Castle, the historic stronghold of the famous O’Donnell Clan, and the medieval Donegal Abbey. Meanwhile, nature lovers can enjoy idyllic beaches, hill walking in the nearby Blue Stack Mountains, the tranquillity of the Erske River, and the mighty Atlantic.
Home to some excellent pubs, restaurants, and shops, there are countless ways to spend your stay in Donegal Town. Popular activities include horse riding, golf, swimming, fishing, boating, and much more.
Plus, with a perfect location, it’s ideal for exploring the rest of the county.
As the largest fishing port in Ireland, Killybegs is a hive of activity. But there’s much more to see than fishing trawlers and the docks, although it’s easy enough to spend a good hour watching the comings and goings!
The town itself is lively, with narrow lanes packed with cafes, atmospheric pubs, and restaurants dishing up the freshest catch of the day.
Just ten minutes out of town, you’ll find the stunning Fintra Blue Flag Beach, famed for its breathtaking golden sands. The Slieve League Cliffs are just a stone’s throw away, as is Donegal’s secret waterfall and Muckross Head.
Other attractions include Old Donegal Carpet Factory, where traditional handmade carpets are still produced on the world’s largest carpet loom.
Donegal towns and villages that are often overlooked
The final section of our guide looks at towns in Donegal that tend to get overlooked by some that visit the county.
Below, you’ll find everywhere from Greencastle and Falcarragh to Rathmullan, Ramelton and more.
The tiny fishing village of Burtonport is best-known for providing the launching point for the ferry to Arranmore Island. But it’s worth spending a bit of time in the pretty village, which boasts gorgeous surroundings.
Ideal for a meal or a couple of pints before taking the ferry to Arranmore, there are a couple of great places to get fresh seafood and a thirst-quenching beverage.
With palm trees, ivy-covered buildings, and craggy rocks, the surroundings are in constant contrast with one another. If you’d like to stretch your legs, it’s a superb little village to explore.
Packed full of charm and character, Ramelton is often described as the jewel in the crown of Donegal. It sits at the mouth of the River Lennon as it enters into Lough Swilly, providing a plethora of waterside walks that take in ancient bridges and gorgeous surroundings.
The streets are lined with fine pubs, cafes, and restaurants, as well as a mix of shops and art galleries. This beautiful heritage village is home to numerous old churches, stone quayside warehouses, and Georgian houses. Just a short walk outside of town, you’ll find the majestic Lennon River Waterfall.
Offering a vibrant atmosphere, especially on Saturday morning during the county market, it’s a must-visit.
The little seaside town of Rathmullan sits on the shores of Lough Swilly, boasting three kilometres of unspoilt sandy beaches. It’s also home to the Beachcomber Bar, one of our favourite pubs in Ireland!
The car ferry for Buncrana also departs from the village, offering a splendid 30-minute journey across the lough. Within the village, you’ll find numerous great pubs, places to stay, cafes, and restaurants.
Meanwhile, the ruins of a nearby Carmelite friary offer up something a little different to do.
Conveniently located on the Wild Atlantic Way, Falcarragh is well worth stopping off at and spending a little time in. It’s surrounded by natural beauty that takes in mountains, bogs, rivers, lakes, valleys, and of course, sandy beaches and the mighty ocean.
An ideal base for walkers, there are several trails nearby, such as beach walks and hikes up Muckish Mountain.
Lively pubs offer live traditional music and a top atmosphere, while a number of cafes, restaurants, and a top chipper provide somewhere to eat. The bustling market town-cum-fishing community is friendly and welcoming and offers plenty of things to keep the entire family entertained.
From the town, you can take scenic ferry tours of Lough Foyle before it empties out into the Atlantic Ocean, or sail across to Magilligan Point in Northern Ireland.
Greencastle is home to some excellent pubs and is also emerging as something of a seafood mecca, with some superb restaurants and chippers.
With great views out over the ocean, it’s the perfect base for exploring the rest of the peninsula. Within the town, you’ll find some intriguing museums and visitor centres, as well as a number of craft shops.
FAQs about the best towns in Donegal
We’ve had a lot of questions over the years asking about everything from ‘Which is the most scenic?’ to ‘Which is good for a weekend break?’.
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 most picturesque towns in Donegal?
My favourite Donegal towns are Ardara, Glencolmcille, Downings and Dunfanaghy, based on visits over the last few years.
What villages in Donegal are good to explore from?
For North Donegal, it’s hard to beat the likes of Gweedore, Falcarragh and Dunfanaghy. Donegal Town is good for the south of the count while Letterkenny makes a great base for Derry and Donegal.