My Wild Atlantic Way Donegal Road Trip (A Full 2 + 3 Day Donegal Itinerary)

A whole lotta explorin'

wild atlantic way donegal road trip
Photo on right by MNStudio. Photo on left by Madrugada Verde (shutterstock)

In this guide we’ll be giving you a 2 and 3 day Wild Atlantic Way Donegal road trip itinerary that you can follow from start to finish.

This is for anyone that wants to see some of the best places to visit in Donegal during a short, 2 to 3 day visit.

Now, a quick warning: If you follow this Donegal road trip guide, you’ll be moving about constantly, and packing in loads of things to see and do.

It’s going to be an adventure/scenery/walk/hike and pint-packed trip that’ll suit anyone that’s looking see and do a lot in a short space of time.

Our Wild Atlantic Way Donegal road trip: A quick look at the itinerary

kinnagoe bat donegal
Photos by Chris Hill via Tourism Ireland

I’m going to pop an overview of our Donegal itinerary below. This is just a quick overview of the 2 days – you’ll find more detail below.

Day 1

  • Stop 1: Slieve League Cliffs
  • Stop 2: Malin Beg
  • Stop 3: Glencolmcille Folk Village
  • Stop 4: Lunch in Glencolmcille
  • Stop 5: Glengesh Pass
  • Stop 6: Assaranca Waterfall
  • Stop 7: Caves of Maghera
  • Stop 8: Ardara for the night

Day 2

  • Stop 1: Glenveagh National Park
  • Stop 2: Tra Na Rossan Loop
  • Stop 3: Murder Hole Beach
  • Stop 4: Lunch at the Singing Pub
  • Stop 5: Fanad Lighthouse
  • Stop 6: Ballymastocker Bay
  • Stop 7: A bed for the night

Day 3

  • Stop 1: Grianan of Aileach
  • Stop 2: The Inishowen 100
  • Stop 3: Lisfannon Beach
  • Stop 4: Fort Dunree
  • Stop 5: Mamore Gap
  • Stop 6: Lunch in Ballyliffin
  • Stop 7: Lots of beaches
  • Stop 8: Doagh Famine Village
  • Stop 9: Malin Head

Our Wild Atlantic Way Donegal road trip mapped out

OK, first things first – here’s a map that shows a rough outline of our Wild Atlantic Way Donegal road trip with the attractions that we’ll be visiting over the two days plotted out.

The orange dropper things show where you’ll visit on day 1. The green show day 2 and, you guessed it, the purple show day 3. 

Now, you don’t have to stick to this from beginning to end – remember, this is a busy itinerary, so feel free to leave certain places out if you’d like to take it at a slower pace.

48 hours in Donegal: Day 1

Right. Let’s dive on in, so! As we only have 48 hours in Donegal in this guide, we need to make sure that we’re on the road early.

Get up, lash some coffee in and aim to be at Slieve League for 11:00. If this isn’t possible, just adjust the times to suit you.

1. The Slieve League Cliffs 

The Slieve League Cliffs
Photo © The Irish Road Trip

The first stop of the day takes us to the Slieve League Cliffs. Towering above the ocean at 2,000 feet, the Slieve League Cliffs are an adventurers dream.

On a clear day the cliffs offer breath-taking views across Donegal Bay, Sligo and Mayo. On a misty day, you’ll have a view similar to the above.

If you’re tackling this Donegal itinerary with someone with limited mobility, you’re in luck – you can drive right the way up to the viewing point (more info here).

As we’re trying to squeeze in a fair bit today, drive up to the viewing point (open the gates at the car park and drive slowly up to the cliffs).

2. Malin Beg 

malin beg beach donegal
Photo by Paul_Shiels/shutterstock

It’ll take you 40 minutes to drive from Slieve League to the second stop on our 48 hours in Donegal itinerary – the mighty Silver Strand Beach aka Malin Beg.

Whether you’re sitting on the grass above and gazing down at it, or walking along the sandy shores and listening to the waves crash, this horse-shoe shaped beach is an unspoiled gem.

Take your time here and bask in the brilliance that surrounds you. This is one of the most widely missed stop off points in many Wild Atlantic Way Donegal guides. Make sure you don’t pass it by.

3. Glencolmcille Folk Village 

Glencolmcille Folk Village Donegal
Photo left: Christy Nicholas. Right: Glencolmcille Folk Village

Our next stop is a handy 15-minute drive from Malin Beg, so aim to arrive around 12:25, if you can (change the times/attractions if you want).

The next stop in our Donegal itinerary is the often-missed Glencolmcille Folk Village. This is thatched-roof replica of a rural village offers a glimpse into what daily life was like in years past.

Each cottage is an exact replica of a dwelling used by locals in each of the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries. Wander through the village at your lesure or take a guided tour if it tickles your fancy.

If the Silver Strand gave you a lust for sea air, you can also take a stroll along Glencolmcille beach (one of our favourite beaches in Donegal).

4. Lunch in Glencolmcille

fillet steak dingle skellig

When you finish up at the Folk Village, nip into Glencolmcille and grab a bit of lunch. This is a good time to kick back a chill for a bit before we tackle the rest of the day.

Food wise, I’d recommend nipping into An Chistin @ Cook’s Pantry in Glencolmcille. The photo above isn’t from there, but the food at An Chistin is decent!

5. Glengesh Pass 

glengesh pass ardara
Photos by Lukassek/shutterstock.com

The next stop on our Wild Atlantic Way Donegal road trip is the brilliant (and very bendy!) road at Glengesh Pass (a 25-minute drive from Glencolmcille).

If you read our guide to the craziest roads in Ireland, then you’ll recognise Glengesh Pass. The road here is mental, and I mean that in the best possible sense.

It meanders through the almost endless sloping mountainous terrain that connects Glencolmcille to Ardara, with more twists and turns than my stomach cares to remember.

As you’re approaching Glengesh from the Glencolmcille side, you’ll come across a little van selling coffee, with a bench close by. Stop off here and you’ll get some great views of the valley below.

6. Assaranca Waterfall 

ardara waterfall donegal
Photo by Yevhen Nosulko/shutterstock

We’re off to Assaranca Waterfall next. This is 15 minutes from Glengesh and it’s on the way to where we’ll be having lunch.

I found this place by complete fluke on my first visit. Myself and a friend had just driven along Glengesh and had managed to get slightly lost.

We kept on driving, hoping that we’d eventually stumble upon something interesting and BANG! Assaranca Waterfall.

What I love about this place is that it’s literally at the side of the road, so if it’s raining away you can kick back in your car, lower the window a bit and soak up the sights and the sounds.

7. The Caves of Maghera 

Maghera Strand
Photo by Lukassek (Shutterstock)

Our last stop of the afternoon on day one of our 48 hours in Donegal is just 5 minutes from Assaranca, and it’s the perfect spot to whip up an appetite pre-lunch.

Maghera Strand is wild. But wild in the best possible sense – it’s exactly as nature intended. Pure raw natural beauty.

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

Note: you need to be extremely careful of tides and strong currents – read this guide or check locally regarding times. If in doubt, don’t enter!

8. Ardara for the night

ardara in donegal
Photo via Google Maps

When you finish up at the beach, take the 15-minute drive to the gorgeous little village of Ardara. This is hands-down one of my favourite villages in Ireland.

Day 1 of our Wild Atlantic Way Donegal road trip itinerary ends here. Ardara is a gorgeous little spot with loads of pubs and restaurants (see them here).

We’ve hand-picked several solid places to stay in our Ardara hotels guide – each place in the guide has great reviews at the time of writing and many are right in the centre of town.

After you’ve checked into your accommodation, head down to Nancy’s for food and a couple of post-adventure pints. You’ve earned them! 

Donegal road trip: Day 2

The second day of our Wild Atlantic Way Donegal itinerary is a little more packed than the first, but it’ll be worth it.

On day 2, you’ll be exploring the magnificent Glenveagh National Park and venturing up towards the mighty Malin Head.

Now, as mentioned before, 2 days in Donegal isn’t a lot of time, so if you want to change the itinerary, fire ahead!

1. Glenveagh National Park 

Glenveagh National Park walks guide
Photo left: Gerry McNally. Photo right: Lyd Photography (Shutterstock)

The first stop of day 2 takes us to Glenveagh National Park, which is around an hours drive from Ardara (you’ll be staying somewhere different on night 2).

Ideally, you’ll want to be on the road for 09:30 on day 2 in order to make the most of the day. Right, it’s time for a ramble.

There are several Glenveagh National Park walks to choose from, and they vary in length and difficulty level (here’s 6 to choose from).

Spanning an impressive 16,000 hectares, Glenveagh encompasses most of the Derryveagh Mountains, the Poisoned Glen and part of Errigal Mountain. It’s also home to Glenveagh Castle.

If you fancy a longer hike, you can give climbing Mount Errigal a go. This is the same distance from Ardara as Glenveagh and the views from the summit are incredible!

2. The Tra Na Rossan Loop

tra na rossan
Photo by Monicami/shutterstock.com

The next activity on our Donegal itinerary is the incredible Tra Na Rossan Loop AKA the Atlantic Drive. Now, we’re going to do half of it, and throw in a little hidden gem on the way.

Here’s an outline of the drive along with the stop-off we’ll be taking. This drive really is something special.

If you use Google maps, keep an eye out for ‘Tra Na Rossan View’ – there’s a tiny bit of space to pull in (and I mean tiny) but the view is cracking.

3. Boyeeghter Bay

murder hole beach donegal
Photos via Shutterstock

The gorgeous Boyeeghter Bay (aka Murder Hole Beach) is the little stop-off point that I mentioned above. It’s a short detour off the Tra Na Rossan Loop, but it’s worth it.

This place can be tricky-ish to get to if you don’t know the way, and there are several warnings you need to be aware of before visiting.

If you fancy adding a visit here to your Wild Atlantic Way Donegal road trip, read this guide first (and take note of the warning about tide times).

We spent 2 days in Donegal a few years back and this was easily one of the highlights – even if it did take half an hour to get parking…

4. Lunch at the Singing Pub

the singing pub donegal
Photo via thesingingpub.ie

When you finish up at the beach, head off in the direction of the Singing Pub – it’s a handy, 10-minute spin away.

If you land here on a sunny day, grab a seat outside and enjoy the view. There’s plenty of parking, loads of seating inside and the food is good.

5. Fanad Head Lighthouse

fanad lighthouse in donegal
Photo left: Artur Kosmatka. Right: Niall Dunne/shutterstock

When you’ve fueled up at the Singing Pub, take the 30-minute spin out as far as Fanad Head Lighthouse. This is one of the highlights on our Wild Atlantic Way Donegal itinerary.

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

Standing proudly between Lough Swilly and sandy Mulroy Bay, Fanad Lighthouse has been voted one of the most beautiful lighthouses in the world.

Sit up on the stone wall to the left of the lighthouse and switch off for a while. Soak up the sounds of the ocean and bask in the beauty of one Ireland’s most spectacular corners.

6. Ballymastocker Bay

Ballymastocker Bay donegal
Phot by Chris Hill via Failte Ireland

Ballymastocker Bay (18 minutes from Fanad) was once voted the 2nd most beautiful beach in the world by the Observer Magazine and it’s one of the best beaches in Donegal, in my opinion.

It’s perfect for a stroll to break up the driving and it offers tremendous views out towards the breath-taking Inishowen Peninsula.

Head for a ramble along the sand of admire the view from above on the road that takes you up the hill across from the beach.

7. Letterkenny for the night

best pubs in letterkenny ireland
Photos via Facebook

I’m going to recommend that you round off day 2 of your 48 hours in Donegal in the lively little town of Letterkenny.

Now, Letterkenny tends to get overlooked – but it’s a handy base that’s home to plenty of great pubs, restaurants and places to stay.

Extending the trip to 3 days in Donegal

So, if you only have 48 hours in Donegal, you can call it a night after day 2. However, if you have an extra day, the rest of this guide is for you.

Ideally, any visit to Donegal should include the Inishowen Peninsula as, for want of a better description, it’s just deadly, and you can’t go wrong with time spent there.

Donegal road trip: Day 3

Now, you have a couple of options for the night of day 3. If I was you, I’d stay in Letterkenny for the 2 nights, to avoid the hassle of moving hotel again.

However, if you’d rather stay on the peninsula, there are plenty of great hotels in Inishowen to choose from (the hotels in Buncrana, in particular, are the business!).

When you’ve decided what you’re going to do, it’s time to hit the road on the morning of day 3 on our Donegal itinerary. 

1. Grianan of Aileach

Grianan of Aileach donegal
Photo left: Lukassek. Right: The Wild Eyed/Shutterstock

Our first stop of the day, Grianan of Aileach, is a handy 28-minute spin from Letterkenny, so you won’t be wedged into the car for too long.

A few of us spent 3 days in Donegal last summer, and we managed to get here just as the sun started to rise. It was incredible. 

Grianan of Aileach is a hillfort that sits on top of the 801 ft high Greenan Mountain on the Inishowen Peninsula.

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 Lough Swilly, Lough Foyle and the gorgeous countryside of the Inishowen Peninsula.

2. Tackling the peninsula on the Inishowen 100 Drive

inishowen scenic drive
Photos via Shutterstock

If you’re stuck for time, one of the best ways to see many of the best things to do in Inishowen is on the Inishowen 100 Drive.

The Inishowen 100 is a 160km (100 mile – hence the name) scenic drive or cycle that loops around the windswept Inishowen Peninsula.

It takes in a lot of the top sights on the peninsula and it’s a great way to spend a day if you’re happy to do a good wallop of driving.

Here’s a guide with all of the stops, if you’d like a quick overview – or, keep reading below and I’ll run through the stops with distances, time, etc.

3. Lisfannon Beach

Lisfannon beach buncrana
Photo by Hemi Photography/shutterstock

We’re going to aim for Lisfannon Beach, first. It’s a 15-minute spin from Grianan of Aileach  and it’s one of several brilliant Donegal beaches on the peninsula.

Hop out of the car, stretch the legs and such down a couple of lungfuls of fresh Atlantic air before hitting the road again.

4. Fort Dunree

dunree fort military museum
Photo left: Lukassek. Right: Lucky Team Studio/shutterstock

Our next stop on our Donegal road trip is Dunree Fort Military Museum – a 23-minute drive from Lisfannon Beach. It’s here you’ll find one of the most scenic cafes in the land.

Park up and grab a coffee and then either 1, take a tour of the military museum or 2, have a ramble down around the cliffs – the views are class.

Or you can do both, obviously, I’m probably just rambling away here as I’m sat in a very cold attic in Dublin and I’m halfway through my 5th coffee… so I’m jittery AF.

5. Mamore Gap

mamore gap donegal
Photos by Ondrej Prochazka/Shutterstock

When you finish at Fort Dunree, you need to head off in the direction of the mighty Mamore Gap which, similar to Glengesh Pass, is one of the most unique roads in Ireland.

Driving from the south, it’s a steep climb to the summit but once you’re at the top, the road gives way to a winding alpine descent towards Dunaff Head and the Atlantic Ocean.

Rising up to 800ft above sea level, the views from the summit are extraordinary and are unlike few other places in Europe, let alone Ireland. Here’s a guide on where to get a fine view.

6. Lunch in Ballyliffin

Ballyliffin Hotel Donegal
Photo via Ballyliffin Spa Hotel Donegal

If you fancy a bit of lunch, take the 15-minute drive to Ballyliffin (it’s on the way to our next stop) and head for the town.

There’s a few places to grab a bite to eat here. You can try the restaurant in the Ballyliffin Hotel (one of several spa hotels in Donegal) or I’ve heard a lot of good things about Nancy’s Barn.

7. Beaches, beaches and more beaches

Ballyliffin beach
Photo by Ballygally View Images/shutterstock.com

When you finish up lunch, you’re a short spin away from two brilliant beaches: Pollan Strand (5-minute drive) and Tullagh Strand (8-minute drive).

If you fancy a post-feed ramble, head for one of these and stretch the legs. If you visit during the quieter winter months the chances are you’ll have them all to yourself.

8. Doagh Famine Village

Doagh Famine Village donegal
Photo via Doagh Famine Village on Facebook

If you’re a fan of Irish history, take the 9-minute drive over to Doagh Famine Village and immerse yourself in a time that changed Ireland for ever.

Telling the story of Irish life from the Great Famine (1840s) all the way up to the present day, Doagh Famine Village is a unique attraction that packs a punch.

You can take a guided tour of the village (info here) where you’ll be brought to so detailed ‘sets’ that’ll show you what life was like during this harrowing period.

9. One of the best views on this Donegal road trip

Ballymastocker as seen from Knockalla
Photo via Google Maps

When you finish up at the Famine Village, slap ‘Wild Alpaca Way‘ into Google Maps and head off on your merry way (it’s a 27-minute drive).

This is one of my favourite stops in this Donegal itinerary. It’s from the car park here that you’ll be treated to a birdseye view of Five Finger Strand that’s out of this world.

Park up, hop out, pop your hands on your hips and let this chunk of Donegal coastline take your breath away. This spot is one of the most frequently missed places to visit in Donegal!

10. Malin Head

malin head donegal
Photo left: RonanmcLaughlin. Right: Lukassek/shutterstock

Our final stop of our 3 days in Donegal takes us 15 minutes up the road to Malin Head – the most northerly point of Ireland.

There’s a toilet in the car park and there’s a little coffee truck if you need a pick-me-up. Here’s some info on walks at 

There are several walks you can do here – here’s some info on things to see at Malin Head, if you’ve never been before.

Wrapping up our 3 days in Donegal Wild Atlantic Way road trip

And that, ladies and gents, is a wrap. When you finish up at Malin Head, you’ve an 75 minute spin back to Letterkenny.

If you want to break the drive up, aim for Carndonagh (25-minute drive from Malin) and grab a bit of dinner at The Butterbean Restaurant.

FAQs about spending 2 or 3 days in Donegal

how to get to murder hole beach
Photo by Mark Simpson Images/shutterstock

Since publishing this Wild Atlantic Way Donegal road trip guide a few years back, we’ve had heaps of emails asking for advice on everything from things to do to where to stay.

Below, I’ve done my best to answer the most FAQs we’ve had – if you have a question that we haven’t tackled, let me know in the comments.

What’s the best itinerary for spending 48 hours in Donegal?

If you only have 2 days in Donegal, you need to prioritize where you want to get to, as it’ll help you pick a place to base yourself from each night.

If it was me: Day 1: Start at Slieve League Cliffs and then head to Malin Beg, Glencolmcille Folk Village, Glencolmcille for lunch, Glengesh, Assaranca, Maghera strand and then spend the night in Ardara

Day 2: Head to Glenveagh National Park first, then the Tra Na Rossan Loop, Murder Hole Beach, Lunch at the Singing Pub, Fanad Lighthouse, Ballymastocker Bay and Letterkenny for the night.

What’s the best itinerary for spending 3 days in Donegal?

Use the above 2 days for the first chunk of the trip and then, on day three, explore the Inishowen Peninsula (stay in Letterkenny for 2 nights).

What are some other good options for places to stay on this Donegal road trip?

If you’d like to see what other accommodation options there are, hop into one of the guides below:

Howaya! Thanks for visiting the Irish road trip! This site exists to inspire and guide you on an Irish adventure that’ll give birth to a lifetime of memories (sounds very arsey altogether, I know!) You'll find everything from things to do in Ireland to where to stay in Ireland (unique and unusual places) if you have a nosey around!

3 COMMENTS

  1. Hi Keith,
    Just in case you missed it- your last paragraphs to summarise the 2 day Donegal trip are about a Dublin weekend!!
    Also Nancy’s barn in Ballyliffin (beside the Strand Hotel) has won awards for the worlds best seafood chowder, definitely worth checking out!

    • I can’t for the life of me figure out how that paragraph got in there!

      Thanks for taking the time to point it out, Christine – really appreciate it (cheers for the recommendation, also!)!

      Keith

  2. Enjoyed reading but Inishowen head, Shrove (Portadoris) Greencastle & golf links also the ferry from Magilligan in the summer months not to mention the great seafood at Kealeys then on to Moville for a great walk along the front & wonderful hospitality at various restaurants & hotels. This is an idilac tour which we did last summer

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