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The Donegal Road Trip: A 2 + 3 Day Itinerary

The Donegal Road Trip: A 2 + 3 Day Itinerary

I’ve done the Donegal road trip outlined below 3 times now and it never disappoints.

It’ll suit those that:

  1. Have their own mode of transport (if you don’t, you’ll find public transport road trips for Donegal here)
  2. Are happy to move accommodation (you’ll stay in Ardara on night 1 and Letterkenny on night 2)
  3. Are on for exploring at a fastish pace (I have slower 3-day road trips from Donegal here)

An overview of this Donegal Road Trip itinerary

 

The map above will give you a good overview of this Donegal itinerary. As you can see, it takes in many of the best things to do in Donegal.

Although I’m going to give you a 3 day route below, you could easily shorten it to 2 days if you’re just looking to spend the weekend in Donegal.

Day 1

  • Stop 1: Donegal Town
  • Stop 2: Slieve League
  • Stop 3: Malin Beg
  • Stop 4: Glencolmcille Folk Village
  • Stop 5: Lunch in Glencolmcille
  • Stop 6: Glengesh Pass
  • Stop 7: Assaranca Waterfall
  • Stop 8: Caves of Maghera
  • Stop 9: Ardara for the night

Day 2

  • Stop 1: Glenveagh National Park
  • Stop 2: Tra Na Rossan Loop
  • Stop 3: Boyeeghter Bay
  • Stop 4: Lunch at the Singing Pub
  • Stop 5: Fanad Lighthouse
  • Stop 6: Ballymastocker Bay
  • Stop 7: Letterkenny 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
 

Day 1

Glengesh Pass

Photos via Shutterstock

Right. Let’s dive on in, so! As you only have the weekend in Donegal, you need to make sure that you’re on the road early.

Get up, lash some coffee in and aim to be in Donegal Town by 10:00. If this isn’t possible, just adjust the times to suit you.

 

1. Donegal Town

Donegal Castle

Photos via Shutterstock

Most people following this Donegal itinerary will likely be travelling from afar, so Donegal Town makes a good stop to have a breather.

The town is finely situated at the head of busy Donegal Bay, along the River Eske.

The town’s port was invaded by Vikings during the 8th century and it earned the town the name ‘Dun na Ngall’, which means ‘Fort of the Foreigners’.

Here’s some handy info:

 

2. The Slieve League Cliffs 

spring season in ireland

Photos via Shutterstock

The second stop on this Donegal Road Trip takes you on a 50-minute drive from the town out to the Slieve League Cliffs.

One of the more famous attractions in Ireland, they tower above the Atlantic at 2,000 feet, making them some of Europe’s highest sea cliffs.

Now, the local council have made some recent changes at how you access Slieve League, so take note of the following:

  • Option 1: Park at the car park here (€5 for 3 hours…) and walk 45 minutes up a steep path to the viewing platform
  • Option 2: Park at the visitor centre and take the shuttle (around €6)
  • Option 3: If you 1, have limited mobility/are travelling with someone with limited mobility or 2, are visiting during the off season, you can drive to the viewing platform
 

3. Malin Beg

Malin Beg

Photos via Shutterstock

It’ll take you 40 minutes to drive from Slieve League to the 2nd stop on this weekend in Donegal itinerary – the mighty Silver Strand Beach aka Malin Beg.

Arguably one of the best beaches in Ireland, Malin Beg is a horse-shoe-shaped beach that’s surrounded by rugged cliffs.

Malin Beg Beach will likely be a no-go for those of you with limited mobility.

There’s around 174 steps leading down the steep cliff face to the sand. However, you can admire the beach from above right from the car park.

 

4. Glencolmcille Folk Village

Glencolmcille Folk Village

Photos courtesy of Martin Fleming via Failte Ireland

Our next stop is a handy 15-minute drive from Malin Beg and you can grab lunch nearby after.

The Glencolmcille Folk Village 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 leisure or take a guided tour if it tickles your fancy.

If Silver Strand gave you a thirst for sea air, you can also take a stroll along nearby Glencolmcille Beach (one the more impressive beaches in Donegal).

 

5. Lunch in Glencolmcille

Glencolmcille

Photo by Gareth Wray via Fáilte Ireland

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.

There isn’t much choice food-wise in the town, but An Chistin @ Cook’s Pantry rarely disappoints!

 

6. Glengesh Pass

Glengesh Pass

Photos via Shutterstock

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).

Arguably one of the more unique roads in Ireland, it meanders through the almost endless sloping mountainous terrain that connects Glencolmcille to Ardara.

As you’re approaching Glengesh from the Glencolmcille side, you’ll come across a little parking area (here on Maps).

Stop off here and you’ll get some great views of the valley below.

 

7. Assaranca Waterfall 

Assaranca Waterfall

Photos via Shutterstock

Next up is Assaranca Waterfall, a 15-minute spin from Glengesh.

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.

 

8. The Caves of Maghera

Maghera Beach

Photos via Shutterstock

The last stop on day 1 of our weekend in Donegal is just 5 minutes from Assaranca, and it’s the perfect spot to round-off the day!

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.

Warning: 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!

 

9. Ardara for the night

Doherty's Bar

Photos via Doherty’s Bar on FB

When you finish up at the beach, take the 15-minute drive to the gorgeous little village of Ardara.

Day 1 of our Donegal road trip itinerary ends here. If you need a place to stay, see our Ardara accommodation guide.

Here are some places to eat, sleep and sip:

 

Day 2

Fanad Lighthouse

Photos via Shutterstock

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

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

You’ll spend the night in the lively town of Letterkenny!

 

1. Glenveagh National Park

Glenveagh Castle

Photos via Shutterstock

The first stop of day 2 takes us to Glenveagh National Park, which is around an 1-hour drive from Ardara.

Ideally, you’ll want to be on the road for 09:30 on day 2 in order to make the most of the day.

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.

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

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

Photos by Chris Hill via Tourism Ireland

The next activity on our weekend in Donegal itinerary is the incredible Tra Na Rossan Loop AKA the ‘Atlantic Drive’.

Here’s an outline of the drive along with the stop-off we’ll be taking.

There’s a great little viewpoint on the drive that’ll give you the view in the photo above, just aim for here!

If there’s a car already parked in the space please do not attempt to block the road!

 

3. Boyeeghter Bay

Boyeeghter Bay

Photos via Shutterstock

The gorgeous Boyeeghter Bay 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.

However, even though there’s now a car park and a trail leading to the beach, a visit here comes with many safety warnings.

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

 

4. Lunch at the Singing Pub

the signing pub donegal

Photos via the Singing Pub on FB

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. If it’s a chilly day, you’ll enjoy the cosy interior!

There’s plenty of parking, loads of seating inside and the food is good.

 

5. Fanad Head Lighthouse

Fanad Lighthouse

Photos via Shutterstock

When you’ve fuelled up at the Singing Pub, take the 30-minute spin out as far as Fanad Head Lighthouse. This is one of the highlights on this 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

Portsalon Beach

Photos via Shutterstock

Ballymastocker Bay (18 minutes from Fanad) was once voted the 2nd most beautiful beach in the world 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

McCafferty's Bar

Photos via McCafferty’s Bar on FB

I’m going to recommend that you round off day 2 of your weekend in Donegal in the lively 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

Malin Head

Photos via Shutterstock

So, if you only have a weekend 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 it’s home to some of the county’s finest scenery.

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 most popular!).

 

1. Grianan of Aileach

Grianan of Aileach

Photos via Shutterstock

Our 1st 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 and by God it was something else!

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. The Inishowen 100 Drive

inishowen scenic drive

If you’re stuck for time, one of the most efficient ways of seeing 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 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

Photos via Shutterstock

We’re going to aim for Lisfannon Beach, 1st.

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

Fort Dunree

Photos via 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 outstanding.

 

5. Mamore Gap

Mamore Gap 

Photos via Shutterstock

When you finish at Dunree, head off in the direction of 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.

 

6. Lunch in Ballyliffin

Ballyliffin Beach or Pollan Bay

Photos via Shutterstock

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).

I’ve heard a lot of good things about Nancy’s Barn, too!

 

7. Beaches, beaches and more beaches

tullagh strand

Photo left: Fionn McCann via Failte Ireland. Top right: Shutterstock

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

Photos via Doagh Famine Village on FB

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. Knockamanny Bends

Knockamany Bens

Photos via Shutterstock

When you finish up at the Famine Village, head for Knockamanny Bends (here on Maps – it’s a 27-minute drive).

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.

 

10. Malin Head

Malin Head

Photos via Shutterstock

The final stop of our 3 days in Donegal takes you 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.

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 this weekend in Donegal itinerary

best things to do in donegal ireland

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.

As I mentioned at the beginning of this guide, I have countless itineraries for Donegal in my Irish Road Trip Library!

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Hayley

Tuesday 11th of July 2023

Hiya Keith!

I've been following your incredible itineraries around various parts of Ireland for awhile now and I just want to express my gratitude to you for creating them! They are the best itineraries I've ever come across, for any country!! I've travelled a lot and these are the best ones I've found - from all the tips you give - to the close proximity each sight to visit is to the next one - they're so incredibly helpful!

I completed this 3 day itinerary of Donegal and it was one of the best roadtrips yet! We seen SOO much thanks to you! No one could believe how much we managed to fit into three days!!

Rebecca

Saturday 29th of January 2022

Hey, do you think the roadtrip is equally nice and feasible done backwards, as in starting at Malin Head and driving South?

Keith O'Hara

Thursday 12th of May 2022

Sorry Rebecca - I missed this comment! In my opinion, there's no right or wrong way to explore Donegal - start from the most convenient point and work from there. Just make sure to pick central bases to explore from!

Anne Murphy

Monday 24th of February 2020

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

Christina

Sunday 5th of May 2019

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!

Keith

Tuesday 7th of May 2019

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

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