In this guide we’ll be taking you on a 2-day Wild Atlantic Way Donegal road trip that’s wedged with the best things to do, along with advice on where to sleep, eat and drink.
It’s pretty detailed. But it should make planning your 2-day Donegal trip that bit easier.
What you’ll get from reading this guide
- A detailed, hour-by-hour itinerary from start to finish
- Advice on where to eat, sleep and drink
- Loads more
Sound good? Let’s get cracking!
Our Wild Atlantic Way Donegal map
OK, first things first – here’s a map of Donegal with the attractions that we’ll be visiting over the two days plotted out.
Day 1 – Craggy cliffs and lots of coastline
So, as we only have 48 hours to get through this Wild Atlantic Way Donegal road trip, we’re going to need to make the most out of both days.
Get up early. Hit the road. And aim to be at the Slieve League Cliffs for 10:00.
Day 1 Stop 1 – The Slieve League Cliffs
// Arrive for 10:00 //
The first stop of the day takes us to the Slieve League Cliffs.
Towering above the ocean at 2000 foot (Twice the height of the Cliffs of Moher), the Slieve League Cliffs are an adventurers dream.
Here’s what they were like on the particularly misty day that I visited.
On a clear day the cliffs offer breath-taking views across Donegal Bay, Sligo and Mayo, and they’re perfect for those that may be unable to partake in any strenuous activity (you can drive right the way up to them) or for those looking to stretch the legs and get the heartrate up with a more vigorous climb.
Grab a coffee or an ice cream from the little cart at the base of the steps and sit back and absorb the mighty sight in front of you.
Day 1 Stop 2 – Malin Beg and Silver Strand Beach
// Slieve League to Malin Beg – 40-minute drive (arrive for 11:40) //
Silver Strand Beach is one of those places that makes me question whyyyy I’m living in Dublin.
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.
Stop #3 – Glencolmcille Folk Village and / or beach
// Malin Beg to Glencolmcille – 15-minute drive (arrive for 12:25) //
Our next stop is the Folk Village in Glencolmcille.
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.
Day 1 Stop 4 – Spin along the Glengesh Pass
// Glencolmcille to Glengesh – 25 minute drive (arrive for 13:35) //
If you read our guide to the craziest roads in Ireland, then you’ll recognise Glengesh Pass.
It meanders through the almost endless sloping mountainous terrain that connexts Glencolmcille to Ardara, with more twists and turns than my stomach cares to remember.
Pro tip: 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.
Day 1 Stop 5 – Assaranca Waterfall
// Glengesh to Assaranca – 15-minute drive (arrive for 14:15) //
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.
A lovely little surprise to say the very least
Day 1 Stop 6 – The Caves of Maghera and Maghera Strand
// Assaranca to Maghera Strand – 5-minute drive (arrive for 14:45) //
Our next stop is a handy 5-minute spin from Assaranca Waterfall – Maghera Strand.
Maghera Strand is wild. That’s the only way to describe it.
But wild in the best possible sense – it’s exactly as nature intended. Pure raw natural beauty.
You’ll find the Maghera Caves beneath 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 – check locally regarding times. If in doubt, don’t enter!
Day 1 Stop 7 – Lunch in Ardara
// Maghera Strand to Ardara – 15-minute drive (arrive for 15:30) //
By this stage you’re probably starving, so we’ll stop for a bit of food not far from Maghera Strand.
I love this town. Although I managed to get stuck in their St. Patrick’s Day parade recently after taking a wrong turn…
I’ve eaten in Sheila’s Coffee and Cream in Ardara twice now and both times it was brilliant.
If the weather is good, grab a seat outside and watch the world pass you by.
Fuel up and get read for a busy afternoon and evening.
Day 1 Stop 8 Option 1 – The magnificent Glenveagh National Park
// Ardara to Glenveagh – 60-minute drive (arrive for 17:15)
If you have a more time to dedicate to your Wild Atlantic Way Donegal road trip, you could easily squeeze in a hike up Mount Errigal (the tallest peak in Donegal standing at an impressive 2,464 ft.) and Glenveagh National Park.
For this trip, we’re going to explore a chunk of the park.
Spanning an impressive 16,000 hectares, Glenveagh encompasses most of the Derryveagh Mountains, the Poisoned Glen and part of Errigal Mountain.
For those looking to get a lungfull of fresh air, there are several walks that you can choose from.
When you’re there, make sure to drop by Glenveagh Castle, situated on the shores of Lough Veagh.
Where to stay in Donegal on night 1
I stayed in Donegal recently and spent a couple of nights at the Shandon Hotel and Spa in Dunfanaghy. They gave me a complimentary room for two nights, but that hasn’t swayed me to make this recommendation.
The hotel sits at the heart of some of the best scenery in the county, and it’s a cosy base for night 1 of our Wild Atlantic Way Donegal road trip.
It’s also home to this hot tub…
Read the full review here and see where you’ll be chilling, eating and drinking.
Fancy staying somewhere else? Check out our map of recommended places to stay in Ireland if you want to explore more options.
Day 1 Wrap up
You should be well and truly knackered at this stage.
Thankfully, you’re a handy 22-minute drive from the Shandon Hotel, where you’ll be spending the night.
If you’ve yet to grab a bite to eat, head into the bar for some food and a pint to polish off what was an eventful day.
Day 2 – Cliffs, forests, castles and loads more
Set your alarm for nice and early on the morning of day 2.
You’ll find Marble Head Beach a short 5-minute stroll from the Shandon. Walk down and watch the sun rise from the sand.
Then head back up to the hotel for a feed.
Day 2 Stop 1 – A savage little view out over Horn Head
// Your hotel to Horn Head – 20-minute drive (arrive for 9) //
Our first stop of day 2 on our Wild Atlantic Way Donegal road trip takes us up to Horn Head.
There’s two options for this stop – you can throw on the walking boots and head off on a walk along the cliffs (takes roughly three hours), or you can drive the Horn Head loop.
For those that fancy walking it, John O’Dwyer provides a fantastic guide in the Irish Times here.
If you’d prefer to avoid the walk, the drive around Horn Head is also fantastic.
Unless, of course, you arrive on a misty day like me…
There are two viewing points that you can get out at and admire the scenery that surrounds you; the first is on the north side and here cliffs dominate.
The second overlooks Dunfanaghy with Muckish and the Derryveagh mountains providing the perfect backdrop.
Day 2 Stop 2 – Killahoey Beach
// Horn Head to Killahoey Beach – 15-minute drive (arrive for 10:20) //
You’ll hear Killahoey Beach often referred to as Dunfanaghy beach – it’s a gorgeous Blue Flag beach that’s well known for watersports.
Stop off here, take the shoes and socks off and suck down a lungful of Atlantic air as you stroll along the shore.
Day 2 Stop 2 – Ards Forest Park
// Killahoey Beach to Ards Forest Park – 10-minute drive (arrive for 11:30) //
Our next stop takes us to the often overlooked Ards Forest Park, where you can choose from nine different trails to head off on.
Over the course of your stroll you’ll encounter sand dunes, beaches, salt marshes, saltwater lakes, rock face and, of course, coniferous and deciduous woodlands.
You’ll also happen upon the remains of four ring forts together with a holy well and a mass rock.
Grab a coffee in Ards Coffee Tree and head off on your merry way.
Day 2 Stop 3 – The incredible loop drive around Tra Na Rossan
// Ards Forest Park to Downings – 25-minute drive / Downings to Tra Na Rossan View – 15-minute drive (allow 60 minutes with stops) //
This drive is locally known as the Atlantic Drive.
I spent 3 days in Donegal a few months ago and this, for me, was the best part of the trip.
The sun was blazing, the roads were quiet, and around every narrow bend some new, unexpected piece of scenery slapped me in the face.
The view from the Tra Na Rossan view point is out of this world.
Pull in to the first safe spot you find at the side of the road and just soak up the view.
Day 2 Stop 6 – Lunch at the Singing Pub
// Tra na Rossan view to the Singing Pub – 5-minute drive (arrive 12:40) //
If you land here on a sunny day, grab a seat outside and enjoy the view.
I was driving by here and it was the name that caught my eye, so I decided to head up to see what it was all about.
The lads serving on the day were a bit of craic and more than happy to chat away, offering a good dollop of local knowledge along with a decent feed.
Day 2 Stop 7 – Lough Salt for a view and a half
// The Singing Pub to Lough Salt – 20-minute drive (arrive for 14:00) //
This was another highlight of my last trip to Donegal as never knew that this place existed.
Lough Salt is a small mountain lake located at the base of Lough Salt Mountain – and the area that surrounds it is just out of this world.
Keep driving until you come to the little parking area that’ll be on your left as you drive up the hill.
From here, you can check out the lake to your left. When you’ve had your fill, take a look around to your right and you’ll see a small grass hill.
Cross the road and climb up it. The 360 view you’ll be treated to is just out of this world.
On the day that I visited, I took a book with me and sat for an hour or so.
Day 2 Stop 8 – Fanad Head Lighthouse
// Lough Salt to Fanad head – 40-minute drive (arrive for 15:10) //
Fanad Head Lighthouse is one of my highlights on our Wild Atlantic Way Donegal itinerary.
There’s no real mystery why – it’s a special place.
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 Head Lighthouse has been voted one of the most beautiful lighthouses in the world.The whole craggy coastal area that surrounds the lighthouse is just out of this 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.
Fancy exploring Cork, Kerry, Galway, and Mayo over the course of a 5-day road trip? Here’s our full 5-day road trip guide.
Day 2 Stop 9 – The intensely beautiful Ballymastocker Bay
// Fanad Head to Ballymastocker Bay – 20-minute drive (arrive for 16:00) //
Ballymastocker Bay was once voted the 2nd most beautiful beach in the world by the Observer Magazine.
It’s perfect for a stroll to break up the driving and it offers tremendous views out towards the Inishowen Peninsula.
Day 2 Stop 10 – Grianan of Aileach
// Ballymastocker Bay to Grianan of Aileach – 1-hour drive (arrive for 17:30) //
The Grianan of Aileach is a hillfort that sits on top of the 801 ft high Greenan Mountain at Inishowen.
According to these lads, the stone fort is said to date back to the 1st century on the site of an early Iron Age multivallate hillfort.
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.
Day 2 Stop 11 – Malin Head
// Grianan of Aileach to Malin Head – 55-minute drive (arrive for 19:30) //
Our next stop takes us to Malin Head – the most northerly point of the island of Ireland.
After visiting Malin Head recently, the one thing that hit me, and that stuck with me long after my visit, was the sheer power of mother nature.
Watch the video below to see it for yourself.
As I stood and gazed out at the jagged rocks that jutted from the water nearby, I was half deafened from the whistle of the gales that whipped over the Atlantic coupled with the sound of water crashing against rock.
There are several walks you can do here – the road walk to Banbas crown is roughly 12km and will take you around 5 hours depending on fitness levels.
As you explore Malin head, keep an eye out for a large ‘EIRE’ on the ground nearby, written out in white stones to remind aircraft that they were flying over a neutral state during the war.
Day 2 Stop 12 – A bed for the evening
// Malin Head to the Strand Hotel – 25-minute drive (arrive for 21:00) //
I’m going to recommend that you stay in the Strand Hotel.
It’s been a long, long… long day, but you’ve packed in a lot, and explored as much of Donegal as time allowed.
Chill for the night. Grab some food in the hotel. And relive where you’ve visited over the past 48 hours with a well earned drink.
And that’s a wrap on our 2-day Wild Atlantic Way Donegal road trip
You’ll have polished off the 2 days in style in Johnny Fox’s and hopefully be heading home with a head full of memories and only a trace of a hangover.
Did we miss anything in this guide? Of course we did.
2 days isn’t a huge amount of time, but we’ve packed in as much good stuff to our Dublin itinerary as physically possible.
Let me know what you think in the comments below!