Discovering The Top 5 Things To Do In Donegal, Ireland

The Waterbus harbour tour is one of the top attractions in Donegal Town.

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There are so many things to do in Ireland, it is important to plan out and focus on a region. For this trip we headed straight to the west coast and made our way from south to north along the Wild Atlantic Way. On our first stop we took a boat to amazing Skellig Michael and we ended in the north where we found the top 5 things to do in Donegal.

Donegal is next door to Northern Ireland where there are more not-to-be-missed sights. Two of our favorites are the Hexagonal Stone’s of the Giant’s Causeway and the Titanic Experience in Belfast. The Giant’s Causeway is also a World Heritage site; the Titanic Experience really brings the tragic yet remarkable story to life.

Finding the Best Things to Do in Donegal County

The 600-meter high cliffs of Slieve League rise above the wild Atlantic in County Donegal Ireland.
It takes a bit of effort to get to the cliffs of Slieve League, but they are truly worth it.

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Donegal County is the northernmost part of the Republic of Ireland. Bounded on its north and west sides by the North Atlantic Ocean, it’s rugged, remote, sparsely populated, pristine, and beautiful. It’s little wonder that National Geographic Traveler declared it the #1 coolest place to visit in 2017 .

The county is also the northernmost section of Ireland’s new tourism route called the Wild Atlantic Way. When it officially launched in 2014, Ireland’s Minister of Tourism called the Wild Atlantic Way the “journey of a lifetime.” It winds for 2,600 km along Ireland’s Atlantic Coast from Kinsale in County Cork to the Inishowen Peninsula in County Donegal.

We rented a car and drove a good portion of the Wild Atlantic Way, what fun!

Cliffs, Beaches, and More

The roads in Donegal County are narrow and winding; it takes time to get around, but it’s worth the effort. There are remote beaches, romantic lighthouses, colossal cliffs, hiking trails, and, for us animal-loving photographers, lots of great sheep shots.

Slieve League (Sliabh Liag) is not-to-be missed. It’s a mountain with 600-meter high cliffs plunging into the wild Atlantic. Signage at the sight claims these are the highest cliffs in Ireland.

Unless you’re looking for a hardy hike, don’t park at the first gate you encounter — open the gate and go through. The gate isn’t there to keep people out; it’s there to keep the sheep in. A second parking lot is located further up the road and much closer to the cliffs.

A striking dolmen with a huge cap stone on top of 3 vertical stones sits in a pasture near Kilclooney More in Donegal County.
This remarkable dolmen (megalithic tomb) sits behind St. Conal’s Church in the Townland of Kilclooney More.

While driving around Donegal County, we visited beautiful crescent beaches, stopped by Assaranca Waterfall, and found a stunning dolmen in a sheep pasture behind St. Conal’s Church in the Townland of Kilclooney More.

A very woolly sheep at Slieve League in Donegal County.
No trip to Ireland is complete without a few Sheep Shots — like this mammoth woolly at Slieve League.

A Must-See in Ireland — Donegal Town

Donegal Town is at the southern end of Donegal County where the River Eske flows into Donegal Bay. It’s a small town (about 2,400 residents), but there is ample lodging, good restaurants, and plenty of friendly pubs.

It’s perfect for day-tripping to other parts of the county, and it has a full day’s worth of sights including the Donegal Bay Waterbus, Castle, Friary, and Bank Walk.

Looking out over Donegal Harbor early on a calm morning.
A calm early morning view of Donegal Harbour.

Don’t Miss the Donegal Waterbus

The 75-minute boat tour of Donegal Bay is the most popular sightseeing opportunity in Donegal Town. The informative commentary points out features around the bay, provides historical insights, and is laced with Irish humor and spirited song.

Donegal Harbour is home to a colony of Harbour seals, and, if the tide is right, you’ll see groups of them lounging on the sandbars around Seal Island.

On the Donegal Bay Waterbus Tour, we pass by a group of harbour seals lounging on a sandbar.
Harbour seals watching us as we cruise by on the Donegal Bay Waterbus.

The Dún Na nGall is a comfortable, 160-passenger boat which provides a smooth ride on the bay and is equipped with a full bar and restrooms. There are 2-3 tours a day, but the schedule changes with the tide. Visit the Donegal Bay Waterbus website or visit their office on Quay Street for the schedule, tickets, and more information.

One of Ireland’s Top Attractions — Donegal Castle

Built in the 15th century, Donegal Castle is fully restored and is among the best things to see in Ireland.
Take a Castle tour or wander through on your own.

Take time to tour the fully restored Donegal Castle located in the center of town on the bank of the Eske River. It was built in the 15th century by the chieftain of the O’Donnell clan, Red Hugh I. Guided tours are offered hourly, or you can wander through the castle on your own.

Donegal Friary

The Donegal Friary sits in ruin on the bank of Donegal Harbour; it’s Celtic crosses are popular with photographers.
The Friary ruin and Celtic crosses are a popular photo op.

According to the Friary’s signage, “Donegal Friary was founded for the Franciscan Friars in 1474 by the first Red Hugh O’Donnell and his wife.” It was repeatedly attacked and taken over by the English.

The Friary’s claim to fame is that Monks, who fled the Friary, are credited with compiling the ancient annals of Ireland into the Annals of the Four Masters — a major source of Irish history. The Friary is now a ruin enmeshed in a cemetery, but it’s certainly worth wandering through and offers some nice photo opportunities — especially of Celtic crosses.

View of the Bank Walk path along the River Eske and Donegal Harbour in Donegal Town, Ireland.
The Bank Walk is a 1.6 km path along the River Eske and the harbour.

Take the Bank Walk

The Bank Walk is a 1.6 km trail that begins at the River Eske Bridge and follows along the riverbank and the edge of Donegal Bay. There are views of the harbour and the Friary, benches to sit and commune with nature, birdhouses in the trees, and even a whimsical Post Box for Fairies. It’s an easy, pleasant walk.

Practical Information for Your Visit to Donegal

Getting to and Around Donegal

Without a car, there’s no easy, convenient way to travel around Donegal County and visit sights like Slieve League. There’s an airport about an hour north of Donegal Town with flights from Dublin, but typically visitors fly into Belfast or Dublin, rent a car and drive. Donegal Town is 177 km from Belfast and 225 km from Dublin.

Map of Donegal Highlights

Map of Donegal, Ireland with our recommendations.
Click here to access our interactive Google Map of Donegal highlights.

Places to Stay

You won’t go wrong with the Abbey Hotel right smack in the center of Donegal Town. This beautiful stone faced hotel has rooms with bay views and an excellent restaurant. Rooms are very comfortable and offer good value for the price. Check out the Abbey Hotel in Donegal!

Conclusion

As often happens when traveling, we ran out of time before running out of things to see, especially according the Best Ireland Itinerary.  With one more day, we would have gone to Glenveagh National Park and castle, and Mount Errigal. Now we have a good reason to come back.

Click here to find the perfect Donegal Hotel
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Pin Discovering Donegal for later!

Donegal County, Ireland - a magical destination!
Exploring Donegal at Slieve League, one of Irelands famous cliffs.
Heading to Ireland? You will want to make sure Donegal is on your itinerary! Check out our Top 5 Attractions.

17 thoughts on “Discovering The Top 5 Things To Do In Donegal, Ireland

  1. Chris S. says:

    Thanks so much for your article. We are headed to Northern Ireland , including Donegal, next week. Slieve League is on our list. How much time would you suggest we spend our there? A few hours? All day?

  2. Gorretti Woods says:

    Hi it was a pleasure reading your article.im from Leitrim and I have a Restaurant and B/B in cleignamore ballinaglera co Leitrim.its right on Lough Allen shores.its called the Gables.next time you visit Ireland come stay with us.your more than welcome.

    • Ginny Vail says:

      Gorretti, Thank you for reading my post and your invitation to visit County Leitrim. If I’m fortunate to visit Ireland again, I’ll certainly visit Lough Allen and visit your Restaurant and B/B.

  3. RobRob @TravelLatte(.net) says:

    How gorgeous is Denegal?!? We’ll be on the southern end of Ireland shortly, and it’s killing us that we won’t have the time to explore more of the Wild Atlantic Way and the northern half of the country. We’re just going to have to plan a return trip…before we’ve even left on the first one! 😉 Thanks for sharing Donegal with us – it really reinforces our desire to see the area.

  4. shere says:

    it’s been a long long time I’ve been to Ireland. I just thought I had visit donegal castle, but I didn’t (it seemed similar to another I did visit). The cliffs look amazing and worth a visit.

  5. Bryna | Dotted Line Travels says:

    I love this post! Ireland has been a bucket list item for me since I was a teen and I’m hoping to make a trip out in the next year – fingers crossed! I’d love to check out the Wild Atlantic Way. I’d definitely want to stop at Donegal Castle and spot some harbour seals at Donegal Harbour!

    • Ginny Vail says:

      Lyn – Thank you for your comment. I hope you do go to Ireland; the country is beautiful and the people are terrific. All seven of my trips there have been in June or September; I’ve encountered a few partially rainy days, but it’s never been really stormy. When it rains in Ireland, the locals say “tis a soft day.”

  6. Michelle | michwanderlust says:

    Ginny – it was a pleasure reading your first post. Loved your photos too, especially the first one of the cliffs! I’m definitely pinning this one for if/when I get to Ireland 🙂 Corinne – such a great idea getting your family to contribute! Your very own family tradition 😉

    • Ginny Vail says:

      Michelle – Thank you for commenting on my post. Corinne mentioned that travel is a family tradition. An extension of that tradition is that we’ve also traveled together as a family, and it’s a wonderful way to spend time with family.

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