Discovering The Top 5 Things To Do In Donegal, Ireland

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Discovering Donegal — The Secret Is Out

Our Ireland trip was a real mix of adventure, road trip, and family time. Our entire family travels in some form or another, and going to Ireland we were planning on meeting up with both daughters, Jim’s sister and step-mother.

There are so many things to do in Ireland, it is important to plan out and focus on a region. For this trip we were excited to make our way along the Wild Atlantic Way. After meeting our family at the airport, we started our road trip right away and our first stop was our amazing time on Skellig Michael.

Finding the Best Things to do in Donegal County

Slieve League is an Ireland attraction not to be missed.
The cliffs of Slieve League on the Wild Atlantic Way are one of Ireland’s hidden gems.

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.

Amazing Dolmen in Kilclooney Mare is one of the top sights Donegal, Ireland
A Dolman 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 dolman in a sheep pasture behind St. Conal’s Church in the Townland of Kilclooney More.

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, Donegal Castle, the Friary, and Bank Walk.

Looking for things to do in Donegal, how about a ride aboard the Donegal Bay waterbus
Donegal Bay Waterbus docked in the 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.

Harbor seals seen from the Donegal Bay tour
Harbour Seals lounging on the sandbars around Seal Island

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

A must see in Donegal is the castle in the middle of town
Donegal Castle on the Eske River in the center of Donegal Town

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

In Ireland, Celtic crosses like these at Donegal Friary are popular photographs
Donegal Friary on the harbor’s edge

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.

Donegal attractions include the Bank Walk along the shore of Donegal Bay

Bank Walk in Donegal

The Bank Walk is a 1.6km 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 177km 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.

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.

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!

Click here to find the perfect Donegal Hotel

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. 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.

  2. Lyn (aka) The Travelling Lindfields says:

    Ginny – what an interesting post. My ancestors came from Ireland and yet I have never been there. The unreliable weather has put me off . Reading your post makes me want to plan a trip though – perhaps I will add it to the bucket list.

    • 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.”

  3. 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!

  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. 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.

  6. Gorretti Woods says:

    Hi it was a pleasure reading your from Leitrim and I have a Restaurant and B/B in cleignamore ballinaglera co Leitrim.its right on Lough Allen shores.its called the 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.

  7. 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?

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