best things to do in donegal ireland
Destination Guides,  Ireland

15 Unique Things to Do in Donegal, Ireland

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One of the most beautiful places in Ireland is Donegal, so you’ll want to put this on your list of places to stop. You’ll see some of the most stunning coastline views no matter where you go and have no shortage of things to do in Donegal.

Donegal holds a special place in my heart, as this is the area my grandfather was from and lived in for many years. I always make sure to stop here each time I visit Ireland and love that there’s always something new to explore each time.

From visiting dramatic coastlines to exploring history that the area has to offer, here are some of the best places to see in Donegal.

Best Things to Do in Donegal

There are tons of Donegal tourist attractions that many visitors look forward to doing. From ancient structures like castles to remote islands and great beaches, Donegal has it all.

You should note that this article includes things to do in County Donegal, which is quite large, and not just Donegal Town, which many people tend to refer to when talking about Donegal.

Read further to find which activity is best suited for your needs – you’re guaranteed to find a few that will help you decide what to do in Donegal.

1. Glenveagh National Park and Castle

Glenveagh Castle

Glenveagh National Park and Castle is the third most expansive national park in Ireland and Donegal County’s most prominent. The park stands at over 16,000 hectares in size and has a biodiversity that visitors will be delighted to see. The park features mountains, lakes, valleys, and a waterfall, making it a natural haven that you must include on any Ireland bucket list.

You can explore the park’s various trails on foot or bike, which you can hire at nearby Grass Routes. If you want to explore most of these trails on a multi-day visit, a stay at the luxurious Radisson Blu Hotel is excellent for relaxing between your visits.

Within the park is Glenveagh Castle, which is a historic castle that’s wonderful (although not free) to explore. It also has a beautiful garden, which you can wander through during your visit here. Afterward, wind down with delicacies from the nearby cafe or the Glenveagh Restaurant that’s a little further from the castle.

2. Portsalon Beach

Donegal Beach

Donegal is full of world-class beaches, and Portsalon Beach is arguably the best one of them all. The beach has attained Blue Flag status and features clean water and a coastline that’s decorated with golden sand.

The beach is usually calm and is perfect for a swim should you want to dive in the water. It’s also surrounded by nature, which provides a great sight for anyone visiting Portsalon. Couples, families, and all types of visitors enjoy a visit to this beach, which is one of the best places to visit in Donegal.

3. Tory Island

tory island best things to do in donegal
Image via Flickr by Breandán Ó Nualltáin

The most inhabited remote island in Ireland, Tory Island is one of the more unique Donegal attractions. Thanks to its secluded setting, many Gaelic and Irish traditions have been preserved by the island’s inhabitants – the most prominent of these traditions being the appointment of a king.

The island boasts breathtaking scenery of both well-preserved natural and man-made wonders. It’s situated just off the coast of Donegal County, and you can get there by way of a ferry. 

4. Bundoran Beach

Bundoran Beach

If you’re an avid surfer, one of the places to go in Donegal includes visiting Bundoran Beach, or “Fundoran” as named by the locals. Even if you aren’t into surfing, there’s an assortment of activities and attractions near the Blue Flag beach available to you.

Family fun awaits at Macks Amusements, where you, along with your kids, will enjoy bowling and playing some arcade games. Adults have a designated area free of excitedly loud kids where you can also try your luck on the slot and poker machines.

Other fun activities include go-karting, catching a flick at the cinema, or trying your hand at “footgolf,” a hybrid of golf and football.

If you want to explore Bundoran Beach and its surrounding activities, it’ll likely take more than a single day. The Holyrood Hotel is perfect for resting in between the days, and it has a spa, fitness center, kids club, and two swimming pools. It’s within walking distance of many of the attractions and the main beach.

5. Wild Atlantic Way Road Trip

wild atlantic way

If you have a car and will be driving in Ireland, a Wild Atlantic Way road trip is at the top of the best Donegal things to do. The area will spoil you with picturesque views of its coastlines, mountains, and natural wonders contrasting its quaint countryside on the trip.

Along the way, you can see numerous Donegal landmarks – many of which are part of this guide. This includes the Slieve League Cliffs, Malin Head, Errigal Mountain, and many more. Your trip will be dotted with a number of restaurants and pubs. Here you can stop to fill your stomach before you get on the road again.

The scenery on offer will definitely leave you satisfied wherever you choose to stop and check off plenty of places to see in Donegal along the way, so make sure to put this on your Ireland road trip itinerary.

6. Maghera Strand and Caves

maghera donegal

Maghera Beach is a quiet and remote natural haven, unlike many popular places in Donegal. In addition to the beach, there are nearby caves that are great to explore and an awesome photo opportunity.

Near the beach right below the Slievetooey Mountain is the Maghera’s 20 caves. You can explore the caves’ interior at low tide, and at high tide, you can enjoy a walk on the strand’s sandy dunes. The beautiful Assaranca Waterfall is also found nearby when looking for places to visit in Donegal.

7. Mount Errigal

mount errigal in the distance

Mount Errigal is the tallest mountain (752m) in Donegal and a magnificent landmark. It’s a prime spot for climbers, rewarding those who dare try the challenging climb with panoramic views of distant mountains at the summit. Depending on your fitness levels, expect the way up to last at least 3 hours. This is one of the most adventurous things to do in Donegal.

The hike can be dangerous due to bad weather conditions, with it being subject to windy, foggy, or rainy weather. Even in great weather conditions, the path is often mushy making waterproof shoes a must. The Columbia waterproof hiking boots for men and women are some of the great options.

The county of Donegal is full of places to visit that will leave you in awe. They feature both natural and man-made wonders; some of the famous Irish landmarks and others are hidden gems. Read all about the ideal places you should visit and what to see in Donegal below.

8. Fanad Lighthouse

Fanad Lighthouse

The Fanad Head Lighthouse is located in northern Donegal and is a marvelous sight. It’s on the fringe of Fanad Peninsula and overlooks a beautiful coastline featuring jagged rocks. Despite its simplicity, the lighthouse constantly shows up in most lists of Donegal places to visit – with good reason.

The drive to and from Fanad Lighthouse provides you with the picturesque sight of the nearby countryside and its natural wonders. It has been voted as one of the most beautiful lighthouses in the world and has been around since the 19th century.

If you’re a history buff intrigued by the structure’s past, there’s something for you. There are guided tours on offer; they are packed with historical anecdotes and an exploration of the lighthouse and its surroundings. The tour includes scenic views of the Atlantic atop the 22m tall lighthouse, which takes 76 steps to reach. 

9. Malin Head

malin head

Located at Ireland’s most northern point is Malin Head, which gets visited by hordes of people every year. Its natural beauty makes it one of the best things to see in Donegal.

The landmark showcases unique flora and fauna and beautiful landscapes that look other-worldly or straight out of a movie. It actually may be, having been shown to the whole world in Star Wars: The Last Jedi. However, Malin Head has several attractions that are a draw for visitors in addition to its natural beauty.

Malin Head’s coastline may be full of jagged rocks, but there are spots the truly adventurous can swim in. Thanks to its clear waters, it’s also a prime spot for wreck diving. The good people at Mevagh Dive Centre take you underwater, so you see a number of sunken boats and ocean liners.

If hiking is your thing, the Malin Head trail is perfect for you. The nearly 2km loop trail spoils you with amazing views, including a sight of the coastline and distant islands at its summit.

If you visit Malin Head during the winter months, you may be lucky enough to see the mystical Northern Lights. All of this makes Malin Head a worthy inclusion on most guides of the best places to go in Donegal.

10. Slieve League Cliffs

Slieve League Cliffs

While the Cliffs of Moher are one of Ireland’s crown jewels, there’s a precipice that’s even more daunting in the country. These are the majestic Slieve League Cliffs, which reach a staggering height of 601m and have the Atlantic Ocean at their base. They are nearly triple the size of the renowned Cliffs of Moher, as well as being one of Europe’s highest cliffs.

The mighty cliffs are ever-present in any guide of things to do in Donegal, and it’s easy to see why. You’ll be spoiled with a scenic (and slightly scary) view of the Atlantic Donegal Bay and the Sligo Mountains at the summit.

The cliffs can be reached by foot or car; all you have to do is follow the signs leading to the top. Entrance is free, yet you won’t have to combat crowds on your visit to this breathtaking hidden gem – for now at least.

Within Donegal county, there’s a little town that shares the same name. Interestingly enough, the county was actually named after Donegal Town. 

It’s a lively place that topped the list of National Geographic Traveller’s coolest destinations in 2017. It’s jam-packed with things to do that will keep any type of visitor entertained. Read further to discover what makes Donegal Town amazing and why you should include it on your trip.

11. Donegal Castle

donegal castle places to see in donegal
Image via Flickr by Sean MacEntee

Donegal Castle is one of the more popular tourist attractions in Donegal. Located in the heart of the town, it is a staggering structure with a lengthy history. The castle is an architectural masterpiece with amazing stonework, fireplaces, and some old-fashioned furniture. 

If you’ve ever wanted a chance to see and learn how people lived centuries ago, this is your chance. The castle is a treasure trove for history enthusiasts as they’ll be spoiled with tales about the castle’s history and its former owners. It’s a perfect place to visit when looking for what to do in Donegal town on gloomy or rainy days.

12. Olde Castle Bar

guinness beer

Keeping in line with archaic structures is Olde Castle Bar, a quaint pub set in a castle-like building. Their menu boasts fresh seafood alongside an expansive list of alcoholic drinks to give you a little buzz.

Aside from seafood, you can please your palates with tasty grub like lamb, steak, and chicken delicacies. It’s easily one of the best restaurants in Donegal Town and you shouldn’t miss it while there.

13. Reel Inn

irish live music

The award-winning Reel Inn is a renowned pub in Donegal that guarantees entertainment for anyone who makes their way there. You’re spoiled to a great time filled with live Irish music and dance every night of the week.

There’s something different every day, as there are different instruments on show nightly. You can spoil yourself to a pint and some delicious food while being serenaded by some of Donegal Town’s finest talents. A visit to the Real Inn is definitely one of the best things to do in Donegal Town.

14. Donegal Bay Waterbus

donegal bay ireland

If you don’t want to explore Donegal Town on foot, then the 75-minute long Donegal Bay Waterbus tour is exactly what you’re looking for.

The waterbus tour is great for seeing many of Donegal’s attractions, and if you’re lucky enough, you may even see seals. You can opt for a seat in the open deck or the air-conditioned cabin as you view Donegal’s scenery. 

The wheelchair-friendly waterbus has 160 comfortable seats and an onboard bar with various drinks, biscuits, crisps, and ice cream as well as all necessary facilities. The crew provides commentary and shows you all points of interest, including the Donegal Golf Club and fauna as well as a wind farm.

Enjoy an entertaining sing-along as the waterbus zips back to its starting point. It’s perfect for anyone looking for relaxing things to do in Donegal Town.

Note: Tickets must be bought at the waterbus operators’ ticket office on Quay Street prior to sailing, at a cost of €20 (adults), €12 (students), and €7 (children).

15. Lough Eske Castle

lough eske castle ireland
Image via Flickr by Marianne Southall

Instead of visiting the Donegal Castle once, you can opt to stay in a cozy castle when you visit Donegal. The Lough Eske Castle is a five-star hotel with castle-like architecture, as it’s built with stone and looks archaic from the outside. You’ll love that this is one of the more unique things to do in Donegal.

Despite its archaic look, the castle offers accommodation that boasts many modern facilities – and they’re luxurious. Spoil yourself with tantalizing food and drinks at the in-house Cedars Restaurant, the Gallery Bar, and Father Browne Bar. There’s also a spa, fitness center, and swimming pool you can use to relax after a day spent exploring nearby Donegal.

You can attempt to reel in some fish at nearby lake Lough Eske or perfect your swing at nearby Donegal Golf Club. Alternatively, you can take a serene walk in the Lough Eske Nature Loop Trail surrounded by nature’s wonders.

Lough Eske Castle is a mere 10-minute drive from Donegal Town, making it a convenient place to stay.

Where to Stay in Donegal

Here are a few options to stay in when visiting the area:

  • The Gateway Lodge – This hotel is conveniently located in the heart of Donegal Town so you’ll be close to plenty of shops and restaurants and have modern en-suite bedrooms to stay in. (rates start at $140 per night)
  • Abbey Hotel Donegal – You’ll love treating yourself by staying at this beautiful hotel right next to Donegal Castle that has a full restaurant and bar. (rates start at $160 per night)
  • O’Donnell’s Of Donegal – This affordable hotel is a quiet place to stay and comes with a fireplace and a free parking spot. (rates start at $104 per night)

No matter what you do while you’re in town, you won’t run out of things to do in Donegal!

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