Golden Ireland’s Guide to Donegal
by Geraldine McGlynn
I first went to Donegal as a student in the 1990s and stayed with friends in an authentic thatched cottage outside of Ardara. We travelled in a small red cinquecento and the journey consisted of mixed emotions – on the one hand, I thought we would never get there, the journey felt so long but I also feared for my life on several occasions as my friend was a learner driver, was wont to speeding and the car was tiny with four of us squashed in!
We arrived in one piece and I remember the open fire of the thatched cottage, the nearby almost deserted beaches, cooking a full salmon for the first time and fantastic Irish music in the pubs. I thought it was the most beautiful, enchanting and remote place I had ever been. I have returned several times since and the county has lost none of its laid-back charm. It is this sense of welcome and ease that motivated me to organise Golden Ireland tours to Donegal – more about that later..
Donegal is the northernmost county in Ireland and is the fourth largest by land area. It covers approximately 4,859 square kilometers (1,877 square miles). It is a county of contrasts and is best explored at a slow and steady pace. Not a county to be rushed! If you only have two to three days, my advice would be to focus on a particular area, such as the Inishowen Peninsula or West Donegal where you have easy access to the magnificent Slieve League (Slaibh Liag) Cliffs, Bluestack Mountains or soak in the serenity of peaceful Glenveagh National Park.
For those with more time on their hands, you can drive part of the Wild Atlantic Way route between Donegal Town and the Inishowen Peninsula, and explore some spectacular beaches, Malin Head, Fort Dunree, Mamore Gap, Grianán an Aileach. It’s also an opportunity to visit the historic nearby City of Derry. For our 2024 Golden Ireland Tours, we have settled on the Inishowen Peninsula, an area of outstanding beauty and only thirty minutes from Derry.
How to Get There
For three years running, Donegal Airport was voted the most scenic in the world by Lonely Planet. With two flights a day from Dublin, flying in and out of Donegal is an experience in itself.
Unfortunately, there is no direct train service to Donegal. Several bus companies operate services from Dublin to Donegal. Bus Eireann and private operators such as John McGinley Coaches provide regular services.
Many people choose to drive and the journey from Dublin can take anything from 3.5 hours to 4.5 hours depending on the part of the County you are visiting.
East & North Donegal. Travel on the M1, N2 and A5 route via Ardee, Monaghan and Omagh.
West Donegal – Travel on the N3 via Cavan and Enniskillen.
Coastal Route: For a scenic drive, opt for the coastal route along the Wild Atlantic Way. From Dublin, take the N2 or N3 towards Cavan and then join the N15 towards Donegal Town. Along the way, you’ll pass through charming towns like Sligo and Bundoran, with breathtaking views of the Atlantic Ocean.
Inland Route: Alternatively, you can take the N3 or N4 towards Enniskillen in Northern Ireland and then cross the border into Donegal. This route offers a glimpse of the picturesque countryside and tranquil lakes of County Fermanagh before reaching Donegal.
If you don’t want the hassle of making your own way to Donegal, Golden Ireland has organised two all-inclusive tours in 2024:
24th – 27th March and 23rd – 26th September.
The Best of The North-West Tour
Combine Donegal’s breathtaking scenery with Derry’s vibrant and historic charm, and enjoy three days of heritage, history, culture and craic! For an easy and sociable way to visit Inishowen and Derry, trip includes:
Private Coach Transfer To and From Dublin, 3 Nights B&B and Three Dinners (4-Course) in Inishowen Gateway Hotel, 2 Nights of Evening Entertainment, Admission to Ulster American Folk Park Museum, Co. Tyrone, Day Tour of Donegal and The Inishowen Peninsula (includes admission and tour of Wild Ireland), Day Tour of The City of Derry which includes a private tour of the Walled City and Admission to the Museum of Free Derry. Also included is an approved Fáilte Ireland Tourist Guide for two day’s excursions.
See: Golden Ireland’s Best of The North West Tour for more.
Donegal, located in the northwest of Ireland, is renowned for its stunning natural beauty, rugged coastline, rich history, and vibrant culture. Here are some top attractions in Donegal not to be missed.
Slieve League Cliffs: These cliffs are among the highest sea cliffs in Europe, offering breathtaking views of the Atlantic Ocean and the surrounding landscape. About an hour outside of Donegal is the Slieve League Cliffs. Standing a staggering 601 meters tall, these cliffs are the highest accessible sea cliffs in Europe. Whether you choose to take in the magnificent views from Bunglass Point, wander some of the walking trails along the cliff top or take a boat ride around the base of the cliffs, this is one Donegal destination not to be missed.
Glenveagh National Park: Covering over 16,000 hectares of scenic mountains, lakes, and woodland, Glenveagh is a paradise for nature lovers and hikers. The park is also home to Glenveagh Castle, a 19th-century mansion with beautiful gardens.
Donegal Castle: Located in the heart of Donegal town, this 15th-century castle is a well-preserved example of Gaelic chieftain stronghold with later Jacobean features.
Malin Head: As the most northerly point on the island of Ireland, Malin Head offers dramatic coastal scenery, walking trails, and views across the Atlantic Ocean.
Fanad Head Lighthouse: Situated on the Fanad Peninsula, this iconic lighthouse offers stunning views of the coastline and the Atlantic Ocean. It’s a perfect spot for photography enthusiasts.
Glencolmcille Folk Village: Experience traditional Irish life in this replica village, showcasing thatched cottages and artefacts from centuries past.
Donegal Bay and Blue Stack Mountains: Explore the picturesque Donegal Bay, with its sandy beaches and rugged coastline, while also enjoying the scenic beauty of the Blue Stack Mountains.
Doagh Famine Village: This outdoor museum provides insight into life in Donegal during the Great Famine and throughout the 20th century, with recreated dwellings and exhibits.
Rathmullan Beach: Relax on the sandy shores of Rathmullan Beach, perfect for swimming, picnicking, or taking a leisurely stroll along the coastline.
Grianán an Aileach: Step inside this ring fort and its 5m-high dry stone wall, and you’ll be surrounded by over 4,000 years of history.
These attractions offer just a glimpse of the many wonders that County Donegal has to offer visitors. Whether you’re interested in history, outdoor adventures, or simply enjoying the stunning scenery, Donegal has something for everyone!
Hotels Offering Actively Retired Rates:
Clanree Hotel, Letterkenny, Co Donegal
Station House Hotel Letterkenny, Co Donegal
Inishowen Gateway Hotel, Buncrana, Co Donegal
Great Northern Hotel, Bundoran, Co Donegal.