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17 Best Things To Do In Donegal [Ireland] Complete 2019 Travel Guide

Written by:
Cazzy Magennis
/
Last updated:
August 23, 2019
Travel stories
Your ultimate guide to the best things to do in Donegal Ireland, from the best views, castles, lakes and more, we've got you covered with our guide....
Donegal Ireland
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Donegal is by far one of my favourite places in all of Ireland.

As an Irish-born gal myself, I've been visiting County Donegal for camping trips every year since I was a child; so it was super cool to be able to explore the entire county and discover beautiful things I never knew existed! 

So, if you’re wondering what to do in Donegal then sit back, grab a cup of tea and enjoy my list of the best things to do in Donegal!

1. Malin Head 

Located in the North area of Donegal, this is the most northern point in all of Ireland, so it’s well worth a visit if you’ve been to the most south-western point in County Cork! 

It offers beautiful views and there are actually a lot of biking and walking challenges that go from mizen head to malin head, perhaps you’ll feel like doing one too! 

When you visit Malin head, you’ll see the words “Eire” written into the grass via stones. These were only uncovered recently and they were actually put there so that during WW2 the Germans could see that they were flying over Ireland who were neutral! 

They accidentally bombed Dublin because they didn’t realize it was Ireland, so after that, these signs were put up around the coast so planes could see them from above…

Interesting I thought! 

maliin head sign
view at malin head

2. Atlantic Drive 

The Atlantic drive in Donegal is short and sweet with some amazing beaches. My favourite beach being Portsalon Beach. When you see this stunning stretch of golden sand with different shades of blue water, you’ll be amazed to still know you’re still in Ireland. 

Donegal truly has some stunning beaches everywhere, it’s just a pity you don’t always get the weather to enjoy them! 

If you’ve got your own campervan/motorhome or car, then you should definitely do the Atlantic drive.

Lots of beautiful views and photo opportunities and it won’t take up too much of your day. I’ve included a picture of what the loop entails. 

It’s part of the Wild Atlantic Way which is the longest coastal road trip in the world, it will take a while to complete! 

Read Also: The Best Things To Do In Ireland

atlantic divee
beach in donegal
atlantic drive map

3. Discover Kinnagoe Bay 

This is a beautiful secluded bay located near the town of Inishowen (a nice place to stay overnight) and it’s known for its beautiful blue waters and the sinking of the Armada ship La Trinidad Valencera on 16 September 1588.

It’s worth a stop on a beautiful and one of the best things to do in county Donegal. 

Tour: Take a guided tour of the Inishowen Peninsula for a unique experience.

4.Visit Fanad Head and Lighthouse

Ireland is filled with great lighthouses and Fanad head is in a beautiful setting. They charge you 10 euro to go inside, but I don’t think it’s worth it, but you can walk up to the entrance, climb over a barrier and you’ll get awesome pics of the lighthouse.

A boat actually sunk close to here and it’s a haven for shipwreck divers. The boat was holding a lot of gold and some of it still hasn't been recovered! You can learn more about the story when you visit. 

5. Explore Doe Castle

Located deep in Sheephaven bay, this is a quaint castle and worth a visit in my opinion. There is no entrance fee, but you can get a short guided tour which takes you up to the top of the castle for nice views for only 3 euro.

Unfortunately we didn’t have time for a tour, but the guys who run it are lovely so I think it’s a great idea. 

This is a quiet spot and there is even a wee coffee shop to grab a drink! 

Read Also: Best Castles In Ireland

doe castle

6. Visit Letterkenny cathedral and town 

Letterkenny is like the “capital” of Donegal. It’s a city type place that has everything you need. So if you love to shop, then this is definitely one of the best places to visit in Donegal. 

It also has a really awesome cathedral that’s built in gothic style (my favourite) and I think that it is worth visiting too. 

You could easily spend an afternoon here shopping and grabbing some lunch with some sightseeing! 

If you’re wondering what to do in Donegal when it rains, then this is probably your best bet, they’ve got cinemas, bowling alleys and other fun activities to keep you occupied! 

Tour option: Take a guided walking tour of Letterkenny's best spots!

drrives in donegal

7. Glenveagh Castle

Glenveagh Castle is actually located within the national park which will I chat about just after this. Once you enter the park it’s about a 30 minute walk there and 30 minutes back.

It looks beautiful from the pictures, but brad and I ran out of time to walk there and back! 

Read Also: A Complete Ireland Travel Guide

8. Explore Glenveagh National Park 

Including the beautiful castle that’s housed within it, Glenavagh national park is a gem of Donegal and it’s home to lots of amazing walking trails. You could bike too. It’s a perfect location to grab a picnic and just walk amongst beautiful nature. 

9. Marvel at Errigal Mountain 

This is a beautiful mountain that was covered in a lot of fog because the weather wasn’t great when we did a roadtrip through parts of Donegal, but it’s epic and the mist actually made it look even more dominating.

This castle is the tallest of all the Derryveagh Mountain range and it’s the tallest mountain in county Donegal itself. 

There are a variety of viewpoints you can get a great shot at and the whole area around the mountain is like something out of Lord Of The Rings, truly amazing! 

Read Also: The Best Things To Do In Killarney, Ireland: Complete Travel Guide

mountain in dnegal

10. Take a boat to Tory Island 

Regarded as one of the most remote and intriguing islands of Ireland, Tory island is worth a visit if you’d like to do a day trip to one of Ireland’s nearby islands.

What’s really interesting about this island is that there are only around 130 people who live on it and they speak Irish, and they elect a king to “rule” them as a nod to their past.

How interesting! The most recent king actually died in 2018 and they haven’t reelected a new one since then, but he was king since 1993. 

You can get daily ferries across to the island and back. Expect a rugged and beautiful landscape! 

You can also stay overnight.

horses in donegal

11. Relax at Mullaghderg Beach 

Bradley and I actually discovered this place because we were wild camping at it. It turned out to be a really beautiful and secluded beach area with only cows roaming in the fields for company. 

I would highly recommend this spot if you’d like to discover one of the unique things to do in Donegal. 

12. Slieve League Cliffs

My uncle told me I wouldn’t be disappointed when I visited the Slieve League Cliffs and I can confirm I am not! 

They are magnificent. They are often regarded as one of the finest and highest marine cliffs in all of Europe and offer amazing walking trails and beautiful views of the Atlantic Ocean, Donegal Bay and the Sligo Mountains.

If you’re afraid of heights, then stick to the lower levels. 

There is no entrance fee.

Tour option from LetterKenny: This is a great tour of the highlands the cliffs with viator.

brrad at clfifs
slieve league
cliff side
This was for WW2

13. Have fun at the Seaside Resort of Bundoran 

If you have children, then I recommend a trip to Bundoran. I used to go here with my family when I was a child and it’s some of my fondest memories. It’s a brilliant beach, a great funfair park, amusements, places to eat and much more.

It’s definitely a place catered for families and you’ll always have fun in Bundoran! 

Read Also: Our Ireland Road Trip Itinerary

14. Explore the charming Donegal Town 

Lots of people mistake Donegal Town as the “capital” of County Donegal, but rather it is just a small town with an authentic Irish charm about it. We had some lunch and coffee and explored the castle (Which is quite small).

But it’s definitely worth a visit if you’d like some live Irish music and a great pint of Guinness! 

Grabbing a drink and grub is definitely one of the most fun things to do in Donegal town. 

donegal castle

15. Embrace the tranquillity at Lough Derg 

Lough Derg is actually home to a pilgrimage site that’s floating on the lake. You can go there for a day visit, or people can go for weekend visits etc. Pilgrimage sites and experiences are quite common across Ireland due to its Christian background. 

However, if you drive on the left of the entrance of the pilgrimage site, you’ll enter the park which has beautiful views of the lake and some nice Picnic tables.

Again there are religious spots dotted around it such as St Bridget's Well and St Bridget's Chair which are worth looking at if you’re having a walk. 

There is no entrance fee into the lake. 

lough deearg

16. Awe at Lough Eske Castle 

Lough Eske Castle is grand, beautiful and expensive! You can stay in the castle and I imagine it would be bloody amazing. But if you’re visiting, like me, then you can walk around the grounds, get some pictures and simply admire the beauty. It’s stunning on a sunny day! 

Read Also: The Best Things To Do In Kerry, Ireland: Complete Travel Guide

17. Learn history at the Famine Village 

This is something Bradley and I didn’t do, but I still think it was worth mentioning on the things to do in Donegal list. As you know, (or don’t know) Ireland suffered badly during the Famine with over 1 million people dying and over 1 million leaving to America and other place. 

If you want to learn about the famine period and life during that time, then I think a visit to the famine village in Doagh is a must-see. It takes you on a journey through Irish life from the 1840s to the present day. 

You can find out all the information you need about visiting on their website here.

Planning what to do in Donegal (Ireland): All common questions answered

vieww on atlantic drivee

When is the best time to visit Donegal?

The best time to visit Donegal, and Ireland in general is between the months of May, June, July, August and September. Peak time in Ireland is July and August, but I suggest you visit during June or September for cheaper prices, less people and the weather can still be pretty decent. 

I visit Donegal every year in September and it’s usually dry and sometimes sunny, which is all you can hope for when you’re visiting Ireland haha

Getting around Donegal 

The best way to get around Donegal in my opinion in via your own transport. This could be via car, motorhome or campervan. 

Bradley and I chose a Campervan and we took our SpaceShips Campervan with us around Donegal. It was awesome because we could drive to unique and secluded locations, create our own itinerary and we got to wild camp in some beautiful places in Donegal.

I highly highly recommend it!

If you don’t have access to your own form of transport, then you can use tours to get across to the best tourist attractions Donegal has to offer. 

Viator offers some great tours that I’ve signposted throughout this article! There is also this tour of all of South Donegal which looks pretty awesome.  

One last thing, Donegal is a large irish speaking area of Ireland also known as the Gaeltacht. If you’re interested in learning more about this, then you can take a private tour that will take you behind the scenes of this beautiful language and the areas that speak it. 

For more info, check out: Hiring A Campervan In Ireland - Everything You Need To Know

doneegal

How long do you need in Donegal?

I would suggest spending around 3 days minimum exploring county Donegal, but if you have longer then use it. There is so much to see!

Where to stay in Donegal 

Donegal is a big county and if you want to place yourself in the right place to get access to tours easy, then I would suggest staying in either Donegal Town or Letterkenny.

From here you can probably get tours to many of the best sites in Donegal. 

However, if you have your own transport or campervan, then I suggest you try wild camping in Donegal and Ireladn, and stay in some of the great little towns that are on offer in the area. 

You can’t find anything more charming than a quaint Irish charm, typically filled with about 6 different pubs! 

You can find a whole list of accommodation in Donegal here.

If you are in need of hotels, hostels, homestays or whatever else, then I recommend using the following sites to find the best deals.

  • Airbnb - We use this for all of our homestays in Europe
  • Booking.com - Use this for the best hotels in Donegal
  • HostelWorld - Great for finding cheap deals on the most popular hostels
  • Couchsurfing - The cheapest way to find places to stay in
views at malin head

Useful tools for planning your visit to Donegal

If you’re looking for cheap flights to Ireland then we always start by recommending searching with Skyscanner.

We always recommend having travel insurance, and World Nomads are usually a great, affordable choice.

Spaceships Rentals offer excellent campervans and motorhomes if you want to experience #vanlife.

For car rental, you can start with RentalCars.com.

So there you go, my guide to the best things to do in Donegal, along with some extra information that should hopefully help you plan your trip. 

If you have any other tourist attractions in Donegal you think I should include on this list of the best things to do in Donegal, then please comment below, and if you want to find out more about what to see in Ireland, then check out our other Ireland travel guides. 

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