County Donegal, nicknamed as Ireland’s Forgotten County, is one of the nine counties found in Ulster. Geographically and economically separated in the northwestern part of Emerald Isle, Donegal earns its nickname for being a remote provincial part of Ireland.
If you are looking for an escape fit for a Northern royal family, or just planning to visit Luke Skywalker’s stony hideaway at Malin’s Head in Star Wars, then Donegal hits the spot. Its evergreen hills, mountains, and enchanting islands will make your vacation Instagram-worthy. So here’s our list of best things to do in Donegal, Ireland.
Things you'll find in this article
- 10 Best Things To Do In Donegal, Ireland
- 1.Tory Island
- 2. Grianán of Áileach
- 3. Lough Eske Castle
- 4. Gola Island
- 5. Narin & Portnoo Beach
- 6. Donegal Castle
- 7. Sliabh Liag Cliff
- 8. Glenveagh National Park
- 9. Dunree Bay
- 10. Ballymastocker Bay
10 Best Things To Do In Donegal, Ireland
Tory Island or also known as Oileán Thúr Rí in Irish, is a remote island with a population of 144 based on the 2011 census. This makes Tory Island one of the least inhabited islands in Ireland. But do not let the measly number of locals dispel you from taking a trip on this hidden paradise.
The island was ruled by a locally-elected king—King Patsy Dan Rodgers, who used to attract thousands of tourists with the island’s distinct mythologies and folklore and his music. Aside from the history of the island, dazzling cliffs also abound the area. As you make your way on top of Dún Bhaloir you will see pillars of cliffs that sets over Atlantic.
There are no cars on the island, but its compactness makes the villages easy to travel by foot while basking on the fresh sea breeze.
2. Grianán of Áileach
View this post on Instagram
This hilltop fortress will take you back to the time of ancient Celtic lore if you are looking for a short escapade a la Game of Thrones. The fortress was thought to have been erected by the Northern Uí Néill. Until it was discovered to be one of the royal sites of the Gaelic Island where the central powers of Kingdom of Ailech were held. Amidst its mysterious history, the fortress boasts of a captivating natural landscape, with soft green fields. Here you will find the long-coveted solitude you’ve been dreaming of.
3. Lough Eske Castle
View this post on Instagram
The modernized fairytale-like castle might be the long-awaited backdrop of your wedding. With its imposing 20th century architecture and its labyrinthine gardens, the site serves as a lodging place for well-to-do tourists. Or a wedding photographer’s haven. Lough Eske Castle is a 5-star and one of the best castle hotels Ireland. It is also one of the most recommended hotels in the country.
Aside from the castle hotel, you can also drop by in Lough Eske. A beautiful lake popular for claimed sightings of Lough Eske monster – a lake monster from folklore similar to Loch Ness monster.
Address: Castle, Lough Eske, Donegal, F94 HX59, Irela
Phone: +353 74 972 5100
4. Gola Island
View this post on Instagram
If you’re into rock climbing and bird watching leisure activities, then this secluded haven is for you. Found less than two kilometers from mainland Gaoth Dobhair (Gweedore), the island remained untouched until the 1960s, where small cottage families decided to reside in this paradise. The rich flora and fauna will satisfy bird-watchers and nature lovers. Outdoor activities include rowing, rock climbing on steadfast granite formations, and taking a slow stroll on the beaches.
5. Narin & Portnoo Beach
If you are planning to visit one of the top ten beaches in Ireland, then Narin & Portnoo Beach should be included in your list. With its calming waves and rosewood-colored sand, the entire cove itself speaks of serenity and peace. Sunrise and sunset photography, and strolling on the beach are popular among tourists. Aside from it, you can also check out the nearby restaurants and bars.
6. Donegal Castle
Donegal Castle or the O’Donnells castle is allegedly the fortress of Viking settlers in the 9th and 10th centuries. It is also where the royal family of O’Donnells ruled the Kingdom of Tir Chonaill. The historical fortress is subdivided into five equally-enthralling sections—the Manor House, the Tower House, the Trips Stairwell, the Ground Level Store Rooms, and the Garderobe. Fun activities include taking pictures, exploring, and learning more about Celtic lore and modern Irish history. If you’re looking for a Brontë-sisters getaway, then a trip to this Irish castle is for you.
Easter – Mid September
Daily. 10.00 – 18.00
Mid-September – Easter
Thursday – Monday
09.30 – 16.30
Last Admission: 45 minutes before closing
Average Length of Visit: 45 minutes – 1 hour
Address: Castle Street, Donegal Co. Donegal, F94 P996
Phone: +353 (74) 972 2405
7. Sliabh Liag Cliff
For an amateur or pro-mountaineer, or for people who simply like mountain-related activities, Sliabh Liag Cliff is a good spot to do some hiking. Just be sure to bring extra thick clothes as the temperature plummets as you ascend. This 2000-feet hike offers a magnificent view of the sea cliffs and one of the best views of the Wild Atlantic Way.
Address: Sliabh League, Cliffs Teelin, Carrick, Co. Donegal
Phone: +353 97 00000
8. Glenveagh National Park
This second largest national park in Ireland holds one of the most prestigious castles, whose beauty and history is unparalleled in the Celtic world—the Glenveagh Castle. It is quietly situated in the center of the national park. Perfect for a romantic retreat. Herds of the once-extinct red deer, rare and captivating fauna and two of the highest mountains in Donegal can be found in this wonderland. If you are looking for a fairytale-themed adventure, then you have found the right place to visit.
1st April – 31st October 2019
The visitor center is open from 9.15am to 5.30pm
Address: Glenveagh National Park Church Hill Letterkenny Co. Donegal
Phone: +353 76 100 2537
9. Dunree Bay
Being one of the most underrated beaches in Ireland, the Dunree bay deserves the commendations it receives from tourists and locals alike. The golden shores with its high silvery grasses are perfect for a family picnic. And the aquamarine vista will calm your most agitated senses. Take a stroll on top of An Dún Riabhach, or popularly known as Fort Dunree, a military museum that overlooks the great Northern Atlantic. You will learn the military history behind the towering fortifications during the Napoleonic wars. All of these learnings, while admiring the golden beach before you will make you feel definitely at home.
Monday – Friday from -10.30 am – 4.30 pm
Saturday & Sunday 12.00 pm – 5.00 pm
Adult – €7
Kids – €5
Seniors – €5
Family – €15
Group (10) – €3 each
Address: Dunree Linsfort Buncrana Co. Donegal
Phone: (074) 936 1817
10. Ballymastocker Bay
Nested in the shores of Lough Swilly, the Ballymastocker Bay stretches from Portsalon to Knockalla Hills. It is the same beach that was voted by the British Observer as the second most beautiful beach in the world. It is playful and inviting cerulean waves, the golden shores, and its un-matched 13 Blue Flag eco-labels makes this beach one of the safest and most excellently-managed beaches all over the globe. The Ballymastocker Bay is on par with the coves of Seychelles. So, what are you waiting for? Pack your swimwear and camera and enjoy one of the best beaches that Donegal can offer.