Your long-awaited vacation to Ireland is around the corner, and there are a number of things you do not want to miss. The country has earned fame from its green countryside, windswept emerald sceneries, welcoming clubs, and picturesque villages–and no place embodies these aspects of Ireland more than the area of Donegal.  

Located in the northern part of Ireland, Donegal is characterized as one of the country’s top tourist destinations because of the jagged limestone cliffs that define its landscape. Tourists love Donegal’s thousand-year-old history, ancient castles, rugged coastlines views, and accessibility to hiking trails. Its superb Gaelic hospitality will make you want to extend your vacation a while longer, feasting on its sublime Atlantic cuisine.

An Overview of Donegal’s History 

Donegal was traditionally known as Tír Chonaill (The Land of Conal). This ancient name originated from the Uí Neill clans who ruled over the region in the fifth century. Donegal was also renamed “Dun nan Gall” by the English, which means “Fort of the Foreigners” in 1607. However, the natives in Ireland commonly refer to this county by its traditional name. While Donegal is located in the north, it is not be be confused as a part of Northern Ireland. Due to mass emigration and the strong social and economic ties forged over generations, there are deep relations between natives from Donegal and Scotland.  

donegal ireland andrea palmberg
Photo by Andrea Palmberg.

Things to Do When You Visit Donegal 

It’s unlikely that you’ll get bored once you arrive in Donegal. Here are some of the things you can do to maximize your time while you are there.

Glenveagh National Park

There are many remarkable natural wonders in Donegal, but none can compare to the breathtaking wilds of Glenveagh National Park. Travel to the depths of the Derryveagh Mountains to find 16,000 hectares full of wild deer, magical oak woodlands, pristine lakes, and steep mountains. No trip to the park would be complete without visiting the haunted, four-story castle, as well. Make sure you build enough time into your itinerary to roam its halls. The park represents the haunt of fascinating animals and plants–before being converted into a national park in 1975, it was run as a private red deer forest.

Visit the Donegal Thatched Cottages

Turn the clock backwards and discover the unique experience of spending a night under a thatched roof. These traditional thatched cottages on the seafront of the Wild Atlantic Way are offered for rent and can be the perfect place to spend your special holiday night. The Donegal Thatch Cottages offer an opportunity to spend your honeymoon, family get-together, or off-season break on Crut Island. It’s an authentic way to stay on the island like locals have for hundreds of years.

Slieve League Cliffs

donegal ireland leighton smith
Photo by Leighton Smith.

Donegal has incredible cliffs that are the tallest in the entirety of Europe. Looking down at the Atlantic Ocean from the top of these cliffs is mesmerizing, as well as haunting and seductive. With an impressive 1,988-foot drop, these cliffs reward those who scale them with a memorable view. To experience this, you’ll have to take a breathtaking trip on the narrow One Man’s Pass trail. For those who fear this challenge, there is a more accessible trail from Bunglas to Malinbeg. 

Mount Errigal

Your visit to Donegal wouldn’t be complete without a trip to the beautiful Mount Errigal in Gweedore. This mountain is the tallest peak in the entire county and is also the steepest, highest, and farthest south of the “Seven Sisters” mountains. The mountain’s beauty can be appreciated in winter as well as summer. You’ll be missing out if you fail to check out this incredible natural attraction in Donegal. 

Glenevin Waterfall

The Glenevin Waterfall is a must-see attraction located in Clonmany, a brief one-and-a-half-mile hike across the woodlands. Along the way, you’ll find various picnic locations that blend in with the beautiful landscape. Additionally, there are multiple footbridges on your way to the waterfall located along the trail. The stepping stones make the trip even more fun and exciting when you visit this natural wonder tucked away from the nearby villages and towns. 

Malin Head

The Malin Head is another location worth visiting in Donegal. It is found on the Inishowen Peninsula, in the northernmost part of Ireland. The Dunalderagh, also known as Banbas Crown, is located at the tip, or headland. You will be treated to the most breathtaking views of the local scenery while here. Make a point of visiting the Marlin Head before wrapping up your trip. 

Donegal Railway Heritage Center

After you’ve had enough of the wild, it’s time to head back to the city and find out more about Donegal’s history. If you want to know how the county evolved over the past years, the best way to do this is at the Donegal Railway Heritage Centre. This museum is filled with historical artifacts, movies highlighting the railway transformation, photos, and much more. You’ll undoubtedly learn more information concerning the old station house and Donegal itself.

donegal ireland andrew ridley
Photo by Andrew Ridley.

How to Travel to Donegal

There are various ways you can get to Donegal, including taking a flight, bus, or car. Airlines such as Ryanair and AerLingus go for around 65 euros per trip, and can be helpful if you choose to fly. Alternatively, you can rent a car that takes approximately three hours from Dublin through Northern Ireland to Donegal. Bus services such as Euroline provide connections from other cities to Donegal for 60 euros one way. 

For those people who love traveling, adventure, and fun, Donegal is a great destination you need to visit at least once in your lifetime. 

Where are Ireland’s trees? This piece explores the history of the Emerald Isle’s lack of forests.

Header image by Philipp Baumann.