Donegal: Nature, Islands & Northern Lights
If you love nature, a friendly welcome and vibrant people, this Irish-speaking area is sure to appeal; there's even the chance to see the Northern Lights as you explore rugged coastlines and quiet inhabited islands.
Island life: The coast of Donegal is dotted with stunning inhabited islands where visitors can go to relax, away from the bustle of the modern city.
Situated 12km off north Donegal, Tory Island (Toraigh) is the most remote of Ireland's inhabited islands, with local traditional music, dance, song and storytelling still very much part of daily life. The island also retains many ancient customs, such as appointing the island king or Rí Thoraí. Walking trails, such as the Tory Island Loop, offer spectacular views and places to visit include a round tower that protected against Viking raids, the ruins of St Colmcille's monastery (6th century), as well as breeding grounds for rare bird life and wild flower species; for those who prefer the sea, there is plenty of fishing and diving available. The largest of County Donegal's islands, Aranmore is wild and rugged, with stunning cliff top scenery, sea caves for exploring and golden sandy beaches. The small Inch Island connects to the mainland in Lough Swilly, and is home to migratory birds and wintering waterfowl.
Meanwhile, Gola Island is 328 hectares of peace and quiet that attracts for artists, birdwatchers, photographers, walkers and rock climbers. Inishbofin Island lies 3km off the coast and is a haven for bird life, including peregrine falcons and the elusive corncrake. Also boasting sweeping sandy beaches, rugged cliffs and hidden caves, it's the perfect spot for an active holiday or romantic hideaway. Island Roy is yet another magical retreat from the hectic world. Only 65 hectares in size, it is well off the tourist track and so secluded, it isn't always shown on maps! Insider tip: access the island by tidal causeway when the tide is low.
Thought to be the oldest town in Ireland, and the location of the Battle of Ballyshshannon in 1247, this is the perfect stop off for exploring Abbey Asseroe, Catsby Cave and St Patrick's Well, as well as two fully restored mills for a slice of the past.
Visit the Donegal Railway Heritage Centre in Donegal Town to learn what travelling on the narrow gauge railways of County Donegal used to be like. For those of you who love natural beauty, the Donegal Garden Trail offers 26 private and publicly owned gardens for visitors throughout the gardening season. Visit Donegal castle, a restored 15th Century Norman tower house, for some history and charm; it's located in the centre of the town and very easy to find. Nearby Lough Eske is the perfect spot for a stroll, and for those needing some pampering, there's a world-class spa to indulge in. For something different, hire a car and check out the deserted famine village of Port, followed by a spectacular cliff walk. Donegal is well know for its hand woven Donegal tweed, so visit the town of Ardara, Co Donegal and why not take home a souvenir of these locally produced goods. Donegal surrounded by the views of the Blue Stack mountains presents some beautiful rugged scenery.
Meaning ‘a small river mouth', this is the smallest Gaeltacht (Irish speaking) village in the county, and a pretty stop on the Wild Atlantic Way. Visit the harbour, get a bite to eat, and listen to some traditional music in a small but friendly traditional village.
A wildly exposed headland, Fanad Peninsula lies between Lough Swilly and Mulroy Bay. The iconic Fanad Head lighthouse (it's higher than the Eiffel Tower) is a must visit spot, guaranteed to enthral all ages, and the surrounding beaches such as award-winning Ballymastocker, and gorgeous scenery will delight nature lovers. You're highly likely to see grey seals, or perhaps even a breaching whale, as you visit lovely coves on the western shore. Moross Castle, steeped in history and legend, is thought to have sheltered shipwreck survivors from the Spanish Armada and is well worth a visit.
There is plenty to see in this wonderful town, from Newmills, one of the largest functioning corn mill water wheels in Ireland, to the stunning neo-Gothic Victorian Cathedral with its ornate ceilings and floors. If you fancy a drive out to see spectacular art, head to Glebe House and Gallery (17 km away) and view the Derek Hill collection containing 300+ works including Picasso. Step back in time with a visit to Glenveagh Castle, a romantic retreat (24km north west) and visit the area's gorgeous national park for cycling, hiking, picnics; a great choice for couples, outdoor enthusiasts and families. Open year and with free entry, the Victorian gardens are really beautiful and worth spending an hour or two exploring. To learn more about the local area, let Donegal County Museum in the heart of Letterkenny enthral you with its exhibits and artefacts, and for excellent views over Lough Swilly and Whale Head, head to the locals' favourite, Manorcunningham View.
Clonmany and Ballyliffin located on the most northerly peninsula in Donegal where relaxation and enjoyment abound. One will be presented with outstanding scenery with lots of historic places along the way.
This is a very beautiful part of Donegal, with breathtaking scenery, ideal for walkers and take in the stunning Slieve League Peninsula. Vist the ruins of the church set up by St Columba, the many standing stones and Christian crosses.
A commercial fishing port, this is well worth a stop for some local hospitality, great food and a look at modern life on the seas. Visit the Maritime Museum and Planetarium in the old coastguard station, near the Lough Foyle ferry landing, to gaze at the stars and learn about history and legend under the ocean. Nearby Kinnagoe Bay (4km) is a small stretch of beach with a sloping hillside backdrop, perfect for a stroll or a picnic.
Situated on a hilltop 250m above sea level, Grianán of Aileach stone fort is the most famous monument in Inishowen. The view from the stone fort is breathtaking, and of you venture to the nearby town of Carndonagh, you will find another iconic monument; the Cross of St Patrick. One of the most important early-Christian relics, it is found in the grounds of a church founded by Ireland's patron saint.
If the sea fascinates you, whether you like to be on land or on the water, this is the place for you; visit Malin Head Shipwrecks for details on the ocean liners and German U-boats that sank in this area. At the top of the Inishowen peninsula is Ireland's most northerly point and it is the best place in the country to see the northern lights, thanks to the lack of light pollution.
A picturesque town on the shores of the Atlantic, with stunning beaches nearby such as Fintra Bay (5 km) and dune-lined Culdaff beach. Meanwhile, Killybegs Maritime & Heritage Centre offers a unique insight into the fishing and carpet making history for those of you who like some local history.
One of the highest cliffs in Europe, hike to the top of the Slieve League Cliffs to immerse yourself in some of the highest and finest views of the Atlantic Ocean, Sligo Mountains and Donegal Bay. The award-winning family run Slieve League Centre will enthral you with its knowledge of local food, crafts and crafts – you can also take one of their excellent tours (including archaeology, heritage, boating) for a truly spectacular day out. For an authentic souvenir, Donegal tweed has been hand woven here for centuries, and you can see spinners at work in the Studio Donegal (Kilcar). Take a boat trip on the ocean in search of whales, dolphins and basking sharks – fun for all the family.