What to do in Donegal
The Wild Atlantic Way Donegal route is my favourite part of the world. This is the real wild west of Ireland. The Donegal coastline of the Wild Atlantic Way has everything for the visitor from lighthouses to cliffs to Star Wars filming locations. If you visit Ireland this is a must see and you will forever be changed by a visit to Donegal where they say “it’s different up here”.
Look for Fintra a sheltered sandy beach enjoyed by local kids and families. St. John’s Point with its lighthouse and crystal clear waters and one of the best diving spots in Ireland.
The stupendous cliffs at the Slieve League, stunning wild vistas and surfing beaches, pastoral landscapes strewn with rocks, and let’s not forget the mountains from Muckriss to snowcapped Errigal.
This top 10 is just a taste of what Donegal offers, you could spend a lifetime exploring the Wild Atlantic Way.
Places to visit in Donegal Ireland
1 St. John’s Point
To visit St. John’s Point you will have to drive quite a ways until you see Coral Beach which is small but perfect near to the end of the point. Drive pass by the beach and enter the gate that says Private Property, you don’t have to worry trespassing is not an issue here, from the beach you will drive down a very small trail road to the lighthouse itself and you can park on the side and walk down to the diving point. You cannot access the lighthouse as it is private property.
The views from the end of the point are spectacular, looking across Donegal Bay to the distinctive outline of Benbulben mountain in County Sligo, and to the nearby fishing port of Killybegs to one side and Bundoran on the other side.
2 Killaghtee Cross
Dunkineely a typical Irish village with its small shops and at the edge of the village on the Killybegs side there is an old church and graveyard at Killaghtee. In the graveyard, there is the Killaghtee Cross which is one of the oldest Celtic crosses in Ireland, dating from 650 AD. The Killaghtee Cross is a significant piece of Ireland’s Celtic heritage. This early Irish Celtic cross was a precursor to the elaborately crafted Celtic High Crosses, for which Ireland became famous with the adoption of Celtic Christianity.
It is believed to mark the grave of Saint Aédh who was an early Irish Christian Bishop and reputed miracle worker. It is said that he is descended from the Celtic High King of Ireland, Niall of the Nine Hostages.
The name ‘Killaghtee‘ comes from ‘Cill Leacht Aédh’, it means ‘church and tomb of Aédh’, in Gaelic. The Cross is inscribed with a large Maltese style cross and just beneath the cross (although you can’t make it out very well is a Celtic trinity knot, which is associated with Saint Brigid.
3 Megalithic Triple Wedge Tomb
Wedge tombs are believed to date from the late Neolithic to mid-Bronze Age and are approximately 4,000 to 4,500 years old. This wedge tomb can be found by driving into Dunkineely village and then taking the only right-hand turn in the village, you will see a small pine forest with a parking lot, take the path through the trees for a short walk and you will see the tombs. This kind of tomb apparently contains only one burial chamber, but the Dunkineely tomb has three which is unique to Ireland. The tomb was originally covered by a mound of stones called a ‘cairn’. Several of the cairn’s kerbstones are still in place.
4 Beltany Stone Circle
Near Raphoe you will find the Beltany, Stone Circle, to get to the circle you park your car at the Potato Centre of the Department of Agriculture and take a walk up a horse-path. Wear you wellies or good walking shoes as the path can get quite muddy and in the field, you are headed to there is lots of sheep poop. The stone circle sits on top of a small hill with superb views of the surrounding countryside. It has around 64 stones with a height of about 1.8 m and in the centre is what might have been a burial cairn.
The monument takes its name from the spring festival of Beltane, which has been celebrated by the lighting of fires on hilltops to symbolize a rekindling of the sun and a move into summer. The circle probably dates to the late Bronze Age, about 1400 to 800 BC. This area has been a place of ritual worship for thousands of years.
5 The Slieve League cliffs
These Cliffs are believed to be the highest in Europe and offer absolutely spectacular views and the rough and rugged landscape is a sight you must see before leaving Donegal. There are several ways up the mountain. In season there is a shuttle bus to take you to the top viewing point, but during quieter seasons you pass the second parking lot and enter the trail by car through the gate, simply close the gate behind you and drive up to the viewing point. The walk up from the second parking lot is around a kilometre and a half and is uphill all the way. There are no instructions anywhere but you are allowed to drive up beyond the gate which keeps the sheep in.
Further up the coast, you will find the Stone Fort of Grianán of Aileach which sits on a hilltop in Inishowen. The view from here is simply breathtaking. Lough Foyle and Lough Swilly can be seen as well as the entire peninsula. The sparkling waters of the Loughs in the distance and the breezes blowing through the Fort transport you and you can easily believe that this place has witnessed much of Ireland’s history.
6 An Grianan Fort
The origins of the Fort date back to around 1700 BC. It has always been connected to the Tuatha de Danann who invaded Ireland before the Celts and built stone forts on top of strategic hills. They worshipped Dagda (the Good God) and he too is associated with the origins of Aileach.
The Fort itself was built completely without mortar, the inside of the Fort has three terraces and it is believed that wooden structures were built around these to provide living areas. Legend has it that the Giants of Inishowen lie sleeping below the fort and that when the sacred sword is removed they will come back to life and reclaim their ancient lands.
Fully restored in the ’90s the Castle sits near the centre of Donegal Town. Built by the O’Donnell chieftains in the 15th Century, beside the river Eske in Donegal Town, Donegal Castle was rebuilt in Jacobean style in the 16th Century by Sir Basil Brooke, after Hugh O’Donnell burnt it to the ground rather than let it fall into enemy hands. Information panels chronicle the history of the castle and guided tours are available. The cost for a visit to the castle is €4.
8. Solis Lough Eske Castle Hotel
Enjoy a fabulous 5-star hotel stay in the restored Lough Eske Castle that was a vacant ruin about 15 years ago.
9 The Forge Pub Donegal Town
A great favourite with the locals this tiny little pub that hosts live music on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Fridays. It truly is a hidden gem in Donegal.
This is a great read on the 5 top things you can do in Donegal Town by Corinne and Jim of Reflectionsenroute.
10 The Castle Bar Donegal Town
A traditional Irish bar, frequented by many locals, it sits in the shadow of the Castle and is recommended by many of the locals.
If you take a trip further south on the Wild Atlantic Way you might like to stay at the Armada Hotel in Spanish Point its the perfect jumping off ground for touring the Cliffs of Moher and the Burren.
National Geographic voted Donegal the coolest place on the planet in 2017, so there is lots more to come.
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