Trip idea: fill your heart with Bundoran

Bundoran, County Donegal

Big waves and bigger cliffs: Bundoran doesn't do anything on a small scale

If music makes the heart sing, Bundoran is a symphony like no other. Between the song of the sea, crashing in rolling waves to the shore; and the chorus of countless bands that grace this town for the Sea Sessions festival each year, Bundoran is the perfect balance of nature's notes meeting human harmonies. Get ready to sing along.

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There's simply no better way to appreciate the wild power of the Atlantic ocean than by taking to the waves.

A driving 5 mins
The Fairy Bridges

Taking to the town

Perched right up at the top of the Wild Atlantic Way, County Donegal is an easy trip from Belfast. Within a couple of hours, the high energy of Titanic city will be a distant memory, as the sprawling beauty of the north west reveals itself. This is where the Country Music Festival kicks off each year, attracting country-lovers from across the island to what Lonely Planet calls a "ravishingly sublime" corner of Ireland. Add to that the fact that legendary guitarist, Rory Gallagher was born just a stone's throw away in Ballyshannon, and the musical pedigree of this place chimes ever more clearly.

If you have more time

A short stroll outside the town, you'll find the Fairy Bridges: a network of ancient stretches of rock that was once Bundoran's original tourist attraction, believed for centuries to have been haunted by fairies. Nearby is the legendary Wishing Chair – where visiting world champion surfer, Kelly Slater himself once took a seat on a trip to conquer the Donegal waves.

B driving 5 mins
Sea Sessions Festival

Surf's up!

The most popular surf spot in Bundoran – and one of the most favoured in Ireland – is known as The Peak. A reef break, this is one for more experienced surfers – so if you count yourself in that category, you're in for a treat. For beginners, check out the much-loved beach breaks at Rossnowlagh and Rosses Point – safe bets for great surfing. And if you don't fancy experiencing those surfing thrills for yourself, you can always just stay on shore and watch! For anyone seeking to meet others chasing the waves in the self-titled surf capital of Ireland, head to the Bundoran Surf Co: a stay in this surf shop slash B&B comes complete with access to an all-night communal chill-out room, for anyone left riding a wave of adrenaline after a day spent on the water.

Come at festival time

The Sea Sessions Surf Music Festival is a unique way to experience the Wild Atlantic Way and was named best festival in Ireland in 2016.

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Bundoran Golf Club
Bundoran Golf Club

Great views, greater game

Founded in 1894, Bundoran Golf Club is one of Ireland's oldest courses. A challenging 18-hole, Par 70 course, it was designed by Harry Vardon – legendary golfer and record-holding six-time winner of The Open. A round here benefits from the spectacular, sweeping Atlantic views, often dotted by a surfer or two – just make sure you don't take your eye off the ball.

Bundoran to Sligo

The stretch between Bundoran and Sligo is filled with as much manmade beauty as natural wonders.

D driving 20 mins
Mullaghmore Head

Pretty as a picture

It's easy to lose your heart to Mullaghmore Head; to imagine chucking it all in, ditching your ticket home and setting up camp in County Sligo. The views here will never leave you: from Classiebawn Castle silhouetted against the sunset, to the seafoam slipping silkily up the sandy white beach, to the windsurfers zipping like lightning along the horizon... all set against the mighty backdrop of Ben Bulben, one of Ireland’s most famous mountains. Whether you're a thrill-seeking surfer yourself, or simply a spectator, there are more than enough reasons to make a stop at Mullaghmore on your coastal tour.

If you have more time

Watching sheepdogs at work is to witness magic – and Martin Feeney's Atlantic Sheepdogs, herding sheep on a farm overlooking Streedagh Beach, will have you spellbound.

E driving 23 mins
Lissadell House

Stately elegance

Built in the 1830s, Lissadell House is like many a neo-classical mansion in Ireland: grand, refined and beautifully preserved. But unlike anywhere else, Lissadell is where Irish revolutionary, Constance Markievicz and her suffragist sister, Eva Gore-Booth grew up – and where their long-time friend, poet WiIlliam Butler Yeats, often retreated. Today, the historic estate is home to the family of Edward Walsh and Constance Cassidy, who have restored it to its former glory. The house, its gardens and tea rooms are open to the public for certain periods each year, with exhibitions on key figures from Irish history taking place periodically.

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Glencar, County Sligo
Glencar, County Sligo

Step into Yeats' country

If you position yourself carefully at a certain point on the roadside, feet hip distance apart, you will find yourself in two places at once. This is Glencar Lake, at the border of counties Sligo and Leitrim – a place rooted in nature but possessed of an otherworldly quality. For it was by this lake and its "pools among the rushes / that scarce could bathe a star" that WB Yeats was inspired to write his beloved poem, "The Stolen Child". Bring a pen and paper when you get here – you never know what the sheer beauty of such a place might stir in your heart.

If you have more time

Stretch your legs with a hike through the Dartry Mountains – you'll find Ben Bulben in this range, said to be the legendary resting place of Diarmuid and Gráinne, the Romeo and Juliet of Irish folklore.

Bundoran to Fermanagh

From activity breaks to romantic retreats, the stretch between Bundoran and Fermanagh has something for everyone

G driving 14 mins
Devenish Island

Still standing tall

Nestled quietly on Lower Lough Erne, you could easily miss Devenish Island if you're not looking for it. Unfortunately, throughout history, Devenish has been a victim of its own popularity: settled by Saint Molaise, who established a monastery here in the 6th century, it was subsequently plundered by invading Vikings. After a painstaking restoration and rebuild – at which point, the impressive round tower was constructed – the settlement was burned to the ground in the 12th century. Thankfully, today's visitors are much friendlier, and the medieval art, carved stonework and gothic architecture that survived centuries of attack are on display for all to see.

If you have more time

Stay in the Bubble Domes at Finn Lough and enjoy a night spent under the stars, protected from the elements and in your very own bubble.

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Lough Erne Golf Resort
Lough Erne Golf Resort

FORE – no, five stars!

One of Ireland's top golf resorts – and in the top 100 of the UK and Ireland – Lough Erne benefits immeasurably from the staggering beauty of its surroundings. Set within the Fermanagh Lakelands, visitors can enjoy acres of lush landscapes all set against the backdrop of Castle Hume Lough and Lower Lough Erne. The 36-hole, two-course club was designed by six-time major winner, Nick Faldo and counts none other than Rory McIlroy as its touring pro. Will you be next to play a round?

If you have more time

The Bluestack Way is a tranquil, 65km National Waymarked Trail, inhabited by wild deer, pheasants and rabbits. Hikers can tackle all or part of the route, or choose to take a break for a night in the friendly Bluestack Centre.

Bundoran to Slieve League

Expect dramatic views and traditional heritage as you journey between Bundoran and the imposing Slieve League cliffs.

I
Slieve League cliffs

At the edge of the world

They are among the highest sea cliffs in Europe, but it's difficult to imagine what that looks like, or how the sight will make you feel. It's not until you reach the top of Slieve League and stand near – but not too close! – to the edge, that the majesty of the 609m drop really begins to sweep over you.

It's not just the height, either; it's the panoramic views of Donegal Bay and the Sligo Mountains; the impossibly narrow One Man's Pass, which loops past the viewing point and around onto the Pilgrim's Path. It's the feeling you get when you stare at Mother Nature's canvas of sapphire blue sea and slay-grey cliffs and know you're witnessing perfection. It's no wonder National Geographic Traveller voted Donegal the coolest place on the planet.

If you have more time

Call into Glencolmcille Folk Village: the quaint, humble thatched cottages are exact replicas of the types of houses occupied by the people of Ireland in centuries past and give a valuable glimpse into a way of life now long gone.

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