Escape to Donegal
A trip to Donegal feels a little like journeying to the edge of the world. Situated in Ireland’s remote north west, it features the island’s most northern point at Malin Head and is further isolated by its wild landscape and jagged coastline. But look carefully and you’ll see plenty of life amidst its mountains, fjords and lakes.
Popular seaside resorts such as Bundoran and Buncrana buzz with holidaymakers. Busy fishing ports such as Killybegs and Greencastle echo with the calls of hungry gulls. And in the west of the county, you’ll find Ireland’s largest Gaeltacht (Irish-speaking) area where you can immerse yourself in Irish culture and music. In fact, Donegal is the perfect place to discover what makes Ireland special.
As all travellers know, there are rewards for venturing off the beaten track and Donegal offers resounding proof. Take Glenveagh National Park in the north of the county. It's home to the gorgeous Glenveagh Castle and Gardens, but visitors can also hike, cycle or camp to their heart’s content around the park.
The backdrop to all of this is the stunning Derryveagh Mountain range which frames the valley and calls to mind the haunting landscapes of Middle Earth in JRR Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings novels. So wild is the landscape here, that golden eagles have successfully been reintroduced to the skies over Lough Veagh.
Walk amongst the clouds
The one thing you must do while in County Donegal is venture out to the stunning Slieve League peninsula. Stretching from Donegal town towards the Gaeltacht (the Irish language is predominantly spoken here) village of Glencolmcille, you’ll rarely have much traffic to contend with.
This is one of the many highlights of the Wild Atlantic Way, the breathtaking coastal touring route that runs from Donegal to Cork, and the road literally runs out at the show-stopping Slieve League cliffs.
Dropping 600 metres into Donegal Bay, they’re amongst the tallest in western Europe. See them up close by taking an unforgettable hike, or try the Sliabh Liag Boat Tour, where you can even swim in the Atlantic Ocean at the foot of the cliffs!
Want to catch some waves? Bundoran was named one of the top 20 surf destinations in the world by National Geographic, and is a place where a passion for pubs, music and surf culture collides. You’ll find a similar ethos at Rossnowlagh, Dunfanaghy and on the Fanad and Inishowen Peninsulas.
Of course, surfing is only the start of the outdoor options. Try salmon fishing, diving in Donegal Bay, rock-climbing on offshore islands, or hiking along bluffs and hills.
In the summer, join the locals at the Rory Gallagher Tribute Festival in Ballyshannon or enjoy the surfing and music at Sea Sessions, where the hottest acts in music descend on Bundoran for a weekend.
County Donegal is the wild child of Ireland and home to some of its most ravishingly sublime scenery and beautiful beachesLonely Planet
What else can I do?
For a more sedate adventure, you can spend a day window-shopping around Donegal town. Golfers can test their skills at the Bundoran Golf Course, or at one of the many other links courses that can be found all along this stretch of the Wild Atlantic Way. You can even take a short drive further down the coast towards County Sligo or head east to visit the Walled City of Derry~Londonderry in Northern Ireland.
And an evening is best spent strolling along one of Donegal's numerous Blue Flag beaches whilst admiring the impressive Atlantic coast. You won’t want for fresh air in the north west!
Donegal is Ireland’s fourth-largest county (after Cork, Galway and Mayo), so perhaps all this diversity isn’t so surprising. Take the Inishowen Peninsula, it’s one of the few places in Ireland that you’ll be able to see the dazzling lights of the Aurora Borealis (Northern Lights), thanks to the isolated landscapes free from light pollution.
Perhaps these mystical lights are what inspired Hollywood to bring the stars to Earth, and film parts of Star Wars: Episode VIII here at Malin Head, and across various locations in Ireland!
An island fit for a king
14.5 kilometres off the northwest coast is Tory Island, a place with its own distinct identity where islanders still talk of “travelling to Ireland”. The island boasts a rich heritage and folklore in which shipwrecks, the Spanish Armada, the distilling of poitín (Irish moonshine), smuggling and violent storms all feature prominently. You can reach Tory by the Tory Island ferry which departs Magheroarty three times a day. Make the trip, and you can expect a warm welcome!
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