Around Donegal Town
Donegal Town's location where the River Eske flows into Donegal Bay makes it the perfect base to explore the wild and inviting north-west. From here you can head north through Barnesmore Gap to the tip of Malin or West to Killybegs and beyond. But first, make time to explore the heritage town itself.
The 'Diamond' is the centre of activity, where you can potter around the shops, pick up some Donegal tweed at Magee or check out the many restaurants and bars. A wee spin out the road (as the locals put it), Donegal Craft Village is also worth a stop for its traditional crafts designed by local makers.
The O’Donnell chieftains ruled over Donegal in the 14th century and their ancestral home, Donegal Castle still sits on the bank on the River Eske, ready to explore. Keep your eyes peeled for the castle's hidden tunnels, which according to locals, run to the nearby abbey. The Olde Castle Bar across the road is an ideal spot for a post-tour drink and its seafood platter is a popular pick.
A few minutes’ walk down Quay Street you can hop onboard the Donegal Bay Waterbus for a memorable cruise past historical sites like the Hassans, from which coffin ships embarked during Famine times. You'll also get a great view of a seal colony that's home to roughly 200 harbour and Atlantic seals.
As you might expect, there are some great walks all around Donegal Town so look out for waymarked trails like the Bank Walk running along Donegal Bay or the Ardnamona Woodland Walk which takes you on a loop through the native oak forest at Lough Eske.
From Donegal Town travel west along the coast with amazing views of Donegal Bay. As you pass through Dunkineely take a left down a narrow peninsula and you’ll reach St John's Point Lighthouse, one of two lighthouses in Donegal where you can stay for a night.
As you continue north-west you’ll travel through the bustling fishing town of Killybegs which is perfect for a pitstop. The Killybegs Seafood Shack is a good shout for its famous fresh fish and chips.
Slieve League (Sliabh Liag)
Just 30 minutes further along the coast from Killybegs, you’ll reach the magical Slieve League (Sliabh Liag). With some the highest sea cliffs in Europe, 600m above the raging Atlantic Ocean, it’s a hiker's paradise that isn’t short of stunning viewpoints.
The 3km Pilgrim's Pass is a popular trail or test your head for heights on the aptly-named One Man's Pass. The Glencolmcille Loop between Sliabh Liag and Sliabh Tuaidh is littered with megalithic tombs and a perfect route for experienced walkers.
Back the road in Carrick you’ll find the Sliabh Liag Distillers, the first distillery to open in the county since 1841 and it's already made waves with its distinctive An Dulaman seaweed gin. Take a tour and sample its craft spirit to get a real flavour of the place.
A short hop from Carrick you’ll arrive in the area of South Donegal that locals call “In Through", although no one can remember why. The Gaeltacht area of Glencomcille (Gleann Cholm Cille) offers some of the county's most striking scenery.
Visit the Folk Village perched above the sandy curve of Glenbay beach to find out more about what life was like. Or venture slightly further to uncover a real secluded spot, the village of An Port, abandoned since the famine and nestled in a dramatic cove that features sheer cliffs, sea stacks and some glorious walks.
While you’ll be amazed at the coastal scenery in west Donegal, the Inishowen Peninsula in the north east of the county is just as beautiful and otherworldly. Here you can explore Ireland's most northerly point, Malin Head, which featured in Star Wars: The Last Jedi.
Head as far north as you can and you'll reach the Tower at Banba's Crown, an old lookout post for the British. A recently-developed coastal walk behind the Tower takes in the area's churning waves, craggy cliffs and unique rock formations like Hell's Hole. Warm up afterwards with a coffee or hot chocolate at Caffe Banba.
As you return from Malin along the coast overlooking Lough Swilly take the winding clifftop road to Dunree Head and marvel at the sea views before continuing on to Burnfoot. Just outside the town make time to explore the newly-opened Wild Ireland wildlife sanctuary which has brought wolves and bears back to Ireland along with lynx and wild boar.
On the way back towards Letterkenny, don't miss the breathtaking views at Grianán of Aileach. They say that the legendary Tuatha de Danann built this impressive stone ringfort on a hilltop outside Burt, at the base of Inishowen. Dating back to 1700BC, you can see five counties from its walls on a clear day.
If you have more time in Co. Donegal
Explore the full route along the Inishowen 100, a 160km loop road (named for its approximate distance in miles) that hugs the peninsula's coastline and showcases its best bits.
Climb a sea stack
Or if you want to really challenge yourself, climb one of Donegal's many sea stacks with climbing legend, Iain Miller of Unique Ascent. You’ll never forget the view on these rocky outcrops that only a handful of brave people have ever seen.