Discovering Donegal

Hey guys! How are we? Hopefully wherever you are, Covid is starting to become a bit more manageable and you can feel a bit of normality starting to set it again. In my world, it’s starting to feel slightly pre-Coronavirus in the past couple of weeks. The beginning and, as I write this, currently on-going Galway International Arts Festival (Which will be discussed in a future blog post), the forthcoming Culture Night, bars planning to reopen and more things slowly being opened or reintroduced is just amazing to see and really helps ease away from the “Lockdown Blues”.  In the past couple of weeks and months, I’ve had the pleasure of using my time to discover more of Ireland. As stated in previous blogs, Staycationing appears to be the way forward for tourism, at least for the foreseeable. I’ve enjoyed seeing more of Ireland’s Wild Atlantic coast and seeing more natural beauty, really getting in touch with my region. As well as learning more about my county and province! The beginning of September was my most recent trip away. I took a spontaneous 2 Day trip up to Donegal. Sometimes known as “The Forgotten County”. I’ve lived close enough to Donegal and have visited the county a handful of times, whether through college, friends or to explore and I have never been disappointed with what Donegal has offered each time. Below is my Top 5 suggestions for where to go and what to do if you decide to Discover Donegal!    

1) Donegal Town

In my most recent escapade to Donegal, I found myself staying in Donegal Town and using it as a base to travel to different parts of the county. I have often traveled through but have never actually stopped and explored the town or surrounding areas. Donegal Town sits at the mouth of Donegal Bay and rests along the River Eske. As well, Donegal Town is overlooked by the famed Blue Stack Mountains situated in County Donegal. The center of the town itself is a great hub of activity. The town has a historic edge to it, having Donegal Castle, Donegal Abbey and the central Diamond all have historical significance. A lot of fun tourist activities can be done in Donegal Town. The Waterbus, which takes you along the river, into the Bay is a fun way to get to see the town from the water and get amazing views of the coast. A mix of history and culture lies within the Railway Heritage Center, which commemorates the operation of the Donegal Railway Committee. Really nearby also is the Donegal Craft Village which boasts a collective of arts and crafts from painting and printmaking to textiles and furniture. The town has a healthy offering of accommodation and food too. Having a number of Airbnb’s, hotels and great central hostels like the Donegal Town Independant Hostel, so the town has a range of accommodation for different types of travelers! The food service in the area is second to none. Fresh seafood is the must have in Donegal. Places like the Olde Castle and The Harbour Restaurant, both in the center of the town, offer incredible local produce, which is always a winner for me!

Not only is Donegal Town historic and scenic but its a great central point to explore the rest of Donegal. Based on the N15 and n56, it has great links that can take you anywhere from Derry, Dublin, Galway or even through to Enniskillen. The small but packed town is a must stop town when exploring the County. If you have the time to spare, spend a night or two, it’s definitely worth it!  

2) Slieve League / Glencolmcille

A definite MUST for visiting County Donegal.  A lot of tourists claim that the Slieve League cliffs are a lot nicer than the Cliffs of Moher. I think they are both incredible landmarks along the Wild Atlantic Way and you can’t help but catch yourself for a moment when you’re overlooking the ocean. Definitely a “Wow” moment, when you climb Slieve League. Slieve League and Glencolmcille is an amazing day trip to make when in the area. On my recent trip to Donegal, we availed of Walking Ireland services to take us to the area, our guide, John McGrory, was incredible. An almost 6 hour day trip that thought us the history of the area and the different features of Slieve League. I like natural surroundings and getting to see places like Slieve League, as for me, it can really be a highlight of a trip. **A Tip for the climb: Wear appropriate footwear, shoes with grip. If it rains at all, the stone steps can be like ice! I was like bambi on my way down**   On the way to Slieve League, be sure to check out the Slieve League Visitor Center, just before Carrick. You can indulge in a little sweet treat and get a look at some of the landmarks to look out for, as well as info on the flora and fauna, which I found pretty cool!  

Glencolmcille is not too far away from the mountain, An Irish-speaking part of Donegal, Glencolmcille is located in the Gaeltacht area. Translated in English as “The Valley of Colm Cille”, the village is named after one of Ireland’s patron saints, Saint Colm Cille as he and his followers resided in the area for a time. Similar to Donegal Town, Glencolmcille has a cute craft village which is based around old Irish-style thatched cottages. It is a great point to see the biggest map of Ireland, crafted out of stone produced in each of the 32 counties of Ireland. On our adventure through the area, we stopped in this village and was super close to the nearby Glen Head Beach! A great little stop for a cup of tea on your adventure!   I highly recommend taking a spin through this area and taking in all the natural sites.  

3) Bundoran

You may remember Bundoran from my 5 Towns of Ireland post, it’s that good that it definitely deserves a second mention. Bundoran is a great adventure hub in the county. It is a proper adventure tourist destination, offering visitors the chance to surf, swim, paddle board and all other kinds of water based adventure. The town is situated along the N15 road and connects to the main hubs like Letterkenny and Sligo, so it is also a great place to base your adventures in Donegal around. Not only is Bundoran a great place to seek adventure but it’s also a great place to engross yourself in the cultural delights of Donegal. Bundoran plays host to a lot of great Irish musical events, which I hope will be able to resume in the near future. Irish Country is very popular in this area and is a renowned destination for this style of music, Similar to Donegal Town, being a coastal town, Bundoran is a haven for people who enjoy fresh seafood! It’s certainly on the top of my list of places to try surfing in Ireland, and for those who like a mix of culture and adventure, Bundoran is definitely a place to add to your list!  

2) Letterkenny

Letterkenny is, from what I’ve experienced, the commerical capital of Donegal. I’ve spend time in Letterkenny a couple of times and each time I’ve loved it. The nightlife is great, the shopping is pretty good and it’s just a fun place to be!   Letterkenny is a great place to be, if you’re transient in your travels. A fun place to experience the energetic lifestyle of Donegal and experience the culture. Similarly to other parts of Donegal, Letterkenny is quite scenic too. The town lies on the River Swilly, giving it access to the water. 2015’s Tidiest Town, Letterkenny is a beautiful stop to make on a journey through Donegal. It is a close access point to Derry and to Northern Ireland, it is a cultural and economic hub with it’s quality of shopping and cultural activities and it is also a historic hub being a market town during the Ulster Plantation and it’s role and various battles.  A definite must stop if you’re looking for some retail therapy on your trip!  

1) Malin Head/Derry

I’m adding Malin Head and Derry to this list as both are iconic places to check out on a trip through the “Forgotten County”. That being said, Malin Head has been an elusive landmark for me to witness and is definitely the reason I will return to Donegal as I have yet to witness it. The most Northern point of Ireland is the famed Malin Head. Malin Head lies in the Inishowen area and is just ahead of the Black Mountain. This area is of historical and meteorological significance with Malin Head being the base of a weather station which is crucial for shipping forecasts as well as the weather. The views from Malin Head are said to be next to none and with it being the most Northerly point of the Wild Atlantic Way, I feel like it is definitely a must see. In my recent trip to Derry, it was quite difficult to gain access to Malin Head via public transport fron Donegal Town as there wasn’t many public tours or transport heading that way, due to Covid’s impact on tourism and the risk involved with tours. That being said, with enough planning it is possible to get to Malin Head with a number of bus connections, so it is advisable, if possible, to drive to Malin Head! Being in Letterkenny and Malin Head, it would be ill-advised of anyone traveling in North East Donegal to not grace Derry with their presence with it being so close. Derry is a wonderful place to check out. A former UK City of Culture, Derry is a vibrant, cultural and historic place to behold. For anyone that is a fan, Derry Girls is based in this city and for me, that is more than enough reason to visit!

So that was my list of places I’d recommend visiting if you’re considering a staycation in Ireland or, when borders open properly, are planning a trip to the emerald Isle. The county boasts amazing scenery, food and is packed with culture!   For those who have been and experienced Donegal, what do you think? I’d love to hear your feedback!

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