How can you be in the ‘south’ of Ireland and yet be further north than the most northern part of Northern Ireland? By being in Donegal.
It’s remote and wild but that’s the attraction – National Geographic Traveller magazine even voted it the coolest place on the planet last year.
Want to know how to get the most of out this beautiful region? Here are 10 great ways to enjoy your trip.
1. Cycle the Wild Atlantic Way
This stretches for 1,500 miles along Ireland’s western seaboard, from Malin Head in County Donegal to Kinsale in County Cork. But you don’t have to pedal that far – Donegal’s rugged coastline will be a challenge for the fittest cyclist.
2. Play golf
Donegal boasts two of the best links courses in Ireland: Ballyliffin and Rosapenna. Ballyliffin is the most northerly golf club in Ireland and it has two courses, the Old Links and the Glashedy Links; the latter is set to host the Irish Open for the first time from July 5 to 8. Rosapenna, near Sheephaven Bay, has been established since 1891 when Old Tom Morris of St Andrews designed the original links course. Rosapenna’s intimidating Sandy Hills course, meanwhile, opened in 2003.
3. Tour the Inishowen Peninsula
After you cross the Foyle river in Derry, you’ll see the brown road signs saying ‘Innis Eoghan 100’, which means you’re on the 100-mile circuit of the Inishowen Peninsula – locals like to call it their version of the Ring of Kerry.
Head towards Malin Head, the most northerly point of Ireland. Your first Blue Flag beach will be at Greencastle. Head further north west from the beach and you’ll also hit the stone circle at Bocan and the megalithic Temple of Deen.
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The main town on the Peninsula is Buncrana, with its 5km sandy beach. It’s also home to theFort Dunree Military Museum and the ferry to Rathmullan. From here, in summer, you can get quicker access to lovely Ballymastocker Bay on Lough Swilly and Sheephaven Bay – stay at the four-star Rosapenna Hotel & Golf Resort, which has 60 rooms and suites and a leisure centre complete with an indoor pool, sauna and steam room.
Other highlights include the Gap of Mamore – a pass between Urris and Buncrana, with a holy well and a statue of Mary – and the view over Five Fingers Strand from Knockammany Bens.
Ever wanted to stay in a lighthouse? There’s a newly renovated one at Fanad, with three self-catering cottages. The views are incredible and, if you’re lucky, you might see whales and dolphins. You can climb the lighthouse tower itself, though it’s at the discretion of the manager so be nice to him!
One of the most popular spa hotels in Donegal is the four-star Ballyliffin Lodge and Spa, with its 40 rooms, Spa Signature and views out to Pollan Bay. Golfers looking to tackle Ballyliffin Golf Club’s challenging holes will find a warm welcome here too.
Donegal is famous for its chowders and even hosts a chowder championship every year in Killybegs. Last year, Nancy’s Barn in Ballyliffin represented Donegal at the World Chowder Cook Off in Rhode Island, New York – and won. Other delicacies to try include Mulroy Bay mussels at Cranford.
6. Walk the beaches
If the golf at Ballyliffin isn’t enough, stroll from the village to Pollan Bay, at the end of which you’ll find the ruins of the 16th century Carrickabraghy Castle and views of Glashedy Rock. Other Blue Flag beaches on Peninsula include Culdaff and Strove.
7. Get crafty
The Inishowen Craft Trail includes The Old Sea Dog Gallery in Downings, near Rosapenna, which also sells ocean-related gifts. Think anything, really, from maritime books to canned fish. For textiles and sculptures, head to McNutt of Donegal in Downings, located in the building where the first weaving factory in Ireland was built in 1950, or Inishowen Bogwood Sculptures.
8. Head to Malin Head
The head features Banba’s Crown, named after the mythical goddess of Ireland, and featured in Star Wars: the Last Jedi. It’s also a great spot for photographing the Northern Lights. Malin Head is an ideal spot, too, for spotting gannets, skuas, and other seabirds on their southward migration flights.
9. Go surfing
Yes, it’s freezing cold in there, but many a hardened surfer has donned a wetsuit and headed for Ballyheran Bay. Jaws Watersports look after surfers at Sheephaven while Inishowen Surf is at Buncrana. Away from the Peninsula, Bundoran in the southwest of Donegal has hosted world-class surfing competitions while beginners might want to try Rossnowlagh.
10. Go horse riding
When you hit Tullagh Bay at low tide expect to see groups on horseback of all ages galloping across its golden sands. Further inland, the Cooley Equestrian Centre offers hillside hacking, obstacle training and pony days.
Fly into Belfast City or International airports, then it’s a two-hour drive via Derry. There are more limited flights via City of Derry Airport and Donegal Airport on Aer Lingus via Birmingham and Dublin.