Friday, August 26, 2011


I decided to compare Donegal with the other tourist destinations in Ireland and I found I agreed with myself, Donegal is the best place in Ireland! 

Why?  Well the object is not to put down other areas of Ireland but rather to offer an option and show that just this one area of Ireland, County Donegal, can at the very least match the famous tourist destinations of Ireland both in beauty and magnificence.

Beautiful Donegal
Read on and take a trip with me from Dublin to Donegal and on to the Giant's Causeway and Belfast and back to Dublin to find out why and see too how your trip to Ireland could be made more compact whilst still seeing a lot of what Ireland, and Donegal, has to offer. 

So, let's begin our tour starting off in Dublin.  Spend a day in Dublin and take in The Guinness Storehouse, Kilmainham Gaol and afterwards, Glasnevin Cemetery and Museum (do the tour and see the graves of some of Ireland’s most famous men and women), the National Museum of Ireland where amongst many, many things to see you can see the uniform worn by Michael Collins, and while there don't forget to pay a visit to Croppys Acre in front of it, and of course the Book of Kells in Trinity College. Two days in Dublin will give you ample time to see all those plus some extras such as perhaps the Viking Splash Tour, or a walking tour of Dublin, or the excellent Literary Tour in the evening or for the braver and fun, the Ghost Bus Tour.

Two and a half hours will take you to Donegal and on the way you could stop off at the ancient site of Newgrange and the Hill of Tara and maybe even visit the birthplace and grave of Patrick Kavanagh.

So, let’s compare Donegal with other popular tourist destinations and things to do in Ireland.


Birthplace of St. Colmcille
The birth place of St. Colmcille (who was involved in the worlds first every copyright case from whence the saying "to every cow it's calf" came), the famous saint whose monks later produced The Book of Kells.  In Donegal you can visit the place of his birth at Gartan and then the place he was first educated (Kilmacrennan), together with any of the many places associated with this saint in Donegal.  On the way to Donegal from Dublin you could also visit Kells where St. Colmcille founded a monastery.


A section of the cliffs on Tory Island
In Donegal we have many cliffs to visit, the most famous of which are probably the cliffs at Sliabh Liag (Slieve League) which at 1,972 feet, are the highest sea cliffs in Europe and offer sensational views (and it’s FREE to visit). You could even take a boat trip from nearby Teelin and view the majesty of these cliffs from the sea below.  And speaking of boat trips you could take the ferry to the beautiful island, Tory Island, which has cliffs that are second to none in Ireland.

View from Banaba's Crown, Ireland's most northerly point
And speaking of cliffs ... there can be no better place to stand and take in the bracing Atlantic air than at Ireland's most northerly point, Banba's Head at Malin Head.   


Donegal has many thousand acres of spectacular countryside unspoiled by human habitation
Donegal has many thousands of acres of unspoiled scenic landscapes, free of houses and all signs of human habitation and with stunning rock faces, mountains and valleys together with miles and miles of walking footpaths, many rare plants and a lot of species of birds.


Lough Meela and Errigal and Muckish Mountains
Donegal has some of the most stunning lake views in Ireland. One part of Donegal (The Rosses) is dotted with hundreds of lakes. At Lough Salt you can stand at the viewing point and see Lough Salt, after passing Lough Dubh a few hundred yards before, and then turn and see not only three lakes behind you but also the majestic outline of Errigal, the highest mountain in Donegal and Muckish Mountain too. With the added view to your right of Ards and Downings Bay.


Leaving Tory Island
There are many islands off the coast of Donegal, some of which are inhabited and others from which the last inhabitants have long gone.  A regular ferry service will take you to the two main inhabited islands ~ Aranmore Island or Tory Island.  Tory Island is thought to be the first place inhabited in Ireland and has a rich and interesting history, lots of Irish musicicans and traditional artists the home of the Tory School of Art.  The late world famous artist, Sir Derek Hill loved Tory dearly, spending months there over a few decades and it is he who put the Tory artists on the map.  On the mainland Donegal you can visit the house Sir Derek gave to Ireland, Glebe House, his Irish home near Gartan.


Donegal (or O'Donnells) Castle
Whilst Donegal does not have any huge tourist attraction castles to visit it does have many castle ruins dotted throughout our landscape. The main attraction in Donegal is O’Donnell’s Castle (better known as Donegal Castle) and whilst not as grand as others it has the unique benefit that those interested can also visit the place where the O’Donnell chieftains had their inaugurations from circa. 1200 AD. Or perhaps the ruins of the Franciscan monastery (Donegal Town) founded by two of the wives of these high kings. Or maybe visit the ruins of Rathmullan Friary from where the O’Donnell’s fled to Europe in 1607. Maybe you could take the time to visit Glenveagh Castle, not only rich in history but the place where the likes of Grace Kelly stayed when visiting Ireland.  Donegal is steeped in history and as a result historical sites, all worth visiting for those with an interest in such places.


Kilclooney Dolmen
Donegal has the only Tau Cross still in situ (Tory Island); has one of the oldest early Crosses, the Killaghtee Cross which pre-dates the early High Crosses; or the Kilclooney Dolmen which is an intact Dolmen and one of the finest examples left in Ireland. There are many such sites to visit in Donegal and more can be read about HERE.


Traditional music in County Donegal
Traditional music forms an integral part of the Donegal experience and rather than have organised, paid for nights, here in Donegal it is possible to find groups of traditional musicians gathering in many of the small bars around the county. Most villages and towns have at least one pub where traditional music is played at least once a week. Rather than being too organised and touristy, these are gatherings of men and women who love their music and show up at appointed venues to enjoy their music and entertain those gathered there.


Donegal Bay
Donegal not only offers all the above but we also have the largest bay in Ireland, Donegal Bay, which you have the option to enjoy by taking a short (45 minutes) boat trip on the Donegal Bay Waterbus to view in all its splendour or view from many places around south Donegal; the clearest diving waters in Europe (at St. John’s Point, the longest peninsula in Ireland); some of the best surfing beaches in Ireland and comparable with the best in Europe (Rossnowlagh, Bundoran, and more).

Ballymastocker Bay, named as one of the 10 most beautiful beaches in the world
There are miles and miles of sandy beaches sprinkled along our almost 800 miles of coastline, one of which was named one of the 10 most beautiful in the world making it the most beautiful beach in Ireland; some of the best golf courses in Ireland; horse riding; bird watching; fishing of all sorts; and maybe even catch a glimpse of the100 + pod of bottle nose dolphins around our coast ~ there are numerous boat trips to take you out into our waters to try and catch a glimpse not only the dolphins but maybe even some of the whales there.

"Surf's Up!" Donegal
We have friendly, owner run taverns and restaurants, including the Donegal Good Food Taverns, serving the best of local produce including lamb and beef reared here in Donegal together with a huge range of seafood caught along our Donegal shores. And speaking of Donegal Shores, in Donegal you are also in the birthplace of the world famous Daniel O’Donnell where you can visit the wee village of his birth, Kincasslagh.

Enjoy a bowl of Seafood Chowder in Donegal
And if music is your bag, a visit to Leo’s Tavern is a must. The “Leo” in Leo’s Tavern is the father of Moya Brennan who together with two of her brothers and two of their uncles formed Clannad and also Enya, the world renowned singer and musician. Not only is Leo’s Tavern full of memorabilia of his famous family but is a place where the visitor can enjoy a good, home cooked meal and perhaps even enjoy a bit of great traditional Irish music too.

There is of course much more to see in Donegal but this gives a tiny taste of it.  At the end of your stay in Donegal you might want to finish off your visit to Ireland with a trip the Giant’s Causeway, which whilst of course not in Donegal, remains one of the most popular tourist destination in Ireland and you are nearer to the Giant’s Causeway from Donegal than any of the other popular tourist destinations here with the added benefit that on the way you can visit the only city in Europe with its city walls still intact (and walk along them), in Derry and spend a little time in the city seeing all it has to offer.  You can even take a sea trip to from Donegal to Derry by taking the ferry which leaves Greencastle in Inishowen over to Magilligan in County Derry and on from there to Derry city.

Or maybe enjoy a visit to the Ulster American Folk Park, Omagh, a living museum which deals with the mass emigration experience in Ireland during the famine, and where the visitor can walk through an Irish village of that time, board a famine ship and disembark in the America of that time, visiting shops and houses on both sides with actors playing the parts of the people of the time.

Afterwards, travel along the scenic countryside and visit Dunluce Castle then perhaps stopping off at the famous Bushmills Whiskey Distillery on the way before arriving at the Giant’s Causeway.  You can then drive along the beautiful Antrim coast to Belfast and take in the sights of Belfast.  At the end of this journey you are travelling home out of Dublin? Belfast to Dublin is just a short two hour drive now.  Alternatively you could travel from Donegal, visiting these places and back to Donegal in the one (long) day.

Statue of Liberty near Gweebara Bay
And sure, where else in Ireland can you see the Statue of Liberty!

I hope I have opened your eyes to perhaps moving off the worthy, but now very well beaten tourist trails usually taken by visitors to Ireland and venture to County Donegal up here on the north west coast of Ireland, Ireland’s crown, albeit worn at a jaunty angle!

Visit our website to see more about Donegal at WeLoveDonegal


  1. Good and very interesting write up on the lovely county Donegal. I paid my first proper visit there this summer and was hugely impressed! I will be back :)

  2. very interesting that all the photos are from south and west donegal....what about us, here in Inishowen, undoubtably the best part of Donegal??

  3. I couldn't agree more. I've travelled all over Ireland and Donegal is the county I keep returning to, time after time. Stunning countryside, beautiful beaches, welcoming people. It has everything I want in a holiday destination.

  4. Ravishing or we should say stunning photos, all these photos attract the tourists for taking a holiday or a gap year in Donegal......
    Donegal is the place which can beautifully described as with its natural beauty and fabulous scenery.
    hotel donegal

  5. Thanks for this great post. We were searching online on what to do in Donegal on our stay.
    We were up at ballyliffin at the wonderful beaches there. The kids loved the playparks at the beaches which are kept clean and safe.
    We also with to Glenveagh National Park and found a great place to eat . where they did the most amazing steaks. We did go to Tropical World after reading it in your blog . Was great and will come back to Donegal again.

    Paul and family

  6. This is just gorgeous !*love* it all as the messages, the pictures and the quality of the writing. Thanks !