The Ultimate 2, 3 or 4 Day Donegal Road Trip Itinerary

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by Maggie Turansky


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Though it doesn’t receive nearly the tourism numbers of County Kerry or County Cork in the south of the country, planning a Donegal road trip itinerary is an excellent option for those looking to visit one of the most beautiful corners of Ireland and stay a bit away from the beaten tourist trail.

Located in the far northwest of the Republic of Ireland, there is a lot to see in this area ranging from incredible beaches, towering sea cliffs, charming villages and much more. With 2 to 4 days in Donegal, you can cover a lot of ground and see the highlights of this county.

How Many Days in Donegal?

It can be tough to figure out how many days to spend in Donegal, especially because – on the map – the area of this county doesn’t look too large.

However, keep in mind that it is fairly rural and it takes a bit to drive from point A to B – so factoring in driving times is essential when planning a Donegal itinerary and really something to keep in mind during your entire trip to the Emerald Isle.

In general, plan to spend at least 2 days in Donegal. With two days, you will still really only be able to scratch the surface of all of the things to see and do, but it will give you a good taste for the area and what it has to offer including the ability to visit some of the best beaches and beautiful coastline.

Keep in mind that you also will only really have the time to concentrate on one area of the county so you will need to decide if you’d like to concentrate on visiting the southwest or northeast.

With 3 days in Donegal, you will have a bit more time to see more of this beautiful county, including all of the highlights of the southwest of County Donegal (like the Slieve League Cliffs and Donegal Town) and some of the sites further north, such as Glenveagh National Park and the Fanad Peninsula.

If you have the time, plan to spend 4 days in County Donegal to really take in all that this area has to offer. With 4 days, you can build upon the previous 3 and even tack on the Inishowen Peninsula and drive your way to the northernmost tip of Ireland.

Glenveagh National Park
Glenveagh National Park

Getting To & Around Donegal

County Donegal is the northwesternmost county in the Republic of Ireland, bordering County Leitrim to the south and Northern Ireland to the east.

There aren’t large cities in County Donegal itself – the largest town is Letterkenny in the northeast of the county. Donegal Town is also a large commercial centre in the southwest of the county and can make for a good base, as well.

You can get to Donegal via bus from just about every major city in Ireland, but note that train connections aren’t really an option. However, the easiest way to get to County Donegal is going to be by car.

Expect it to take about 3.5 hours to reach County Donegal from Dublin and around the same from Galway. From Belfast, it will take about 2-2.5 hours to reach County Donegal depending on which town you’re heading to.

If you don’t drive it is also possible to take day trips from Donegal to explore the rest of the county such as this full-day tour of South Donegal or this full-day tour of the Inishowen Peninsula.

If you are driving from Dublin, note that the most direct route is through Northern Ireland. There is no hard border and you may not even realise that you’ve entered another country whilst driving, but it is important that you keep an eye on the speedometer and know the speed limits in Northern Ireland are listed in miles per hour rather than kilometres per hour as they are in the Republic.

The best way to get around is by car. In fact, there is really no way you can make it to all of the stops and get the most out of your time in this area without your own personal vehicle.

Planning a Donegal road trip itinerary is the best way to travel around the county and will allow you a lot of time and flexibility. You can browse car hire options on Rentalcars.com which compares prices across the major companies.

Maghera Beach
Maghera Beach

2, 3 or 4 Days in Donegal Itinerary

Whether you have 2 days, 3 days or 4 days in County Donegal, you’re sure to fall in love with this corner of Ireland. This itinerary begins from South to North, however, it can easily be done in reverse – especially if you’re coming from Northern Ireland.

Day 1 – Tullan Strand, Fairy Bridges, Bundoran & Donegal Town

Day 1 concentrates on the southwestern part of County Donegal and assumes that you’re coming from Counties Leitrim or Sligo and making your way north before culminating in charming Donegal town.

Tullan Strand

The first stop on your County Donegal road trip is at Tullan Strand, just outside the town of Bundoran and very close to the border of County Leitrim, this is one of many beautiful beaches you will encounter on your trip to this Irish county.

Tullan Strand is a beautiful stretch of white sand that is very much worth stopping at. There is a large car park at the beach, plenty of benches to take in the views and there is also a lovely cliffside pathway to stroll along, as well.

This beach also attracts a lot of surfers and it’s a great place to try your hand at catching the waves if this is something that interests you.

Tullan Strand
Tullan Strand

Fairy Bridges

Only about 100 metres from the Tullan Strand car park along the lovely cliffside pathway, you will stumble upon the Fairy Bridges.

These are natural sea arches carved into the cliffside and it’s absolutely beautiful to see. You can take in the views on the cliffside walk and it is definitely worth the stroll from the beach.

Fairy Bridges
Fairy Bridges

Bundoran

After seeing Tullan Strand and the Fairy Bridges, make your way into the town of Bundoran itself. If you’re hungry, grab a bite to eat at the lovely Salty Fox Cafe.

The town of Bundoran is a small seaside village and is known to be the southernmost town in County Donegal. However, it is also a somewhat popular resort town complete with an amusement park and water park to enjoy.

There is also a smaller city beach (Bundoran Beach) to stroll along, as well. In fact, by all accounts, Bundoran Beach is a beautiful stretch of sand, however, it can be a bit outshined by just how spectacular nearby Tullan Strand is.

Lunch @ Salty Fox Cafe
Lunch @ Salty Fox Cafe

Murvagh Beach

If you’ve not already had your fair share of beaches today — there are plenty more to come in this County Donegal itinerary, as well — then make sure to make a pit stop at the lovely Murvagh Beach. Another expansive stretch of soft, white sand, you’re sure to be astounded by just how vast and beautiful these Irish beaches can be.

There is a small, free car park at the beach and it’s just a short walk over some sand dunes before you reach the strand.

Murvagh Beach
Murvagh Beach

Donegal Town

End your first day in County Donegal in Donegal Town itself. Though this town is neither the most populous in the county (that title goes to Letterkenny) nor the county seat (that would be the town of Lifford), it’s still a charming town to visit and popular amongst travellers to this corner of Ireland.

The town itself, though small, has a lot to take in. Take the time to wander its colourful streets and, perhaps, visit the ruined remains of Donegal Castle. Across from the castle, you can also see the Donegal Town Church of Ireland, a protestant church that dominates the town’s skyline.

If you’re interested in seeing the town and the surrounding area from the water, you can also opt to take off on the Donegal Bay Waterbus which leaves from Donegal harbour. This will take you around some of the most beautiful coastal sites and also allow you to spot local sea creatures if you’re lucky!

Spend your evening in Donegal Town visiting one of the many cosy pubs lining the streets and, perhaps, listening to some live trad (traditional) music. Planning to stay the night in Donegal is a great option, however, the village of Ardara located about 30 minutes away is another wonderful base in this area.

Donegal Castle
Donegal Castle
Where to Stay in Southwest Donegal

Ros Dún House – This bed and breakfast just outside of Donegal Town is a great place to base yourself when exploring this beautiful area. They have a number of rooms to choose from, free on-site parking, friendly hosts and an excellent breakfast in the morning.

Bayview Country House B&B – This lovely B&B in the town of Ardara is the perfect place to stay if you’re looking for a quiet getaway near one of the region’s most charming villages. They have a range of comfortable rooms available along with a fantastic breakfast on offer each morning.

Mill Park Hotel – Those after a more traditional hotel will love this place in Donegal Town. They have plush rooms to choose from, an on-site swimming pool and fitness centre along with a cafe/bar for guests to enjoy, as well.

Not quite what you’re looking for? Click here to browse more Donegal hotels!

Day 2 – Slieve League Cliffs & Southwest Donegal

Day two of this road trip in Donegal will wind you through some of the highlights of the southwest of this beautiful Irish county.

Slieve League Cliffs

One of the highlights of visiting County Donegal is heading to the Slieve League Cliffs which are some of Ireland’s (and, by extension, Europe’s highest sea cliffs). Towering over 600 metres (nearly 2,000 feet) above sea level, they are 3 times higher than the Cliffs of Moher and are the second-highest cliffs of this sort in Ireland, after Achill Island’s Croaghan Cliffs.

The Slieve League cliffs are one of the most popular places to visit in Donegal, however, they aren’t nearly as popular as the Cliffs of Moher and are a great alternative if you’re looking to beat the crowds. If you want to avoid tourist crowds even further, plan to arrive as early as possible at the cliffs.

The main car park at the cliffs is located about a 20-minute walk from the main viewing platform. Not that the walk is along a paved road, however, the first 100 metres or so of it are quite steep. It’s nothing that someone with a fair to moderate level of fitness can’t handle. There is a parking fee – it’s €5 for 2 hours or €15 for the entire day.

For those who aren’t able to do the walk up, there is a bus that can shuttle visitors from the car park to the main viewing platform. However, it is worth it to walk as the views leading to the cliffs are just as stunning and it can be a peaceful hike.

Once at the cliffs, there are also a number of little trails that you can wander off on to get more views and different vantage points. There are also information placards mapping out the walking paths. It’s worth it to wander up and try to get the best view possible and this place is truly spectacular.

In general, plan to spend about 1.5 to 2 hours at Slieve League – giving you plenty of time to wander around and take in the jaw-dropping views of these magnificent sea cliffs. If you have more time, you can go also go on a short boat ride to see the cliffs from a different perspective.

Slieve League Cliffs
Slieve League Cliffs

Malin Beg

About a 30-minute drive from the Slieve League Cliffs lies another of County Donegal’s most beautiful beaches – Malin Beg. This beach is particularly spectacular – tucked in between emerald-green cliffs, the contrast of soft, golden sand and crystal-clear blue water is truly jaw-dropping.

There is a free car park at the beach and there’s also a staircase leading down the cliffs to access the stretch of sand. You can also wander out along the cliffs to get a spectacular vantage point of this beach from above.

Malin Beg Beach
Malin Beg Beach

Glencolmcille Folk Village

While the vast majority of the stops on this Donegal itinerary are natural sites, our next stop is a great place to take in a bit of the history of this area and learn something.

Located only about 10 minutes from Malin Beg, the Glencolmcille Folk Village is a living history museum that is a great place to learn about the area.

Set in several thatched cottages that are exact replicas of how people lived in the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries, you can wander through this area with the help of a knowledgeable local guide. You can also find a replicated schoolhouse, grocer and fisherman’s dwelling here.

Entry to the museums is €6.50 for adults (there are concession prices available to those who qualify) and includes a tour for context. There is also a tearoom on site where you can stop for lunch or refreshments before heading on.

Glencolmcille Folk Village
Glencolmcille Folk Village

Maghera Beach & Caves

The next stop on day 2 of this itinerary is one of my favourite places in County Donegal – Maghera Beach and its sea caves. This is (yet another) spectacular beach but it has something unique to offer – sea caves.

If the tide is out, you can access a network of small caves carved out of the cliffs surrounding this beach. The beach itself is vast and absolutely stunning and well worth the visit even if the tide isn’t low enough to view the caves.

There is a small car park near the beach that gives you easy access. Not that this car park is on someone’s private land and the owner may ask for a small parking fee – we paid €3 (in cash) when we visited. In general, this was well worth it.

If the tide is out, it’s difficult to describe just how vast this beach is and how dwarfed you may feel while standing on it. Wander over to the sea caves and gaze inside – they’re pretty cool.

The scenery of the beach, cliffs and water is so spectacular that it’s worth spending a good amount of time taking in the beauty of this area.

Maghera Caves
Maghera Caves

Assaranca Waterfall

A few minutes from Maghera Beach and situated just off of the road is one of County Donegal’s most beautiful waterfalls – Assaranca.

This lovely waterfall is very much worth pulling over and viewing – there is a small car park – and it’s the perfect place to take in a bit of natural beauty without even needing to leave your car.

There’s no fee to visit the falls, however, it is worth noting that this can be a popular site simply due to how close to the road the waterfall is.

Assaranca Waterfall
Assaranca Waterfall

Ardara

A further 10-minute drive will have you in the charming village of Ardada – which is a great place to stop for a late lunch or early dinner or to simply have a pint and take in some good vibes in one of the town’s many lively pubs.

If you’re looking for a great place for a bit to eat, we cannot recommend the Courthouse Restaurant highly enough – they have a wide-ranging menu with generous portion sizes and great prices.

Ardara is known for being home to the famed Cup of Tae trad music festival which is held each year and it was also voted by the Irish Times as the best village to live in Ireland in 2012.

Ardara has a lot of charm and it’s worth taking a bit of time to explore this small place. It also makes for a great base in this area of County Donegal with plenty of cosy accommodation options.

Ardara Town
Ardara Town

Glengesh Drive

The final stop of day 2 should be to drive the incredible Glengesh Pass. This scenic drive is a part of the Wild Atlantic Way (as are many of the stops on this itinerary) and is the perfect way to end your day as you make your way back to Donegal Town (if that is where you’re staying).

Put “Glengesh Viewing Point” into your GPS and this will take you to the Wild Atlantic Way discovery point and will direct you along the Glengesh Drive.

The viewing point is at the highest point of this incredibly scenic road and provides panoramic views over the valleys and glens of this gorgeous part of County Donegal.

Glengesh Drive
Glengesh Drive

Day 3 – Glenveagh National Park & Fanad Peninsula

Day 3 of this Donegal trip will take you to the northern part of the county. Today, you’ll spend some time in the national park, enjoy the views of castles and lighthouses and, of course, take in a number of spectacular beaches.

Glenveagh National Park

Begin your day bright and early with a visit to Glenveagh National Park. Located in the northwest of County Donegal about 30 minutes outside of the town of Letterkenny, this beautiful national park has a range of hiking trails, beautiful lakeside walks, a lovely castle (with gorgeous gardens) to explore and views of the county’s highest peak – Errigal – in the distance.

Entry into the national park is free of charge, as is the parking. However, if you want to beat the crowds it is recommended that you arrive as early as possible.

To get the most out of this visit, we recommend walking along the Castle Path, which winds its way along Lough Veagh and it is a very easy 40-minute walk until you reach the beautiful Glenveagh Castle.

Take the time to explore the vast gardens of the castle before, if you’re up to it, hiking up the Castle View Trail which, as the name may suggest, gives you spectacular views of the castle and the lake.

This trail says it will take an hour to complete but in reality, it only took us about 25 minutes – and that was with a 5-10 minute stop at the top to take in the view. It’s worth noting that the trail is quite steep so it may not be the best option for those with limited mobility or a low level of fitness.

Those who aren’t hikers needn’t worry if they want to take in the views of the national park and castle! There is also a shuttle bus that runs between the visitor’s centre and the castle.

You can purchase a return ticket at the visitor’s centre (which is located at the main car park) or at the castle reception. If you’ve walked the castle path one way, it can be worth taking the shuttle bus back to the car park.

If you’re interested in learning more about the castle, there are also paid guided tours of the castle and gardens available. There’s also a tearoom at the castle where you can warm up with a pastry or a sandwich.

Glenveagh Castle
Glenveagh Castle

Horn Head

About 30 minutes north of Glenveagh National Park lies Horn Head, another beautiful stop on the Wild Atlantic Way. Here, you can view incredible sea cliffs and beautiful vistas.

You can opt to drive all the way to Horn Head itself where there are a few walking paths that you can venture out on to get some great views.

Alternatively, you can also put the Wild Atlantic Way discovery point into your GPS, which will take you on another road and bring you to a vista point with great views of Horn Head itself. You could also visit both points for a holistic experience!

Horn Head
Horn Head

Killahoey Beach

If you haven’t tired of beautiful beaches, then make sure to make make a stop at Killahoey Beach.

This is yet another gorgeous stretch of soft, golden sand that puts many beaches elsewhere in Europe to shame.

Killahoey Beach
Killahoey Beach

Doe Castle

Just a jump from Killahoey Beach lies the charming Doe Castle. This is a ruin of a castle that was likely constructed in the early 15th century.

There is a small car park where you can access the ruins and entry into the castle itself is free. There are also plenty of information placards where you can learn about the history of the castle, as well.

If you’ve worked up an appetite at this point, drive a few minutes to the town of Creeslough and stop for lunch at the lovely Huckleberry Cafe, a local place with great food and a cosy vibe.

Doe Castle
Doe Castle

Ballyhiernan Bay Beach

Moving north onto the Fanad Peninsula, direct your GPS to yet another Wild Atlantic Way discovery point – this time at Ballyhiernan Bay.

This beach is another of the same sort you’ll find all over County Donegal and it doesn’t get old taking in these incredible stretches of soft, white sand.

Ballyhieman Bay Beach
Ballyhiernan Bay Beach

Fanad Head Lighthouse

One of the most iconic stops in County Donegal is the Fanad Head Lighthouse. Located at the tip of the Fanad Peninsula, this is a historic lighthouse that is beautiful to view.

You can get excellent views of the lighthouse itself as you drive down to the car park, however, there is an entry fee if you want to wander the ground or climb the tower itself.

It’s €7 to wander the grounds and enjoy the views at the base of the lighthouse and €10 if you’d like to have a historic tour along with getting access to the top of the lighthouse – the views are sure to be stunning!

Fanad Head Lighthouse
Fanad Head Lighthouse

Ballymastocker Beach

The final stop for the day is at the beautiful Ballymastocker Beach. However, if you want to take in the best views, then enter the Ballymastocker Beach Viewpoint into your GPS rather than the beach itself.

The viewpoint drive will wind you up a gorgeous mountain road before leading you to a vista with incredible panoramic views of one of the most spectacular and impressive beaches in County Donegal.

Ballymastocker Beach
Ballymastocker Beach
Where to Stay in Northeast Donegal

Killererin House B&B – Located just outside the town of Letterkenny, this B&B has lovely rooms to choose from, a beautiful location, free parking and a great, hearty breakfast available each morning.

Woodview Bed & Breakfast – Also located just outside of Letterkenny, this is another great B&B to choose from if you’re looking for a base in the northeast of Donegal. There are a range of comfy rooms on offer along with a wonderful breakfast and friendly hosts.

Castle Grove Country House Hotel – If you’re after a luxury escape outside of Letterkenny, then this hotel is set in a historic Georgian mansion. They have a range of stunning rooms to choose from, lovely grounds to explore and a fantastic restaurant (and room service!) on site.

Not quite what you’re looking for? Click here to browse more Letterkenny hotels!

Day 4 – Inishowen Peninsula

Day four of this Donegal road trip will have you embarking on the Inishowen 100 drive. Winding its way around the Inishowen Peninsula, here you will get to visit the most northerly part of Ireland along with plenty of other great places.

These are only a handful of the multitude of stops on the Inishowen 100, however, they are what I consider to be the highlights.

Gap of Mamore

The first stop as you embark on the Inishowen 100 is to drive through the Gap of Mamore. Like many other stops on this road trip, the best way not to miss this scenic drive is to enter the Gap of Mamore viewpoint into your GPS.

This is another gorgeous scenic drive that will wind you through the beautiful rolling hills and mountains of this peninsula before giving you fantastic views of the Atlantic on the other side. Go slowly so you can take in all of the fantastic vistas that you will be greeted with.

Gap of Mamore Drive
Gap of Mamore Drive

Glenevin Waterfall

The next stop is at the lovely Glenevin Waterfall. There is no shortage of beautiful waterfalls in County Donegal, however, this was the favourite that we visited.

There is a small car park at the entrance to the waterfall (parking is free) and then it’s about 10 minutes walking on a gentle, well-marked pathway until you reach the waterfall itself.

Glenevin Waterfall
Glenevin Waterfall

Five Finger Strand

You could spend the entirety of your 4 days in Donegal simply taking in all of the beautiful beaches this area has to offer and still not see them all, however, please do make sure not to miss Five Finger Strand. This is another beautiful stretch of sand that is also known for its beautiful sand dunes.

There is a very small car park so finding parking may be a bit tricky if it’s a nice day, but it’s still very much worth visiting and parking is also free of charge.

Fiver Finger Strand
Five Finger Strand

Malin Head

Now it’s time to head to the most northern point on the island of Ireland – Malin Head. This is a beautiful natural area and it is quite popular with visitors, however, it doesn’t take away from the wild, natural beauty of the place. Again, parking is free here so you don’t have to pay a thing to enjoy the scenery around here.

There are a few walking paths that wind you around this area, so plan to spend about 20 to 30 minutes wandering around this place.

And if you’ve worked up an appetite after such an active morning, then head a bit south to the town of Carndonagh and make a stop at the Diamond Cafe. This is an excellent lunch spot and the perfect halfway point before continuing on exploring the Inishowen Peninsula.

Malin Head
Malin Head

Kinnagoe Bay Beach

Yes, there is another beach to visit on the Inishowen 100 and this one is the gorgeous Kinnagoe Bay Beach.

Another stop on the Wild Atlantic Way, this beach is tucked beneath some beautiful, green cliffs and it is a striking place to visit and a must on this beautiful drive.

Kinnagoe Bay Beach
Kinnagoe Bay Beach

Inishowen Head Lighthouse

About 15 minutes south of Kinnagoe Bay lies another charming lighthouse similar to Fanad Head that we visited yesterday – the Inishowen Head Lighthouse.

When visiting here, you can also drive up on some of the country roads above the lighthouse to get some lovely views of the lighthouse itself and of the surrounding countryside.

From here, it’s about an hour’s drive back to Letterkenny, if that’s where you’re basing yourself. Alternatively, this is a great place to continue on your journey to Northern Ireland. There is a ferry that runs from the town of Greencastle to Magilligan Point on the Antrim Coast. From there, it’s only about 45 minutes to the incredible Giant’s Causeway.

If the ferry isn’t running, you can also drive around Lough Foyle and reach the Giant’s Causeway via Derry in about 1.5 hours.

Inishowen Head Lighthouse
Inishowen Head Lighthouse

Have More Time?

If you have more than 4 days to spend in County Donegal, there are plenty of ways you could spend your time. For instance, you could take advantage of the multitude of hiking trails in Glenveagh National Park and spend an entire day in this beautiful natural area.

Another great option is to spend time in Ards Forest Park. This is another nature reserve located closeby to Letterkenny and it is filled with a number of hiking trails with varying levels of difficulty and is very much worth visiting for nature lovers.

Ards Forest Park
Ards Forest Park

There is so much to see on a County Donegal road trip that you’re sure to be filled with incredible memories for years to come after your trip.

Are you visiting County Donegal? Have any questions about this itinerary? Let us know in the comments!

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Maggie is a co-founder and writer for The World Was Here First. Originally from the US, she has lived in five different countries and has travelled to dozens more, both solo and with her partner, Michael. She particularly loves exploring Spain and spending time in the Caucasus and the Baltics. Read more about Maggie

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