The folks who live in County Donegal are fiercely proud of their county. And I can see why.
It’s really beautiful — from what I’ve seen so far.
The people are not only proud, but very friendly and eager to share stories of their home. Everyone I’ve met has shown me nothing but kindness.
And they are so excited to talk about all the places to visit in this vast county.
Located way up in the far northwest of Ireland
The Republic of Ireland — Donegal is not typically on most travelers radars. It’s not as well-known as Kerry with its Ring, Clare with its Cliffs of Moher or Cork with its harbor towns like Kinsale. It doesn’t have the Blarney Stone or the Rock of Cashel or an area like Connemara (which I love).
What it does have is gorgeous scenery filled with mountains, bog land, lakes and green valleys.
It has a coastline that goes from dramatic cliffs to gorgeous sandy beaches.
And it has small towns and villages with warm locals, good restaurants and fun pubs…to spend time with more of the friendly locals!
I love it!
And I’d love to see more Americans wander their way up here!
Now I am hearing…
That since Ireland has launched this whole “Wild Atlantic Way” tourism campaign a few years ago, there are more Americans coming up to Donegal. But many folks might just be passing through and not spending too much time here.
John, the owner of the The Whins, the B&B I’m staying at in Dunfanaghy, did say that once folks make a visit up here, they’re often coming back. They’re finding it more authentic and less “touristed” here in County Donegal.
I don’t see why you wouldn’t want to come here, even if it takes a bit more effort.
I started in County Donegal
With a visit to Slieve League. After leaving my wonderful, serene spot near Drumcliff, County Sligo, I made my way north. And when I crossed into Donegal it just felt different.
As I headed west toward the cliffs of Slieve League, I drove by small towns — towns that seemed to not be touched by mass tourism. There was Dunkineely and Killybegs, a commercial fishing town.
Then I entered into the wild of southwestern Donegal as I climbed up and up to the viewpoint of Slieve League, Europe’s highest sea cliffs. Yes these are higher than the Cliffs of Moher. The Cliffs of Moher are just longer.
Slieve League is jaw-dropping! A must see for sure.
As I left Slieve League
I drove through bog land and pastures filled with sheep, making my way over Glengesh Pass, a winding road with gorgeous scenery. I dropped down into the heritage town of Ardara.
Staying about 2.5km outside of the village, known for its wool weaving, I was met by Fiona and Laurence at their lovely spot up on a hill and in the middle of the sheep fields.
Laurence grew up just across the road and his family have lived in Ardara for generations. Oh the stories he told! And the love of his home. He’s a Donegal man through and through, especially his part of Donegal.
Gort na Mona (the peat field in Irish) is a beautiful B&B with modern rooms with traditional touches.
I loved it!
And I wished I had stayed more than one night!
Itself is a small town with just a few places to stay in town and a few spots to eat. But there are a few pubs for good craic (fun). And some places to stay outside of town, like Gort na Mona.
However Ardara is best known for its history of weaving wool. There are a few knit shops with gorgeous sweaters, tweeds, scarves and hats. All hand-made right there!
And evidently there are loads of festivals in Ardara, most of them occurring during the warmer months.
It’s a destination I’d go back to and I’d definitely stay at Gort na Mona again. Super friendly and helpful hosts, beautiful rooms, tasty breakfast and in a fabulous location.
Put it on your list! Oh, I forgot to mention there are lovely beaches nearby. I just didn’t have time — so I really do need to go back.
But there’s more!
From Ardara I headed north toward Dunfanaghy. passing more small towns such as Dungloe and Gweedore.
There are some spots in Donegal that are Gaeltacht areas (you’ll see these elsewhere in Ireland) which means that they speak Gaelic Irish first and hold onto some of those Irish traditions more readily than other parts of the country.
What I noticed was that sometimes signs were ONLY in Irish. Most of the time you’ll see signs in Irish first and English second. But I found some spots in Donegal where there were only signs in Irish. So notice spellings for both!
Okay, back to the drive to Dunfanaghy…
As I drove north, the landscape was at times very much like Connemara with that stark beauty of mountains and bogs. It’s not quite spring in the bog so things are still a bit brown. But the beauty of this land is still there. At times I was reminded of places like Wyoming or Utah although not that arid.
All of the sudden I could see Mount Errigal in the distance. It’s the highest peak in County Donegal.
I knew it was Errigal because I had read that it was perfectly conical, like the mountains we all drew as children.
I drove east pass Gweedore and Errigal was right in my face. You know me and mountains! This one took my breath away with that perfect shape.
Then I began to head north toward the sea, saying goodbye to Errigal.
I passed through a beautiful green valley dotted with sheep as I came into Gortahork then Falcarragh, small villages with a real vibe to them.
As I got close to Dunfanaghy
My home for 2 weeks, I could see the water.
It was a brilliant day, with blue sky and loads of sunshine. Not a typical Irish day!
The town itself is small, but with a few good spots for eating and laying your head.
And there’s definitely a couple of good pubs.
But what Dunfanaghy has more than anything
Is stunning scenery.
There’s a local beach right behind the town golf course where locals and travelers alike go to take a walk or play in the sand.
There are mountains to the south — Errigal and Muckish.
Horn Head scenic drive, part of the Wild Atlantic Way, is a short, yet roller coaster of a drive through absolutely stunning scenery. While I didn’t go out to the WWII lookout point (yet!), I did make the loop drive and took lots of photos. The views are gorgeous!
And there’s the 2km long sandy stretch of Tramore Beach which is a 2.5km walk through grassy dunes. I haven’t been yet, but I will definitely be going before I leave Dunfanaghy. This beach doesn’t see many folks…since it takes a bit more effort to get here.
I can’t wait
To explore more of this county.
It’s really quite breath-taking.
I know there are more days to explore. Today (it’s Sunday and my first full day here) I’m taking it easy, catching up on work and giving my body a break from all the driving.
But I’m so ready to hit places like Fanad Peninsula and Glenveagh National Park.
I can’t wait to make the longer trek out to the Inishowen Peninsula.
And John has told me about some lovely walks through the nearby Ards Forest Park.
There’s more to come for sure. So stay tuned.
And yes, I have a funny story of my first night here…I’ll put that one up tomorrow (time permitting)!