Why You Should Visit
Never mind the song ‘and if I could I’d build a wall around old Donegal, the North and South, to keep them out, by God I’d build it tall,’ Donegal is very much open for business and is warmly welcoming visitors from all over Ireland and beyond. Named as National Geographic’s ‘coolest place on the planet’, and recently featured as a location in Star Wars, Donegal is attracting huge interest internationally, but spectacular remote wilderness is never more than a stone’s throw away. Nowhere is this more evident than in Glenveagh National Park, an absolute must-do when you come to the county.
Glenveagh National Park, Ireland’s second largest national park, is situated in the north-west of the county, in the heart of the Derryveagh mountains. It stretches for over 170km2, and at its heart is the fabulous Glenveagh Castle and gardens, which dates from the 1870s. You can learn all about the history of the park at the state-of-the-art visitors’ centre.
Glenveagh boasts several well-signposted walking trails, suitable for all levels of fitness, and even a shuttle bus from the visitors centre to the castle if you are feeling particularly lazy! No matter which route you choose, you will be amazed by the beautiful views of mountains, lakes and glens that await you at every turn. The park is home to a huge variety of wildlife, including the largest herd of red deer in Ireland, and if you’re very lucky you may even spot one of the famous Golden eagles, which were reintroduced to the area in the year 2000, having previously been extinct in Ireland.
Where To Eat
Glenveagh Castle has some very quaint and pretty tearooms on-site, where you can stop for lunch or a well-deserved homemade treat after exploring the park.
Just a short drive from Glenveagh, The Olde Glen Bar and Restaurant near Carrigart is a hidden gem, offering first-class food and service. They offer fine dining with a relaxed and homely atmosphere, and despite the slightly out-of-the-way location, booking for dinner is advised.
My third choice is The Mill Restaurant in Dunfanaghy. This place offers a gourmet six-course meal for a very reasonable fixed price. The menu is based on seasonal local produce, with the majority of their suppliers based within a ten-mile radius. Instagram addicts be aware, however, the restaurant is a camera and technology-free zone!
Donegal certainly has no shortage of places to quench your thirst, and to be honest, it will be a lot more difficult to find a bad pub in Donegal than a good one! Letterkenny is the largest and liveliest town in the county, and in terms of bars, there’s something for everyone. McGinleys, a historic family-run pub in the heart of Letterkenny, is ideal for those looking for the traditional Irish pub experience. It has plenty of cozy nooks and crannies, an open fire, and live music 7 nights a week.
I really recommend Warehouse Bar on Main St Letterkenny if you are in the mood for dancing and a fun night out. This place is always lively, even during the week, but manages to retain its cool, laid-back atmosphere. The mantra is ‘high-end, low-key’, and the décor reminds me of a cool New-York-style loft bar. They have excellent promotions on food and drink and it’s open until 3am on weekends.
Finally, if you are really out to party, head to Pulse Venue, one of the largest nightclubs in the North West. Spread over two floors, it has 6 different rooms and 9 bars, catering to all musical tastes. It’s also probably one of the only nightclubs in Ireland where you can practice your jiving skills!
Where Should I Stay
Because Glenveagh National Park covers such a large area, there are lots of options for places to stay within a short drive. A personal favourite of mine is the Shandon Hotel and Spa in Portnablagh. This is a newly refurbished hotel, and almost every bedroom boasts a spectacular view of the sea. It also has a fabulous spa, where you can relax in an outdoor hot tub overlooking the beautiful Sheephaven Bay.
Harvey’s Point in Donegal Town is rated as TripAdvisor’s number 1 hotel in the whole of Ireland, and is a great base to explore more of what Donegal has to offer. The location on the shores of Lough Eske is magical, and the Sunday carvery lunch has to be seen to be believed!
Other honourable mentions have to go to The Villa Rose Hotel in Ballybofey, Solis Lough Eske Castle, and the Ostan Loch Altan, Gortahork. No matter where you stay you can be assured of excellent service and a warm Donegal welcome.
Other Attractions In The Area
Within the confines of Glenveagh National Park is Mount Errigal, Donegal’s highest peak. The climb is quite challenging, and can be boggy and wet in places, however the reward for your efforts (on a clear day) will be breathtaking views all over Donegal and out to the Atlantic.
At the foot of Mount Errigal you will find the Dunlewey Adventure Centre. Here you will find plenty to keep you entertained, from climbing walls to kayaking to zip-lining, zorbing and much more.
If that all sounds a bit energetic, and history is more your thing, you must visit the stone fort of An Grianán of Aileach, which dates from approximately the 6th century. A visit to Doagh Famine Village in Inishowen is also highly recommended.
If You Have Time …
No visit to Donegal would be complete without spending some time enjoying the stunning beaches all around the Wild Atlantic Way. We currently boast 13 Blue Flag beaches and the really special thing is that in Donegal you often find you have the beach all to yourself.
Narin beach, Portsalon, Ballymastocker Bay, Carrickfinn, the much-nicer-than-it-sounds Murder Hole Beach, the list goes on. Just don’t tell everyone as we like to think of them as Ireland’s best-kept secret….
My name is Ciara and I am a primary school teacher from Ballybofey in Co Donegal.