Best Sights to See in County Donegal
Updated: Aug 31, 2020
County Donegal is considered to be one of the most beautiful counties in the whole of Ireland and, with that in mind, it is important to consider and narrow down some of the beautiful sights on offer in this fair island. Using Killybegs as a base, travelling around County Donegal can share some of the best sights on the island of Ireland and help you fall in love with this special place. With spectacular views and rich history, County Donegal has a lot to offer to those who are willing to explore the wilds and engage with the great outdoors.
Glenveagh National Park
Starting off our best sights in Donegal is the incredible Glenveagh National Park. An expansive site, it is a 16,000-hectare park found in the heart of the Derryveagh Mountains which protect it from the elements. There is a multitude of walking trails for people of all levels and experience to enjoy.
One of the more favoured and romantic trails is known as the ‘Bridal Path’. A rather amorous history, Donegal locals used to use the local scenery to woo potential wives. Don’t be surprised if you run into a multitude of fauna during these scenic walks - Glenveagh National Park is home to the largest herd of red deer in Ireland.
For those who love to reminisce over old Hollywood and the stars of the Golden Age, within the grounds of Glenveagh National Park resides a castle that was popular with those who populated the silver screen. Marilyn Monroe, Greta Garbo, and Clarke Gable are among some of the impressive clientele that enjoyed the castle, including the scenery of Glenveagh National Park. Closing only on Good Friday and Christmas week, Glenveagh National Park is a perfect place for nature lovers and those who enjoy long, scenic walks.
For those who love the ocean, Tory Island is located only 14 kilometres off the Donegal Coast. A haunting and spectacular sight, Tory Island is renowned in local folklore and history. One of Donegal’s proud Gaeltacht areas, this is a great place for those who want to immerse themselves in Irish culture and learn a little bit about the Irish language. Another lovely feature is the King of Tory Island. The largely artistic community of Tory Island elect a king who acts as a community spokesperson for the island. His duties include personally welcoming visitors and greeting each passenger ferry that arrives on his shores.
Continuing on its rich history, Colmcille, the famous missionary, founded an early-Christian monastery on the shores of Tory Island in the sixth century - a perfect stop for those interested in church history. Not only is it culturally significant, but Tory Island also is globally recognised for its special birdlife. One such bird is the corncrake. An endangered species, the corncrake nests in the hayfields of Tory Island in the summer.
Due to the island being inhabited by talented artists and musicians, it’s not surprising to discover that the local pubs have ceiles and other local music daily. With a ferry that operates all year round, it really is a magical place, stepping back into a mythical time and getting a true taste of authentic Irish culture.
Slieve League, known as Sliabh Liag in Irish, exhibits some of the most beautiful marine cliffs found across the globe. An impressive 600 metres, Slieve League encompasses a sheer drop onto the rocks and the Atlantic Ocean. A car park rests a few miles from the cliffs and it is a perfect spot for experienced walkers. Past the viewing point, lies two expert trails, One Man’s Pass which loops around onto the Pilgrim’s path - not for the faint-hearted.
Despite being a cliff face, there are plenty of amenities locally to satisfy your touristic urges. The Tí Linn Café has an impressive selection of local food and coffee with a lovely craft shop attached to it as well for all your souvenirs. Slieve League also has regular boat tours, giving you a sea view of these fabulous marine cliffs. Another popular attraction is the archaeological tour which delves into this area of Donegal’s history.
Of all the spectacular views and sights that County Donegal has to offer, Malin Head arguably takes the crown for the most spectacular. The most northerly part of Ireland, it is one of the key attractions in County Donegal. With natural caverns and inlets, the area is outstanding in beauty. Two particular caverns that draw attention are Hell’s Hole and Devil’s Bridge. On sunny days, the Scottish coastline is visible to visitors, as is the island of Inishtrahull and Tory Island.
Another stunning feature of note is the Martello Lookout Tower based in Banba’s Crown. Based 16 kilometres north of Malin town, it was built during the Napoleonic Wars and it offers some of the most spectacular viewpoints of the Atlantic Ocean. This area is a historical point for meteorologists as well. Malin Head was home to one of the first-ever weather stations. The first weather reports were confirmed in 1870 and it also became a significant space for transatlantic communication as it gave one of the first wireless communications in 1902 to the ship S.S. Lake Ontario. Malin Head is an area steeped with incredible beauty and industrious history. It is an important stop when exploring County Donegal.
Grianan of Áileach
For those who enjoy Irish history, the ancient site of Grianan of Aileach is an important pilgrimage. Scholars assume that it was this area that was the seat of the ruling Kings of Donegal, known as the Kingdom of Áileach then. A national monument, Eógan Mac Néill of the Uí Néill dynasty is one of the earliest recorded Kings to have sat on his throne here, his recorded death being in 465 AD.
The area includes a massive stone ring fort which is thought to have been built by the ruling dynasty in the seventh century. An even older burial ground and well are located in the same area which is thought to have been established in the neolithic age - a great spot for archaeological finds.