With its rugged natural beauty and dramatic coastline, Donegal is easily one of the most scenic counties in the country.
No Place Like Home presenter Kathryn Thomas recently discovered some of the hidden gems of Donegal, showcasing the many reasons why you should consider venturing north on your next staycation.
From stunning scenery to adventurous activities, there is plenty to keep everyone entertained on a visit to Tír Chonaill country.
Let's start at the top shall we? A trip to Malin Head, Ireland's most northerly point, features on most Irish people’s bucket lists and for good reason. A signature Discovery Point along the Wild Atlantic Way, Malin Head plays host to some truly breathtaking scenery and on a clear day, visitors can actually catch a glimpse of Scotland across the rolling waves of the Irish Sea.
The historic landmark was recently featured in the Hollywood blockbuster Star Wars: The Last Jedi, forming part of "Planet Ahch-to" in the iconic film series. The incredible vistas out across Fanad Head Lighthouse, Inishtrahull and Tory Island are the perfect backdrop for a scenic picnic or leisurely stroll.
A new addition to the many draws of Donegal, Wild Ireland Sanctuary in Burnfoot is where you’ll find some exotic creatures from all corners of the globe. Many of the animals found at Wild Ireland - including brown bears, lynxes, wolves and wild boar - would have once originated in Ireland and have now been returned to the wild Irish landscape after being rescued by the sanctuary. You can watch the animals roam freely in their natural environments while learning more about conservation efforts at this unique attraction, located in a historic Celtic rainforest on the Inishowen peninsula. It's the perfect family pitstop as Kathryn ad Ellie discovered.
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A visit to Donegal wouldn’t be complete without some time spent at one of the county’s many highly-regarded beaches. Donegal is home to 14 blue flags, two for local marinas and 12 for beaches right across the county.
North of the county, some incredible beaches await, among them Kinnagoe Bay, Five Finger Strand, Downings Beach and Culdaff Bay. Further south there are plenty more opportunities for a stroll or swim at popular spots including Narin/Portnoo Beach, Silver Strand and Fintra Bay.
For those with an eye for adventure, a trip to the breathtaking Sliabh Liag or Slieve League cliffs is an experience not to be missed on a visit to Donegal. Slieve League stands at an impressive height of almost 600 metres, making it almost three times the size of the Cliffs of Moher. There is a frequent shuttle bus available from the Slieve League Visitor Centre and a viewing platform located near the bus setting down point on the Bunglass side of the cliffs.
If you are up for more of a challenge, why not hike up across the cliffs in their entirety? It can take up to five hours along One Man’s Pass and on to the Pilgrim’s Path, which brings you down outside Teelin village on the other side of Slieve League, but it is well worth the time!
Another unmissable area to explore in Donegal is Bundoran which is home to the incredible Fairy Bridges.The bridges are a series of ancient sea stacks which stretch along the coastal region of Tullan Strand, which borders the town.The unusual rock formations have created a series of natural 'blow holes’ where the water sprays upwards through gaps in the stone when the tide allows. Legend suggests back as far as the 16th century, locals believed the area to be haunted by fairies, which is where the name comes from.
The area is also home to the famed Wishing Chair - a man-made seat carved from stone that is believed to mark the grave of a local chieftain who was said to have once sat in the chair himself while contemplating his endeavours. There is a long-standing ritual where visitors sit in the chair and make a silent wish before tapping the seat twice to help make their wish come true.
Also worth noting is that from the Fairy Bridges vantage point, you can take in the breathtaking panoramic views of Slieve League across Donegal Bay.
For a truly unique getaway in Donegal, why not stay somewhere off the beaten track and go glamping at Lough Mardal Lodge? Located on the shores of the stunning Lough Mardal, the lodge is run by Marcus and Claire Tindal and is home to 12 yurts, a luxury Shepherd’s Hut and a communal space filled with all the amenities guests could require during their stay.
Experience lakeside camping in style at this eco-friendly accommodation, and fully immerse yourself in the remarkable natural beauty of the surrounding countryside.
From spectacular wildlife to getting up close and personal with local folklore, Donegal is one Irish hidden gem worth exploring and there’s never been a better time to tick it off your bucket list.
To Keep Discovering all that Ireland has to offer, check out discoverireland.ie to plan your next adventure.
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