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Brian's Guide to Donegal - Coolest Place on Earth?

Rugged cliffs. White sand beaches. Amazing traditional culture. Donegal expert Brian is not surprised that Lonely Planet have awarded this northwestern county in their Best In Travel 2024 accolades.

Donegal At A Glance

🗺️ Where Is Donegal?

🤔 Is Donegal In Northern Ireland?

💚 What Is Donegal Famous For?

🌊 Things To Do In Donegal

😋 Where To Eat In Donegal

By Brian

Hi, I'm Brian 👋

Donegal is an untouched and underappreciated part of Ireland.

I've always known this (after all, Vagabond has been touring in Donegal since 2002).

Thankfully, the rest of the world is now noticing. Lonely Planet have named Donegal in their Best in Travel Awards 2024.

From Europe's highest accessible sea cliffs to wild moorland and deserted white sand beaches...

From spectacular castles and ancient stone forts, bursting with history...

Donegal is just waiting to be discovered!

Where is Donegal?

First things first, where is Donegal located in Ireland?

Donegal is the most northerly county in Ireland. It is also the most northwesterly county in the province of Ulster.

Owing to its isolated location, Donegal feels as remote as it looks on the map, with few major transport links.

Map of Donegal by Vagabond Small-Group Tours of Ireland

Is Donegal in Northern Ireland?

Simple answer = No.

You could be forgiven for thinking that the northernmost county on the island of Ireland is part of Northern Ireland.

But you'd be wrong!

Donegal is part of the Republic of Ireland, sharing a narrow border with county Leitrim.
Map showing location of Northern IrelandDonegal shares a long border and lots of cultural links with the counties of Derry, Tyrone and Fermanagh, all part of Northern Ireland.

Find out more about the basics of Irish geography

What is Donegal Famous For?

Every county in Ireland boasts special aspects that make them unique. Here's what we think you'll love about Donegal...

The Donegal Accent

Donegal natives speak in a unique way. The Donegal accent is "soft" when compared to the way that some other Irish people talk. It's certainly noticeable to first-time visitors.

You'll hear lots of words like 'wee' (meaning small) scattered into everyday speech.

If you can't understand, don't be embarrassed to ask locals to repeat themselves!

Donegal Tweed

The traditional art of weaving is associated with Donegal. It's hard to visit the county without stumbling across beautiful, handwoven wool and tweed products.

A tour group visit Eddie Doherty's Donegal handweaving studio in Ireland

There are excellent woollen shops and craft studios to be found in towns like Bundoran, Ardara and in Donegal town itself.

Donegal GAA

Donegal is famous for the historic strength of its Gaelic Football teams. It last won the All-Ireland championship in 2012 and regularly competes for the Ulster championship.

Famous soccer players with links to Donegal GAA include Packie Bonner, Seamus Coleman and Shay Given.

Try and catch a game if you're visiting!

Things To Do In Donegal

Donegal is blessed with everything the traveller could wish for. Look forward to gorgeous scenery, delicious fresh food, a rich history and authentic Irish cultural experiences.

Slieve League Sea Cliffs

Ireland is blessed with many beautiful coastlines. The Atlantic, western edge of our island is particularly marked by jagged bays and spectacular cliffs.

Nowhere is this more true than in Donegal. Slieve League Cliffs are the highest accessible sea cliffs in Europe. Not only can you take a boat trip under these amazing cliffs, you can also hike to their summit.

Glenveagh National Park

Justifiably claiming to be one of Ireland's most scenic spots, Glenveagh is the second largest national park in Ireland.

Glenveagh National Park in Ireland

The epicentre of the park is its castle and formal gardens. Heather-emblazoned mountains serve as the backdrop to 19th century Glenveagh Castle, sitting proudly on the shores of Lough Veagh.

We like to cycle or hike along the shoreline to the castle when to visit. Be sure to check out the beautiful walled gardens.

Don't forget to look up! Golden Eagles have been sucessfully re-introduced to the area in recent years.

Glenveagh is truly an untouched gem in the heart of Donegal.

We recently wrote this handy guide to Ireland's 6 National Parks


Located in the southwest of the county, Ardara is a small town with genuine country charm.

Ardara is associated with woollen goods and weaving. We love to bring our guests to Eddie Doherty's traditional handweaving studio while visiting Ardara.

The Skeskinmore Nature Reserve is one of the most important nature reserves in Ireland, and perfect day trip for nature enthusiasts visiting Ardara.

Depending on the time of year, you could be treated to snow drops, dandelions, native Irish orchids or sea pinks.

Discover more about the different seasonal flowers from the Friends of Sheskinmore


Dunfanaghy is situated on the shores of Sheephaven Bay in the foothills of the majestic Derryveagh Mountains.

Watersports in Dunfanaghy, Ireland

This small town has a friendly, relaxed vibe. Traditional Irish pubs sit next to cool cafés and pizzerias. We sometimes call it 'The Dingle Of The North'.

What better way to embrace this stunning part of the Wild Atlantic Way than from the sea? Dunfanaghy is a hub for surfing and sea-kayaking. You can also go horseback-riding along one of the area's beautiful sandy beaches.

More of a culture vulture? Not far from Dunfanaghy on the shores of Sheephaven Bay lies Doe Castle. This stunning fortress was once the stronghold of the MacSweeneys. In its off the beaten path location, you're unlikely to find lots of people here.

Get to know Dunfanaghy on our 7 Day Vagabond Magnetic North Adventure Tour

Inishowen Peninsula

Malin Head on the Inishowen Peninsula is famous in Ireland as being the island's most northerly point.

Tour group about to go sea-kayaking in Inishowen, Donegal, Ireland

The coastline of this gorgeous region is dotted with rocky outcrops, rolling grassy hills and sandy beaches. If you can, make sure to catch a sunset from Inishown. Watching the sun sink over the seemingly endless Atlantic horizon is pure magic.

For even more stupendous vistas, visit the Grianan of Aileach ring fort. The hilltop location of this ancient fortress offered strategic defence against invaders. Nowadays, you can not only gaze across Inishowen but into three counties (Donegal, Derry and Tyrone).

Grianan of Aileach was built around 600AD. Some say the site dates back even further, to 1,700BC. Local legend says that if you tell a secret with the fort walls, everyone will find out!

How do you pronounce Grianan of Aileach? GREE-NAWN OF AWE-UL-YOK. The name is a mix of English and Irish.

Where To Eat in Donegal

The Rusty Oven in Dunfanaghy

Sometimes, only pizza will do. Tucked away behind Patsy Dan's pub is Dunfanaghy's one-and-only pizzeria. The Rusty Oven serves thin and crispy, Romantic-style, wood-fired pizzas. Magic!

Charlie's West End Café in Ardara

It might not look like much. This local 'chipper' has a dishevelled exterior. There is no silverware and no delusions of grandeur. But if you're a fish and chips fan, you won't leave disappointed. Charlie's fish is landed locally and arrives as fresh as can be. You can even ask for your fillet to be cooked without the normal breadcrumbs.

What Tours Visit Donegal?

Find out which tours visit beautiful Donegal in this helpful FAQ

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