Whether you’re looking for a relaxing getaway in stunning surrounds, or fancy an exhilarating outdoor adventure, the Northern Headlands of Donegal have it all. With breathtaking scenery, golden beaches, rugged islands and a beautiful array of wildlife, this northern – almost untouched – stretch of the Wild Atlantic Way is an absolute essential, any time of year. It’s no wonder Donegal was named the ‘Coolest Place on the Planet for 2017’ by National Geographic Traveller.
SLIABH LIAG CLIFFS
These stunning cliffs are some of the finest marine cliffs in Europe. Accessible all year round and standing 600m tall, the sheer drop down into the crashing Atlantic swells below is quite the sight. We advise you ditch the car and walk the few miles from the car park to the cliffs. Experienced walkers should venture beyond the viewing point onto One Man’s Pass, which loops around onto the Pilgrim’s Path. Stand on the edge and breathe in deep – guaranteed to blow away the cobwebs!
If you can, take an archaeological tour too; you’ll learn about the region’s rich and interesting history. Be sure to also pay a visit to the nearby Tí Linn craft shop, where you’ll find a gorgeous selection of Irish giftware items, or grab a coffee and cake in the charming Tí Linn Café. If you fancy a maritime adventure, you can gaze up at these immense cliffs from the sea on a local boat tour – which takes you out to meet the area’s friendly dolphins.
GLENVEAGH NATIONAL PARK
Head north and you’ll find Glenveagh, a 16,000-hectare park nestled in the heart of the towering Derryveagh Mountains. In it, you’ll find a series of walks to suit all levels, including a particularly romantic one; the ‘Bridal Path’, so-called as local men used to use it to meet potential wives! This lush green oasis is a nature-lover’s paradise too, home to the largest herd of red deer in Ireland. There’s also a beautiful castle on the grounds, which has proven very popular in the past; Greta Garbo, Clarke Gable and Marilyn Monroe all vacationed there during the golden age of Hollywood.
Glenveagh National Park is open all year round, except Christmas Week and Good Friday.
14km off the Donegal coast, you’ll find a very special place; the mythical island of Tory. Steeped in history and folklore, it’s one of County Donegal’s many Gaeltacht areas – locals speak Irish (Gaelic); so you can learn cúpla focail (a few words!). What’s more, the people here, many of them artists, elect a king, who acts as the community’s spokesperson. He’s a friendly fellow – he greets each passenger ferry that lands and personally welcomes visitors.
Internationally important for its birdlife, Tory is home to the globally threatened corncrake, which nests in the hayfields each summer. And it’s an historic place too; Colmcille founded an early-Christian monastery there in the sixth century. Today, given the islanders’ passion for traditional music and culture, you’re likely to find a lively session or two taking place in its local pubs! Accessible by ferry all year long, we recommend you spend the night on Tory to really explore all this stunning and authentic hideaway has to offer.
A county renowned for its crafts, a spot of retail therapy is a must whilst in the area. Donegal tweed and knitwear is lauded worldwide, with local producers of these luxurious items taking inspiration from the area’s awe-inspiring natural surroundings. Whether it’s the curve of the hills or the wild waves of the Atlantic – having picked up a piece, you’ll leave with a unique keepsake of Ireland. Donegal Woollen Mill is perfect for a browse, as they’ve produced top-quality items since 1953. The team here are world-famous for their woven heritage; they stock a range of beautifully-made throws and the mill is open all year round.
No trip to County Donegal is complete without exploring its miles of golden, sandy beach. One particular highlight is Ballymastocker Bay, voted the second most beautiful beach in the world by Observer Magazine.
The wild Atlantic breakers crashing along this coast make north Donegal’s beaches the perfect spot for swimming and watersports. An invigorating ocean adventure awaits, no matter what the season. If the weather’s particularly fine, be that summer sunbeams or autumnal sunshine, just lay back, soak up the rays and revive the soul. This is the life!
SUNSET OVER GRIANÁN OF ÁILEACH
This ancient Donegal site is believed to have been the seat of the ruling kings of the area, known as the ‘Kingdom of Áileach’. Eógan Mac Néill of the Uí Néill dynasty (sons of Niall) is one of the earliest recorded kings here; he died in 465AD. The site is now a National Monument, and consists of a massive stone ringfort, thought to have been built by the Uí Néills in the seventh century. The nearby remains of a well and tumulus (burial ground) are believed to be even older, possibly dating back to the neolithic age.
From the top of Grianán of Áileach, you can take in a breathtaking, panoramic view of the beautiful Donegal countryside. In fact, on a clear day, it’s said that visitors can see an impressive five counties. This incredible spot is accessible all year long.
The most northerly point of the Wild Atlantic Way – and indeed the country – is Malin Head in County Donegal. It’s an unrivalled location, accessible throughout the year and boasts many attractions along the cliff edge, including a spectacular subterranean cavern known as ‘Hell’s Hole’ and a natural arch called ‘Devil’s Bridge’. On a clear day, visitors can see as far as the Scottish coastline, while Tory and Inishtrahull Islands are also visible. Who knows, you may even catch a glimpse of a basking shark! Or, hire bikes and zip around the county’s stunning landscape.
Will you make it as far as Banba’s Crown – Ireland’s most northerly tip, 16km north of Malin town? Originally built as a Martello Lookout Tower during the Napoleonic Wars, this jutting headland offers stunning views of the vast north Atlantic. History abounds at this location, it’s also home to one of Ireland’s most important weather stations. In 1870, the first weather reports were recorded and in 1902 the first wireless commercial message was sent from Malin Head to the ship S.S. Lake Ontario. This exciting development established Malin as in important post for future transatlantic communication.
Whether you’re exploring these northern nooks and crannies in flowering springtime, blazing summer sunshine, cool, crisp autumn breezes or atmospheric wind-swept winters, you’re always in for an unforgettable time.