Ireland’s County Donegal is a beautiful place to visit during any season.
With savage coasts, beautiful beaches, fantastic hikes, year-round golf, hearty food, and the possibility of seeing the northern lights, Donegal is especially great in autumn and winter. As a bonus: You might not find any other tourists while you’re there.
For a small-ish island, Ireland has a ton of diversity. Dublin is cosmopolitan city rich with history and entertainment. The southwest coast of Ireland is famous for its cliffs and rugged peninsulas. You can visit the U.K. by traveling to Northern Ireland.
But some of the best Irish experiences of all can be had in the the Republic of Ireland’s northernmost county: Donegal.
Inishowen: Rugged beauty
Inishowen is the shark-head shaped eastern peninsula of Donegal, and it is packed with wild beauty and opportunities for adventure.
Malin Head, which is the northernmost point of Ireland, is the perfect example. Hiking trails wind along sheer cliffs that plunge into a churning sea. On many days, visitors can see basking sharks, whales, or dolphins in the water.
Perhaps because the wind is so strong, Malin Head is also one of Donegal’s most consistently sunny places, which means outstanding views all year long. For Star Wars fans, Malin Head was also used as a filming location for The Last Jedi.
Visitors to Inishowen will also be amazed at the variety of spectacular beaches. Known as ‘strands,’ most possess a breathtaking mix of scalable rocks and sandy beaches. In northern Inishowen, Five Finger Strand sits beneath massive sandy dunes not far from Malin Head. Kinnagoe is a gorgeous beach on the eastern coast, which looks across the water toward Islay and the Hebrides in Scotland. Tullagh Strand, near Clonmany, is gorgeous. And Pollan Strand, near Ballyliffin, is one of the best places in Ireland to spot the aurora borealis in late autumn and winter.
Outdoor enthusiasts can’t go wrong in Donegal. Hiking opportunities are everywhere. Golfers will also find what they’re looking for at the Ballyliffin Golf Club. And, of course, Irish pubs will treat any visitor right.
Western Donegal: Glenveagh and the Atlantic coast
Western Donegal is just as spectacular as the Inishowen peninsula. In particular, Glenveagh National Park can be downright jawdropping, especially in late autumn. Glenveagh offers sprawling hills, trees, water, trails, a super-cool castle, and a fascinating history. It’s also one of the more tranquil places on earth.
The coast of western Donegal is worth a road trip. From Tramore beach north of Glenveagh to Malin Beg — which points toward North America — adventure and amazing views await around each corner.
Worth a day trip: Giant’s Causeway
If you have an extra day in Donegal, consider traveling to Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland (which is part of the U.K.). This geographic marvel of hexagon-shaped stones is well worth the trip. The unpredictable weather can be fantastic, too. Whipping Atlantic winds cause roiling waters, churning sea foam, and massive waves that smash magnificently against the rocks.
Flights to Dublin from locations in Germany are frequent and often relatively inexpensive. From the Dublin airport, Donegal is an easy three-hour drive north.