Donegal in the Northern Headlands region truly is the county that puts the ‘wild’ into Wild Atlantic Way. Named coolest place on the planet by National Geographic Traveller, the region boasts pristine beaches and offshore islands, making it a must-visit destination for 2017.
According to the magazine, Donegal “...is a dreamlike landscape, wild and remote... the kind of place where you may spot a golden eagle soaring above Glenveagh National Park, or hear Irish spoken as a native tongue in the Gaeltacht around Gweedore and Glencolmcille."
If head-turning terrain and exclusive encounters aren't enough to make you want to start planning your visit, we’ve compiled 10 irresistible experiences that are sure to put Donegal at the top of your Bucket List of cool things to do in 2017:
1. Fanad Head Lighthouse
Fanad Head Lighthouse on the northerly Fanad Peninsula celebrates its 200th anniversary in 2017. One of Donegal’s proud beacons, its location is truly wild and wonderful. Those who venture here are invariably drawn to the adjacent Lough Swilly and the sandy Mulroy Bay. It’s a haven for nature lovers and the waters around the peninsula are regularly visited by whales, porpoises and dolphins.
2. Slieve League
Also known by its Irish name - Sliabh Liag - this rugged mountain on the Donegal coast boasts the highest sea cliffs in Europe. Some, standing at 600m, are more than three times taller than the Cliffs of Moher. Hill walkers have the unique opportunity to feast their eyes on the stunning scenery afforded to them from the 2.8km Pilgrim Path, while the undisputed best way to appreciate the scale of the cliffs is to view them from the sea, courtesy of Sliabh Liag Boat Trips.
3. Tory Island
The Gaeltacht island, Oileán Thoraí, has long been known as the Secret Kingdom, and with good reason: the 130 people who live here traditionally select one of the islanders to be Tory’s King, a role currently held by Patsy Dan Rodgers. Located 12km off Donegal, it's the most northwesterly place on the Wild Atlantic Way, and is steeped in history, mythology and folklore, boasting a community of artists inspired by its wild, unspoilt beauty.
Donegal boasts several of Ireland’s most spectacular beaches, including Ballymastocker Strand, which was once chosen by the Observer newspaper as the second most beautiful beach in the world. There are 13 Blue Flag beaches in Donegal - rivalled in number only by Kerry - and a walk along the likes of Rossnowlagh and Fintra won’t be easily forgotten. Find out more about breathtaking beaches on the Wild Atlantic Way.
5. Banba’s Crown
Malin Head is the most northerly peninsula in the country and its tip, Banba’s Crown, sits at the top of it all. Named after one of the mythical queens of Ireland, its breathtaking rugged beauty was one of the locations chosen for filming the latest Star Wars film. Birdwatchers have long been drawn to this beautifully remote locale, where the famously elusive corncrake is to be found.
View of the Aurora Borealis in the night sky above Malin Head on the Wild Atlantic Way
6. Northern Lights
One of the most spectacular natural phenomena, the Aurora Borealis is associated with Nordic countries - but you don’t have to leave Ireland to experience it. Donegal’s Inishowen Peninsula is an excellent location from which to admire the northern lights thanks to the lack of light pollution in the area.
7. Sea Stacks
Find yourself at the top of the Wild Atlantic Way’s most magical and remote destinations in this 360 ° sea stack climbing video. These remarkable geological structures are formed when tenacious coastal erosion carves and collapses sea cliffs, leaving a freestanding pillar of rock. Some of the tallest in Europe are to be found off the Donegal coast and an adventure company, Unique Ascent, helps daredevils to climb them - at 100m high and half a kilometre from the mainland, you'll need a head for heights and the steeliest of nerves.
8. Inishowen Head Looped Walk
Often dubbed ‘Ireland in miniature’ thanks to its shape, the Inishowen Peninsula offers a perfect nature escape. One of the best ways to explore it is on foot along the Inishowen Head loop - a route packed with history from the World War II look-out tower to the point from where St. Columba set sail for Scotland in the 6th Century. Further south, the Drum and Glen looped walks showcase the majesty of the Glencolmcille Peninsula.
Machaire Rabhartaigh, meaning 'plain of the high tide', is a picturesque village in North West Donegal that will be familiar to many of those who came to the county to study Irish during their school holidays. This proud Gaeltacht region has been home to the Gael Linn Irish Language School for 35 years. Its beach is justly celebrated and a ferry service to Tory Island operates from its busy fishing harbour.
10. Glenveagh National Park
One of six national parks in the country (five of which are on the Wild Atlantic Way), Glenveagh offers a rich ecological landscape, where a wide range of plant and wildlife flourishes, including a herd of red deer and peregrine falcons. Located in heart of the Derryveagh Mountains, the park encompasses over 16,000 hectares of lakes, glens and woods as well as the beautifully maintained Glenveagh Gardens.
For more great ideas about exploring the wilds of Donegal on the Northern Headlands, explore our one day and two day driving itineraries.