Explore Donegal: Your Ultimate 3-Day Road Trip Itinerary on the Wild Atlantic Way

The stunning Fanad Head Lighthouse
Home » Itinerary » Explore Donegal: Your Ultimate 3-Day Road Trip Itinerary on the Wild Atlantic Way

I have been visiting County Donegal since I was a teenager. My first memories are of visiting friends in Gweedore and the surprise of being able to park a car on Rossnowlagh Beach.

Many years later I’m still in love with Donegal and revisit whenever I can. I try out new (to me) hotels and B&Bs, hear about new walking trails and places to see.

When I got a campervan, Donegal was the first place I wanted to visit on a long trip along the Atlantic coastline of Ireland. After all, the Wild Atlantic Way starts at the Northern tip of Ireland, Malin Head, the windswept tip of the Inishowen peninsula.

In this post, I’m sharing my 3-day Donegal itinerary that I took in May 2022, on my own, in a campervan. The route would work equally well for anyone driving and staying in hotels along the way. It hits all the significant spots on the Wild Atlantic route.

While this trip includes a lot of coastal driving, you could definitely mix it up to get more town-time in Letterkenny, Donegal Town and Bundoran to balance things out.

Read on for my day by day itinerary, plus suggestions on additional things you can get up to in County Donegal!

The unique Grianan of Aileach
Photo by Patrick Hughes: Grianan of Aileach

There are some affiliate links on this page, meaning the site makes a small commission if you buy something at no additional cost to you. Thank you for your support!

How to decide where to go in County Donegal

There are so many places to discover in Donegal and along the Wild Atlantic Way. It’s just impossible to see every single thing, especially on a 3 day itinerary. So you’ll need to work out your priorities.

Here’s a few things you need to consider to create your perfect Donegal itinerary:

  • What time of year is your visit? As summer is the busiest time on the road, travelling in shoulder season (May or September) might give you slightly quieter roads and less expensive accommodation.
  • Who’s travelling? If you’re travelling solo, as a couple, with friends, or a large family, clearly your itinerary could look very different.
  • Where are you arriving from? If you’re flying to Dublin, Belfast or Shannon, or taking the ferry from Cairnryan or Holyhead, you’ll need to allow for travel time to reach Donegal (think 1h 15m from Belfast, or 3 hours from Dublin). Plus account for time difference resting if you’re coming from further afield.
  • How will you get around? If you intend to drive yourself, your plans will look very different to someone taking day trips or using a private driver.
  • What are your travel priorities? Some visitors want to hit the main Wild Atlantic Way sights, known as “Signature Discovery Points” and there’s three in Donegal alone: Malin Head, Fanad Head and Sliabh Liag. Plus you might want to include particular castles, pristine Donegal beaches like Tullagh Strand, or simply hike in the peace of Glenveagh National Park.
  • What is your budget? Accommodation in Donegal ranges from hostels to 5*-star hotels, and there’s some great restaurants – some more expensive than others. Get a handle on your proposed daily spend during the itinerary planning process and before you start booking.
  • What’s your travel pace? My travel pace is evolving as I age. I like to take a little more time, make sure I get the lunch place I wanted and account for unscheduled stops to take photos. If you move faster, you might well fit more in! There’s pros and cons to both fast and slow travel.

How I planned my 3 day Donegal Itinerary

Beach near Malin Beg County Donegal
Photo by Patrick Hughes: Silver Strand at Malin Beg, Donegal

I planned my three day trip to Donegal based on the route map of the Wild Atlantic Way. The Way is a 2,500 kilometre driving route (over 1,500 miles) that connects some of Ireland’s most stunning locations along the wild West side of the country that faces into the Atlantic Ocean.

With so many locations to see, I needed to prioritise. My goals for the Donegal itinerary were to visit the 3 Signature Discovery Points in the county, see parts of the Inishowen area that I’d read about but not seen, plus leave a little time to enjoy lunches and stop-off points.

I planned my campervan overnights based on those goals and pre-booked two of my three nights. I factored in meeting up with a friend for lunch in Derry City on the first day.

I put all of those places on a map to plan out my route, resulting in this itinerary!

3 Day Donegal Route Map

Here are the main highlights of what I wanted to see, and the route that I planned through County Donegal:

  • Start in Derry by meeting a friend for lunch, drive to Malin Head
  • Base at Tullagh Strand for night #1.
  • Drive to Glenevin Waterfall, the Gap of Mamore, stop for lunch in Buncrana
  • Visit to Doagh Famine Village for a guided tour
  • Drive to Fanad Head Lighthouse, stopping off at An Grianan of Aileach on my way.
  • Wild camp at Fanad Head for night #2
  • Drive to Malin Beg in South Donegal, with stops for Doe Castle, Errigal and Glengesh Pass.
  • Picnic at Silver Strand near Malin Beg, visit Glencolumcille Folk Park
  • Visit Sliabh Liag Viewpoint (fantastic sea cliffs)
  • Stay overnight at Killybegs for night #3.

My top 3 Donegal things to do

My top three main things to do from this trip to Donegal were:

  1. Feeling like a stormtrooper at Malin Head, which featured in the Star Wars movie, The Last Jedi. In the event, I was pretty windswept as I was caught up in the tail end of a storm!
  2. Discovering the Grianan of Aileach for the first time, a remarkable ancient site.
  3. Hiking to the viewpoint at Sliabh Liag (Slieve League) on the hottest May day I’ve encountered in Donegal.

How to get around Donegal

Option 1: Campervan

A campervan at Malin Head

I was lucky enough to have access to a campervan for my 3 day itinerary in Donegal. But you could rent a campervan quite easily.

A campervan gives you flexibility to adapt your itinerary as you go. Plus you’ve already paid for your accommodation!

What you might not think about at first glance is how the expenses mount up. As you cover long distances on this Donegal itinerary, you’ll need to refuel at least twice. Plus rental costs can be pretty steep in high season.

Plus in Ireland, not every community is welcoming to campervan parking, particularly not wild camping overnight. You may need to prebook campsites.

Compare the price of a rental car plus hotel vs a campervan to help you decide.

Saying all that, I really enjoyed being able to travel via campervan for this trip. I felt kind of closer to things.

Option 2: Rental Car

Glenevin Waterfall
Photo by Patrick Hughes: Glenevin Waterfall

A lot of visitors want to combine a 3 Day Donegal Itinerary with other destinations in Ireland. In fact, it’s easier to visit Donegal with a car than any other way.

Not only does a rental car give you the ultimate flexibility each day (more than a guided tour), it’s easier to park than a campervan.

Driving means you’ll need to pay for a hotel every night, but as Donegal prices are a little less expensive than other parts of Ireland, it should make for a smart way to travel.

Option 3: Guided Tours

Glengesh Pass
Photo by Patrick Hughes: Glengesh Pass, Donegal

Let me quickly answer the question: can you manage this Donegal itinerary by public transport? The answer is no. While there are some public buses in Donegal, the timetable is not sufficiently interconnected to make a visitor’s life easy!

But if you don’t want to drive, the best way to visit the main Donegal tourist locations is on tours (whether a bus tour or private option).

On the plus side, a day tour is pre-arranged and you don’t have to do any planning or driving. I quite like the convenience.

On the negative side, you don’t have any flexibility and, unless you go private, will have a bunch of other tourists with you. Plus it could get expensive if you take a tour every day. But that suits some of us!

Here’s some tour options for Donegal:

Private Tour – Malin Head and Inishowen Tour

Full day for up to 7 people, highly regarded, includes a private guide.

From Killybegs – Sliabh Liag Cliffs Coastal Boat Tour

2 hours, unique way to see the sea cliffs from the water.

From Dublin –  3 Day County Donegal & the Wild Atlantic Way Coach Trip

Extensive 3 day trip starting in Dublin, 2 nights in B&Bs/guesthouse, small coach

Ready for the full itinerary? Let’s get started!

Day 1: Derry to Malin Head and Inishowen

Mural showing the Derry Girls
Photo by Patrick Hughes: Derry Girls Mural

This Donegal itinerary starts not in Donegal, but in the city of Derry, just across Lough Foyle from County Donegal.

Derry is a gateway for those coming from Belfast or Newry and I was able to meet up with a friend for lunch at the excellent Scarpello’s pizzeria.

With my belly full, it took me just an hour to drive along Lough Foyle, through Muff, to Malin Head, the starting point of the Wild Atlantic Way and pictured in the movie, The Last Jedi. This part of Donegal is called the Inishowen peninsula.

Malin Head, Donegal
Photo by Patrick Hughes: Drone shot of Malin Head

Despite a downpour, the area is just gorgeous and there were few people around. This is a great place to take a coastal hike.

As I was in a campervan, I thought it best to get parked up before it got dark. I made my way South through Carndonagh, picked up some fish at Atlantic Catch in Ballyliffin (I hear that Nancy’s Barn is highly rated for lunchtime) and drove towards Tullagh Strand for my campsite.

Road sign at Muff, Donegal

Where to Stay in Inishowen

Binion Bay Camping

I stayed at Binion Bay Caravan and Camping Park near Tullagh Strand for just €30 for one night and I’d recommend it. The owner was very friendly with advice on places to see in Inishowen. The nearest bars are in Clonmany, about a 25 minute walk. But I was happy to bed in for the night!

If you’re driving and staying in hotels, I’d recommend the Inishowen Gateway Hotel in nearby Buncrana which would be a good base.

Other options include the 4* Redcastle Hotel in Moville, which looks very comfortable, or The Harbour Inn in Buncrana, if you’re minding your budget but want great reviews.

Day 2: Explore around Inishowen

Lobster pot on Tullagh Strand
Photo by Patrick Hughes: Lobster Pot at Tullagh Strand

Day 2 started early with the bleating of lambs in the next field and I explored Tullagh Strand, near my campsite for a long walk on the beach. This is a breathtaking part of Ireland and worth lingering for an hour early in the day before your itinerary gets hectic!

All the same, there’s a lot of the Inishowen Peninsula to see today, so time to get on the road for some highlights nearby.

It’s less than 5 minutes to drive to Glenevin Waterfall with a short uphill hike on gravel pathways to a wedge-shaped mountain cascade. Great stop for a hot cup of tea at the newly laid-out picnic areas.

But don’t hang about! I’d recommend a short stop at the Gap of Mamore, ten minutes away up a series of hairpin roads! It’s a scenic viewpoint with a panoramic view across County Donegal – great for photos.

Gap of Mamore, Donegal
Photo by Patrick Hughes: views from the Gap of Mamore

All the sightseeing does make me hungry, so I drove about 20 minutes to Buncrana, a busy Donegal town, and had a good lunch at Oscar’s which has excellent soup and sandwiches.

For the next portion of your itinerary, you’ll need to get tickets at €13.50 per adult (€7 per child). Doagh Famine Village has a pre-booking service here (available during high season), or you should be able to buy tickets on the day at the reception/gift-shop area.

I wasn’t sure what to expect at Doagh, but I’d recommend you take the guided tour (included in your ticket) with Pat Doherty. He’s a mine of fascinating information. You can get tea and cake at the Doagh cafe beside the parking lot (and if you have time, Doagh Strand makes a fun walk).

Doagh Famine Village
Photo by Patrick Hughes: Pat Doherty showing how water was carried

It takes 2 hours from Doagh to Fanad Head Lighthouse, for my Day 2 Base. Just under halfway there lies a place called the Grianan of Aileach. It’s an ancient fort dating back to 1700BC and the peoples before the Celts!

Stop here for stunning views across Lough Foyle and Lough Swilly on a fine day from a very unique structure.

Circular structure at the Grianan of Aileach
Photo by Patrick Hughes: the gorgeous Grianan of Aileach
Fanad Head Lighthouse

It might be close to evening by the time you reach the Fanad Head area, the second Wild Atlantic Way Signature Discovery Point, but stopping anywhere near this location is well worth it. The golden hour at dusk and dawn draws photographers from across the world, fascinated by Fanad Head Lighthouse.

For the first time in my life, I “wild camped” at Fanad Head in the carpark (some people call this “boon docking”). I relied on my stock of groceries for dinner tonight as there weren’t many places to eat near the lighthouse.

Where to stay near Fanad Head

Fanad Head Lighthouse at dusk
Photo by Patrick Hughes: Fanad Head Lighthouse at dusk

As I was wild-camping for night #2, I had no accommodation bill, but there’s some great places to stay nearby.

If you’re VERY lucky, you can actually sleep in one of the small cottages at Fanad Head Lighthouse. Prices start around €300 per night for 2. This is on my wishlist.

While there’s some B&Bs in the area, you’ll find Arnolds Hotel in Dunfanaghy a well-regarded hotel.

Day 3: From Fanad to Sliabh Liag

A campervan at Fanad Head

Despite an early start (due to some talkative photographers outside the campervan), I wanted to get Day 3 underway, as there’s much more driving today.

The goal was to reach Malin Beg in the South of Donegal by lunchtime. Without stops that’s around 3 hours in a campervan so, if you like to eat early like me, make sure to get on the road by 9am.

My route took me past Doe Castle, spoken of as Ireland’s historical answer to Romeo & Juliet. It’s free to enter the grounds. I took a pit stop near Mount Errigal, which has a well-regarded (and achievable) hiking route to the top.

Mount Errigal, Donegal
Photo by Patrick Hughes: Mount Errigal, Donegal

But today the lunchtime goal was making it to South Donegal. On the way out to Malin Beg, you could visit Glencolumcille Folk Village, a replica of a typical Donegal village of old.

Silver Strand at Malin Beg
Photo by Patrick Hughes: Silver Strand at Malin Beg

I got very lucky on my visit to Silver Strand, and the view made my picnic even more delicious. There’s steps (a lot of steps) down to the strand itself, which is in a horseshoe-shaped cove.

Luckily, there’s only a 30 minute drive to reach the last of the 3 big Signature Discovery Points on this itinerary, Sliabh Liag (Slieve League).

Slieve League
Photo by Patrick Hughes: the sea cliffs at Sliabh Liag

The viewing platform at Sliabh Liag is an extremely popular stop on the Wild Atlantic Way, especially on sunny days! The car park can get very busy so be prepared for a short wait (or a longer walk).

The walk to the viewing area is about 1km uphill (people using a disabled badge may be permitted to drive closer). Take your time to breathe in the sensational views along these remarkable sea cliffs.

Top Tip: If you’re feeling energetic, hike the Cliff Path Walk at least part of the way for more spectacular elevated vistas. I didn’t have time to take the Sliabh Liag cruise but it’s on my list for next time.

Expect to pay €5 to park your car (for up to 2 hours) or €15 for all day. If you can’t get parked close by and need to take a shuttle, it will cost a further €6 per person.

There are some small concession stands at the top and I’d warmly recommend an ice cream if you get a hot day!

An ice-cream stand at Sliabh Liag

After hiking at Sliabh Liag, hop back into your car or campervan and make for Killybegs (30 mins). Time to check in to your accommodation, head out for dinner (perhaps to the well-liked The Turntable) and call this 3 day itinerary complete!

Where to stay in Killybegs

As I had my campervan, I chose Killybegs Holiday Park for €30 a night. However, Killybegs is well-served by hotels and guesthouses.

The Seawinds B&B is very highly regarded. I’ve stayed previously at the Tara Hotel which was a classic 3*, but with good harbour views. Otherwise, the Fleet Inn looks to have both good value and decent reviews, so could be worth a look.

Where else can you go in County Donegal?

Patrick Hughes at Sliabh Liag

Honestly, there’s so much to do in Donegal, you could easily spend a week or more. If you’re in need of some suggestions, here are some other of my favourite Donegal highlights:

  • Letterkenny: the largest town in Donegal (>20,000 inhabitants) with the most facilities.
  • Glenveagh National Park: 16,000 hectares of park to explore. Visit Glenveagh Castle.
  • Tory Island: renowned for its traditional music
  • Leo’s Tavern: famous traditional music venue and birthplace of Clannad and Enya!
  • Ards Forest Park: enormous and biodiverse park – perfect for a short hike or horse-riding.
  • Errigal: a mountain that a moderate hiker should be able to climb!
  • Arranmore Island: a Gaeltacht island (Irish speaking) with a host of outdoor (diving, dolphins) and indoor activities (great pubs and trad music).

Summary of this 3 day Donegal itinerary

Patrick with a drone at Tullagh Strand
Photo by Patrick Hughes: Patrick working out how to use a drone!

In many ways, 3 days is not enough to spend in County Donegal, but what it CAN give you is a sense of this fantastic part of Ireland.

In just 3 days, you’ll see 3 Signature Discovery Points along the Wild Atlantic Way, visit a charming lighthouse at Fanad Head, make stops at some of the cleanest and emptiest golden beaches in the world, and enjoy traditional Irish food and music in a place where Irish culture runs deep.

Make sure to adjust this itinerary to include places which are on your wish-list. There’s countless ways to enjoy Donegal.

But if you want a 3 day itinerary that hits some of the best places to see in Donegal in a short time period, giving you key Wild Atlantic stops alongside smaller, lesser-known sights and experiences, then this is the 3 day Donegal Itinerary for you!

What do you think of my itinerary? Is there anywhere else that you would add to improve it (or take something out)? Let me know in the comments below.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is Donegal worth visiting?

Donegal is one of the most beautiful counties in Ireland. There’s a treasure trove of Donegal tourist attractions from natural beauty to unique culture. Think of rugged coastlines and the majestic sea cliffs at Sliabh Liag, the scale of Glenveagh National Park and Castle, plus Donegal’s welcoming locals makes it a place of great charm. If you’re into hiking, history, or historic scenic views, Donegal has something for everyone.

What are the main Donegal tourist attractions?

If you still have questions after reading this post, don’t fret – there’s plenty for tourists to do in Donegal. The problem will be narrowing down your itinerary:

  1. Slieve League Cliffs – Among the highest sea cliffs in Europe, with dramatic ocean views and *challenging* hiking trails.
  2. Glenveagh National Park – It’s big, it’s wild, with mountains, pristine lakes and forests, plus the charming Glenveagh Castle.
  3. Donegal Castle – Built in the 15th century by the O’Donnell chieftains, this beautifully restored castle sits in the heart of Donegal Town.
  4. Malin Head – Ireland’s northernmost point, known for its rugged landscape, historical significance, and as a filming location for Star Wars.
  5. Fanad Head Lighthouse – A working lighthouse set on a scenic peninsula, offering stunning views and photo opportunities.
  6. Ardara – A traditional village famous for its tweed and wool production, traditional music, and the scenic Glengesh Pass.
  7. Tory Island – A remote and culturally rich island with a strong tradition in folk music, language, and arts.

Camping Donegal – is it easy to camp in Donegal?

Yes and no – it depends on your expectations and your willingness to adhere to regulations. On the organised front first, I used two motorhome parks that also permitted camping on site, with facilities like showers and electric hook-ups.

It is permitted to wild camp in Donegal, as long as you strictly obey the law, e.g., your campsite must be 400m away from any road or building. If you’re intending to camp on privately-owned land, you must have permission first. And please leave no trace of yourself behind.

On the positive side, many more basic sites benefit from being scenically located near beaches or on mountains. Needless to say, this can make your campsite more dangerous, so pitch extremely carefully, especially if getting set up at night.

Buying Soft Donegal Yarns in County Donegal

Donegal has an excellent reputation with crafters, stitchers and knitters for producing soft Donegal yarns and genuine tweed Donegal yarns. You’ll find Donegal Yarns is based in Kilcar, County Donegal. You’ll be able to buy soft Donegal yarns and tweed Donegal yarns at craft shops such as Morna’s Patch in Donegal Town, or the Craft Merchants in Killea.

Where should you stay in County Donegal?

In this Donegal itinerary, I’ve provided accommodation ideas for each of my overnight stops (Inishowen, Fanad Head and Killybegs). There’s a wide range of options in the county, and you’ll find that one of the most popular are bed and breakfasts on the outskirts of the main towns, such as Donegal Town, Buncrana, Letterkenny and Ballybofey. You’re sure of a warm welcome and a cooked breakfast.

 

Be inspired for your Ireland trip & share this article to Pinterest!

Pin showing a map of a Donegal driving route
Pin showing Fanad Lighthouse
Pin showing Silver Strand Donegal

Posts to help you plan your Wild Atlantic Way trip

I'm Patrick, your Irish guide to the skies and beyond. With 58 countries visited, my journeys have taken me from busy economy to fabulous first-class.

Leave a Comment

Planet Patrick contains affiliate links. If you make a purchase using an affiliate link, the site may receive compensation at no extra cost to you. Find out more in the disclosure policy.

Book popular things to do