Donegal Roadtrip – The Wild Atlantic Way

Join me for a weekend in Co. Donegal as I explore life in the Wild Atlantic Way. Donegal has a lot to offer. Why not relax in one of the many spa hotels? Or explore nature in it’s most rugged form in Glenveagh National Park. There are also quaint towns scattered throughout the county which shares some of Ireland’s most beautiful scenery.

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Donegal mountain pin

Recently, I set myself a list of goals that I would like to achieve in the coming year. One of those goals was to travel more. I want to see a bit more of the world, which also includes places that are on my doorstep.

I’ve barely explored much of my own territory in Ireland as I’ve only visited the Republic a handful of times. Therefore I couldn’t turn down an opportunity for a cheeky weekend in Donegal with the hubby.

Donegal is the most northerly point on the Wild Atlantic Way, a 2,500km coastal route stretching from Donegal to Cork. The county is a Gaeltacht area, meaning that Irish is the prominent language of the region. With castles and rugged coastlines in abundance, Donegal is also the most mountainous county in the province of Ulster.

Where to stay in Co. Donegal?

Are you wondering if I have any recommendations for a great place to stay? Of course, I do!

Hubby and I stayed in Jackson’s Hotel in Ballybofey for the two nights we visited this beautiful county. For us, the hotel’s location was ideal; around two hours from our home in Belfast and also within a short driving distance to Donegal Town and Letterkenny.

Jackson’s had recently undergone a transformation since changing ownership and it appears that no expense was spared.

We stayed just before Christmas in 2018. Decorated with beautiful festive ornaments, there was the “WOW” factor from the moment we opened the doors.

The room was very spacious; a triple room with a double and single bed (a seriously comfortable double bed at that!). The ensuite bathroom was clean and well proportioned.

Downstairs just off the lobby was a cosy bar and a romantic restaurant. The drinks were reasonably priced and the food was incredibly tasty too!

Arriving late on the first night meant we only had Saturday to explore the local area and make use of the leisure facilities in the hotel.

What to do in Donegal?

Our approach to this roadtrip to Donegal was too laidback. I probably should admit this as it’s such a rookie mistake (but sometimes it needs to be done I guess). Unlike our Honeymoon in Santorini, we didn’t make a single plan or research our surroundings.

Donegal Sea

We didn’t search to find things to do or places to see until we were eating breakfast on Saturday morning.

This was a particularly dangerous move. Hubby and I can be nutoriously indecisive at times, especially when we are indifferent about something.

Here’s a little pro tip: Plan ahead! I would not advise our approach to anyone. Especially if you or your partner happen to be as indecisive as we are. I will ensure we have an itinerary in future to save a lot of time!

Eventually, overcoming our intense indifference. We decided to head to Letterkenny but stop at The Newmills Corn and Flax Mill on the way. We wanted to find out more about the mill and also to witness the demonstrations.

Unfortunately, the mill was closed. Likely due to being the offseason. Therefore we moved on to Letterkenny and did a spot of shopping.

Feeling a bit unfulfilled culturally, another google search was underway. This time we instantly knew what we wanted to see! Glenveagh National Park.

Glenveagh National Park

Glenveagh Park

The route from Letterkenny to Glenveagh National Park is stunning. I highly recommend putting on some proper driving music and just enjoying the scenery passing by.

One of the reasons we visited Glenveagh National Park and Glenveagh Castle was to actually view the castle too. It really is the perfect excursion for anyone who enjoys nature walks, beautiful scenery and learning about the local history.

Many people have a fairytale idea about Ireland and Irish life, and it’s easy to see where that comes from.

Glenveagh mountain ranges

Glenveagh National Park was very peaceful but also strikingly beautiful.

There is a shuttle bus that operates between the visitors’ centre and the castle. However, we decided to walk the 4km up to the castle and take the bus back. This gave us time to absorb ourselves in the beautiful scenery around us. And also to work off the tasty breakfast we scoffed in the hotel – bonus. 

Lough Veagh

I was completely taken aback at how beautiful and romantic the area is. The air was fresh and along the route, we found Lough Veagh and the surrounding glens coated in fog. Which made for the perfect photographic opportunity.

The view reminded me of Loch Lomond in Scotland. Only on a smaller scale.


Glenveagh Castle

When we reached the castle we couldn’t believe how beautifully landscaped the grounds were. Highly regarded as a piece of art, the grounds have different themes for each area.

  • The Pleasure Garden
  • The Walled Garden
  • The Gothic Orangery
  • The Italian Terrace
  • The Tuscan Garden

We walked around the gardens and then stopped for a quick coffee before taking a tour of the castle.

We decided to sit outside as it was a dry day and the fresh air was good for our lungs. After a couple of minutes, we were joined by a little Robin dancing from roof top to the ground.

When we finished our coffee we began the tour of the castle’s interior. The tour was very informative and covered the history of the castle from its build until the present day.

History of Glenveagh Castle

Built in the 1870s by John George Adair, Glenveagh castle was designed in the Scottish Baronial style. The intention was to rival Balmoral Castle (the Queen’s residence in Scotland).

By all accounts, John George Adair wasn’t particularly liked within Donegal. During the Irish Famine, he evicted 44 families from their homes within the grounds of the estate. There was no reason for this other than to make the land more aesthetically pleasing from the castle.

Later the Adairs passed and left no Children. The castle fell into disrepair before being bought by a millionaire, Professor Arthur Kingsley Porter. The professor’s stay at the castle was short as he disappeared from Inishbofin Island in 1933 under mysterious circumstances.

At that time the rumour mill was rife. There were suggestions of suicide, accidental death or assuming a new identity and creating a new life in mainland Europe.

While these are all possibilities, the most accepted outcomes are:

  • That he went for a walk along the beach and had an accident.
  • Or that he set sail from Inishbofin in his boat, encountered a storm and drowned.

An inquest was conducted but the outcome was inconclusive.

Later, the castle was owned by Henry McIlhenny. McIlhenny was another millionaire and threw parties with Hollywood stars such as Gretta Garbo and Charlie Chaplin.

After a number of years, McIlhenny left the castle to the Irish State. However, he still used Glenveagh Castle as his holiday home until his death. In 1984 Glenveagh National park was opened to the public. Two years later in 1986, the castle began hosting public tours.

All owners were keen travellers and horticulturists who have helped shape the gardens into the beautiful spaces they are today.

Donegal on reflection

As inquisitive wanderers, although our stay was short, we had a fantastic time in Donegal. A bit of fresh air does wonders for the soul. And learning about how an area is shaped is magic for the mind.

If you are travelling to Ireland at any point I highly recommend adding Donegal to your list. Drive along the Wild Atlantic Way coastal route and take in some spectacular views. Relax in one of the many spas and visit one of the many nature spots!

Is Donegal on your bucket list? Have you been to Donegal or even Glenveagh National Park before?  Or is there another location you’d recommend to me? Share your thoughts in the comments!

Don’t forget to check out my other travel posts!

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Donegal Lighthouse

Until next time…

Geez Louise travel signature

Well hello!! I created this blog to share my fitness routines, travel updates, musings on life and offer advice on wedding planning! Drop me a comment and say HI!


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