We haven’t been to Glenveagh National Park for years and coming back reminded us why we were drawn to it so much in the first place. Firstly – the park is beautiful in all seasons.
Spring is best for enjoying the fresh aromas of nature, with the summer warmth comes an abundance of flowers, autumn brings out ribbons of golden colours and winter comes with subtle fog and chilly weather.
Secondly – you’ve got the beautiful Lough Veagh, Derryveagh mountain peaks, the largest heard of red deer in Ireland, an incredible four-story castle built in Scottish baronial style and beautifully blossoming gardens.
Whatever the weather, let the incredible landscape take effect on you and make sure you find the time to relax during your visit. Instead of rushing to the castle, find a quiet spot by the lake far away from other visitors, disconnect from your phone and renew your spirit by enjoying nature.
Then, depending on your preferences, you can choose to hike for hours, learn what types of plants grow in the castle gardens or have a piece of cake at the tearoom.
I still remember how our first visit to Glenveagh National Park was cut short by a scary rainstorm with crazy clouds coming and going. And instead of whining about it, we found the beauty in demolishing cakes from the castle café.
On our second visit, thick clouds were strong-willingly clinging to the nearby mountains, and we could barely see anything, yet we managed to go for a short hike and enjoy the calls and songs of nearby birds.
To be honest, on both trips we weren’t looking for a scene where all of the stars align perfectly yet the blue sky wouldn’t hurt. Keep in mind at the time we were living in the Dublin suburbs, and the driving distance to the Park was well over 3 hours each way.
Now, as residents of Sligo town, we can easily make it to the park and back in a day without clocking in too many miles, and just last week we decided to make a weekend trip out there and had the best time exploring it.
After having an incredible time once more, we were eager to share some of the things you could do around the park if you happen to be planning a trip.
Getting to the park and around
Glenveagh National Park is Irelands second largest park, located in County Donegal, 24 km from Letterkenny, the largest and most populous town in the county. Access from Letterkenny is by the N56 road through Kilmacrennan, turning left onto the Gweedore road R255.
The National Park is one of the top attractions in the northwest of Ireland open all year round and so is the Castle, Visitor Centre and Gardens.
Either you are arriving from Sligo, Dublin or Belfast, having your own vehicle is a must as It will give you an unparalleled amount of flexibility to customise your trip. Donegal isn’t the easiest place to get around by public transport – especially if you want to visit lots of different locations in a short time – so if possible it’s best to explore by car. It will give you the freedom of stopping whenever you want.
Just so you know – cars are not allowed beyond the visitor’s centre. However, there is a shuttle bus that can take you all the way to the gardens and castle, but we recommend walking the distance at least in one direction especially if the weather holds. Return bus fare for an adult is EUR 3.
There’s also an option to rent a bike.
Why you should visit the park
There are many reasons why an Ireland travel itinerary should include Glenveagh National Park! If you imagine the Emerald Isle then most likely you think of vast landscapes, stunning, historic castles and dramatic scenery that often are tied together by fascinating legends and narrow country roads. Glenveagh certainly meets all those expectations and more.
One of the most scenic national parks in all of Ireland, Glenveagh National Park is a little slice of heaven. It has plenty of activities to do, hikes to undertake and places to photograph. Whether you are craving a history lesson or outdoor adventure, you’ll find it all here. Plus a healthy dose of Irish charm.
I know that weather conditions up North are often wet, cold and windy, but don’t let that discourage you from visiting, these circumstances can also develop striking scenery.
What to do at Glenveagh National Park?
Glenveagh National Park (Gleann Bheatha, in Irish, meaning Glen of the birches) is the second-largest national park in Ireland and it’s a destination not to be missed if you are exploring County Donegal offering amplest to do and to see. A good place to start once you arrive at the park would be the Visitors Centre which displays impressive information about the park, wildlife, fauna, trails etc.
Hit the hiking trails
If you like to hit hiking trails and be more in tune with nature, there are many different to choose from and would suit various fitness levels.
Here, on a hiking trip unlike many others, you can wander the path alone as the light lingered at the end of a rainy day casting long shadows in muted grass. You can take a Lakeside Walk, just 3.5 km in length starting at the Bus Stop near the Visitor Centre that brings you to the castle and gardens or you can challenge yourself to undertake one of the longest routes.
Always remember to check the weather forecast before you go and avoid high peaks if the weather is bad.
Derrylahan Nature Trail: The way-marked walk near the Visitor Centre is an ideal introduction to Glenveagh’s natural environment and with 2km in length is perfect for visitors of all ages and fitness levels.
ViewPoint Trail: Albeit a very short trail, just 1km in length that starts and ends at the castle it leads to an ideal viewpoint that offers splendid views over the surrounding landscape, Lough Veagh and castle below.
Glen (Bridle Path) Walk: The trail is a mostly flat dirt road 8km in length rising gently over the last 3km. Along the walk which offers spectacular views of Lough Veagh and the surrounding landscape, you’ll be able to see native oak woodland and old settlements.
Visit the castle and learn about its history
If you’re not into hiking then exploring the castle is a great option to learn about its history. You have to visit the park and see the Scottish baronial style Glenveagh Castle sitting pretty on the lake shores and being surrounded by dramatic scenery.
Glenveagh National Park was first established as an Estate back in 1861 and Glenveagh Castle is one of the youngest castles in Ireland.
The castle was built between 1867 and 1873 by Captain John George Adair to rival that of the Queen’s residence in Balmoral. Access to the castle is by guided tour only and unfortunately inside; it’s not permitted to use cameras.
If you wish to see original antiques and furnishings then the entrance fee to the castle is EUR 7, and the tour lasts 30 minutes.
Walk around the gardens
Whatever the season you’ll find something wonderful to enjoy at the park’s gardens. Be it colourful autumn leaves, juicy spring buds, summer flowers or frosty ground. Although the first part of the Glenveagh Castle was built in 1969, the gardens were started only in the mid-1880s.
Garden lovers can walk amidst perfectly manicured garden beds blossoming with fragrant flowers and appreciate the incredible diversity of flora including moss-covered trees, rare plants and flowers. Often regarded as one of Ireland’s outstanding horticultural masterpieces The Castle Gardens
Once in a garden, allow yourself extra time for observing and enjoying little details in nature like the fluffy clouds high up in the sky and thick lines in the trunk of a tree. Be amazed by the variety of shapes, colours and sizes. Slow down your pace and enjoy your surroundings.
Keep an eye out for the wildlife
Rain or shine, there is always something to see at the park – given its natural setting you’ll find it brimming with wildlife.
Not only is the park home to foxes, badgers, several species of Bat, stoat and hare that can easily survive on a diet of mountain grasses and sedges, but this is also where you can see one of the most majestic birds, too. This is a place where you can spot Golden Eagles. Once extinct on the island, they were reintroduced in the year 2001 in Glenveagh.
One of Glenveagh’s most notable and largest animals is the Red deer, supplemented in the 17th century by introduced stock from Scotland. The best time for watching Red deer is during the mating season or ‘rut’ which takes place each year between mid-September and mid-November.
Things to know before you go
You don’t need to over-plan your trip, but there are a couple of things you’ll want to make sure are all squared away before you go
Best time to visit | If you are planning to visit Glenveagh national park, a good time is between mid-May until mid-October when the days are much longer and when the weather is a little bit better.
Bring appropriate clothing | In Ireland, weather can change in seconds, and you can even experience four seasons in one day. Pack your rain jacket and don’t bother waiting for the rain to stop. Always keep a change of clothes for the end of the walk, especially socks.
Accommodation | Sort out your accommodation well in advance. Hotels in Donegal book up very fast in the summer and around Bank Holiday weekends.
Travel advice | Reach out to the locals and other hotel guests. Ask sightseeing recommendations from your B&B owner and get tips from travellers who have already toured the area.
Don’t rush | First and foremost. Don’t try to rush it. Give yourself a whole day to explore the park. It may look small on the map, but there is a lot of ground to cover with plenty to see and do.
Entrance Fee | The park is free to enter and so are the Castle Gardens
Leave the park better than you found it
These beautiful parks that we are so fortunate to explore and photograph, need to be protected at any cost – hike and camp only in designated areas, plan ahead to minimise your waste and teach others about the importance of these natural areas.
Don’t be afraid to speak up, if you see any wrongdoing while visiting Glenveagh National Park – we need to remind each other as well as encourage each other to look after it. From butterflies and beetles to birds and deer’s – all habitats need protection.
So, next time you travel, ask yourself if the choices you make are helping or hurting native species and the environment.
- Respect the habitats of wildlife. Don’t disturb animals.
- Pick up any litter you see or bring along on the trails and bin it. Leave no trace.
- Be respectful of native plants and flowers. Don’t pick flowers – it’s not allowed.
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Now, over to you!
Have you been to Glenveagh National Park? Let us know in the comments below!
Let us know if you are plotting a visit to Donegal and have travel-related questions!