How to visit Glenveagh National Park in County Donegal: The Ultimate Guide

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.

Glenveagh National Park gardens are a joy to explore and photograph.

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.

One of many blooming flowers in the Castle Gardens

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.

Gweedore 017
Just as a passing trough visitor I wanted to make every minute count.

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.

If you haven’t visited any of Ireland’s National Parks, then it is time you change that

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.

View Point 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.

Hiking is the most popular activity in the park with a wealth of different options.

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.

The hauntingly beautiful Glenveagh Castle on the shores of Lough Veagh, Donegal, Ireland

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.

Glenveagh National Park gardens in Donegal

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, this is 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.

One of many little creatures in the park

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

The stunning views from the View Point Trail

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.
Each of the six national parks in on the island offer up its own magical experience, and in our humble opinion, you shouldn’t miss out on any of them.

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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!

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46 thoughts on “How to visit Glenveagh National Park in County Donegal: The Ultimate Guide

  1. It took me a while to find the right weather window to go to Glenveagh but I managed to do it and I really enjoyed the gardens, which are divided into several terraces with different themes. This makes for quite a varied series of photos. It’s a great suggestion for a visit.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Weather plays a major role in exploring Ireland and even more for visiting wilderness areas and therefore, we waited a long time to find the right weather window, too, and even then it suddenly started pouring down during our visit! Nevertheless, we had a great time, especially seeing all those blooming flowers. And I agree with you – the gardens would make for a fantastic series of photos 🙂 Thanks for stopping by and have a nice day Aiva

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you kindly, Francisco. Each of the six national parks in Ireland offers up its own magical experience, and in my humble opinion, you shouldn’t miss out on any of them, especially if you are drawn to various outdoor experiences such as hiking and biking. Thanks for stopping by and have a nice day. It’s pouring down in Sligo today and with the fast-approaching winter season, we might as well get used to it. Cheers 🙂 Aiva xx

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yes, we love hiking and biking and we do as much as we can in València, where there are many parks and many many trails of all types. Sorry to hear about the rain ☔️ well, that’s how it is. In Spain now it’s 40 degrees in Madrid and 46 in Sevilla! Here in the Aegean Coast of Turkey it’s a breezy 30 degrees but sunny and perfect for the beach! Take good care and all the best Aiva, cheers!

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  2. Another beautiful place to visit when we come back to Ireland. This park looks absolutely gorgeous, especially the view from the Viewpoint Trail. When we only had a brief visit to Donegal in 2017, we vowed to come back and see more of it. Have a great week Aiva. Allan

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi, Allan 🙂 Ireland has a heap of incredible places, fun cities and cultures to explore during a trip. That being said, you can’t really forget about the awesome nature, too. And that’s why National Parks who are unquestionably the most extraordinary destinations in the country should be on everyone’s travel itinerary. Thanks for stopping by and have a nice day. Two more weeks until Ericeira goes back to school, exciting times ahead! Cheers 🙂 Aiva

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    1. Thanks so much, Diana! I am a firm believer that not only should we be sure we don’t leave any trace behind following our visit, but we should also strive to leave the national parks better than we found them. In order to ensure that people are able to continue enjoying these national parks, we all have to do our part in keeping them as pristine as we found them. I really hope you get to visit Ireland one day 🙂 Thanks so much for stopping by and have a nice day 🙂 Aiva xx

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    1. Thank you, Marion. There is no feeling quite like sidling up to an ancient castle sitting peacefully by the lake or shimmying your way through one of many scenic trails in the park. I hope you get to visit Glenveagh National Park one day as these particular slices of nature—the unspoiled, the protected—are best experienced in person to really bear witness to the sheer scale of the magnificence of their unique features. Thanks so much for stopping by and have a nice day 🙂 Aiva xx

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    1. I am glad to hear you had a great time exploring Ireland, and I hope you get to return one day to visit its National Parks as a trip to one of them can change you in ways that other destinations may not. Thanks for stopping by and have a nice day 🙂 Aiva xx

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  3. Glenveagh National Park looks beautiful. I can see why you would recommend visiting in the spring as the Castle Gardens looks gorgeous with all the colourful flowers. I love the reminder about not rushing yourself. Thanks for sharing. Linda

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Irelands National Parks are perfect for nature lovers as they are beautiful throughout the seasons no matter the weather. They might not be as big as the ones in Canada or the USA, but nevertheless, they represent the rich history of the country and its future, as well as freedom, the beauty of nature, and so much more. I only wish we had more than six national parks! 🙂 Thanks for stopping by, Linda and have a nice day! Aiva xx

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Never been to Glenveagh National Park, but after reading your post, I’m set on going! All the better that it’s free to access! Ireland is certainly nothing short of beautiful scenery after scenery, which you captured so wonderfully in each photo you take…green, green everywhere!

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thank you kindly, Rebecca! Visiting a national park is a great way to spend a vacation pretty much every season, especially if they are open all year round and you don’t have to pay an entrance fee. Some parks are best visited in the summer, while others are better in the fall. Even finding a time to go during the off-peak season can be rewarding, since this means you likely won’t have to contend with crowds. Thanks so much for stopping by and have a nice day 🙂 Aiva xx

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    1. Hi, Bernie, how are you doing today? I am glad you loved those garden gates with rustic knockers, too! I took plenty of photos of them as they add charm and character to the blossoming gardens that are such a tranquil retreat! Thanks for stopping by and have a nice day 🙂 Aiva xx

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      1. I am a sucker for symmetry and colour so that photo really spoke to me. Definitely hot and dry here today. I am hanging in there but there has been lots of family & friend turmoil lately. Trying to find my gratitude daily. Hope all is well with you guys and that you are enjoying lovely GREEN Ireland (I miss green)

        Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you kindly. Given their serenity and natural beauty, Ireland’s national parks are some of the most popular destinations for a road trip as they provide a unique opportunity to connect with nature while being socially distanced at the same time. Despite the moody weather conditions, we had a memorable time! Thanks so much for stopping by and have a nice day 🙂 Aiva

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      1. Really Hope to see Ireland one day. It’s just risky yo travel nowadays, plus so many requirements. But I’m optimistic one day, everyone gets to be free to go where their dreams wants to take them. Take care.

        Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks so much! Expectations go a long way toward a great first experience, and timing is key. Fortunately, when it comes to exploring National Parks in Ireland, we don’t have to apply for any permits or waiting lists for famous hikes, pay an entrance fee or deal with seasonal closures. Thanks for stopping by and have a nice day 🙂 Aiva

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  5. Another stunning destination! That castle surrounded by that amazing gardens! A little piece of heaven no matter the weather 😉
    And I love “Leave the park better than you found it”! Something that we all should do everywhere we go!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you kindly. We are fortunate to have many amazing castles nearby to explore. Fortunately, Glenveagh Castle was closed due to the COVID, but then again, we can use it as an excuse to return later in the fall and see the park dressed in a different gown. Thanks for stopping by and have a nice day 🙂 Aiva xxx

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    1. Thank you kindly. Ireland’s national parks will leave you in a state of wonder and awe, and I have to say that they make for a memorable visit nearly any time of year as you can go hiking, cycling, photography, wildlife viewing, and so much more… Thanks for stopping by and have a nice day 🙂 Aiva xx

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    1. Thank you kindly, Meg 🙂 Ireland’s national parks preserve much of the country’s majestic beauty, allowing visitors to explore some of the most beautiful landscapes on the island. One of the best things about the Glenveagh – it is a four-season getaway, too. While the roads and the park can be crowded in the summer, come December, Glenveagh is a tranquil winter wonderland. Thanks for stopping by and have a nice day 🙂 Aiva xx

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  6. What a beautiful place, Aiva! I love the reflection of the hills on the lough. There is a very large Donegal community in Glasgow – very few of the Irish were from anywhere else. Curiously, I have never visited Donegal but would like to. Ericeira’s curls are adorable – what a cute pair you make. 🥰

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    1. Thank you kindly, Kerry! Believe it or not, but I took the main photo, the one with reflections, ten years ago at the beginning of January! We had near-perfect conditions for a road trip around Donegal, and I couldn’t be happier with everything we had a chance to see along the way. I didn’t know there’s a large Donegal community in Glasgow, must be the proximity to Ireland and vice versa. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      1. That brought back some memories, Aiva! I had no idea that Gallus had its roots in Irish Gaelic. We were surrounded by Gallaghers, Sweeneys, Duffys and all the other Donegal folk. My Nana was a tiny bit snooty about coming from Sligo…😉 We lived in a medium sized council estate, Toryglen, and quite a few were Irish Catholics. Most of my friends’ parents were immigrants and held a British Subject passport not a citizen. Some of the Donegal immigrants ran grocery vans which were really needed for large families, some of whom were still speaking Irish Gaelic. Most of us received free college/university education as we were low income, so the next generation did better financially.

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        1. Thanks for giving me a glimpse of the way things were back then. I was delighted to stumble upon the article as there are still lots of things I am learning about the Celtic Culture and the heavy Irish immigration. I wish I paid more attention to history and Irish people living in Scotland during my time there, but then again, I was 20-something and couldn’t care less. I didn’t even know that In the Scottish Highlands the Gaelic term gall was applied to people from the English-speaking lowlands and to Scandinavians; in Ireland, the same term was applied to settlers who arrived from Wales and England in the wake of the Anglo-Norman invasion of the 12th century. You live and learn xx

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    1. I hope you’ll get to explore beyond Dublin one day! Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing at all wrong with Dublin; it’s a beautiful city. But it sometimes draws attention away from the rest of what Ireland has to offer visitors. The country is full of so many great cities and great natural landscapes that are more than worth your time and attention. Have a nice day 🙂 Aiva xx

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    1. Thank you kindly. I love finding reflections in any water source that is still such as a pond, lake, calm area of a river, a puddle, or even the wet sand along the shore. Reflections of mountains, trees, city buildings and skies are all compelling subjects to find reflections of in the natural scenery. Thanks for stopping by and have a nice day 🙂 Aiva xx

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