Dusky hues of pinks lit up the skies as we eagerly carried the last box of supplies needed for the road trip around Ireland’s largest peninsula. When the sun gradually descended and gave way to the glow of the moon, my heart felt full as we were set to go with the first morning light.
August was upon us and there was still lots I wanted for us to experience before Ericeira starts school in a few weeks. I wanted to take the time to slow down. I wanted to fully appreciate the last summer days and to watch as the late sun dips lower and dusk gathers ever earlier. I wanted to enjoy the calls and songs of nearby birds, take a bike ride, swim in a creek and lie in the grass of a blooming meadow before the harsh winter storms arrive.
I have always preferred to explore the North part of the country and deep down felt an emotional connection to the wild and isolated coast, I suggested Valters to return back to Inishowen Peninsula once more. For me, going back wasn’t about predictability or familiarity, I yearned to see various places we missed on the first trip and I wanted to jump into the wilderness.
As we made our way north, my mind wandered back to the very first time we had a chance to visit Inishowen Peninsula. It was 15 years ago when in the second week of January, we rented a car from Dublin Airport and travelled to Ireland’s most northerly point, Malin Head on the way stopping at Glenveagh National Park. During our 5-day road trip, we enjoyed empty stretches of road, met inspiring people with big hearts and reconnected with nature.
What is so unique bout the Inishowen Peninsula?
If you love natural beauty, stunning beaches as well as visiting cosy seaside towns in between, then the breath-taking drive around the peninsula should be on your list.
We can’t praise this place enough! Well, first of all, the Inishowen Peninsula is the largest peninsula in Ireland, and when the conditions are right, the Northern Lights come out to play. Thanks to minimal light pollution Aurora can be best seen in Spring and Winter, so plan your trip accordingly.
Second – whether it is standing at the edge of Malin Head with waves splashing against rocks and cliffs, taking in the views over the shimmering waters of Lough Swilly or coming across the Inch Wildfowl Reserve which is home to countless bird species and known for being one of the first stop-offs for migrating birds on their journeys south in the winter months, you will always find your own piece of magic on Peninsula.
Also, Malin Head is a starting/ending point of the Wild Atlantic Way. If your Wild Atlantic Way adventure starts in Malin Head, you are in for a treat. We can guarantee that the scenic coastline and rugged cliffs will take your breath away. The road is very well signposted, and driving is not too challenging.
So many Irish travel stories seem to be focused on Galway and Killarney, but it’s such a small portion of what this beautiful island has to offer. Be a real underdog, ditch the familiar path and expose yourself to the quint vibe of the true wilderness that is Inishowen Peninsula.
Top things to see and do on Inishowen Peninsula
To see all the top tourist attractions on the Inishowen Peninsula, we followed the Inishowen 100 scenic driving route and were met with scenic views around every corner literary taking our breaths away.
With an extensive array of heritage, arts, history and many amazing attractions, this rugged edge of Donegal offers its visitors a real authentic Irish experience.
You can choose from leisure activities and Alpaca trekking to visiting artists in their workshops and studios and catching a Lough Foyle ferry to Northern Ireland if you have a day to spare.
#1. Be in awe of the Stone Fort of Grianán of Aileach
The best-known and mighty impressive monument on the Inishowen peninsula is a stone fort sitting high on a hilltop 800 feet above sea level and looking out over the vast waters of Lough Foyle and Lough Swilly. This impressive stone circle was reconstructed in 1870 and built on the site of the original 1700BC ring fort located in Burt.
The interior of the circular fort measures some 23m across, the thick stone walls that are slightly crumbling in places are standing some 5m high and an entrance passage extends through the thickness of the massive encircling wall.
The walls also contain terraces along their interior allowing visitors to access the summit and take in the views.
Admission: Access to the site is free of charge and there’s also a spaces car park.
#2. Visit Fort Dunree Military Museum
Located on the shores of Lough Swilly, less than ten miles from Buncrana, the Fort Dunree heritage museum complex was originally opened to the public in 1986 and it houses the Wildlife Discovery Room, The Guns of Dunree Exhibition, The Rockhill Collection and a great variety of signposted trails that are a must for anyone visiting peninsula.
Even if you are not interested in military memorabilia, it can still undoubtedly be one of the highlights of a visit to the Inishowen’s west coast as the rocky coastline comes with a handful of beautiful viewpoints, picnic tables, detailed information boards and Dunree lighthouse.
Location: Dunree View, Leophin, Linsfort, Buncrana, Co. Donegal
Price: Adult – €7, Kids – €5, Seniors – €5, Family – €15
#3. Stop by the Maritime Museum and Planetarium in Greencastle
Located at the Old Coast Guard station over looking Greencastle Harbour on the banks of the beautiful Lough Foyle, Maritime Museum and Planetarium is a small museum with a wide range of exhibits and is great for all ages. You could easily spend a couple of hours here if you are at all interested in boats and the sea.
The National Maritime Museum received a special award at the Pride of Place Awards ceremony which took place on Saturday 30th November in Lyrath Estate Kilkenny.
Ericeira loved the planetarium and it was great for a rainy day activity on our holiday. There’s also a tea room for light lunches, snacks and drinks, and a gift shop with quirky things to buy. The museum and planetarium are open from April to August.
From Greencastle, you can even catch a ferry to Magilligan located in County Londonderry, Northern Ireland. The car and passenger ferry connecting the Wild Atlantic Way and the Causeway Coastal Route takes only 15 minutes which is plenty of time to take in the wonderful scenery along the way.
Address: 4 Coastguard Station, Eleven Ballyboes, Greencastle, Co. Donegal
#4. Stroll along one of its many stunning beaches
There is nothing more soothing than walking on the naturally stunning formations of the coastline that are scattered with long stretches of golden sand, and thankfully, on Inishowen Peninsula, you are never too far away from some of the best and most beautiful beaches on the island of Ireland.
If you are looking for dramatic scenery and a place to capture picturesque sunsets, make sure to include a visit to the beach in your itinerary.
Every beach is different, and every beach offers something different, but on all of them you’ll be able to discover peace and serenity. Yes, I am aware that Ireland is not known for having the warmest or sunniest weather, but the rugged coast can be quite staggering in places, so I am sure you won’t mind spending a day frolicking on the shore – even when it’s wet and windy.
You could stop at Pollan Strand in Ballyliffin to watch the surfers take on big waves, you could go for a walk on Five Finger Strand and see the towering dunes or, if you want to be close to the impressive structure of Stroove Lighthouse, stop by Stroove Blue Flag Beach.
#5. Drive the Inishowen 100
Ireland is full of epic landscapes and coastal views, offering a variety of driving routes available all over the country and one of the best drives are located on Inishowen Peninsula.
The Inishowen 100 is a name given to s scenic route circling around Inishowen Peninsula that starts in Bridgend at the base of the Inishowen peninsula, where you can find a lay-by with a large map and information boards to get you familiar with the route, but you can start the drive at any point really, be it on the eastern or western side.
If you continue driving clockwise, after 15-minute drive, you’ll come across Buncrana town where you’ll find the Inishowen Tourist Information office providing in-depth knowledge/expertise of the Inishowen Peninsula & County of Donegal.
The loop drive is a 100 mile (160 km) often regarded as one of Ireland’s best road trips offering a diverse and exciting experience, with no shortage of things to see and do, and we can certainly vouch for that!
The drive can be easily completed in a single day but is best enjoyed over several days. We had three full days and it was just enough time to see all the tourist attractions.
#6. Take in the views at Malin Head
Remember how last summer, while exploring southwest Ireland, we had a chance to visit Ireland’s most South-westerly Point? This summer we crossed off another place on our travel wish list by visiting Ireland’s most northerly point Malin Head.
It is renewed for its breath-taking scenery and windswept views, and trust me, it lives up to the hype as it is famous for its rugged natural beauty of mountains, bays, inlets and rocks.
As the most northerly point in Ireland this place is startlingly beautiful. This is where wind and waves dominate the rugged coastline and to see it in all its glory you can use a purpose-built path that is suitable for all fitness levels and takes an approximately one hour for a round trip.
#7. Drive through Mamore Gap and visit Glenevin Waterfall
Once a site of Catholic pilgrimage, the Gap of Mamore, five miles north of Buncrana passes between Mamore Hill and Urris at 800ft. above sea level and makes for a great spot to take in the views of Leenan and Urris. Once you make it through the narrow winding road continue on to visit one of Donegals waterfalls.
Located on the outskirts of the village of Clonmany, Glenevin waterfall is one of Inishowen’s most spectacular natural attractions and makes for a perfect place to stop and stretch your legs as the path weaves through a wooded stream valley.
The waterfall is easily accessible by a well-kept walkaway, there is a designated car park, plenty of picnic areas and vantage points with stunning views of the surrounding coast and countryside.
Walking Distance: 1 km of path, Approximate Time Needed: 30 mins, Grading: Easy
#8. See the lovely Inishowen Lighthouse
Ireland has more than its fair share of lighthouses and County Donegal has eleven lighthouses including Ireland’s most northerly lighthouse, Inistrahull off the coast of Malin Head. Inishowen Lighthouse or also known locally as Stroove Lighthouse is located in Stroove near the coastal town of Moville in Inishowen, from where on a clear day, you can see Scotland.
The distinctive lighthouse was originally used as harbour lights to guide vessels into Lough Foyle and to lead them clear of the Tuns Bank and the light continues to be flaunted to this day in conditions of poor visibility.
The station was automated in 1979 when the Keepers were withdrawn and replaced by an Attendant. An electric foghorn controlled by a fog detector gives two blasts every 30 seconds when activated.
You cant actually get in to view the lighthouse, but there are lovely views of it and the coastline from the beach.
How to get to and around peninsula
Getting to Inishowen is very easy, and the best way to reach it and to experience beautiful scenery is by car as there are loads of places public transport can’t get to. We opted for the N2 /A5 route from Dublin via Northern Ireland, followed by R240.
The driving distance from Dublin to Inishowen is around 4 hours, even more, if you stop for pictures and snacks in a beautiful Londonderry(bring some sterling just in case).
Derry Airport is the closest to link in terms of flights, but it would be much more convenient and budget-friendly to use Dublin or Belfast airports.
If you wish to get around by public transport, then look no further than Bus Éireann who runs regular bus service, Expressway Route 30, from Dublin’s Busáras Bus Station to Donegal, passing through Dublin Airport and Cavan.
Once you arrive in Donegal, check out the Local Link bus service. They provide transport in rural Ireland between smaller towns and villages (Moville, Killybegs and Glencomcille including).
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Now, over to you!
Have you been to Inishowen Peninsula and Malin Head? What do you loved the most?
Let us know if you are plotting a visit to Donegal and have travel related questions!