Our first visit to County Donegal, where we stayed in Bundoran, visited Slieve League Cliffs and went surfing with TurfnSurf Surf school, felt like a rushed trip with way too much crammed into it.
Various attractions and little villages we longed to finally see in County Donegal were connected by narrow country roads, and it took us much much longer to reach them than initially planned. We ended up spending most of the time in the car and had no room to relax and enjoy the spots we travelled to.
That’s why, over the last few years, we took a different approach, made countless return trips and were able to capture incredible moments and see many beautiful places, including Slieve League Cliffs.
We had the fortune to watch the tides come in, take photos of pine trees gently swaying in the morning breeze and wait for purple heather to burst into life.
We were able to feel and to see its magical effect while scrambling down steep slopes and while looking for seashells through tangled seaweeds.
Your Guide to Visiting Beautiful Slieve League Cliffs in County Donegal
If your spirit is longing for scenic drives, and if you love to be introduced to new sensory experiences, then Slieve League cliffs is a place for you. Here is all you need to know about this place and the best ways to explore the Slieve League cliffs. In this blog post, we cover how to get there, what to bring on the trip, how to hike and reasons to visit.
Let tomorrow worry about itself, pack your bags, dust off your walking boots and come to visit Donegal, it’s a place of hundred thousand welcomes.
What is Slieve League cliffs and reasons to visit
If you are wondering what’s all the fuss about these particular cliffs – standing at 900ft Slieve League sea cliffs also known in Gaelic as Sliabh Liag which means grey mountain are among the highest sea cliffs in Europe.
What makes them even more special, besides the staggering views and their sheer size – if you compare them to other sea cliffs in Europe, they are easily accessible. You can drive up to the viewpoint, take in the views, snap a few photos and continue to explore Ireland’s rugged Northwest county.
Nearly three times the height of the more famous Cliffs of Moher in County Clare they offer broad, scenic views across the vast waters of Donegal Bay into Sligo, Leitrim and Mayo. On a clear day you’ll even get a chance to see Benbulben; Sligo’s iconic table mountain.
Once a place of sacred pilgrimage hundreds of years ago, it still contains the remains of Ade mc Bric’s chapel, as well as the remains of the monk’s stone dwellings known as hive huts.
Slieve League cliffs offer a sense of solitude and peace. There are no tacky souvenir shops nor large crowds of tourists. There’s just the howling winds, plenty of wandering sheep roaming the quiet countryside.
Did you know…
On the 9th of August 2020, Slieve League got its first known BASE jump when Greg McEntee successfully jumped from the skyline clifftops and landed his parachute on the storm beach at the base.
How to get to Slieve League Cliffs
Remember how Ralph Waldo Emerson, an American essayist, philosopher, and poet once famously said ‘It’s not the destination, It’s the journey.”? That quote can certainly equal the journey to the cliffs.
See, most of the people know very little what lies north or west of Donegal Town: a quick look at a map doesn’t reveal much and it almost appears empty. There is no train network nor large cities, only a cluster of small towns connected by winding roads.
The road to Slieve League cliffs and little villages along the way is wonderful for itself. Located in the Gaeltacht region of County Donegal, less than an hours drive from Donegal Town, cliffs are easily accessible to travellers.
There is no public transport to the cliffs and it’s best to hire a car to make the drive out to the magnificent site. Once at the base, you’ll see a sheep gate and a small car park. You can either leave your car there and walk 1.5 km to the Bunglas Viewpoint or choose to drive your way up the hill.
The gate will be closed to prevent livestock from wandering around. You’ll need to get out of your vehicle, open the gate, drive-through and close the gate behind you.
- From Dublin: Distance – 275 km via N2. Travel time – 3 hr 50min
- From Belfast: Distance – 141 miles via M1. Travel time – 3 hr
- From Donegal Town: Distance – 50 km via N56 and R 263. Travel time – 55 min.
Things to know before you go
West Donegal is known for having some of the most incredible landscapes in Ireland and in order to fully enjoy them, you have to be prepared. We found that a lot of people there assumed that since it was such a short walk to the cliffs that they didn’t need to be prepared, but the cliffs are exposed to natural elements and the weather can turn on you very quickly.
Bring appropriate clothing and footwear | If you are dreaming of getting out into the great outdoors and exploring trails around the cliffs, you have to be prepared. Good hiking boots, with good ankle support and a sturdy sole, is a must when exploring uneven terrain and bog lands.
Another key feature for anyone heading outdoors is a breathable and waterproof jacket. Keep in mind that if your waterproofs are not breathable then you are most likely to get wet from the inside.
Check weather forecast | On a few occasions, we started our visit under sunny skies only to be soaked wet. If you are visiting on a typical rainy day, stay around for a while to see if it clears.
Bring plenty of food and water | It is important to stay hydrated when being outdoors. Due to the negative effects of single-use plastics, bring a reusable water bottle and plenty of food to keep you fueled.
Entrance fee | One of the best things about visiting – there’s no admission or parking fee to visit the cliffs. Despite the free entry, there are days, especially if you are travelling off-season when you can head up to the viewpoint and no one is around.
Exercise extreme caution | As it is a drop of several hundred feet into the untamed Atlantic Ocean, we would not recommend getting too close to the edge of the cliffs.
Best time to visit | Best time to visit the cliffs are during the summer month, when the weather is warmer and when the days are longer. But even in the summertime, you can expect a bit of everything when it comes to the weather; rain, sunshine, cold and warm temperatures.
Facilities | The unspoiled cliffs don’t have public facilities or a visitors centre and that’s why it’s a good idea to take a break at Ti Linn Coffee Shop which is the last stop before Slieve League.
Emergency | If you get into any difficulty the emergency numbers to ring are 999 or 112.
Things to do and see at the cliffs
Bunglass Viewing Platform
You’ll find a designated viewing platform offering visitors astounding views of the cliffs and you’ll be pleased to find out that it’s possible to drive almost all the way to the highest point. Also, there are a few picnic tables. While Bunglas Viewpoint gives you the most panoramic view of Slieve League, those looking for adventure should hike the meandering Pilgrim’s Path up to the ruined church known as a mass rock.
One of the first things you’ll see on your way to the Bunglas viewing platform is a historically significant, two-story watchtower, perched right on the edge of the Carrigan Head, dating back to the Napoleonic wars when the British occupied Ireland.
Partially collapsed and now out of use the stone obelisk, at the time housing around 8-12 men, was designed by British authorities between 1804 and 1806 to keep an eye out for the French if they decided to invade Ireland. In case of approaching enemy vessels, the alarm could be raised by a signalling system that used ball and flag methods and was passed on from tower to tower that dotted the coast.
One of the incredible ways of seeing the cliffs and cruising close to many of its sea caves and waterfalls is by going on a boat trip and encountering a variety of marine wildlife along the way. During the summer months, there are regular sightings of basking sharks, dolphins, tuna, seals, porpoises as well as lots of seabirds.
Giant’s desk and chair
Glance below at the southern end of Sliabh Liag from the path and you’ll see two rocks in the little bay below the cliffs known as “Giant’s Table and Chair.” When you look closely, one of the rocks with a plunge
One Man’s Pass
From the upper car park, a jagged path leads up and along the steep cliffs to the fittingly named One Man’s Pass; a very narrow ridge that leads to the highest point of the cliffs. The difficult route with near-vertical cliffs that are worth the effort, should only be attempted by experienced hikers equipped with proper footwear.
Don’t even think about the trail if the weather is bad. Rain and mist can roll in at any time; making the narrow ridge treacherous and slippery. Definitely plan ahead if you are planning to hike and bring good hiking gear, waterproof jackets, boots, packed lunch and water.
The Pilgrim’s Path
A much easier and sheltered walk through Donegal’s renowned landscape takes hikers all the way to the top of the cliffs. If you have a good head for heights there is an incredibly beautiful walk known as Pilgrim’s Path. Although it’s only 4 (each way) km in length, it can take around 2-3 hours to complete. The Path starts off fairly easy only to become rocky terrain that is well worn and steep in places.
What to see and do nearby the cliffs
After exploring the majesty of Slieve League cliffs you’ll be glad to discover that there are many more amazing places nearby you could add to your itinerary. For those looking for a unique Irish experience and a slice of history, you will find it here.
Malin Beg Village | Just 20 km from the cliffs lies the beautifully untouched Gaeltacht village, Malin Beg. The small village, unspoilt by development, is home to 400 residents and one of the finest beaches in all of Ireland. If you are lucky with the weather and the sun is shining then head to the Silver Strand beach – a natural horseshoe shape with fine clean sand and plenty of room to roam around. Keep in mind that getting to the beach requires using lots of steps.
Glencoumbkille | Hidden on the upper West Coast is a lesser-known yet equally bewildering destination; a small coastal village with two pubs and a quaint atmosphere. The village hosts an excellent Folk Museum and offers some of the best hill-walking places in Ireland.
Ardara | Voted by The Irish Times as one of the ‘best villages to live in in 2012, Ardara is one of the most attractive towns in Donegal, where visitors can savour traditional pubs together with gifts and craft shops.
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Now, over to you!
Have you ever been to Slieve League Cliffs? Let us know in the comments!
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