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Not only is Donegal Town an excellent base, it’s a charming city to explore.
The early morning sunlight ignited the trees across the river. The leaves flickered like golden embers, radiating across the horizon. A mirrored reflection magnified this brilliance in the shallow waters beneath the shore. Donegal Town was silent, except for the occasional caw of a circling seabird.
I stayed overnight at the nearby Solis Lough Eske Castle, just outside of Donegal Town. Waking up bright and early, I wanted to get a prompt start to the day with so many things to do in Donegal Town and beyond. Donegal was my first stop of the day and I couldn’t imagine it any other way. I wandered around, even before sipping my first cup of coffee. Perhaps my favourite part of this visit was watching a sleepy town awaken from its slumbers.
THE EARLY BIRD
When you’re not entirely dependent on attractions opening their doors, I always recommend getting an early start to the day. Even in the most touristy locations, you’ll skip the crowds by being the early bird. Initially, no one else was around.
Gradually, as the sun rose higher in the sky, I could feel the energy building in the village. Maintenance workers started emptying trash cans to prepare for the onslaught of day trippers. Overnight guests spilled out of nearby hotels, yawning and rubbing their eyes, in search of a caffeinated beverage. I wandered into the same popular convenience store as the others to grab a cup of coffee. As everyone else was getting a start to the day, I was already on my way out of town, with more adventures on the horizon.
Even at the crack of dawn, there are lots of things to do in Donegal Town. Here’s how I spent my morning there.
EXPLORE THE ABBEY RUINS
We parked our car along the River Eske and walked across the street to the ruins of the Franciscan Friary. Known as the Donegal Friary or Donegal Abbey, it was founded in 1474 by the O’Donnell Dynasty. In 1601, it was badly damaged during the Nine Years War, and only fragments of the church and the cloister arcade remain today.
I meandered around the ruins and graveyard with no other visitors in sight. The surroundings was so picturesque, and the setting was so peaceful. Time quickly passed as I was enamored with this former abbey.
WANDER AROUND THE TOWN
From the Abbey, walk along the River Eske towards the main downtown area. The middle of town is quite cute, with colourful and old stone buildings lining the streets. If you’re here a little later in the day, pop by some of the shops, restaurants, and pubs.
It doesn’t take long to walk all over town as Donegal isn’t that big of a place. Going for a big walk was one of my favourite things to do in Donegal Town, as it’s something I really enjoy doing in mostly every new city I visit.
Unfortunately, Donegal Castle was closed when I travelled to Donegal, but I’d love to stop by when I return someday. For the 5 Euros admission fee, you can take a self-guided tour of this partially restored castle. Check out the interior of the castle, as well as the castle grounds.
As it’s right in the centre of town, I admired the castle from outside its gates.
About five minutes away from Donegal Town, make your way to the serene Lough Eske. Conveniently enough, I stayed overnight at Solis Lough Eske Castle hotel and explored the property while I was there. However, you don’t have to stay at any of the properties along the lake to discover its beauty. Anyone can walk around the lake and admire the scenery from several viewpoints.
With that said, I adored my stay at Solis Lough Eske Castle, and I highly recommend that you stay overnight there, too. Who wouldn’t want to sleep in a gorgeous castle by a stunning lake? Be sure to read my review and the reviews of fellow travellers.
DAY TRIPS FROM DONEGAL
Looking for more things to do in Donegal Town and the surrounding area? One of my favourite places in County Donegal was Ireland’s northernmost point, Malin Head. There’s a spectacular hiking trail along the coast with breathtaking views of the ocean. I visited Malin Head the day before my early morning in Donegal Town, after departing Derry in Northern Ireland.
After Donegal Town, I travelled to the nearby village of Sligo to roam around for a few hours. More on that soon!
Want to see more photos of Donegal Town? Check out my entire travel photo album of County Donegal. From my photography album, you can purchase prints, housewares, phone cases, and more, featuring our photographs.
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