Ballyshannon is a market town in southern County Donegal, 22 km south of Donegal Town, and with a population of 2299 in 2016. It's by the estuary of the River Erne and in Irish it's Béal Átha Seanaidh, "the mouth of Seannach's ford". It's best known as the birthplace of the guitarist Rory Gallagher.
Bundoran is a beach resort 7 km west, population 1963. It's exposed to the Atlantic so it's good for surfing rather than bathing. The TIC is in village centre, open M-F 11:00-15:00, Sa Su 12:30-17:00.
Belleek 8 km east is just over the border in County Fermanagh. With a population of 904 in 2011, it's famous for its pottery.
Everywhere in County Donegal is close to the UK border, but especially the pinchpoint of this southern corner. If you take Bus 30 from Ballyshannon to Belleek, it drops you on the main road just over the border; you walk back into the Republic and across the "Magherboy salient" for 200 m before entering Northern Ireland (and exiting the European Union) a second time; and then the same in reverse to go back. In 2021 there are no border checks, but it's your responsibility to ensure your personal and car documents are valid.
Bus Éireann X30 / 30 runs every couple of hours from Dublin Busáras, taking 3 hr 20 min via Dublin Airport, Virginia, Cavan Town and Enniskillen, and continuing from Ballyshannon to Donegal Town. From Cavan Bus 30 takes a slower route via Butlersbridge, Belturbet, Enniskillen and Belleek.
From Belfast travel via Enniskillen.
Expressway 64 runs every two hours from Derry via Letterkenny, Ballybofey and Donegal Town to Ballyshannon and Bundoran (2 hours) and continues to Sligo, Charlestown, Knock airport and village, Claremorris, Ballyhaunis, Tuam and Galway.
Local Link Bus 982 runs from Sligo (the nearest railway station), taking 80 min along the coast via Drumcliffe, Lissadell, Mullaghmore and Bundoran, with 5 M-Sa and 3 Sunday. In Ballyshannon it connects with Bus 292, which runs every two hours from Donegal Town via Laghy and Rossnowlagh.
1 Ballyshannon Bus Station is just north of the river bridge on Main St.
2 Bundoran main bus stop is outside the TIC, with others along Main St.
Ulsterbus 64 runs twice on Thursday between Enniskillen and Belleek. Other village services are just school buses.
3 Belleek bus stop for the Ulsterbus is by the Post Office, but Bus 30 from Dublin stops on A46 / N3 500 m south.
By car from either Dublin or Belfast follow signs to Enniskillen then A46 along the south bank of Lower Lough Erne. From Sligo follow N15 along the coast.
You need wheels. The Sligo - Donegal buses connect Bundoran and Ballyshannon, and the Dublin - Donegal buses connect Belleek to Ballyshannon, but they're sparse for excursions.
- "The Giants Causeway is an object which is scarcely worthy of going so far to see . . . But the salmon-leap at Ballyshannon is a scene of such a singular nature, as is not to be found elsewhere, and is as peculiar to Ireland as the bullfights are to Spain . . . " - Travel guide of 1775
- Cathaleen's Falls and Assaroe Falls - so here they aren't, and free to not-see 24 hours. The River Erne descends 45 m from Belleek on the border. Cathaleen's Falls were 1 km east of town, while Assaroe Falls were mid-town near the estuary, with salmon hurling themselves upstream. They were Ballyshannon's top attraction. But in 1946 a hydroelectric scheme created Assaroe Lake and obliterated Cathaleen's Falls, while the lower river was canalised and deepened to maximise the drop for power generation, destroying Assaroe Falls.
- Rory Gallagher's statue is at the junction of Main St and Castle St.
- Ballyshannon & District Museum, Market Yard, Ballyshannon (next to bus station). M-Sa 10:00-17:30. Small local history museum perched on top of Slevins Department Store. Free.
- St Anne's Church (C of I) in Ballyshannon is prominent just west of Main St. It was built circa 1740 and re-built in 1840. It's believed to stand over a neolithic tomb, and the grave of a 4th / 5th century High King of Ireland, but there's no trace of those. The grave marked simply "Poet" holds the ashes of William Allingham (1824-1889). He was wont to write poems about faeries, but is best remembered for his descriptions of Carlyle, Tennyson and other contemporaries. The Pauper's Graveyard lies just south.
- St Patrick's is the RC church on Chapel St, east off Market St.
- 1 Fairy Bridges are natural arches and blow holes on the coast by Bundoran Golf Course. Roughey Walk is a paved path and cyclepath north from here along Tullan Strand.
- 2 Four Masters Bridge is an attractive three-arch stone bridge built circa 1780 across River Clowes, the boundary with County Leitrim. The Four Masters were scholars who in 1632-36 compiled the "Annals" which are one of the main primary sources for early Irish history. The chief editor was a Franciscan friar from Donegal Abbey, which was blown to smithereens in 1601. Its friars found a temporary base somewhere near this bridge, so it's thought the Annals were compiled hereabouts.
- Lough Melvin is just south in County Leitrim, see Manorhamilton.
- 3 Kilbarron Castle was a 14th century tower house. The ruin is scrappy and you just come for the clifftop views.
- 4 Rossnowlagh Beach is 4 km long, exposed to the Atlantic and good for surfing, see Donegal Town.
- 5 Castle Caldwell is the bosky ruin of a castle of 1612 in forests by Lower Lough Erne. Its 19th century owner spotted the potential of the local clay and set up Belleek Pottery. He did not discover any dungeons full of strange monsters, nor hire player-adventurers to rid the castle of them, you're confusing it with Castle Caldwell and Beyond the 1985 "Dungeons and Dragons" game.
- Abbey Arts Centre on Tir Connell St stages drama and music, box office +353 71 985 1375. It hosts the All Ireland Confined Drama Finals 15-23 April 2022.
- Cinema: Eclipse Cinema is on Station Rd in Bundoran.
- Ballyshannon Leisure Centre is on the north river bank just downstream from the bridge. It has fitness classes and a pool, and is open M 13:00-21:00, Tu-F 08:00-20:00, Sa 10:30-17:30.
- Golf: the nearest course is Bundoran GC. Blue tees are 5729 m, par 70, visitor round €50.
- Bundoran Adventure Park is a funfair next to the golf course. It's open Jun-Sept Sa Su 13:00-22:00, adult €20, child €15.
- Waterworld is next to the Adventure Park, but separately ticketed, and closed in 2021.
- Surf: Bundoran beach is exposed to the Atlantic, with a clutch of nearby surf shacks: Bundoran Surf Co, Surf World and TurfnSurf. The strip extends north to Tullan Strand. Look elsewhere for kiddy-bathing.
- Donegal Equestrian Centre is on Finner Rd, north edge of Bundoran. They have lessons and rides on the beaches.
- Wardtown Castle 3 km northwest of Ballyshannon is the shell of a great 18th century mansion which fell derelict in the 1920s. It's now home to Castle Adventure Farm, a children's petting farm.
- Belleek Marina gives access to Lower Lough Erne and the extensive Irish waterway network.
- The Wild Atlantic Way is a coastal itinerary from Inishowen Peninsula at the north tip of County Donegal to Kinsale in County Cork, 2500 km in all. The section from Donegal Town through Ballyshannon to Sligo is self-evident.
- Rory Gallagher Festival commemorates the work and legacy of Gallagher (1948-1995) the blues and rock guitarist, singer and songwriter. He was born in Ballyshannon, grew up in Cork, and launched an international musical career just in time to pay off the £100 cost of his Fender Stratocaster. He led the band Taste until 1970 then went solo; his venerable Stratocaster endured his rock-star lifestyle better than his liver, and he died aged 47 and is buried in Cork. The Festival was cancelled in 2020 and 2021 and is next held 2-5 June 2022.
- Ballyshannon Folk and Traditional Music Festival is held over the August bank holiday weekend. The next is probably 28 July - 1 Aug 2022, tbc.
- Ballyshannon Agricultural Show is in mid-August. The 2020 and 2021 shows were cancelled and the next is probably Sunday 14 Aug 2022, tbc.
- Spar is the main store in Ballyshannon, north end of Market St and open daily 08:00-22:00.
- Belleek Pottery is still made in that village. The shop is open M-Sa 10:00-15:00 and factory tours are available.
- Cross-border shopping hasn't been a feature here, but be aware that visiting Belleek means exiting the European Union. Price differentials on commodities like fuel may arise from time to time.
- Most B&Bs were closed in 2021 because of the impracticality of covid distancing.
- Dorrian's Imperial Hotel, Main St, Ballyshannon F94 TKA4, ☏ . Clean friendly central place with 47 bedrooms in an 18th century building. B&B double €110.
- Assaroe Falls, The Mall, Ballyshannon F94 AXR9 (North riverbank), ☏ . These self-catering apartments are available for short holiday lets. Assistance dogs only.
- 1 Assaroe House, 10 Assaroe View, Ballyshannon F94 KX53 (off College St, no access from N15), ☏ . Welcoming B&B east edge of town. B&B double €100.
- 2 Lakeside Centre, Belleek Rd, Ballyshannon F94 T9RY (off N3), ☏ . Well-run camping and caravan site and activities centre on Lough Assaroe. Tent €20, caravan €26.
- 3 Breesy Centre, Cashelard, Ballyshannon F94 VX76, ☏ . This hostel is geared for groups of up to 50, but may have availability for individual travellers.
- Hostels in Bundoran include Roughey Lodge and Boathouse Lodge. Homefield Hostel has closed.
- Allingham Arms Hotel, West End, Bundoran F94 XNH0 (200 m west of TIC), ☏ . Smart mid-range place in a modern building. B&B double €120.
- Fitzgerald's Hotel is next to Allingham Arms.
- 4 Great Northern Hotel, Sea Rd, Bundoran F94 YX30 (on Bundoran golf course), ☏ . Clean friendly place, some facilities look tired. B&B double €100.
Ballyshannon has 5G from all Irish carriers, but as of Aug 2021 the coverage is much better in Bundoran.
Ballyshannon picks up a UK 4G signal from O2. Belleek also gets 4G from EE and Three, but no signal from Vodafone.
- Donegal Town is a friendly small place, a good centre for exploring the central county.
- Enniskillen is between the two Erne lakes, connected by navigable waterway to Dublin.
- Sligo has prehistoric sites and brooding limestone crags.