Donegal Town is a town in County Donegal in northwest Ireland. With a population of 2618 in 2016, it's neither the county town - that's tiny Lifford - nor the county's largest - that's Letterkenny. It's a small place clustered around its plaza "The Diamond", with the River Eske flowing out of the Bluestack Mountains into the bay. It makes a good base for touring south County Donegal.
Bus Éireann X30 / 30 runs every couple of hours from Dublin Busáras, taking 3 hr 30 min via Dublin Airport, Virginia, Cavan Town, Enniskillen and Ballyshannon. From Cavan Bus 30 takes a slower route via Butlersbridge, Belturbet, Enniskillen and Belleek.
From Belfast travel via Enniskillen or Derry.
Expressway 64 runs every two hours from Derry via Letterkenny and Ballybofey to Donegal (90 min) and continues to Ballyshannon, Bundoran, Sligo, Charlestown, Knock airport and village, Claremorris, Ballyhaunis, Tuam and Galway.
1 The Diamond is the main bus stop, usually shown on timetables as Abbey Hotel.
By road from Dublin follow M3 then N3 via Cavan, crossing the border at Belturbet. The road is badged A509 then A46 through Enniskillen to Belleek, then you re-cross the border and take N15 into Donegal. There are no border checks, but you must ensure that your personal and car documents are valid for Northern Ireland.
Local Link Bus 293 runs from Glencolmcille via Mainmore, Killybegs and Mountcharles to Donegal Town, with five M-Sa and three on Sunday.
Bus 994 makes one morning run M-F from Portnoo via Ardara and Meentinadea, heading back from Donegal Town in the afternoon.
- 1 Donegal Abbey, Glebe, Donegal. 24 hours. This was a Franciscan Priory established in 1474. It was the scene of a battle in 1601 during the Nine Year's War between the English Tudors and the area's Gaelic rulers: a gunpowder keg caught fire and that was the end of the abbey and anyone in the vicinity. So there's just a few shards of masonry and you mostly come for the scenic old graveyard overlooking the estuary. Free.
- The Diamond is town centre. The obelisk commemorates "The Annals of the Four Masters", a semi-historical catalogue compiled hereabouts in 1632-36. By then the abbey was in small pieces and its friars were making do in a nearby cottage and in a house near Ballyshannon. Only the chief author was a friar, but they became known as na Ceithre Máistrí, anglicised as "Four Masters".
- St Patrick's Church of the Four Masters east end of The Diamond is RC, in sort-of-Romanesque with a Round Tower, but it only dates from 1935.
- Parish church next to the castle is C of I, built in confident Gothic in 1828.
- Donegal Castle, Castle St F94 P996 (north side of Diamond). Apr-Oct daily 10:00-18:00, Nov-Dec Th-M 09:30-16:30. It wasn't just the Normans who built substantial stone castles - this one was erected in 1474 by Red Hugh O'Donnell at the same time as the abbey. That dynasty held it until they fled Ulster in 1607 after the Nine Years War. They torched it to prevent its use against the local Irish, but it was soon restored and extended by the incomers in Jacobean style. It fell into ruin in the 18th century but was restored from the 1990s and is now an event space. Adult €5, conc €4, child €3.
- 2 Donegal Railway Heritage Centre, Old Station House, Tyrconnell St, ☏ . Apr-Sep M-Sa 10:00-17:00, Su 12:00-16:00. Two narrow-gauge railways huffed and puffed across the county from 1863 to 1959, connecting Donegal to Strabane, Derry and Letterkenny - the 36 inch gauge was cheaper to construct than standard Irish gauge of 63 inch. The Centre displays their history and has a steam locomotive and a railcar from that era, though not in working order. Adult €5, conc €4, child €3.
- The Famine Graveyard is on Upper Main St by the hospital.
- 3 Lough Eske is a scenic lake 15 km northeast of town, surrounded by the Bluestack Mountains. The River Eske flows from it through town to Donegal Bay.
- Magherabeg Friary is a ruin 3 km south of town off R267: it's on private land and not usually accessible. It was built around 1430 so it pre-dates the main abbey, but its friars were lowly "Third Order Franciscans" - lay brothers not ordained as priests. It was abandoned and handed over to English landowners along with the main abbey around 1607.
- 4 Murvagh Beach is a 4.5 km sandy beach backed by dunes and the golf course. Dogs on leash only.
- 5 Rossnowlagh Beach is 4 km long. It's exposed to the Atlantic, which funnels into the bay and can generate big surfing waves. At low tide you can walk all the way to Murvagh. Many people park on the beach, but beware the speed of the incoming tide.
- 6 Mountcharles is a village straggling along N56 six km west of Donegal. The estuary marshes to its south were historically used for salt extraction. The main attraction, near the pier, is Salthill Gardens, open Apr-Sept M-Sa 14:00-18:00.
- 7 St John's Point is a long rat's-tail peninsula starting ten km west of town. McSwyne's Castle and Ballysaggart Friary are just stumps of masonry. Near the tip is a sheltered sandy beach, and the peninsula ends with the EIRE 70 wartime aviation marker and a lighthouse - this is still active and you can't go in.
- Killaghtee Old Church just west of the start of the peninsula is a 12th century ruin with an unusual "Maltese Cross" gravestone from 650 AD.
- What's on? For local events check Donegal Democrat (south edition), published twice a week.
- The Waterbus putters round the bay on 75 min tours, adult €20. They're 2 or 3 times a day in summer, but sailing times vary with the tides. The boat is wheelchair accessible; dogs are permitted on leash on the lower deck.
- The riverbank walk starts from the bridge in town and follows the west bank of the Eske for 3 km.
- Angling: There's game- and coarse-fishing on Lough Eske and the Eske, Eany, Downes and Finn rivers.
- Shore angling is available at multiple points on the coast, and anglers' boats put out from Killybegs, Teelin and Creevy.
- Donegal Shopping Centre is 500 m south of The Diamond, with SuperValu open M-Sa 08:30-21:00, Su 10:00-20:00.
- Aldi is east side of The Diamond, open M-F 09:00-22:00, Sa Su 09:00-21:00.
- Lidl is 1 km northeast on Ballybofey Rd at the junction with N56 bypass, open M-Sa 08:00-22:00, Su 09:00-21:00.
- Donegal Craft Village is 3 km south on R267.
- ATMs are outside the four banks, all near The Diamond: AIB, Bank of Ireland, Ulster Bank and Credit Union.
- Blueberry Tea Room on Castle St serves snacks and light meals M-Sa 09:00-19:00.
- Chandpur serves Bangladeshi food. They're on Main St, open M-Sa 16:30-23:00, Su 13:00-22:00.
- Four Lanterns on Quay St serves burgers and similar fast food, M-Th 12:30-23:00, F Sa 12:30-02:00, Su 16:30-22:30.
- Shamrock is a Chinese takeaway on Quay St.
- Harbour Restaurant on Quay Street serves pub-style meals M-Sa 17:00-21:30, Su 13:00-21:30.
- Dom's Pier One, Quay St F94 XWV9, ☏ . Daily 11:00-21:00. Lively bar and waterside restaurant, the food usually pleases.
- Olde Castle Bar & Red Hugh's Restaurant, Castle Street F94 AKC2, ☏ . Daily 11:00-20:00. Good pub grub, with seafood and steaks.
- La Bella Donna, 2 Bridge St, ☏ . Daily 17:00-22:00. Good Italian fare.
- The very best dining is in the upscale hotels, so see Sleep for Mill Park, Harvey's Point and Lough Eske Castle.
- The Reel Inn, Bridge St F94 R590 (by castle). M-Sa 10:30-01:00, Su 10:30-00:00. Friendly bar with trad music most nights.
- The Forge, 7 Meetinghouse St F94 P9K7. Cosy old bar, but it remains closed in 2021.
- McCafferty's, The Diamond F94 E003, ☏ . M-Sa 10:30-23:30, Sun 12:30-23:30. The original, opened in 2016, of what's become a small chain of trad-style Irish pubs.
- Abbey Bar is within Abbey Hotel and has a disco until late at weekends.
- Coach House & Cellar Bar, Upper Main St. This remains closed in 2021.
- Others near The Diamond include Annie Lynn's, O'Donnell's and The Reveller.
- 1 Donegal Town Independent Hostel, Doonan F94 HH94, ☏ . Clean welcoming hostel 1 km west of town. In 2021 the dorm isn't open but they have private rooms.
- 2 Blue Stack Centre, Drimarone (in hills 8 km northwest of town), ☏ . 28-bedded hostel out in the hills.
- Rossnowlagh campsite is closed in 2021; they accept touring caravans but offer no on-site facilities. Hayes the other site here is for caravan sales and long-lease static caravans and isn't open to tourers.
- In normal times the town has over 30 B&Bs, but they mostly didn't open in 2020-21 because of the impracticality of covid precautions. Check with the TIC (above) for a listing.
- Atlantic Guest House, Main St F94 RKF3, ☏ . Old style guesthouse, small but clean and welcoming. B&B double €80.
- 3 Donegal Manor, Letterkenny Rd F94 XV60, ☏ . Eight-roomed guest house, but in 2021 it's only available for self-catering lets.
- Abbey Hotel, The Diamond F94 AP8W, ☏ . Very central, usually comfy enough but at weekends the nightclub makes a racket until 0200, and in the hot July of 2021 rooms were poorly ventilated. B&B double €150.
- Central Hotel, The Diamond F94 X79D, ☏ . Comfy central place but old-fashioned, feels kind-of 1980s. B&B double €150.
- 4 Ard na Breatha, Railway Park, Middle Drumrooske F94 VF89 (off Lough Eske Rd, no access from N56), ☏ . Pleasant welcoming B&B north edge of town.
- 5 Harvey's Point, Lough Eske F94 E771, ☏ . Comfy upscale place with great lakeside setting. B&B double €140.
- 6 Mill Park Hotel, The Mullins F94 HD99 (off N56), ☏ . Beautiful edge-of-town hotel, with 110 large rooms en suite, child friendly, and fitness centre and pool. B&B double €170.
- 7 Lough Eske Castle, Lough Eske F94 HX59, ☏ . A Tudorbethan manor was built in 1868 and owned by Major-General Henry George White (1835-1906), who's buried by the nearby Celtic Cross. It was ruined by a fire in 1939 but re-built as the present hotel in 2007, hence the squeaky-clean "castle". It gets rave reviews for comfort and service. B&B double €500.
- Castle Murray House on the coast 12 km west of town is closed for renovation in 2021.
As of July 2021, the town has 5G with Vodafone, and 4G with Eir and Three.
- Ballyshannon south is a small market town. Continue south for the brooding limestone crags and prehistoric sites of Sligo.
- Enniskillen is between the two Erne lakes. These are connected by navigable waterways all the way to Limerick, Waterford and Dublin.