Best Beaches of the Wild Atlantic Way – Donegal
Best Beaches of the Wild Atlantic Way – Donegal
Donegal is famous for its sandy beaches and the Blue Flag International system administered in Ireland by An Taisce has awarded Blue Flag status to 12 Donegal beaches in 2020. This made Donegal the Irish county with the most Blue Flag beaches in the summer of 2020. There were 12 beaches and we have listed 14 in total giving details of the beaches, what activity they are suited to and directions to reach them. We have added a few other beaches which are either beside the Blue Flag beaches or are of outstanding beauty. When enjoying the beauty of the Wild Atlantic Way you want to make sure you choose the best beaches to suit your interests and of course for swimming, surfing or walking.
On related blogs, we’ve given details of other beaches along the Wild Atlantic Way or Ferry trips you can take and driving routes to enjoy all the exciting experiences the Wild Atlantic Way has to offer. Guided Activity can be booked with ActivityDays.ie. Donegal has more beaches than any other county in Ireland and around every bend in the Wild Atlantic Way route is another beach, but not all are worth visiting – which is why we choose the best beaches. To choose 10 was impossible – so we have 14 beaches listed! Have we left out any good beaches?
Bundoran Beach in south Donegal is famous for its great waves and has hosted the European Surfing Championships. The beach is right beside the busy town with its range of facilities such as cafes, restaurants and hotels. The sandy beach looks great but there are rocks and reefs underwater – so be careful where you swim. This is a blue flag beach, but it can be a rather busy, noisy beach.
Rossnowlagh Beach is off the R231 between Ballyshannon and Donegal Town. There is parking by the beach or the Sands Hotel. The long sandy beach is popular with locals and tourists. It’s a great beach for walking and never feels crowded or busy. The surf school is a great way to learn to surf or to hire equipment.
3. Murvagh Beach.
The beach is 3km off the N15 road north of Ballyshannon and then down a lane through a forest to the car park beside the beach. It’s a long sandy beach, with lifeguards in summer, a great beach for a long walk or a swim in the gentle waves.
4. Fintra Strand
The Blue Flag beach of Fintra is a sandy beach 5km west of Killybegs in south-west Donegal. Turn down a steep road off the main R263 to the beach, with great views of Donegal Bay and Co Sligo in the distance. From the car park there are some stone steps down to the beach. West of Fintra Bay and Killybegs are the Sliabh Liag cliffs, at 598m the highest cliffs in Europe. There’s an option to take a boat trip under the cliffs as well as taking a cliff walk. This is about 38 minutes drive west of Killybegs on the Teelin Rd.
Park at Glencolumbkille village and take the path down to the golden sandy beach. It’s a small beach by Donegal standards, but a great bay for swimming, although it did not get a Blue Flag in 2020.
Portnoo/Narin beach near Rosbeg, west of Ardara is a sandy beach sheltered by Dunmore Head. This Blue Flag beach is suited to swimming with a lifeguard during the summer month. Parking, shops and restaurants make it popular with families. When the tide is out you can walk across to Inishkeel Island to visit the early Christian Church and holy well.
On Gweedore Bay in West Donegal is Carrickfinn Blue Flag Beach with a long white sandy beach overlooked by sand dunes with rare grasses and plants. Overhead the planes land at Donegal Airport, recently voted the 2nd most scenic landing strip in the world and is Ireland’s most northerly airport on the Wild Atlantic Way. It’s suited to swimming and walking, with a lifeguard in summer. Keep an eye on the children as there are spots of ‘sinking sand’ which can suck up a sandal or a child may get stuck – there are now warning signs at the beach.
8. Killahoey (Dunfanaghy) Beach
Killahoey Beach, in north Donegal is 5 minutes from the village of Dunfanaghy and often referred to by that name. This Blue Flag beach (lifeguard in Summer) is a long open beach popular with families and suited to swimming, surfing and other water sports. To access the beach by car travel east of Dunfanaghy town, take the left turn for the Golf Course and continue to the end of this road to an open beach, which can be windy at times.
West of Dunfanaghy is Drunmatinny Beach which is suited to surfing or Walking a loop walk to Ballyness Pier. The marshy area and dunes at Ballyness Way is a great area for birdwatching.
Marble Hill beach, 8 minutes east of Dunfanaghy, is one of the most beautiful beaches in Donegal. At high tide, it is split into two different sections, with several small yachts and boats moored in the bay during the summer season. Marble Hill is popular with swimmers, surfers, bathers, walkers, sand-castle builders and just about everybody who knows of its existence.
To reach Marble Hill Beach from Dunfanaghy, take the N56 towards Creeslough. After 4km turn left just after Faugher National School on a small road marked “Scenic Route”. Follow this road, which affords superb views over Kilahoey, Port-na-Blagh, and Sheephaven Bay. After 2km you will reach Marble Hill Beach.
Don’t forget to call by The Shack, if you fancy a coffee or ice-cream or up to the Shandon hotel bar, if it is something stronger you are after to quench your thirst, before you head home.
10. Downings Beach
In the sheltered Sheephaven Bay beside the village of Downings (na Danibh) is a long safe beach suited to young children. It’s a great child friendly spot for swimming and good for surfing. Lovely beach, and for the best views take a drive around Horn Head.
11. Portsalon ( Porn an tSalainn) Beach
Portsalon Blue Flag beach was voted the 2nd most beautiful beach in the world by readers of the Observer magazine. This sandy beach on the Fanad Peninsula is over 1km long and is 65 minutes from Derry and 30 minutes from Letterkenny. The beach is also called Magherwarden and overlooks Lough Swilly with views of the Inishowen Peninsula. It’s family-friendly and suited to swimming, surfing and kayaking.
12. Port Ban ( Dunree Beach) Remote Beach
This long quiet sandy beach can be hard to find- access via grassy track beside a plaque dedicated to 3 young pilots who were lost when their plane crashed into the Urris Hills during World War 2. The stunning beach is almost empty, has no facilities so bring a picnic. Not suited to wheelchairs or a buggy’s. Close up some of the beach is a bit stony and be careful getting into the water. The headlands give this bay shelter from the wind most of the time and the slope into the water is gradual. This is my favourite isolated beach in Donegal and of course, it has a Blue Flag.
13. Five Finger Strand
Beautiful secluded Five Finger Strand is on the western side of the Inishowen Peninsula just off the R242 towards Malin Head. There are miles of golden sandy beaches and the name comes from 5 sea stacks which protrude from the water on the north side of the beach. The sand dunes are said to be the highest Marram grass dunes in Europe, up to 30 meters high in places. It’s a great place for walking along the Shore, especially at low tide. Don’t forget to visit nearby Doagh Famine village, open 9.30 to 5 pm during the tourist season. The village has lots of interesting thatched cottages, great storytelling and history of Ireland to walk through – great fun for all the family.
14. Stroove and Culdaff Beaches
Stroove and Culdaff sandy beaches are on the eastern side of the Inishowen Peninsula. Stroove is a Blue Flag beach near the fishing base of Greencastle overlooking the entrance to Lough Foyle. The small sandy beach is suited to walking or swimming (lifeguard in summer) or you can walk to the nearby Stroove lighthouse. Culdaff beach is also sandy and being less exposed than Stroove is ideal for swimming, surfing and walking. There is easy access to the beach and a playground beside the car park.
Contact us with any comments on this post- we love recommendations. Thre are guided tours for individuals and groups can be organised in Co Donegal – contact ActivityDays.ie