Ireland is famous for its unspoiled landscapes and awe inspiring coastlines. Its rugged charm has brought adventurers and tourists alike to our special Island on the most westerly point of Europe.
Donegal, “The forgotten County”, perched high in the north west, evokes a real Ireland or certainly an Ireland that not all get to see. Shhhh… its our secret and rather than forgotten we found it unforgettable.
We set out for Slieve League cliffs along the Wild Atlantic Way. The cliffs look out on to the cool Atlantic waters and rise to 2000 ft, dwarfing the more popular and frequently visited Cliffs of Moher. Standing on the edge of Europe we spotted more sheep than tourists, experiencing what these mountains looked like throughout the ages with no tourist or interpretative centre to guide us, we counted ourselves lucky to experience Ireland in its raw form.
Our accommodation was situated in Killybegs, walking distance from a quaint little beach called, Fintra beach. We arrived to one of the most beautiful sunsets we have ever seen in Ireland. Fishermen were sitting on the seashore collecting their daily catch and a couple of kids were dancing in floral dresses on the soft, golden sand.
We quickly walked back to number 29 Fintra Bay to pop a bottle of bubbles and bring it back to savour on the beach. It was perfect.
Killybegs (Na Cealla Beaga) is the largest fishing port in Ireland and you cannot stay here without sampling fresh fish from some of the few restaurants.
Top seafood restaurants – Killybegs
- Killybegs Seafood Shack – for super fresh seafood on the go, right in the harbour,
- The Rusty Mackerel – for the atmosphere,
- Fusion Bistro – hidden behind SuperValu, it is easy to miss. The Langoustine is superb, fresh and the hospitality flawless.
Top things to do in Killybegs:
- Fintra Beach
- Cruise on the Atlantic
- Visit Rotten Island
- Take photos at a Lighthouse – Rotten Island Lighthouse or St. John’s Point Lighthouse
- Absorb the breathtaking views at Muckross Head
After a light breakfast, our first stop was on the R263 along the Wild Atlantic Way to Slieve League, in Teelin. Teelin is known for great Irish whiskey but the coffee came as a very pleasant surprise.
A favourite road trip activity is finding and discovering new food pop-up vans which are quite popular in Ireland. This little retro Citroen has merely been a month on the go and already stole hearts – ours at least.
The hot, aromatic coffee was delicious and the the hospitality warm and friendly. She has a beautiful view too! Perfect for a scone or indulging on a rockyroad.
We reached Slieve League 15 minutes later after dropping a hitch hiker at the port and asking a friendly neighbor for directions.
We parked our car at the first car park. But if you drive through the gate, (closing the gate behind you to avoid a sheep traffic jam) and follow the steep climb, you will be able to park closer to the trail. The higher car park is very busy with small tour buses and limited parking.
Our top recommendation, if you really want the full Irish at Slieve Leagues experience, is to park your car at the first area you see, early in the morning. It tends to get busier, after midday. The few kilometers you will hike to the outlook point is terrific with endless ocean views, a soft breeze and Ireland’s infamous ‘wildlife’ meandering the lush cliffs.
The cliff views were so beautiful, we sidetracked on a couple of occasions to absorb this part of Ireland.
Reaching the second car parking space, you will find an ice-cream van, souvenir stand, selling beautiful Donegal tweed (our favourite Irish designs) and a coffee and food stand for snacking while spending a couple of minutes, here.
Ireland is very nature conscious and you would often see a lonely fairy tree in the middle of a field. Farmers and the local community appreciate nature in it’s natural state (other than superstitious folklore and mythology).
This goes without saying for Slieve League. The 2.5km pathway to the outlook point is paved with hand selected, natural stones from another part of the scree slope. The selection process was carefully done to maintain the natural beauty of the cliff and the stones removed from the scree were replaced with other stones and moss in order to close all gaps.
You will never see a sunset like the sunset at Slieve League, anywhere in the world.
Hiking to the highest point took us over an hour and we can confidently say that it was terrifying at parts. The route beyond the outlook, is recommended for experienced hikers, mountaineers and climbers who are not afraid of heights. The route is rugged with limited pathways and we would not attempt this on a rainy or misty day.
Rising above 600m, on Ireland’s highest sea cliffs, you will see Sligo mountains and Donegal bay, We spent hours on the top. We popped a bottle of bubbly and savoured every breathtaking moment without thinking of the time.
How to get to Slieve League
There are multiple ways to get to Slieve League to experience the majestic cliffs on the Southwest Donegal coast in Ireland. The best way to get to the cliffs, is to drive and the closest destinations to Slieve League is Donegal Town, Killybegs and Adara. We recommend booking accommodation in these areas. Slieve League is 3 hours from Belfast, 3 hours from Galway and 4 hours from Dublin.
We have listed the most convenient way and some alternative forms. Bare in mind that this part of the country is quite rural and public transport is not so frequent.
Most convenient way: driving; The route is very direct via the N3 and 274.1km (approx. 3 hours) with one or two tollgates, from Dublin. This scenic route is top recommended.
There are 2 alternative ways from driving to get to Slieve League: bus, or plane.
Bus: The 30 and x30 bus from Busáras will take you as far as Donegal Abbey Hotel. From there the 490 will bring you to Carrick where a taxi can take you to the cliffs. This is a long journey through the beautiful midlands and country side of Ireland. Total costs for this journey: approx. €45.
Plane: From Dublin Airport, a short 1 hour flight brings you to the most scenic landings in Europe, Donegal Airport. From here a taxi or car hire will get you to Slieve League. We would not recommend this option for €€€ prices.
From Killybegs, Adara & Donegal Town:
Killybegs: (approx. 30 min drive) Follow the R263 to the center of Carrick. The road is well sign posted from here. Follow the winding road, passing the Mackerel pub. Turn right and continue to the main car park at Bunglas.
Ardara: (approx. 45 min drive) Drive south on the N56 to the Five Points ‘T’ junction, turn right to join the R263 and continue to Killybegs. Follow the route from Killybegs.
Donegal Town: (approx. 50 min drive) Drive west along the N56 to Five Points ‘T’ junction and continue along the R263 to Killybegs. Follow the route from Killybegs.
The most cost effective route is to drive. Other options are: taking the train or the bus. However, the journey will take over 6 – 7 hours, using multiple means of transport with long waiting periods. We don’t recommend this.
From Belfast, the M1 is the most direct route. Continue on B4 and take the R232 to N15 in County Donegal. Take N56 to Donegal Rd/R263 and continue on R263 to Killybegs. Follow the winding road, passing the Mackerel pub. Turn right and continue to the main car park at Bunglas.
Experiencing the enormous cliffs from the Atlantic Ocean is an alternative way of visiting the cliffs. Boat tours operate during the tourist season and stops along the way if you would like to take a dip in the saltwater. Trips can be booked from Killybegs.
Walking day tours can be booked in advance. We often use Viator for the best competitive tours.