Ireland’s undiscovered north west in 48 hours
Discover the natural beauty of County Donegal, thrilling historical tales and the charming city of Derry~Londonderry all in a short break
Only got 48 hours to get away from it all? We’ve got a great short break escape that brings you to the undiscovered north west of Ireland, where you can clear those cobwebs from the moment you arrive at Donegal Airport or City of Derry Airport. Climb the highest seacliffs in Europe, explore spectacular castles and gardens, and immerse yourself in these story-filled lands.
Aim to arrive in the morning so you can make the most of your 48-hour break, with day one taking you into the wilds of Donegal’s rugged landscape and around its breathtaking coastline.Explore Day 1
Take the scenic route
If you’ve opted to travel via Donegal Airport, you’re in for a rather special touchdown, as it has been voted the world’s most scenic airport. Hire a car and head straight for Glenveagh National Park and Castle, which is located near the Derryveagh Mountain. The setting is breathtaking – 40,000 acres of glens, mountains and woods – and there’s even a herd of deer wandering the grounds. Get tickets for the shuttle bus from the visitor centre and it will take you to the castle where you can soak up the glamour. The gardens are free to enter and open year round. They’re renowned for their diverse collection of trees, shrubs and flowers, which are planted between the 19th century Pleasure Gardens, the Walled Garden, the more modern Gothic Orangery, Italian Terrace and Tuscan Garden. Before you set off, stop for a bite to eat at the Glenveagh Castle Tearooms for delicious scones, cakes, breads, soups and sandwiches.
Surrounded by over 40 acres of woodland and gardens, Lough Eske Castle is a wonderful mix of the old and new nestled between glassy Lough Eske and the Blue Stack Mountains. Dating back to the 15th century, this luxurious 5-star hotel cherishes its history but embraces the modern – just try the stylish, contemporary dishes in the Cedars Grill Restaurant and you'll see what we mean. Wind the evening down in the Oak Bar with a traditional music session.
If you have more time, visit Donegal town, where you can relax as you explore its charming harbour, the 15th century Donegal Abbey and the recently restored Donegal Castle. And don't miss the opportunity to snag a unique handcrafted souvenir from the Donegal Craft Village.
Set off early from the Donegal wilderness for the urban buzz of Derry~Londonderry, the Walled City, just over an hour’s drive away. Inside and outside its 400-year-old walls, the city is easily walkable and is a joy to explore.Explore Day 2
Take a trip back in time
If there's one thing Derry~Londonderry's not short on, it's history. For 400 years, its historic walls have set the city apart. A mile long and as thick as 35 feet in places, trailing their path on foot is a great way to see the city from every perspective and to catch sight of its 24 hulking black cannons. The passionate guides from Unlocking the Walled City tour mix humour and history in perfect harmony while telling the tales of the city, from its 6th century foundations to the present day.
Derry~Londonderry's story spans four centuries of battle, all faithfully recounted in its three main museums, which sit in a triangle no more than 500 yards from one another. To the south, the Siege Museum recounts the infamous victory of 1689, when 30,000 city-dwellers kept the invading forces of King James II at bay, ultimately defeating them after 105 days. In the Tower Museum, you can pore over relics from the Spanish Armada ship that was wrecked off the coast of neighbouring County Donegal in 1588; while the Museum of Free Derry details the struggle for civil rights that plagued the city for so many decades, resulting in the Battle of the Bogside and Bloody Sunday.
Lunch in the charming, tranquil Soda & Starch will fill your belly — without emptying your wallet. Or head to Browns in Town, which offers great food, original cocktails and craft beers in modern and comfortable surroundings.
Culture through the ages
Never before has a TV show captured the heart of a city like Derry Girls. Northern Ireland's most-watched series of all time tells the stories of five teenagers growing up in the 1990s, when the city was experiencing great change, great hardship and great hope for the future. Today, those five fan favourites – Claire, Michelle, Erin, Orla and James – have been immortalised on the gable end of Badger's Pub, continuing a great tradition of murals in Derry~Londonderry. Enjoy a Derry Girls walking tour to see the real sights of the city and finish up with a Derry Girls Afternoon Tea at The Everglades Hotel – it’s chock full of sausage-roll baps, cones of chips and other indulgent delights!
The Bogside History Tour is the best way to see the rest of the city’s murals, including the Bloody Sunday monument and the Free Derry corner, while hearing the history of The Troubles and the unrest that plagued the city for generations.
An architectural masterpiece
If you’re not an avid fan of Derry Girls (yet!), don’t worry, because there’s plenty for you to explore this afternoon instead. Both inside and out, the Guildhall is a sight to behold. Pristine redbrick climbing upwards in peaks and curves, ornate technicolor stained glass and a vibrant aqua copper tower roof make this neo-gothic masterpiece one of the finest buildings in the north-west. Built in 1887 and burned down just two decades later, the Guildhall has been restored multiple times since. Though the exterior is a feat of architectural delight, the show-stopper is revealed once you step inside the building. At the far end of the hall, the pipe organ rises into the rafters like a great eagle unfurling its wings – the perfect regal backdrop for the many weddings that take place here today.
If you have more time, St Columb's Cathedral, beside the imposing Bishop's Gate, holds the lock and keys to the original gates of the city.
A peaceful end to the day
Linking Ebrington Square to the rest of the city centre, the Peace Bridge aims to connect much more than physical neighbourhoods. Built to foster relations between the Waterside and Cityside communities, who occupy opposite banks and opposite political positions, the bridge has fast become much loved by locals, and is a hub of activity. The newest of Derry~Londonderry's three bridges, this is the perfect place to wind down as your day draws to an end. A walk or leisurely cycle across this bridge promises spectacular views across the water, and a guaranteed nod and hello from friendly inhabitants of the Maiden City. As you’ll be on that side of the Peace Bridge, stick around and book a table at the Walled City Brewery, Northern Ireland's only brewery restaurant.
It’s a two-hour drive, so try to leave the Walled City behind as early as possible as you’re heading west again to the Wild Atlantic Way and the edge of the world, before heading home from Donegal Airport or City of Derry Airport.Explore Day 3
Stand at the edge of the world
One of the island of Ireland’s best kept secrets is the towering Slieve League Cliffs in County Donegal. With an almost 2,000-foot drop into the Atlantic Ocean, these cliffs are among the highest sea cliffs in Europe. Before you get to the cliffs, stop into the Slieve League Cliffs Centre to learn more about the region's history, to warm up at the Tí Linn café or to browse the craft shop. From the centre, you can drive right up to the main viewing area or you can use the car park on the way and walk the rest.
If you have more time, head off the beaten track to take in the natural beauty of the Assaranca Waterfall, then walk along Maghera Beach for a full view of the majestic beauty of the bay.
Experience village life
On your way back to the airport, take a detour to Glencolmcille Folk Village Museum. Take a guided tour or simply wander around this experience, which will send you back in time to the Donegal of centuries ago. Explore a fisherman's cottage, schoolhouse and a traditional pub-grocer, all perched on a hillside overlooking a sandy curve of nearby Glenbay beach. Before you set out on the final leg of your journey, tuck into the fresh-baked treats from the tea house, and check out the craft workshops, traditional music and cultural events hosted at the village.
If you have more time, check out the handwoven tweed at Triona Design – you can even watch master weavers make handwoven tweed on looms in the same way they’ve done it for centuries.