If Ireland is on your cycling holiday bucket list then you’ll need to decide where on our wonderful Island you want to go. Here are our top reasons why we think Donegal is the obvious choice.
1- See Ireland’s Most Stunning Scenery
The website Irelandbeforeyoudie.com ranked Ireland’s most beautiful counties and – no surprises here – Donegal was ranked as number 1. They should know. They spend all their working time directing people to the most beautiful parts of Ireland.
On a cycling holiday in Donegal you really don’t neeed a guide book to tell you where to find the views. Simply follow the routes and the views will be all around. We are definitely not exaggerating when we say that Donegal has the most amazing landscapes and seascapes in Ireland. All along the coast from Bundoran in the south to the border with Northern Ireland near Derry City panorama after panorama unfolds. You may have heard of the must see destinations like The Sliabh Liag cliffs, Fanad Head and Malin Head. But these are merely the best known spots. In between there are countless beaches, headlands, cliffs and bays. Each one is its own unique and ever changing photo opportunity. And it’s not just the coast! Head inland to Glenveagh National Park, Lough Eske, The Bluestack Mountains and find all the beauty and variety you could wish for on any bike tour.
2 – Quiet Roads – Ideal for Cycling
Donegal has an extensive network of small back roads. You will ocassionally find yourself cycling on one side with a line of grass up the middle, where you might just find the occasional sheep casually grazing. With good planning it is possible to get from one part of the county to another without needing to use any of the bigger roads. Even if you do somtimes find yourself on some of the larger roads these sections are short and in most cases won’t have huge amounts of traffic anyway.
3 – Legendary Hospitality
Irish people are famous the world over for their hospitality, but Donegal is famous within Ireland as the most hospitatible place of all. There is no need to ever feel alone here. Simply step off your bike an you will find yourself in conversation, and don’t feel you will ever be stuck for a topic. The weather alone can keep most Irish people talking all day.
4 – A Unique Brand of Traditional Irish Music
Donegal has its own unique brand of traditional Irish music. To the purist it is quite distinct from other forms of Irish music, with the fiddle being the most common instrument. Centuries of migration between Donegal and Scotland has enriched the music of both areas, while still maintaining distinctive styles. Up until recorded music and television began to replace more traditional forms of home entertainment there were areas within Donegal where virtually every house possessed a fiddle and almost all houses at least one good fiddler. If you are lucky enough to stumble upon one of the famous “sessions” you are in for a treat. If you are really lucky you might find that the musicians outnumber the listners. Donegal musicians to look out for include Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh: Fiddle/Vocal. Dermot Byrne: Accordion. Bríd Harper; Fiddle. Recently, legendary Austrailan-born guitarist, Steve Cooney has made Donegal his home, and has greatly influenced accompaniment styles. Numerous bands have blended the music of Donegal with other Irish and international influences these include most notably Clannad and Altan.
5 – Traditional Irish Wool and Tweed Crafts
Tweed had been produced from local wool in Donegal for centuries. The tweed was traditionally produced using hand looms. Due to Donegal’s relative isolation the traditional craft survived. Several manufacturers within Donegal still produce tweed using traditional methods. The best known of these is Studio Donegal in Kilcar. If you get a chance to visit Studio Donegal don’t miss it. Officially the workshop is not open to visitors, but quite often the staff will willingly show you around. Other traditional weavers include Eddie Doherty in Ardara and Cyndi Graham on St. John’s Point. Cyndi’s traditional thatched studio has become a frequent stopping point for Ireland By Bike customers over the years.
Along with tweed Donegal has its own distinctive style of traditional woollen garments, especially fishermans sweaters and hats. Glencolmcille Woolen Mills is a family business still producing traditional Donegal-style kintwear.
It is possible to visit all of these traditional crafts people on our Donegal Coastal Treasures and Highlights of Donegal self-guided bike tours and also our Backroads and Beyond self-guided cycling and hiking tour.
6 – Archaeology From Every Era
The oldest known structures left by the first inhabitants of the Ireland are the court or wedge tombs dating from around 3500 BC. There are many of these scattered around Donegal. A fine example is the Cloghanmore Court Tomb in the Malinmore Valley near Glencolmcille (Actually located beside Glencolmcille Woollen Mills) After the court tombs the next type of structures left were Dolmens or wedge tombs. The Kilclooney Dolmen is one of the finest in the country. The many ring forts dotted around the county stand as testimony to the arrival of the Celts. Later in the 6th and 7th centuries many beautiful early-Christian stones were carved. These are especially common around the Glencolmcille and Gartan areas. One of the more recent – relatively speaking – additions to the local archaeology are the Napoleonic lookout towers. They are no less interesting because of their relative newness. These were built in amazing locations around the coast and featured fine stone work.
7 – A Really Great Reason From National Geographic Traveller – It’s “The Coolest Destination on the Planet”
If you want to ask the experts for a travel recommendation then who better than one of the world’s leading authoraties on travel – National Geographic Traveller. Back in 2017 they named Donegal as the “Coolest Destination on the Planet” As Pat Riddell of National Geographic Traveller stated at the time “It’s a warm-hearted place, but wilderness always feels just a stone’s throw away, and it is wilderness, world-class wilderness.” So if you are thinking of Ireland in the future, to really experience the best of Ireland make sure Donegal is your destination.