Dunfanaghy is a bustling little seaside town on the west coast of Ireland and a popular stop-off point for people traveling the Wild Atlantic Way.
It’s close to some of the area’s best beaches and surrounded by rugged mountains that no hiker, walker, or cyclist can resist.
Even the typically wet Irish weather won’t dampen your spirits – you can always warm up and dry out at one of the many pubs and restaurants the town has to offer.
I was about six years old when my family took me to Dunfanaghy, so I wasn’t old enough to appreciate its natural beauty, history, and culture, but I’ll never forget the beaches or the pancakes I had a little tearoom there.
Both Dunfanaghy and I are now over 40 years older than we were back then, but it’s lost none of its charm (although I fear I may have)!
I’d love the opportunity to go back and see it all again, and if I did, I’d make sure I didn’t miss a single one of the following activities and attractions.
5 Things to do in Dunfanaghy
#1 Spend a Day on Killahoey Beach
Killahoey Beach is so close to Dunfanaghy that you can walk there, although most visitors opt for the 10-minute drive along the coast. However you get there, you’ll be greeted by 1.5 km of golden sands and sparkling waters.
Also known as Dunfanaghy Beach, this glorious sandy stretch enjoys panoramic views of the Atlantic Ocean, looking out towards Sheephaven Bay.
Although it’s a popular swimming spot, I’m not sure I’d be brave enough to plunge into the chilly and potentially choppy waters.
I think, I’d opt for a horse ride on the beach, but I could be persuaded to give surfing a go, given that Killahoey is one of Ireland’s best surf spots for beginners.
#2 Climb Mount Errigal
Mount Errigal stands head and shoulders above the rest of the Derryveagh Mountains, looking both enticing and menacing.
Considered a moderate to strenuous climb, it takes experienced hikers just a couple of hours to complete, but I think I’d allow myself closer to three or four, so I could spend longer enjoying the sights and resting my legs!
Climbing this 2,464 ft mountain is best done on a clear day when the views from the summit extend across the whole of Donegal.
Hanging around at the summit isn’t advisable, however, as there is little room, and it gets very blustery. You also don’t want to rush your descent as the scree can be slippery underfoot.
#3 Do the Horn Head Loop
I’m a bit nervous about attempting the Horn Head Loop Trail, even though it’s only 1.9 miles (3km) long. The trouble is, I’m terrible at navigating, and if a sea mist blows in, I can see myself getting irretrievably lost.
I’m still determined to go there, though, not least because I want to see the cliffs that rise vertically out of the ocean and the flocks of seabirds that call those cliffs home. Puffins, razorbills, guillemots, and kittiwakes all fight for space on the crowded cliffs, making them an Irish Natural Heritage Site.
It only takes 10 minutes to drive from Dunfanaghy to the Horn Head Lookout Point and car park, which depending on the weather, might be as far as I dare to venture!
I might just settle with doing the Horn Head Loop drive instead – it’s easier to navigate and easier on my nerves.
#4 Visit Doe Castle
Even though I’m not an avid historian, Irish history never fails to fascinate me, and that’s why I’d make a point of visiting Doe Castle.
Dating back to the 15th century, Doe Castle was once the stronghold of the MacSweeney clan but was ripped from their hands by James VI and I after they rebelled against him.
That was back in the early 17th century, and it changed hands many more times during the battles between the English and Irish.
It was eventually abandoned in 1843, yet much of this medieval stronghold remains, peering over the ocean from its craggy lookout point.
#5 Dunfanaghy Workhouse Heritage Centre
When the Great Famine struck in 1845, life for many became a struggle for survival, and many found themselves with no option but to submit to life in a workhouse.
Although conditions in the workhouses were harsh, at least there was something in the way of food and shelter, offering a lifeline to many destitute people, including one little girl, called Hannah Herrity.
The Dunfanaghy Workhouse recounts Hannah’s difficult life in the workhouse and beyond, giving a rare and personal insight into the experiences of local people during the Famine.
Storyboards help you understand the diet, rules, and daily life in the workhouse, where families were separated, and many people died.
Remembering the strength and bravery of these people is as inspiring as it is heartbreaking, and I think I’ll need to clear my head on one of the nearby beaches once I’m through with the exhibition.
The Best Beaches in Dunfanaghy
There are enough golden beaches around Dunfanaghy that you could stay for a week and visit a different one almost every day. Some of the highlights, in addition to the aforementioned Killahoey Beach, include:
Marble Hill Strand
Situated just outside Dunfanaghy, this Blue Flag beach is nestled into Sheephaven Bay. Gentle waves lap the shoreline, making it ideal for swimming, especially during the summer months, when lifeguards are on duty.
Marble Hill is also a popular surfing spot, particularly in winter when the swells come in from the northeast.
If the weather makes swimming unappealing, it’s still worth visiting Marble Hill Strand for its rich wildlife. Admire the wildflowers that populate the dunes, and listen out for the distinctive call of the corncrake.
Murder Hole Beach
Also known as Boyeeghter Bay, Murder Hole Beach is situated on the Melmore Head Peninsula, approximately 35 minutes from Dunfanaghy.
A new trail makes accessing the beach a lot easier than it was 40 years ago, but you’ll still face a 15-20 minute walk down to the beach and a steep climb on your way back to the car park.
Rough seas and rip tides make Murder Hole potentially dangerous, just as its name suggests, so swimming is not allowed.
This Blue Flag beach is one of Donegal’s best-kept secrets. Crystal-clear waters and long stretches of sand make it ideal for swimming and exploring, and there are numerous coves where you can find shelter from the strong winds.
The drive from Dunfanaghy takes around 10 minutes, but you might want to allow a little extra time to enjoy the views from the clifftop approach before descending to the beach.
You’ll soon work up an appetite swimming, surfing, walking, or exploring the best beaches of Dunfanaghy, and you’ll be glad you did! There are some great places to eat in Dunfanaghy…
Best Places To Eat in Dunfanaghy
This unassuming family restaurant is on Main Street in Dunfanaghy, but don’t let its appearance fool you.
This popular restaurant serves some of the best food in the area but at affordable prices, which means it’s often full, especially during the summer months.
Book a table, enjoy the atmosphere, and try one of their signature dishes – you won’t be disappointed!
The Rusty Oven
This pizzeria specializes in wood-fired, sourdough pizzas with unusual toppings, like caramelized pear and walnut, and truffle oil with seasonal mushrooms.
It first opened its doors in 2013, since when it’s been luring locals and visitors with the distinctive aromas that drift through the village.
Muck n Muffins
Even if you’re not hungry, Muck n Muffins is still worth a visit. The pottery collection downstairs is intriguing, while the view from the upstairs coffee shop gazes out over the Horn Head Peninsula.
It’s a fun, quirky place to enjoy a superior cup of coffee, but it’s best to work up an appetite so you can enjoy their famous pancake stack as well!
Best Pubs To Visit in Dunfanaghy
The pubs in Dunfanaghy offer so much more than a pint of creamy Guinness! Whether you’re stopping in for a lunchtime drink or plan on spending the evening listening to live music, these Dunfanaghy pubs have it all.
With its peat fires, stone walls, and low ceilings, this traditional Irish pub is one of the best places in Dunfanaghy to enjoy some traditional Irish music. Sit back and relax as the Guinness flows and the sound of fiddles and whistles fills the air.
The Oyster Bar
Like Patsy Dan’s, the Oyster Bar hosts traditional Irish music sessions twice a week, and live music at the week, so grab your dancing shoes and head over for a cold pint and a warm atmosphere.
Another great place to enjoy live music and authentic Irish hospitality, Molly’s Bar is the perfect place to unwind, whatever the weather. Relax in the beer garden on a sunny afternoon, or snuggle up by the roaring fire on a chilly evening.
Best Budget Hotels in Dunfanaghy
These hotels are situated close to the heart of Dunfanaghy, giving you the best opportunity to immerse yourself in the town’s vibrant culture:
Situated in the center of Dunfanaghy, Arnold’s Hotel looks out over Sheephaven Bay, giving its guests some of the best views in the area.
It was founded in 1922 and has been offering affordable yet comfortable accommodation ever since.
Enjoy a fine dining experience at Arnold’s Restaurant, or opt for a more casual meal in one of its unique outdoor dining pods.
This cozy guesthouse overlooks New Lake just outside Dunfanaghy. It was refurbished in 1999 and now features six individually styled rooms, each with en suite bathroom facilities.
Plan your day’s activities over an award-winning breakfast of organic porridge, pancakes, or eggs Benedict, while soaking up the warm family atmosphere.
Shandon Hotel & Spa
This luxurious hotel and spa are situated around 7km from Dunfanaghy, close to Marble Hill Beach.
Nearly all its rooms enjoy views over the stunning Sheephaven Bay, and each one has its own signature style.
It’s the ideal location for a romantic weekend, or a family getaway, with superior suites offering interlocking accommodation for up to eight people.
Relax in the hotel spa and let the stunning views rejuvenate your soul while the treatments revitalize your body.
Nice Towns Near Dunfanaghy
While Dunfanaghy has plenty to offer, part of its appeal is its proximity to some of Donegal’s other attractions and picturesque towns. Try to set aside a couple of days to explore further afield and head to one of these nearby destinations:
Letterkenny is the largest town in Donegal and a great place to discover the area’s history and culture. A stroll through this 17th-century market town will take you past coffee shops, craft shops, cathedrals, and museums, so there’s plenty to discover. The surrounding countryside is also worth exploring.
Downings stands opposite Dunfanaghy on the other side of Sheephaven Bay, and enjoys similarly spectacular views, albeit from a slightly different perspective. It has its own Blue Flag beach and a selection of impressive bars, including the Singing Pub, where you can enjoy a plateful of locally sourced mussels.
Falcarragh is a charming Gaeltacht village close to the scenic beach of Tramore. It’s a friendly little place surrounded by cliffs, mountains, and golden beaches, and a great starting point for some of the best walks in Donegal.
How Far is Glenveagh National Park from Dunfanaghy?
It takes between 20 and 25 minutes to drive from Dunfanaghy to Glenveagh National Park, depending on your route. The shortest one, via Creeslough and Drumfin, is just 21 km, while the longest takes you on a 25 km jaunt via Falcarragh and the Bridge of Tears.
How do you Get to Tramore Beach from Dunfanaghy?
Follow the N56 from Dunfanaghy all the way to the Tramore Beach car park – a journey of just 4.5km.
What is the Best Time of Year to Visit Dunfanaghy?
Dunfanaghy is a beautiful place to visit at any time of the year but gets very busy during the summer months of June, July, and August. If you can, aim to get there in either May or September, when the crowds have left, but there’s still some hope of sunshine.
Where can you Enjoy Traditional Irish Music in Dunfanaghy?
Most of the pubs in Dunfanaghy have traditional Irish music sessions a couple of times a week, especially during the summer. Pop into Patsy Dans on a Monday or Friday, or head to the Oyster Bar on Tuesdays and Thursdays for a foot-tapping craic with the locals.
Before You Go
It’s a long time since I visited Dunfanaghy, but it still holds a special place in my heart, and I’m longing to return. I can’t wait to see the world from the top of Mount Errigal, feel the wind on my face at Killahoey Beach, and learn more about life in a famine workhouse.
The landscape surrounding the town is breathtaking, the locals friendly, and the food tantalizingly good.
There’s nowhere better to stay if you want to experience the rugged countryside, warm hospitality, and vibrant culture of Donegal, which is why I hope to book my flights any day now and suggest you do the same.
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"Like many so-called Brits, I have a bit of Irish and a bit of Scottish in my blood, which is possibly where the red hair comes from. I’ve been fascinated by the history of Ireland for years, since I discovered the story of the Irish Pirate Queen, Grace O’Malley.