The Heart and Soul of Ireland Tour: County Donegal & Northern Ireland

A 8 day trip to Ireland 
4.56 out of 5 stars
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Jagged cliffs with curving cathedrals, the rebellious and explosive past with the promise and potential of the future, Ireland’s native sons and the people who have made her home: all are here in the astounding north of Ireland. Whatever your expectations, they are best left at home: this trip is sure to defy them all. 

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General Information

Detailed Itinerary

Departure Dates 

Flexible and customizable for private departures.

Detailed Itinerary 

Day 1: Arriving in Ardara

Land in Dublin and then catch a quick flight that will take you to the northwest corner of Ireland, County Donegal, a land of untrammeled beauty and a fierce pride of the Irish tradition, more fully on display here than in perhaps any other part of the island. Your final destination for today is Ardara, a small and quaint village near the coast of the Atlantic Ocean, affording incredible views out to sea at Loughros Point and Glengesh pass, as well as some of the finest offerings of weavings and textiles in the country. You’ll spend two nights in this charming town as you explore the rest of this fascinating area.

Day 2: Discovering Donegal

Venture out into the very heart of the Irish Gaeltecht and encounter the most incredible scenery of this singular region. Begin at Glencolumbkille, a verdant valley dotted with the hues of scattered cottages, and a pilgrimage site for its associations as the home base of St. Columba, one of the Twelve Apostles of Ireland and the founder of the Abbey at Iona. Then head south along the coast to Carrick, a way station for exploring the immense and inspiring Slieve League, one of the highest cliff faces in Europe. Though less renowned than the Cliffs of Moher, Slieve League soars nearly three times higher than her sisters of County Clare, and dazzles viewers with an incandescent light show when the setting sun hits her jagged face, casting hues of ochre and sienna, amber and crimson over the azure depths of the Atlantic and the emerald fields of grass above. Wind your way east and through the winding streets of Killybegs—one of the country’s busiest fishing ports and the home of the world-famous Donegal Carpets which grace the floors of Dublin Castle and palaces worldwide—before returning to Adara for another exciting and eventful evening.

Day 3: In and Around Donegal Town

The morning is yours to experience Donegal as you see fit, from a cruise over the Atlantic to a round of golf at one of the magnificent courses in the area to simple perambulating around this delightful town. After lunch, head to Donegal Town, where you can tour the seventeenth-century market square known as the Diamond and Donegal Abbey on the shores of the River Eske before discovering the restored grandeur of Donegal Castle which dominates the village’s skyline. 

Take in a demonstration of local weavers plying their trade as you learn the finer points of producing the tweed fabric that has given Donegal its name through every corner of the world. The evening is spent in a comforting and elegant hotel in the heart of the city center, giving you an excellent opportunity to explore Donegal’s nightlife.

Day 4: From the Republic to the Kingdom

Today takes you east into the counties of Ulster that are part of the United Kingdom, as you leave County Donegal to hit the highlights of Northern Ireland. Drive through the Blue Stack Mountains via Barnesmore Gap to the Twin Town of Ballybofey on the southern bank of the River Finn, then turn northeast until you arrive at Londonderry. You’ll find yourself enchanted at the success of the renovation projects that turned this newsworthy site of sectarian struggle into one of the most fascinating cities in Ireland, North or South: the war memorial at the Diamond, St. Columb’s Cathedral and the Guildhall are not to be missed, and visitors are sure to enjoy the walls surrounding the city, which are among the most complete and best preserved in Europe. 

Ride the banks of Lough Foyle and up the coast to Portrush, a boisterous resort townhome to a world-class golf course before arriving at the Giant’s Causeway, a magical and otherworldly collection of basalt columns that have since been named a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the only place in Northern Ireland with such a distinction. Marvel at the cliffs above the causeway featuring the soaring Aird’s Snout, the collection of columns known as the Wishing Chair, and the view from a distance of the Causeway’s positioning within the rugged yet gorgeous North Antrim Coast.  

Day 5: A Day in County Antrim, From Bushmills to Belfast

Begin your day in Northern Ireland at the Old Bushmills Distillery, where they’ve been making some of the finest whiskey in the world for more than four hundred years. You can tour this incredible facility and learn all the ins and outs of the distillation process before tasting a dram or two at a sampling session in the 1608 Bar, the former home for the vast malt kilns used to give Bushmills its unmistakable flavor. Then return to the coast of Antrim to discover the incredible roofless remains of Dunluce Castle, perched imposingly above steep cliffs which give way to the churning surf of the Atlantic, before making your treacherous way across the Carrick-a-rede Rope Bridge, spanning a sixty-five foot chasm and providing access to a salmon fishery on a tiny island beyond the mainland. Then celebrate the wildest part of Ulster at the Glens of Antrim, nine incredible valleys beautifully evincing from the Antrim Plateau that have been named an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty by Natural England. 

Head south to the floodplains of the River Lagan to encounter the unique capital of Northern Ireland, the incredible city of Belfast, where you’ll experience the very best that the city has to offer, from the political murals of West Belfast to the towering profile of Cave Hill, from the shipyards where they built the Titanic and her sisters to the Victorian Palm House of the Botanical Gardens. This evening sees you returning to Portrush.

Day 6: The Way Up North of the Emerald Isle

Turn west past Derry and then north to witness the ancient marvel of Grianan Ailigh, a circular stone fort that dates from the fifth century BCE, where St. Patrick reportedly baptized the first king of the O’Neill dynasty and which overlooks the gorgeous expanses of Lough Swilly and Lough Foyle. The history is certainly fascinating, but the highlight of the structure is certainly the indescribable views it affords of the surrounding area, where spectacular beauty dominates the eyes in every direction. 

Set off against the picturesque coast bordering the North Atlantic and cruise through the darling villages of Dunfanaghy, Portnalagh and Marble Hill before arriving at Gweedore, a coastal parish dominated by native Irish speakers and serving as a hotbed for Irish culture, from music and theatre to sports and language. The natural landscape of the area is breathtaking, from the quartzite peak of Errigal to the sweeping tides at Gweedore Bay, from the Poison Glen to the Derryveagh Mountains and all points in between.

Day 7: The Glory of Glenveagh

Your last full day in Ireland is spent in the midst of the striking grandeur of Glenveagh National Park, where one can find soaring mountains and plunging valleys, monuments of human achievement and the largest herd of red deer surviving in Ireland. Hike the foothills of the Derryveagh Mountains or walk around the edge of Lough Veagh, where you’ll find the magnificent granite edifice of Glenveagh Castle, a stirring monument built by the notorious John Adair that features a gorgeous, elegant interior and breathtaking formal gardens, with paths throughout leading you around the castle grounds and even up to a perch where you’ll discover a fabulous view over the lake. Then head to Ionad Cois Locha, nestled on the shores of Lough Dunlewey under the ample shadow of Mount Errigal, where you’ll enjoy a cruise of Lough Dunlewey, an exploration of an historic homestead, and a lesson on how to cut the peat turf used throughout the area. Take in some traditional Irish music before grabbing a pint at a local pub, then head back to your hotel to enjoy your final evening in the Emerald Isle.

Day 8: Returning Home

Today, return to Donegal airport for your transfer to Dublin and your voyage back to your home country, filled with the sights, sounds and experiences of this unspoiled and unforgettable region of Ireland.


Starting Price 

This trip is customizable for your private travel.

What's Included 

  • Accommodations
  • In-country transportation
  • Some or all guided tours and activities (dependent on season)
  • Expert trip planning
  • 24x7 support during your trip
The starting price is based on travel during the low season for a minimum of two travelers staying in shared 3-star accommodations. Please inquire for a custom trip quote based on your travel preferences and travel dates.