Guide to Donegal for Families: Where to Eat, Stay, Play and Explore

Michelle

February 16, 2023

ultimate guide to donegal for families

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One of County Donegal’s nicknames is the Forgotten County which is a misnomer, as it’s really a place to be remembered! It’s certainly spectacular, located right at the top of the Wild Atlantic Way, where you will find culture, heritage, stunning unspoiled and unbusy beaches, mountains and lakes. You’ll enjoy a whole host of unique family-friendly activities and places to visit to keep you busy.

In our Guide to Donegal for Families, we’ve picked some of our favourite things to do with the family around County Donegal, whether you’re planning a weekend break, looking to fill a rainy day, explore in the sunshine, or just try something new.

Our Guide to Donegal for Families

Family-Friendly Things to Do in Donegal

Donegal Bay Waterbus for things to do in Donegal - Mykidstime

Lurgybrack Open Farm, just outside of Letterkenny, is family-run and it shows. It is well thought out, with lots for the kids to see and do, and very reasonably priced. Tthere is a cafe on site, but you can also bring a picnic as there are picnic benches all around. As well as the animals to enjoy, you will also find ground level trampolines, barrel rides, bouncy castles and more.

Enjoy splashing fun at Waterworld on the seafront in Bundoran where you’ll find wave pool, rapids, slide pool, tornado and twister flumes, as well as the Whizzer Slide, the fastest indoor waterslide in Ireland! There are also splash features and small waterslides for toddlers, as well as sauna and steam room for the adults.

Enjoy a cruise around Donegal Bay for 75 minutes with Donegal Town Waterbus with a full commentary on the history and geography of Donegal Bay by the experienced crew, combined with a sprinkling of Irish humour, which ensures that passengers are kept both informed and entertained during the voyage. You’ll have the chance to spot seals at Seal Island and view the gorgeous Donegal coastline.

Oakfield Park and Gardens in Raphoe has literally acres of parkland, woodlands and gardens to enjoy between May and August. There’s a miniature railway with train rides at the weekends, with over 4km of track winding around the lake and woodlands.

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Free Things to Do in Donegal

Stop by and see Stor the Troll on the Dungloe River Walk. The 40ft troll has made his home there as part of an arts trail aimed at creating a magical living storybook, with Trolls, Giants and Fairies all inspired by legend and mystical folklore.

Here are some of our favourite family walks in Donegal, all free and spectacular. Another fun family walk option is to follow the Sculpture Trail in Bundoran, we love the giant daisies!

Bring the kids to one of these libraries in Donegal. Most have children’s sections where the kids can sit down and entertain themselves with the great selection of books, games and puzzles. Some also offer weekly story times.

Bring the bikes to Rossnowlagh Beach for a fun cycle and some beach time.

Outdoor Activities in Donegal

Ards Forest Park outdoor places in Donegal

© Failte Ireland

Glenveagh National Park offers plenty of outdoor options, as well as a stunning and scenic backdrop for family photos. Entry is free and there are lots of things to do and see. Have a wander through the beautiful gardens, take one of the easier walking trails, Derrylahan Nature Trail (2km loop) or The Garden Trail (1km loop). Fun and interactive walks and events for all ages take place throughout the year, as well as special seasonal events so check their website before you go.

Ards Forest Park is one of Ireland’s finest forest parks located on the coast with lots of facilities for families. Enjoy forest walks and cycle paths, a children’s play area, and the beach.  The remains of four ringforts are to be seen in the park, as well as a number of megalithic tombs. Legend has it that these were the beds of Diarmuid and Grainne in their flight from Fionn Mac Cumhaill. There are numerous viewing points on the walks and trails with spectacular views of the surrounding countryside. NB car park has a fee to park for the day.

Donegal beaches are some of the best beaches in the world, not just in Ireland! One of our favourites is Murvagh Beach, a large, Blue Flag beach near Donegal town which has a lifeguard service during summer season. There is a car park but access to the beach is via a sandy path. There’s plenty of space for families to play beach games, while kids will enjoy exploring the network of sand dunes. It is an ideal beach for children, being both warm and shallow.

Letterkenny Town Park can be found at the Hospital Roundabout, features include trees, flower beds, orchard, herb garden, playing areas, bowling green and lots of walks. There are two playgrounds, one for toddlers and another for older children, and a Garden of Remembrance.

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Family-Friendly Museums & Galleries in Donegal

donegal castle

Image © Failte Ireland

Donegal Castle is one of Ireland’s most splendid Gaelic castles built by the O’Donnell chieftains in the 15th Century it was rebuilt in the Jacobean style in the 16th Century by Sir Basil Brooke, after Hugh O’Donnell burnt it to the ground rather than let it fall into enemy hands. Information panels chronicle the history of the castle and guided tours are available. Admission fee, but free to visit on the first Wednesday of every month.

At Donegal County Museum you can explore a substantial collection of artefacts relating to the history and heritage of County Donegal. The first floor exhibition tells the story of Donegal from Prehistory to the Twentieth Century. Temporary exhibitions covering a wide range of topics are held in the ground floor gallery throughout the year, with something to suit all ages and interests. An event and education programme runs throughout the year on a wide variety of themes and topics. It’s free to visit.

Glebe House and Gallery is run by the OPW. Formerly the home for nearly thirty years of the renowned artist Derek Hill, it sits beside Lough Gartan, east of Glenveagh National Park. The Regency-style house is decorated with William Morris textiles, and collections of Islamic and Japanese art, as well as 300 works by leading twentieth-century artists such as Picasso and Kokoshka. Admission fee apart from the first Wednesday of every month when it is free for everyone.

At the Donegal Railway Heritage Centre, located just 300 metres from Donegal Town Centre. you’ll find a museum celebrating Donegal’s railway heritage in one of the few remaining original station houses. View railway rolling stock, see interesting artifacts, displays, a video presentation, model railways,and more.

The Regional Cultural Centre in Letterkenny children’s and family events including the annual Wainfest for children each October, as well as showing visual arts, film and more.

Lifford Old Courthouse is a multi-purpose visitor centre offering guided jail tours, escape rooms, musical performances, and an on-site bistro.

Stroll around Doagh Famine Village and explore the outdoor museum of life-size cottages and see what life was really like in Ireland during the famine times. Admission covers a 45-minute guided tour and includes a tea/coffee and wheaten bread/biscuit at the end. You are free to wander around after your tour and the kids will love exploring the cottages while you take photos.

Rainy Day Activities in Donegal

kids swimming

Enjoy some swimming and splashing time at

  • Ballyshannon Leisure Centre
  • Buncrana Leisure Centre
  • Letterkenny Aura Leisure Centre
  • Finn Valley Leisure Centre
  • Waterworld Bundoran

For some bookshop time, head to Four Masters Bookshop in Milltown, Book Centre in Ballybofey, Universal Books and The Bookmark in Letterkenny, A Novel Idea in Ballyshannon.

For indoor soft play:

  • Wainsworld in Buncrana
  • Kidz Kingdom in Magherabeg
  • Smarty Pants in Letterkenny
  • Arena7 Entertainment in Letterkenny
  • Craic @ Jack’s Ballybofey

You can go bowling at Arena7 and Bundoran Glow Bowl or puzzle your way out of escape rooms at Lifford Old Courthouse.

Catch a movie at Eclipse Cinemas in Bundoran, Buncrana Cinema, Century Cinemas in Letterkenny or Eclipse Cinemas in Lifford. The Regional Cultural Centre in Letterkenny occasionally screens family films.

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Plan a whole range of family days out with this brilliant checklist of 99 fantastic places to visit around Ireland!

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Family-Friendly Hotels & Accommodation in Donegal

At the Shandon Hotel & Spa, they offer both standard and superior family rooms – these have two double beds with the option of an extra camp bed for larger families. They also offer superior adjoining rooms for larger families which allows you extra comfort as you enjoy your family break by the sea. The hotel runs an excellent kids club, leisure centre with adult and kids pools plus free use of on site buckets and spades to enjoy nearby Marble Hill Beach.

Walking distance from the centre of Donegal Town, the Mill Park Hotel‘s family rooms include 1 queen-sized bed & 2 single beds or 2 double beds. To accommodate larger families, they also have an option of interconnecting rooms or larger family rooms that can sleep up to 6 people. They have a nice pool and kids’ pool at their leisure centre.

At the Redcastle Golf & Spa Hotel their Family Suite offers a double bedroom with a separate living area with a double sofa bed and a single bed. Alternatively for families preferring to be in one room together, the large family room comprises a double bed, double sofa bed and single bed. Set on the Inishowen Peninsula, the hotel runs cinema nights and has a kids club during the holidays. There’s a large heated pool and leisure centre for hotel guests to use.

At Lough Mardal Lodge and Luxury Glamping you can stay in one of their five Skydome Yurts, each has a luxurious Superking-size bed with two optional single beds available for children. There’s a wood-burning stove, windows with beautiful views, large dome skylight for star-gazing, and all the luxurious touches you would expect including beautiful bedding and towels, hot water bottles, reading lights, outdoor private decking with seating. Two of the yurts are pet-friendly. They can arrange breakfast and BBQ packs on request and also activities such as Surf Lessons and Beach Horse Riding if you fancy that.

Check out more of our favourite family-friendly hotels and accommodation in Ireland – from luxury breaks and hotels with kids clubs to self-catering choices and family camping and glamping.

Family-Friendly Restaurants in Donegal

There are many good restaurants in Donegal to choose from, here are just a few recommended by parents

  • If you are heading to Sliabh Liag cliffs, it is well worth a stop off at The Rusty Mackerel for some of their delicious seafood, the chowder and monkfish and prawns come highly recommended.
  • Watch the surfers at the Gaslight Restaurant while you enjoy the view of Rossnowlagh Beach. Good food and a nice kids’ menu with options such as “the young pirate soup with potato” and Treasure Island ice cream.
  • There’s a comprehensive menu at The Harbour in Donegal town, including seafood, steaks and pasta dishes. It has its own pizzeria, which can be seen at the back of the restaurant – great entertainment for the children to watch!
  • The Stateside American Restaurant in Letterkenny is very child friendly, and their kids menu has tons of options for even the fussiest eater, from goujons to burgers to toasties.

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Get set for a real treat with tiers of delicious bite-sized goodies to enjoy at these fantastic places for kids’ afternoon tea in Ireland – they are definitely worth a visit!

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Things to Do in Donegal for Older Kids and Teens

Enjoy bowling at Arena7 or Bundoran Glow Bowl or for some escape room fun, try Lifford Old Courthouse.

Ever played Footgolf? Yes it is as it is described, a game played on a golf course with a football. A game of Foot Golf takes around an hour, and is suitable for all ages and all levels of fitness. Enjoy Footgolf at Bundoran FootGolf, Letterkenny Activity Centre and Rosapenna Footgolf & Pitch ‘n’ Putt.

Head to Gartan Outdoor Education Centre. Located 15 minutes outside Letterkenny, on the lakeshore and close to mountains, woodlands, river and coast, it provides a wide variety of courses. There’s orienteering, archery, canoeing, and windsailing, to name a few.

Try surfing at one of Donegal’s fantastic beaches. There are plenty of surf lessons on offer at places such as Bundoran and Rossknowlagh.

Tigerceramics in Ballyshannon has a working pottery within the Craft centre with a viewing area and they hold pottery demonstrations & events such as paint a pot day.

Need a retail blitz? At Letterkenny Shopping Centre you’ll find Penneys while H&M and River Island are at Letterkenny Retail Park.

Don’t Miss!

Inishowen 100 Scenic Drive

If your guys are happy in the car then you’ll love the Inishowen 100 Scenic Drive, voted one of Ireland’s Top 10 Scenic Drives.

Highlights include the breathtaking Gap of Mamore, a scenic roadway that rises to a height of 800 feet above sea level before following a twisting corkscrew descent with panoramic views of the entire northern coastline; Malin Head, Ireland’s most northerly point; and Fort Dunree, a magnificent viewing outpost.

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ultimate guide to donegal for families

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