To really experience the power of Ireland’s timeless, natural beauty, try starting at the top. Literally. Jutting into the rough Atlantic Ocean, the windswept Banba’s Crown in Malin Head, on Donegal’s Inishowen peninsula, is Ireland’s most northern point. It’s also one of the three must-see spots when exploring the stunning Wild Atlantic Way, a 2,600-kilometre route that weaves its way along Ireland’s northern edge in all its stunningly raw splendour. Complete the trifecta with a stop at Fanad Head, a powerful peninsula of mossy rock where you spy grey seals and whales, and then Slieve League to set your eyes on the finest marine cliffs in Europe. Back down on the ground, get up close and personal with the area’s more human history. Consider a visit to the haunting Clonca High Cross near the village of Culdaff, with its 400-year-old, four-metre high stone cross and the ruin of a 17th-century church surrounded by scattered graves, or stop by the historic parish of Burt where you can hike to Grianan of Aileach. The circular stone fort dates back to the Iron Age and standing atop its walls will give you breathtaking views of four counties. It’s also the site of the “holy well” where legend has it that St. Patrick, patron saint of Ireland, baptized the local chieftain.
Exploring the rocky terrain—as lovely as it is—means keeping up your strength. Do it in delicious style at The Rusty Nail in Clonmany, where the seasonal menu features fresh-from-the-garden ingredients, as well as local craft beers and an extensive wine list. Seafood lovers should try the Inishowen peat-smoked, whiskey-cured salmon—a local indulgence. For an authentic pub experience, try McGrory’s Hotel. Here, you can enjoy typical fare, such as hearty soup with soda bread, along with traditional music (hint: both astronaut Chris Hadfield and the crew of the next Star Wars movie, Rogue One, did, and the staff has photos to prove it). For a meal with a view, try The Beach House Bar & Restaurant, which overlooks the Buncrana Bay in Lough Swilly. Try the locally sourced monkfish, hake, cod, salmon, and more.
Don’t let the rugged backdrop fool you: Donegal has its high-end pleasures. Just ask actress Sarah Jessica Parker, who lives here with her family part time and frequents McElhinneys department store for its wide range of apparel and accessories. And, of course, no trip to the area would be complete without perusing some world-famous Donegal tweed. Head to Magee of Donegal—it’s right in the area’s namesake town—and invest in a woolen classic at a fraction of the price you’d find back home. Wrap the day up with a night at the Redcastle Hotel, Golf & Spa Resort, where you can kick back in a room with all the modern comforts you could want, with the gorgeous, wild coastline in view. Better yet, up the ante with the Redcastle Spa’s Ocean Fresh Facial, which features antioxidant-rich Irish seaweed, and a scalp massage. It’sa luxurious way to bring together the rugged and refined elements of the Wild Atlantic Way.