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Bundoran Beach / Photo: dusi_bbg

Robin Graham shatters drab Irish stereotypes and introduces 5 beaches that are among Europe’s best, all of them in the southwest of County Donegal.
1. Bundoran Beach

Surfers know beaches, and the world championships were held at Bundoran in ’97. Since then, this little town has played host to a number of other high-profile tournaments.

They come for The Peak, one of Europe’s best waves, and the locals will be only too pleased to tell you about its “nice clean barrel” and “steep, steep drop-in.”

No, I don’t understand either. But the beach itself is a real beauty, stretching for over 2km, and surfing is not compulsory.

Getting there: Leave the N15 at Bundoran and drive through town following the coast road to the signposted beach.

2. Rossnowlagh Beach

Also known as the Heavenly Cove, this is a little farther up the coast and is another destination for surfers. If you’re not exactly world-class material you might prefer it here, where you won’t be lining up beside the best of the best for a crack at The Peak.

Wind-surfing, kite-surfing, and of course swimming are also popular, and the beach is well served with a surf club, a lifeguard station, and a bar in the nearby Sandhouse Hotel. You can also take your car right onto the sand, though the speed limit down there is 15km/h for obvious reasons.

A lot of people come during the summer months, but at the same time it’s hidden away and you could easily pass by without knowing it. When I was driving in, I passed a shop who’s owners felt the need to advertise “open all year,” and a tiny brown church made entirely from corrugated iron.

Getting there: Leave Bundoran on the N15 northbound, and after approx. 5km take the R231 at Ballyshannon. The beach is signed after another 9km or so.

3. Murvagh Beach

Okay, you’ve gotten away from all those surfers.

Even though we’re in the northwest of Ireland here, the water at Murvagh Beach is probably the warmest anywhere in the country during the summer months, as the tide has to come in over a kilometer of shallow sandbanks, giving the sun plenty of time to do its work.

This also makes it an ideal beach for children, with swimming for adults being limited to an hour or so each side of the tide.

Photo: nicksarebi

The beach is approached through some beautiful woodland, and the dunes inland are designated a Special Area of Conservation.

Getting there: Rejoin the N15 at Ballintra. Head north. After about 3km, turn left at the sign for Donegal Golf Club. Continue to the next T-junction and turn left, and then after approx. 1km you’ll see a sign for Murvagh Forest Park. Turn right into the park to reach the beach car park.

4. Fintragh Beach

You’ll be sick of the sight of Blue Flags by the time you drive down the horribly, horribly steep hill to Fintragh Beach. Rocky outcrops stud this otherwise smooth strand. Not a surfer in sight.

Actually, there was no one of any kind in sight when I arrived. Only some little bunnies, hopping about on the grassy slopes behind the sand. It’s a hard place to leave, and I spent much longer than I meant to.

Getting there: Leave Killybegs heading west on the Fintragh Road. After approx. 2km, turn left where the beach is signposted.

5. The Silver Strand

This is the only one of the five not to have Blue Flag status, which is ironic, because in my opinion it’s the best of the lot.

Not a beach for watersports; it’s a hidden little cove that makes me think more of brochures for the Greek Islands, only with sheep photoshopped in.

Hundreds of stone steps lead down a steep drop to a horseshoe-shaped strand, surrounded by a crescent of eroded cliffs and caves. The turquoise water is clear and most certainly not Greek in temperature.

Getting there: Follow the coast road around the southwest Donegal peninsula. Take a left where Malin Bheg is signposted and keep going for about 10 minutes. You’ll see signs for The Silver Strand.

Community Connection

More beach action from Matador:

10 Traveler’s Tips For Rocking A Nudist Beach
Photo Essay: 7 Beautifully Bizarre Beaches
World’s Best Beaches: Which Ones Make Your List?

About The Author

Robin Graham

Robin Graham has written for Matador Nights, The Expeditioner, Literary Traveler, Travel Thru History, GoNomad, and Bootsnall. He is on the move again and blogging at www.alotofwind.com.

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  • http://matadortrips.com/ Hal Amen

    Beaches + Ireland is such a disconnect for me (and, I’d venture for most?). This makes me want to visit again–August, maybe–and find these spots.

  • http://thetravelpad.com Joshua Woodham

    Likewise, When I read the title I thought it may have been a joke. This article has definetely given me a different perspective. Well done.

  • http://alotofwind.com Robin

    Thanks folks. It comes as a surprise to a lot of people that there is something of a surf culture on this coast. There are beautiful beaches all over Ireland but Donegal’s are the best for my money.

  • http://annemerritt.blogspot.com Anne

    What a great piece! I really loved the photos too.

    My first Atlantic swim was on a beach in Ireland at the age of three. I’ve been a cold water fan ever since.

  • http://www.thejetpacker.com Jetpacker

    Beaches? In Ireland?! Really though, these are quite gorgeous. But we have to wonder, on an Irish beach, would you see more freckles or grains of sand?

  • http://matadortravel.com/traveler/evasandoval Eva

    Robin, these are great! Much lovelier than the ones at Bray or Sandymount. Will have to get myself over some time.

    • http://alotofwind.com robin

      Yes do Eva – I’m from the east myself but I have to say the West of Ireland is what it’s all about when it comes to natural beauty…

  • http://www.twitter.com/ali_t Alastair

    Donegal really is beautiful and does have more than its fair share of wonderful beaches.

    I love Portsalon beach – it’s further north than the ones mentioned here but absolutely gorgeous

  • butterbean

    I find it interesting that Inchydoney in Clonakilty, Co. Cork didn’t make it. 

    • http://alotofwind.com Robin

      If it was intended as a definitive list butterbean it would have been called “Ireland’s five best beaches”, but it isn’t; it is called “Five OF Ireland’s best beaches”

      Relax.

  • Odwyer J

    Robin obviously never left the north of Ireland.  The beaches he recommends dont even feature in the good beaches of Ireland

  • Michael Mcnaughton

    Looking forward to silver strand at the end of August this year, wonderful place!

  • Michael Mcnaughton

    Looking forward to silver strand at the end of August this year, wonderful place!

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