1. Bundoran Beach
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.
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.
More beach action from Matador: