Ardara is situated close to the small River Owentocher. This heritage town is a major centre for the manufacture of hand-woven tweed with several shops along the main street selling tweeds and hand-knitted sweaters. While in the town pay a visit to The Ardara Heritage Centre - which houses an exhibition relating the history of Donegal Tweed. The pubs of Ardara are welcoming and friendly - the visitor can experience a rich mix of traditional music. The Owenea River provides unparalleled salmon and trout fishing and is widely regarded as one of the best in the country. Pony trekking along the golden sandy beaches is also popular. The spectacular links golf courses at Murvagh, Donegal town and Portnoo/Narin are within a short drive. Boating and surfing can also be enjoyed nearby with some of the best Blue Flag beaches within easy reach.
Scroll down for information on the many attractions to visit in Donegal while staying at The Nesbitt Arms Hotel
A short distance outside Ardara on the Killybegs Road take a right hand turn for Maghera.
Enjoy beautiful scenery along a narrow winding country road until you come to the Assaranca Waterfall. Sit and listen to the majestic peaceful water flowing down from the mountainside. An ideal location to stop for a picnic. In front of the falls is a wooden sculpture by Mike Henderson. Continue further along the road and you will come to a parking area for Maghera Beach, take the beautiful walk through the sand dunes until you come to a number of caves along the cliff-side. A beautiful scenic spot to spend a couple of hours. A very narrow road continues on and is the back road to Glencolmcille, not a drive for the feint hearted!
A further 1km away from Assaranca Waterfall lie the caves located beneath Slievetooey mountain and some of which, are accessible at low tides from Maghera Strand, stretch out into the bay (please be careful of tides and check locally regarding times). Access to the beach can be attained via a car park and a short 400 metre walk to the caves. There are over 20 caves, 8 arches and 5 tunnels which can be visited ideally by Kayak or other small craft, and would be enough to sate the appetite of any explorer.
Folklore tells the story of a massacre here, where local people were hiding supposedly from Cromwellian attackers. However, we know from written history that Cromwell never ventured this far north, and it is more likely that if there is any ring of truth to the story that it would be Viking attackers. Assailants apart, it is nonetheless an interesting example of how the oral history has been preserved, albeit bent to suit a more topical hue. The story also told of a single male survivor to the massacre, accompanied by his dog, who fled into the interior of the cave and continued to crawl through the dark and damp, seeking freedom. The man the story goes, never made it to the other side, but the dog having lost all his hair, emerged in Glencolumbkille some 20km distant!
Across the road on the left hand side from The Nesbitt Arms you will find the Ardara Heritage Centre. Housed in the Old Courthouse, The Ardara Heritage Centre tells the story of Donegal tweed from the shearing of sheep to the manufacture of the woven cloth. Old photographs, displays and models recall the history of tweed production in the Ardara region.
Weavers at work show how a loom operates and the different stitches which make up Aran knitwear can be examined. An audio visual presentation shows some of the attractions of this scenic area of Donegal.
The Centre also now boasts of a fine Theatre which can seat up to 150 people and is acoustically fitted to allow any small community group use the Centre for a play or a concert.
Lough Doon Fort
Doon Fort is an ancient ring fort on Doon Lough which is just 9 kilometres from the Hotel. Along a narrow bog road between Portnoo and Ardara you will discover this ancient circular dry stone fort. This stone fort dates back to 3000BC and has walls standing about 4.5 metres high in places and 3.6 metres in thickness at its base, it was a stronghold for the O’Boyle Family in the 16th Century but thought to have been a place of refuge up to 1500 years ago. A very historical fort which even predates some of the pyramids! During the summer months you can rent a boat from a local farmer and row out to the Island and wander round for a while. Why not take a fishing rod with you, you might catch a trout on a summer’s evening.
Garden Trail & Mass Rock
Throughout County Donegal there are a number of magnificent and treasured gardens ranging from small local gardens maintained by the house owner up to large professionally maintained gardens such as those in Glenveagh National Park. There are two gardens on Donegal’s Garden Trail close to Ardara and both are worth a visit during the summer months. Both located in Portnoo;- (1) Browns Farm at Ballyeristin, Una Brown will show you the many features in her garden including a wildflower woodland and (2) Summy owned by Michel Classon, his garden is on a rocky hillside with native woodland shrubs and flowers.
Under foreign rule, Ireland was bound by Penal Laws in the 1600s and 1700’s one of which was a ban on celebrating a Catholic Mass. Priests and worshipers used to find remote and secluded sites throughput the country to celebrate mass on ‘Mass Rocks’ and you can see an example of one on the road between Nairin and Ardara.
4 miles North West of Ardara in Kilclooney where you will find an ancient burial chamber which is of historical significance. A portal Dolmen built over 4,000 years ago and older than Stonehenge, is a short walk behind St Conal’s church. The chamber is in excellent condition and thought to be the best of its kind in Ireland. Close by is another chamber which is in slight disrepair. You will find a grass path through the fields to the tomb and local residents are very happy for anyone to walk through their land so thy can have a close look at this cultural and historical gem.
Continue past Kilclooney and go to Nairin’s blue flag beach where at very low tide you can walk across to Inishkeel Island. The island houses the ruins of an ancient Christian settlement founded in the 6th Century. Walk along the right hand side of the island and you will discover the ruins of two churches and a graveyard. Walk through the ancient gravestones and you will see some beautifully decorated cross slabs. The island used to be a place of pilgrimage and an early ecclesiastical site of St Chonall. Walk along the edge of the island and enjoy spectacular views, you will also come across the remnants of some of the pilgrimage prayer sites. Be sure and get off the island before the tide comes in!
This spectacular scenic journey is from Ardara to Glencolmcille and at its peak of 900 feet above see level you will experience nature at its best as 40 shades of green unfold down to the valley. This is wild unspoiled and remote landscape where you will come across wandering sheep, farmland and moorland which has developed over the years from what was a glacial valley in the ice age.
Slieve League Cliffs
Slieve League Cliffs (or Sliabh Liag in Gaelic), situated on the south west coast of County Donegal, 45 mins from the hotel, are said to be the one of the highest and finest marine cliffs in Europe. To fully enjoy the spectacle of Sliabh League it is best to leave your car at the car park and walk the few miles to the cliffs so as not to miss the exciting scenery of the area.
There are terrific views of the Atlantic Ocean, the Sligo Mountains, Donegal Bay and as far as Mayo as you walk towards the terrifyingly high top of Sliabh League, where the cliff face of Bunglas rises over 600m above the raging ocean. Experienced walkers only should venture beyond the viewing point onto One Man's Pass which loops around onto the Pilgrim's Path.
This is a sacred mountain, for over a thousand years there was a Christian pilgrimage. You should remember this when visiting, so please do not disturb these monuments of Irish cultural heritage. There's much to know about Sliabh League, like the monks who went to Iceland or the eagle and the baby. To learn more visit the award winning Slieve League Cliffs Centre which is all about local culture, food and crafts served with a real warm Donegal welcome and sense of humour.
Glenveagh National Park
Glenveagh, which is a state run national park, was set up to conserve this wilderness and beauty in a way that people can visit and yet leave it unspoilt for future generations. With over 16,000 heactares of mountains, bogs, lakes and woodlands it is a magical place and a haven for those who love the outdoors. The park includes the two highest peaks in Donegal, Errigal and Slieve Snacht. Start your exploration at the visitor’s centre where you will learn all about the park and why not take a tour of the Castle and Gardens, built by John George Adair in 1870. Enjoy the range of marked trails and hopefully you will spot a the large variety of wildlife including red deer many varieties of birds and you may even spot one of the resident golden eagles recently introduced from Scotland. A day will not be enough!
Fintown Railway & Lough Finn
Hop on board one of the original narrow gauge carriages along a 5km stretch of track that has been restored from The Donegal County Railway. This is a unique journey along the shore of Lough Finn. The international playwright Brian Friel described it, ‘what is on offer is a unique journey along the shores of a lake as grand as any in Switzerland and Minnesota’. The area is steeped in tradition, myth and folklore. After your journey why not head on to either Ballybofey, home of the famous McElhinney’s department store, or Letterkenny Donegal’s largest town and gateway to the north of the county.
Donegal Carpet Museum
A short drive from Ardara is Killybegs, one of Ireland’s largest fishing ports and home of the famous Donegal Carpets. Housing the largest hand knotted loom in the world, visit the Museum where you will see live demonstrations of this dying craft and test your own skills. World class carpets produced in this factory can still be seen in Dublin Castle, The Oval office in The Whitehouse, The Vatican and Buckingham Palace. The finest craftsmen still create exclusive bespoke carpets in the original factory and it is the only place in Western Europe where hand knotted carpets are still made. Within the museum is a simulator where you can test your skills bringing in a large fishing trawler into harbour. When you’re finished wander around the port and see the real thing. Killybegs is increasingly one of the stop off points for cruise liners travelling around Ireland given the wealth of attractions in the area.
Daniel O’ Donnell Visitor Centre
As a mark of recognition to the remarkable success of Daniel, Dungloe has created this museum of his life thus far. Located 35 mins from The Nesbitt Arms this Visitor Centre is like no other...
Once you are inside the custom designed building the story of Daniel's life will be told through displays, videos and exclusive memorabilia to show the progress of his international career over the last 25 years. The displays include some of his favourite stage outfits and as a special treat visitors can see close up his wedding suit and Majella's beautiful wedding dress.
The visitor can follow Daniel's life from his roots in a small coastal village to the world stage and see some of the many awards he received including his gold and platinum albums. Video screens will show extracts from many of the top TV shows he has appeared on along with all his own song promo films and extracts from many sell out concerts since his career began.
As you all probably know Daniel hails from the Rosses, in the small townland of Kincasslagh but what you probably didn't know is that Dungloe is the capital of the Rosses so we feel it only right that the location of "THE DANIEL O'DONNELL VISITOR CENTRE" is right in the middle of Dungloe Main Street.
If you are a fan of Daniel O'Donnell then you will not want to miss a trip to Dungloe to experience this dedicated permanent tribute to the boy from Donegal
Attractions Further Afield
An Irish speaking area, The Glen of St Columba’s Church has maintained its cultural vitality over the years. The primary attractions to visitors are the breath taking scenery with mountains on one side and the wild atlantic ocean on the other, its a place of peace and relaxation and in the local pubs you can enjoy traditional Irish music from some of the leading musicians in the country. No visit to the Glen is complete without a visit to Fr McDyer’s folk village, in each of the thatched cottages you can experience typical Irish life in the 18th , 19th and 20th centuries.
Tow of the main inhabited islands off the coast of Donegal are Aranmore and Tory. With over 500 local inhabitants you can take a car ferry from Burtonport and in 20 minutes you can start exploring the unique landscape of Aranmore where the first inhabitants landed around 800bc. As you wander around the island by car or bicycle you’ll see freshwater lakes, bogland, sea cliffs, the pace of life here is leisurely so take your time. Be sure to go over to see the old lighthouse and you will see some ancient doon forts along the way, take a dip in the sea or head out and do some sea angling. There are lots of things to do on Aranmore , while you are there pop into one of their lively pubs and take in some story telling or traditional Irish music. Tory is a little further afield some 7 miles off the coast from the nearest harbour, take a passenger only ferry for about 40 minutes and step back in time. The first inhabitants were believed to be pirates. Its an island of great beauty and full of history and mythology. There is just one road so it’s easy to walk/cycle across the island, the scenery will take your breath away, you might even see sharks, or dolphins off the coast and the odd whale has also been spotted. Before you leave you might even see ‘The King of Tory’, the local boss!