Whether you are driving from Donegal to Galway or Galway to Donegal, we have some beautiful castles you must visit along your route. From castle hotels, to a ruined castle and a castle turned into an abbey – I have a lot of castle experiences and more to share on this perfect castle itinerary.
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Driving Route from Donegal to Galway
Planning an Ireland road trip itinerary is not an easy task, but it can be with our favorite road trip app, Furkot. Using Furkot, we were able to create the perfect castle itinerary from Donegal to Galway. This specific route is definitely a long one because we were time permitted. So if you have more time, we do recommend trying to stay an extra night at one of the castle hotels we will mention below. We hope our itinerary can bring some inspiration to help plan your road trip from Donegal to Galway or vice versa. (Please note times can change with breaks, traffic etc):
9am: Depart from Lough Eske Castle Hotel & Spa to Benbulben – driving time: 50mins, arrive: 9:50am, duration: 20mins
10:10am: Drive to Kylemore Abbey – driving time: 2hrs 30mins, arrive: 12:40pm, duration: 1hr 30mins
2:10pm: Drive to Ashford Castle – driving time: 1hr, arrive: 3:10pm, duration: 2hrs
5:10pm: Drive to Galway – driving time: 55mins, arrive: 6:05pm
Though our itinerary is plausible, if we had more than seven days in Ireland, we would have done our trip a little differently. So if you have the time, here is an alternative and a more perfect itinerary that involves at least THREE castle hotel stays:
In between Lough Eske Castle Hotel & Spa to Kylemore Abbey, you can take a small trip to a Achill Island. It has stunning landscapes everywhere you look with high sea cliffs and white sand beaches.
After Kylemore Abbey, drive to Clifden Castle and explore the ruined castle by Clifden Bay.
Then drive to Ballynahinch Castle Hotel or Ashford Castle and spend the rest of the day enjoying the activities and luxury amenities offered by the hotel.
If you have even more time and want to spend an evening at BOTH castle hotels, you would truly be living like royalty during your Ireland road trip!
After Ashford Castle finish your route enjoying the pubs and traditional music in Galway.
Lough Eske Castle Hotel & Spa
We started our route in Donegal from Lough Eske Castle Hotel & Spa, a beautiful and romantic hotel. What makes this castle hotel romantic? Well for one, it’s a castle! Enough said, right? It is also romantic because of its secluded location in the woods and its many wonderful amenities such as the spa.
The Lough Eske Spa has continuously been ranked as one of Ireland’s leading spas. All guests have access to the spa’s pool, hot pool, locker rooms and a steam room. For an additional price, guests can have access to the Thermal Suite, which we highly recommend. The Thermal Suite has a warm stone chair, a gorgeous thermal pool, sauna, steam room, sanarium and tropical experience showers. Needless to say, this spa has it all to make your stay at Lough Eske Castle Hotel & Spa both romantic and relaxing.
Though it is a romantic hotel, it is also great for families. It has several different dining options, including a fine dining restaurant, Cedars Grill, and two casual bars to enjoy a pint of Guinness. They also have several drawing rooms for guests to enjoy at their leisure. Let’s not forget their luxury accommodations. Lough Eske Castle Hotel & Spa provides 96 guest rooms with 7 different room categories. They range from courtyard rooms, garden suites to a Presidential Suite. Regardless of the room categories, they are all fit for queen and king!
To read our full review of our experience at Lough Eske Castle Hotel & Spa, click here.
Lough Eske Castle Hotel & Spa
Lough Eske, Donegal Town
Co. Donegal, Ireland
+353 7497 25100
Benbulben fits perfectly on this route from Donegal to Galway as it is truly on the way. It is a natural landscape of Ireland that cannot be missed. For those who have heard of Cape Town, South Africa’s famous “Table Mountain,” Benbulben is Ireland’s equivalent. It is located in Sligo, Ireland and is part of the Dartry Mountains. Benbulben was formed during the ice age when Ireland was under glaciers. It was originally a large plateau, but due to the glaciers cutting into the earth, it created a distinct formation now called Benbulben. The work of mother nature is truly remarkable.
During our visit in late March, it was a very cloudy and partly rainy day (go figure). Though we would have loved to see Benbulben on a clear and sunny day, it was still magnificent. The erosion of the limestone and shale on the mountain was so distinct. It created not only beautiful lines and formations, but also unique colors on Benbulben. Though you can see Benbulben from the road, we highly recommend taking the time to see Benbulben up close to soak in its full glory. For those adventurous hikers, Sligo Tourism does not recommended to climb Benbulben because there is not an official trail. However, there is a looped walk around Benbulben that visitors can enjoy.
On Google Maps, type in this address: Luke’s Bridge, Unnamed Road, Co. Sligo, Ireland. Or you can also search “Luke’s Bridge” in Sligo, Ireland and it will take you on the same road as us.
Cloyragh, Co. Sligo, Ireland
The next stop on our route from Donegal to Galway is Kylemore Abbey, the beautiful home to the Benedictine nuns. Kylemore Abbey is located along a lake in the Connemara National Park and the entire estate encompasses 13,000 acres. Within the estate is the beautiful Kylemore Castle, neo-Gothic church, an Old Mausoleum, the Victorian Walled Gardens, a Craft & Design Gift Shop and a few dining options for guests. Needless to say, there is plenty for visitors to enjoy at Kylemore Abbey.
Since the estate is large, Kylemore Abbey provides guests with a free shuttle from the castle to the Victorian Walled Gardens. They also offer complimentary guided tours and History Talks around the estate. With so much to see and enjoy, visitors should plan to spend almost two hours here.
What we loved most about Kylemore Abbey during our visit was the chocolate shop. We were able to take a tour of the Benedictine nuns chocolate shop where they create handmade Irish chocolates. These chocolate are sold in their Craft & Design Gift Shop and online. The chocolate shop/program started with Sr. Genevieve Harrington after the boarding school closed down. It was a way for the nuns to develop a new education and retreat activities. Sr. Genevieve could not have anticipated that her program would become such a huge success. Today, the chocolate made by the Benedictine nuns are not only popular by locals and visitors from around the world, but also finalists for the Irish Food Awards.
For more information and our experience at Kylemore Abbey, click here.
Pollacappul, Connemara, Co. Galway, Ireland
November to March: 10am to 4:30pm
April to July: 9am to 6pm
July to August: 9am to 7pm
September to October: 9:30am to 5:30pm
Prices: Adults are €13, Seniors €10, Students €9 and children under 10 yrs are FREE
Ashford Castle is one of the leading luxury hotels in the world (ranked 59th in Travel and Leisure World’s Best Hotels, 2017). We were fortunate to not only visit, but also enjoy afternoon tea at Ashford Castle. We highly recommend visitors to do the same for two reasons. One, most people think that Ashford Castle is open to everyone, that is not the case. You must be a guest of Ashford Castle whether you are staying there or have dining reservations at one of their outlets. Two, if you are going to enjoy afternoon tea in Ireland it MUST be at Ashford Castle – the experience was not only our favorite, but exceeded all of our expectations.
Afternoon tea at Ashford Castle is the perfect Irish experience with your family, loved ones or friends. It is held in a romantic drawing room that overlooks the beautiful courtyard. The tea options are from around the world and guests are served unlimited tea throughout the afternoon. Every guest is served delicate finger sandwiches, delicious desserts and freshly baked scones with jams – everything is also unlimited. The incredible teas and treats are matched with impeccable service providing guests with an experience they will never forget.
To read more about our afternoon tea experience at Ashford Castle, click here.
Of course spending one night in Ashford Castle would be the most amazing experience. There are 83 magnificent rooms that combine the castle’s original features with today’s modern luxuries. Guests can enjoy countless activities on the estate such as, golf, tennis, archery, clay shooting, fishing, falconry, kayaking and more. They also have a billiard room, cigar lounge, a dungeon, wine cellar tasting rooms, a spa, their own cinema theatre and more.
Needless to say, Ashford Castle is simply an experience you cannot miss while in Ireland.
One of the best things to do in Galway is drink, sing along to Irish tunes, and drink some more! Galway is most likely on everyone’s Ireland road trip because it is a city famously known for their energy, pubs, and traditional music. So, we were more than excited for our visit to Galway. Unfortunately, we were extremely upset when it did not meet our expectations at all. Everyone raves about Galway’s pubs and traditional Irish music, but for us it was a BUST. We arrived after dark during the pouring rain and could not find a single restaurant to serve us food at 9pm. Then we could not find any traditional Irish music in a pub that was not packed and smelly (yes, we got crop dusted). Nevertheless, we are more than willing to give it another try the next time we are in Ireland. With this said, we encourage you to experience Galway yourself and hopefully have a much better time than us!
Erye Square Hotel
We stayed at Erye Square Hotel, a simple three star hotel that was connected to a pub. In addition to the pub, the rooms have been recently renovated and it’s in a great location. As the name depicts, it is located on Eyre Square, in the heart of the city. It is also less than a ten minute walk away from Quay Street (the street full of pubs). If you are you looking for a pleasant hotel that includes breakfast and has a great location, then we recommend Eyre Square Hotel.
Other Notable Sights to Visit from Donegal to Galway
If we had more time we would have stopped at Clifden Castle and splurged a night at Ballynahinch Castle Hotel. As we stated above in our alternative itinerary, you can visit Clifden Castle after Kylemore Abbey and then rest at Ballynahinch Castle Hotel or Ashford Castle Hotel. Here is more information about Clifden Castle and Ballynahinch Castle Hotel.
This is a beautiful ruined castle that we wished we had more time to visit and explore. Located just off the coast in Clifden, Ireland is Clifden Castle. It is one of the earliest examples of Gothic Revival architecture in Ireland, which makes it so appealing to visit.
Clifden Castle was built and designed in 1818 for its owner, John D’Arcy, the founder of Clifden, Ireland. After John’s death, the town and estate got passed down to his son, Hyacinth. Unfortunately, he was unable to upkeep everything and was forced to sell it all to the Eyres family. The Eyres family ended up living in Clifden Castle for more than 70 years until the 1920’s. The Irish government purchased the estate and divided it among the tenants. This led to the locals ended up selling anything they could. Today only the shell of Clifden Castle remains, but it still stands tall in beauty.
To get to Clifden Castle, Google Map “Clifden Castle,” but then follow these directions or Google will take you too far. Take the Sky Road until the gateway arch (2km on the left). It is quite beautiful and you cannot miss it. Take the trail, which can sometimes be muddy (wear appropriate footwear) that is along a series of five standing stones. Then you will be led downhill until you see on your righthand side, a spectacular view of Clifden Bay and Clifden Castle. This walk takes around ten minutes one-way.
Clifden Demesne, Co. Galway, Ireland
As we briefly stated, this route from Donegal to Galway is quite long, so if time permits and you need to relax for the day, we recommend staying the night at Ballynahinch Castle Hotel. Ballynahinch Castle Hotel is one of Ireland’s finest luxury castle hotels in a gorgeous, private 700 acre estate of woodlands. For those who want to escape surrounded by nature, this is the perfect castle hotel for you. Ballynahinch Castle Hotel overlooks the Owenmore River known for its famous salmon fishery and have the 12 Bens Mountain range as its backdrop.
When you are not enjoying your luxurious room, enjoy the fresh air while participating in one of the many activities offered on the estate. Guests can enjoy clay shooting, fly fishing, hiking, cycling and more.
If you want to extend your castle itinerary a little further, look into spending the night at Dromoland Castle. I hope this itinerary from Donegal to Galway has been useful to plan your Ireland road trip.
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