Planning Your Time
The Northwest is one of Ireland's most compact regions, and beautifully designed so that you can see the best of it with a three- or five-day trip. The best starting place is the gateway town where all the trains deposit you: Sligo, an excellent base thanks to its first-class hotels and facilities.
Try to plan your visit around one of the many festivals held in the Northwest. Each village tends to have its own féile (festival) during the summer months, and it's often worth the money and effort to attend. Music festivals abound, from the traditional Irish Sligo Feis Ceoil in mid-April, to the chambermusic festival in May, Music in Drumcliff, to the country-and-western Bundoran Music Festival in June, to the jazz-and-blues weekend féile in Gortahork, County Donegal, in April. But in this Irish-speaking stronghold, the emphasis is on Irish traditional music. Every summer weekend you are guaranteed a bit of craic (fun) with lively sessions in most pubs. Sligo Town, Ard an Rátha (Ardara), Ballyshannon, and Letterkenny are all hot spots. There are village festivals dedicated to hill walking, fishing, poetry, art, and food—as the saying goes, "any excuse for a féile."
If You Have 3 Days
Start your tour with Sligo’s walking trail, a signposted trail of the town with a free tourist board booklet to help you identify the important buildings and architectural surprises. Whatever else you do, don't forget to call into Hargadons time-burnished bar—unchanged since 1868—for some fresh mussels and a glass of stout. You can drive or take an organized tour in the afternoon to the Lake Isle of Innisfree, south of Sligo Town. Start early on Day 2 for a short trip out to catch the sea breezes at Strandhill, Rosses Point, or Mullaghmore, followed by an onward drive north to Donegal. Stop en route at Drumcliff churchyard to pay your respects at W. B. Yeats's grave. West of Drumcliff, just off the Wild Atlantic Way driving route, take a short detour to the restored Lissadell House and gardens; you will need at least two hours to do justice to this historic estate. Donegal Town, with its Irish tweed stores, is good for a spot of shopping followed by a tour of the 15th-century Donegal Castle. After an hour's drive west over twisting roads and amid glorious mountain scenery via the fishing port of Killybegs, you will come to the "back of the beyonds," aka Glencolumbkille, where you can happily putter around the Folk Village Museum. You can overnight here or drive north to Letterkenny, a modest-size town with decent hotels, cafés, and restaurants. After a morning exploring Letterkenny’s streets, you should devote the entire afternoon to Glenveagh: tour the castle and rhododendron-filled gardens, follow one of the short nature trails in search of the golden eagles that are found here, or join a ranger-guided hill walk and take a picnic with you.