48 hours with Dillons Hotel, Letterkenny: The perfect weekend itinerary

If you’re visiting the beautiful County Donegal town of Letterkenny, make sure to book your stay at the wonderful Dillons Hotel.

48 hours with Dillons Hotel, Letterkenny: The perfect weekend itinerary.

With comfortable rooms, delicious food, and incredibly warm and accommodating staff, there’s no surprise that Dillons Hotel is one of the best hotels not just in Letterkenny but in County Donegal.

From accommodation that felt like a home from home to fun-filled, action-packed, and informative activities, we enjoyed every minute of our 48 hours with the lovely people at Dillons Hotel and were treated to an unforgettable experience in this most beautiful of Irish counties.

Arrival at Dillons Hotel, Letterkenny – a warm welcome

A box of truffles, a bottle of tonic, and a bottle of gin (left) and a robe and slippers (right) courtesy of Dillons Hotel, Letterkenny.

The first thing you notice about Dillons Hotel is its location. Found along the town’s Main Street, Dillons is a stone’s throw away from some of Letterkenny’s best pubs and cafes, as well as some important cultural and historical sites, like its cathedrals.

At reception we met with a warm welcome that extended to our third-floor room in the form of a greeting card, complimentary Basalt volcanic rock gin miniatures, chocolates, and refillable water bottles, underscoring Dillons Hotel’s commitment to sustainability.

Our recently renovated room was the height of comfort, with plenty of space for storage, a modern ensuite bathroom, and a bed like a cloud. There was even a bathrobe and slippers to help you really relax.

History walking tour – a look at Letterkenny through the ages

A gospel hall in Letterkenny, established in 1895 (left) and Thomas leading us through a tour of the town (right).

We had little time to enjoy the comfort of the room upon arrival, however, as we just about made it in time to catch the daily Letterkenny history walking tour with local historian, Thomas.

The tour departs the hotel lobby at 6 pm and can be booked at reception.

Thomas took us around the town, sharing with us his wealth of Letterkenny historical knowledge. His facts and anecdotes took us on a journey from the present day through the town’s establishment during the Plantation of Ulster and beyond.

From the former site of Laird’s Hotel, where Theobald Wolfe Tone was reportedly betrayed, to the market square where impoverished children were auctioned off as labourers as recently as the 1960s, we learned there’s a lot more to Letterkenny than meets the eye.

Though he doesn’t drink, Thomas was also well able to point out a few good pubs in the town – more on that later!

Night-one dinner – tasting the local catch

A bowl of seafood chowder available from Dillons Hotel, Letterkenny.

After the walking tour, we arrived back at Dillons to the hotel’s signature Irish coffee made with Silkie whiskey from the Sliabh Liag Distillers. All that walking worked up an appetite as well as a thirst, so we sat with our coffees in the hotel’s restaurant.

When at the coast in Ireland, it would be rude not to indulge in some local, fresh seafood, so we ordered the salmon and the seafood chowder.

The seafood chowder incorporated all the fruits of the Atlantic Ocean and came with two slices of delicious homemade Guinness bread to soak up the leftovers – the best part!

The pan-seared salmon, meanwhile, was served with exquisite lemon and thyme potatoes, excellently cooked tenderstem broccoli, and the pièce de resistance, a sundried tomato salsa verde.

We had a quick after-dinner nightcap at the hotel bar before heading to bed to rest up for an action-packed day the following morning.

Trek and Paddle Donegal – equal parts fun and challenging

Our group at Trek & Paddle Donegal before we got out on the water (left) and the group taking part in activities in the water (right).

After a fantastic cooked breakfast buffet, we departed Dillons, along with a squad of hotel staff, at 8:45 am and made our way to beautiful Gweedore for some kayaking with Trek and Paddle Donegal.

Along the way, we drove through Glenveagh National Park, passing the impressively vast Lough Beagh and the majestic Mount Errigal. The rugged beauty of this area must be seen to be believed.

We met Colin, the affable instructor behind Trek and Paddle Donegal, and his team at their base by Magheragallan Beach.

Despite just arriving home from holiday in the early hours of the morning, an energetic and magnetic Colin put us through our paces with a series of warm-up games that, through either intensity or hilarity, left us all gasping for air.

Suitably limbered up, we went straight into the water for kayaking. Poor visibility limited our travels but led to games closer to shore. And believe us when we tell you it was nearly impossible to stay in the boat…

Lunch – at the lovely Caisleáin Óir Hotel

The fireplace (left) and the fish and chips (right) available at the Caisleáin Óir Hotel.

We dried up, bade Colin and his team farewell, and headed down to the Caisleáin Óir Hotel in Annagry for some lunch and a lovely lit fire to warm our bones.

On a clearer day, the restaurant at Caisleáin Óir affords incredible views out over the Atlantic waters that would make the perfect backdrop for a meal. We unfortunately missed out on the view, but, thankfully, not the meal.

Still with a taste for seafood, we opted for the fish and chips and the battered scampi. The batter can really make or break a fried fish dish, and we’re delighted to confirm that the kitchen at Caisleáin Óir gets their golden-brown batter just right.

Moreover, the portion sizes were very generous, providing a much-needed refuel after a morning on the water.

Croithlí Distillery Experience – an award-worthy tour of an award-winning distillery

Our group on the tour of the Croithlí Distillery, organised by Dillons Hotel, Letterkenny.

Warmed up by Caisleáin Óir’s food and fire, all that was missing was a nip of good Irish whiskey. Thankfully, we didn’t have long to wait as we made our way to the award-winning Croithlí Distillery.

Housed in a factotum of a building that has served as everything from an army barracks to a factory for Crolly Dolls since its 1901 construction, Kieran Davis, Conor McMenamin, and Joe Devenney opened the distillery in 2020.

Our tour guide, John Joe, led us through the building, imparting, with great humour, his knowledge of the building’s history and the distilling process along the way.

With the smell of the so-called “angels’ share” heavy in the air, the heat radiating from the copper stills, and a couple of poitín samples, the Croithlí Distillery Experience is as much a sensory experience as it is an educational one.

The tour finishes with drams of three award-winning Croithlí whiskeys, and visitors are welcome to stay for more drinks in the bar.

Night-two dinner – surf and turf

Salted chilli squid (left) and two pints of Guinness (right) from Dillons Hotel, Letterkenny.

We arrived back at Dillons shortly after 6 pm and, after freshening up from a busy day, made our way back to the comfortable environs of the hotel restaurant.

We kept up the seafood theme with a starter of salted chilli squid and followed this up with mussels marinère and a sirloin steak.

With a steak, it’s always best that the sauce is optional. We don’t just mean in terms of coming in a separate vessel; we mean that the steak itself should stand alone as a delicious dish.

That was certainly the case with the medium-rare steak at Dillons, which was cooked excellently; each bite was melt-in-your-mouth perfect.

An evening drink – checking out Letterkenny’s best pubs

Two pints of Guinness in Blake's Bar (left) and the interior of the Cottage Bar (right), two of the best bars in Letterkenny.

We said Letterkenny’s best bars were a mere stone’s throw away from Dillons Hotel, and we meant that literally.

Almost directly across the street you’ll find Blake’s Bar, an understated traditional bar that’s great for a trad session.

Just up the road from Blake’s is the Central Bar. The Central is frequented by much of the Dillons staff for a post-shift pint and is the place to go for live sport.

However, the best of the lot is just two doors up from the hotel. The Cottage Bar caught our eye when tour guide Thomas pointed it out during the history walking tour.

The Cottage Bar serves one of the best pints of Guinness in Donegal – or Ireland, for that matter – in an old-school, cosy pub to the tune of live music from a range of genres. This is a cultural haven in the guise of a pub.

Saying goodbye to Dillons – for now

After a few drinks the night before, the cooked breakfast buffet was our saviour before we bade farewell to Letterkenny and to Dillons, and set off back to Belfast.

From the beginning to the end of our trip, the staff at Dillons went out of their way to accommodate us, make us feel at home, and, of course, arrange an incredible itinerary for our stay.

We would recommend anyone visiting Letterkenny to stay at Dillons to really make the most of their trip.

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