Glenveagh Castle

© Benjamin B/Shutterstock

Glenveagh Castle

County Donegal

This castle was modelled on Scotland's Balmoral Castle. Henry McIlhenny made it a characterful home with liberal reminders of his passion for deer-stalking. In fact, few rooms lack a representation – or the taxidermied remains – of a stag.

Access is by guided tour only. Cars are not allowed beyond the Glenveagh Visitor Centre; you can walk or cycle the lovely lakeside 3.6km route to the castle, or take the shuttle bus (every 15 minutes).

The most eye-catching of the flamboyantly decorated rooms are in the round tower, including the tartan-and-antler-encrusted music room and the blue room where guests Greta Garbo and Ella Fitzgerald once stayed.

The exotic gardens are similarly spectacular, boasting terraces, an Italian garden, a walled kitchen garden and the Belgian Walk, built by Belgian soldiers who stayed here during WWI. Their cultured charm is in marked contrast to the wildly beautiful landscape that enfolds the area.

The castle was briefly occupied by the Irish Republican Army (IRA) in 1922. Then in 1929 the property was acquired by Kingsley Porter, professor of art at Harvard University, who mysteriously disappeared in 1933 (presumed drowned, but rumoured to have been spotted in Paris afterwards).

Six years later the estate was bought by his former student, Henry McIlhenny, who sold the whole kit and caboodle to the Irish government in 1975.

Lonely Planet's must-see attractions

Nearby County Donegal attractions

1. Glenveagh National Park

1.87 MILES

Lakes shimmer like dew in the mountainous valley of Glenveagh National Park. Alternating between great knuckles of rock, green-gold swaths of bog and…

2. St Colmcille's Abbey & Birthplace

2.79 MILES

The 10th-century ruins of Colmcille's abbey lie on a hillside to the north of Lough Gartan and northwest of Lough Nacally, beside a 16th-century chapel…

3. Glebe House & Gallery

3.38 MILES

The English painter Derrick Hill bought this 1828 mansion in 1953, providing him with a mainland base close to his beloved Tory Island. Sumptuously…

4. Colmcille Heritage Centre

3.95 MILES

Colmcille's Hall of Fame is this comprehensive heritage centre on the shore of Lough Gartan in a wooded grove, with a lavish display on the production of…

5. Muckish Mountain

4.91 MILES

The grey bulk of Muckish Mountain (670m) dominates the view between Gortahork and Dunfanaghy. The easiest route to the top begins southeast of Falcarragh…

6. Errigal Mountain

5.64 MILES

The pinkish-grey quartzite peak of Errigal Mountain (752m) dominates the landscape of northwestern Donegal, appearing conical from some angles, but from…

7. Poisoned Glen

5.67 MILES

With a name like this – misnomer that it is – how can you resist its allure? Follow a rough walking path into the rocky fastness of the glen (4km round…

8. Dunlewey Church

5.81 MILES

This roofless white-marble, blue-quartzite and brick church, overlooking Dunlewey Lough, was consecrated in 1853 and makes for sublime photos with the…