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Fanad Lighthouse: History + Visitor Guide

Fanad Lighthouse: History + Visitor Guide

Donegal’s Fanad Lighthouse first shone its light on on St. Patrick’s Day, 1817.

Perched on the edge of the dramatic coastline of northern Donegal, this working lighthouse boasts a wealth of history and it has been open to visitors since 2016.

Below, you’ll discover the history of Fanad Head Lighthouse, info about the tour and how you can spend the night!

Some quick need-to-knows about Fanad Lighthouse


Although a visit to Fanad Head Lighthouse is fairly straightforward, there are a few need-to-knows that’ll make your visit that bit more enjoyable.

1. Location

You’ll find the lighthouse at the tip of the Fanad Peninsula. It’s a 15-minute drive from Portsalon and a 35-minute drive from both Ramelton and Rathmullan.

2. Parking

There is plenty of parking right next to the lighthouse (here on Google Maps), which is great for anyone with limited mobility as they can easily see the lighthouse from the car park.

3. Tours

The Fanad Lighthouse tour takes you through the grounds, up the tower for 360° views and offers an insight into the area’s history. It costs:

  • Adult: €12
  • Kids: €6
  • Family: €40

4. Safety

When people hop out at the car park at Fanad, their first instinct is often to hurry over to the exposed cliff area (which is cordoned off) that overlooks the lighthouse. This poses a risk to safety as the cliff is unguarded. Please use caution and stay a safe distance away.

5. Lighthouse accommodation

Who needs glamping in Donegal when you can kick-back in the very unique Fanad Lighthouse accommodation?! You’ll stay in one of three former lighthouse keeper’s homes, each of which boasts glorious sea views.

The history of Fanad Head Lighthouse

Fanad Lighthouse

Photos via Shutterstock

Fanad Lighthouse is perched on the edge of Fanad Peninsula, which lies between Lough Swilly and Mulroy Bay on the northern coastline of County Donegal.

There’s little consensus on where the name Fanad comes from, but many believe that is derived from the old Gaelic word Fana which means “sloping ground”.


Fanad Lighthouse facts

Before we look at the tours/various things to do, we’ll give you some speedy Fanad Lighthouse facts to get you familiar with this impressive structure:

  • Fanad is one of 11 working lighthouses in County Donegal and has been voted as one of the most beautiful lighthouses in the world
  • The lighthouse tower is 22 metres high from the foundation to the top, not including the lantern, and there are 76 steps inside the tower
  • The lighthouse staff originally included a principal keeper and an assistant who lived inside with their families
  • By 1978, only a principal keeper remained in Fanad Lighthouse and when he retired in 1983, he stayed on as the only part-time attendant

When and why it was built

Fanad Head Lighthouse was built after the HMS Saldanha (a Royal Navy frigate) was wrecked nearby on December 4th, 1811.

Over 250 lives were lost during the incident and, the story goes, that only the ship’s parrot survived.

Fanad Lighthouse was designed by a well-known civil engineer by the name of George Halpin. Work began in 1815 and it was built with a budget of £2,000.

Two years later, on St. Patrick’s Day in 1817, the very first light to illuminate Fanad took place.



Despite the lighthouse, many shipwrecks have taken place nearby over the years.

In 1914, HMS Audacious struck a German naval mine nearby.

SS Empire Heritage, a 15,000 tonne steam taken was sunk in 1944.

In 1917, SS Laurentic hit a bad storm and then hit two German mines, resulting in the loss of 354 lives.


The Fanad Lighthouse tour

The Fanad Lighthouse tour is well worth doing if you’re in the area and have some time to spare.

Here’s a sense of what to expect and what you’ll learn about:

Lighthouse keepers and their families

You will discover the lives of the lighthouse keepers and their families who lived at Fanad Lighthouse.

Their stories are filled with love and loss, hardship and resilience.


Evolution of the lighthouse

Explore how the lighthouse’s light has evolved over the centuries and how modern technology has transformed lighthouses.

Tower climb and spectacular biews

The most memorable part of the tour takes place at the top of the tower.

It’s here where you’ll be treated to a breathtaking 360-degree view of North Donegal and beyond.


Virtual Reality Experience

Yes, VR has arrived at Fanad! Visitors can climb aboard the Saldanha for a Virtual Reality Experience titled ‘The Storm, The Sea, The Saldanha’.

Things to do nearby

best things to do in donegal ireland


One of the beauties of Fanad Head Lighthouse is that it’s a short spin away from many of the best places to visit in Donegal.

Below, you’ll find a handful of things to see and do a stone’s throw from Fanad!

  1. Portsalon Beach (20-minute drive): This is one of the finest beaches in Donegal
  2. The Atlantic Loop (25-minute drive): The Atlantic Drive is a looped route that takes in Downings, Downings Beach, Tra na Rossan and Boyeeghter Bay
  3. Walks galore (30-minute-plus drive): Ards Forest Park (45 minutes) is a personal favourite, but there’s also the Glenveagh National Park walks (45 minutes) and the Mount Errigal Hike (50 minutes)

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