The magnificent Fanad Lighthouse is one of my favourite places to visit in Donegal.
There’s immensely something special about this place. Especially when you visit during off-season, as the chances are you’ll have the whole area to yourself.
Fanad Head Lighthouse is an incredible sight perched on the edge of the dramatic coastline of northern Donegal. The working lighthouse dates back to 1817 and has been open to visitors since 2016.
In the guide below, you’ll discover everything that you need to know about visiting Fanad Head Lighthouse and the stunning Fanad Peninsula.
Some quick need-to-knows about Fanad Lighthouse in Donegal
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.
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.
You can take a tour of Fanad Lighthouse if you’d like to see the structure up close. There are two types of tours (one with the tower and one without) and you’ll find info on what’s involved below.
When people hop out at the car park at Fanad Head Lighthouse, 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 Café
The on-site Lighthouse Café is a handy place to retreat to when the weather is poor (as it often is!). There’s all of your usual bits and bobs on offer and it’s wheelchair accessible, too.
The story of Fanad Head Lighthouse
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”.
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. S
S 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.
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.
- There are fully guided tours available to learn about the lighthouse as well as unique accommodation onsite for visitors in restored lightkeeper’s cottages.
Things to do at Fanad Lighthouse
There’s a handful of things to see and do in and around the area (yes, including the Fanad Lighthouse accommodation).
Below, you’ll find some suggestions. Keep in mind that you may need to book the tour in advance.
1. Admire it from the outside, first
One of the beauties of Fanad Head Lighthouse is that you can get a good look at it from the car park, which sits a stone’s throw away.
This is particurally convienent if you’re visiting with someone with limited mobility. You’ll get an eyeful of the coastline, the lighthouse and the surrounding scenery from the parking area.
2. Then take a tour of the inside
There’s two different Fanad Lighthouse tours to choose from. The first tour includes the grounds, the exhibitions and the tower and it costs €10 for an adult, €25 for a family (2 + 2) and kids under 5 go free.
The second tour just includes the grounds and the exhibitions and is self-guided. It’s €4 for an adult and €10 for a family. You can book tickets here.
3. Spend the night
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 one draw back is the price. We put a Sunday and Monday night in September in to check the prices and it worked out at €564 (accurate at the time of typing).
Things to do near Fanad
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)
2. The Atlantic Loop (25-minute drive)
The Atlantic Drive is a looped route that takes you from Downings right the way around the peninsula. Over the course of the spin, you’ll see Downings Beach, Tra na Rossan and have the option to do the Boyeeghter Bay trail.
3. Walks galore (30-minute-plus drive)
There’s plenty of places to head for walks near Fanad. Ards Forest Park (45 minutes) is a personal favourite, but there’s also plenty of Glenveagh National Park walks to try (45 minutes) and there’s also the Mount Errigal Hike (50 minutes).
FAQs About Visiting Fanad Lighthouse
We’ve had a lot of questions over the years asking about everything from the Fand Lighthouse accommodation to the on-site tours.
In the section below, we’ve popped in the most FAQs that we’ve received. If you have a question that we haven’t tackled, ask away in the comments section below.
Is Fanad Head Lighthouse worth visiting?
Yes, if you’re exploring nearby it’s well worth heading up the peninsula to see it. The drive is scenic and the lighthouse is impressive from every angle.
Can you stay in Fanad Lighthouse?
Yes, the Fanad Lighthouse accommodation boasts 3 former lighthouse keeper’s cottages that offer spectacular sea views. It’s quite expensive, however.