A Guide To Visiting Grianan Of Aileach In Donegal

Grianan of Aileach donegal
Photo left: Lukassek. Right: The Wild Eyed/Shutterstock

An Grianan of Aileach is one of the most popular places to visit in Donegal.

The Neolithic hillside fort is just a short drive away from the little village of Burt on the magnificent Inishowen Peninsula and it’s a great spot to add to your Donegal road trip. 

The views that you’re treated to from up at Grianan Of Aileach are worth the visit alone (see the photo below to see what I mean!).

From the fort, those that visit can enjoy panoramic views across the counties of Donegal, Derry and Tyrone, with particularly great views of Lough Swilly and Lough Foyle.

In the guide below, you’ll discover everything there is to know about Grianan of Aileach in Donegal, from its history to the best time to visit!

About An Grianan of Aileach

Grianan of Aileach donegal
Photo by Tom Archer via Tourism Ireland

An Grianan of Aileach is a large round, stone fort perched on a hilltop on the breath-taking Inishowen Peninsula in Donegal.

The old fort dates back to 1700 BC and it was once the seat of the High Kings of the Aileach kingdom for around seven centuries.

The ringfort is easily reached at the top of the 244m high Greenan Mountain behind the village of Burt in County Donegal.

A trip to An Grianan of Aileach is worth the short drive, with an incredible panoramic view waiting for you at the top. The spectacular view stretches across three counties and over the sea inlets of the peninsula.

Tips before you visit An Grianan Fort

Although it’s relatively straightforward to visit An Grianan Fort, there’s a few need-to-knows that’ll make your trip all the more enjoyable.

There’s also LOTS to see and do near An Grianan of Aileach, but we’ll cover that at the end of this guide.

Where to park

There’s a generous amount of parking at the top of the hill, making An Grianan Fort easily accessible for most people, even those with limited mobility.

The views from the drive up and the car park alone are enough to get you excited but don’t underestimate the weather, as it can be notoriously windy.

Getting up to the fort

The fort itself is a short 5-minute drive up the hill from Burt in County Donegal. The fort is located right next to the car park, so it’s easy to reach.

From there, you can wander around the complex and walk into the fort through the entrance openings at the base. Note: it’s free to visit Grianan of Aileach.

When to visit

If you want to enjoy the incredible panoramic view from the fort at its finest, we suggest you visit at sunrise or sunset.

The incredible colours of the sky at this time make for perfect photos if you’re lucky to get a clear day. Note: there are no opening hours for Grianan of Aileach.

Grianan of Aileach history and origins

Grianan of Aileach fort
Photo by ianmitchinson/shutterstock

The origins of the An Grianan Fort date back to 1700 BC and is linked to the Tuatha de Danann who invaded Ireland before the Celts.

The fort was built and rebuilt over the years, with the more recent remnants of the walls from when the fort was used as the seat of the rulers of the ancient kingdom of Aileach. 

Excavations on the site occurred throughout the 19th century when remnants of a Christian church, as well as an even earlier burial mound, were found around the site.

Over the course of the 1870s, a doctor from Derry, Walter Bernard, painstakingly restored An Grianan of Aileach to its current state.

The interior of the fort measures around 23m across with stone walls rising 5m high. There are terraced steps from where the upper levels can be accessed.

The views from An Grianan of Aileach are worth the visit alone

Grianan of Aileach donegal
Photo left: Lukassek. Right: The Wild Eyed/Shutterstock

Aside from the historical importance of the site, many people make a trip up to An Grianan of Aileach simply to enjoy the views.

The views alone are worth the visit with the incredible positioning of the fort on a cleared hilltop providing a complete 360-degree panorama.

From the top of the terraced walls of the fort, you can see across three different counties including Donegal, Derry and Tyrone.

It also offers spectacular views over Lough Foyle and Lough Swilly, with one of the most well-known photographs from the fort being of Inch Island off the coast of Donegal. 

You should be aware that the weather can be quite wild and windy on the hill and this can often shroud some of the magnificent views. You’ll want to try and visit on a clear day so that the views stretch endlessly into the distance. 

Things to see and do near An Grianan Fort

inishowen scenic drive
Photos via Shutterstock

Grianan of Aileach is a stone’s throw from many of the best things to do in Inishowen, with everything from unique tours to scenic drives within reach.

As you’ll know if you read our guide to the Inishowen Peninsula, the best way to explore this corner of the county is on the Inishowen 100 drive. 

1. Wild Ireland (13 minutes away)

wild ireland donegal
Photo left: Canon Boy. Right: andamanec (shutterstock)

The Wild Ireland animal sanctuary is the newest one in Ireland and is located just down the road from Burt. It’s home to rescued animals including bears, wolves, lynx and eagles.

2. The Inishowen 100 starting point (14 minutes away)

2 photos of Things To Do In Inishowen
Photo left: By shawnwil23 on shutterstock.com. Photo right: By Cafe Banba on Facebook

The scenic Inishowen 100 drive stretches for 160km or 100 miles around Inishowen Peninsula. You can take a drive or cycle along the route which takes in some of the peninsula’s most beautiful natural landscapes.

3. Dunree Fort (34 minutes away)

dunree fort military museum
Photo left: Lukassek. Right: Lucky Team Studio/shutterstock

You’ll find Dunree Fort Military Museum, an old retired defensive fort, a handy 34-minute drive away from Grianan of Aileach.

As the name suggests, it’s home to a military museum that boasts a wealth of history. There’s also a great little cafe on-site.

4. Mamore Gap (35 minutes away)

inishowen view
Photo by Paul Shiels/shutterstock.com

Mamore Gap is up there with the likes of Glengesh Pass as one of the most unique roads in Donegal. You’ll find it in the Urris hills where it offers breath-taking views.

5. Glenevin Waterfall (38 minutes away)

Glenevin Waterfall
Photo left: By Pavel_Voitukovic. Photo right: By Michelle Holihan. (on shutterstock.com)

Glenevin Waterfall is a bit of a hidden gem. It’s not too far from An Grianan Fort and it’s well worth the drive. There’s a lovely walk to the waterfall here and there’s parking and toilets on-site.

6. Kinnagoe Bay (44 minutes away)

kinnagoe bat donegal
Photos by Chris Hill via Tourism Ireland

Inishowen is home to many of the best beaches Donegal has to offer. The closest to Grianan of Aileach is Lisfannon (14 minutes) but Kinnagoe Bay (45 minutes) is well worth seeing.

7. Doagh Famine Village (45 minutes away)

Doagh Famine Village donegal
Photo via Doagh Famine Village on Facebook

Doagh Famine Village is another attraction near Grianan of Aileach that’s worth a visit. This is village offers an insight into how a community living on the edge struggled and survived from the 1800s to the present day.

8. Malin Head (58 minutes away)

malin head donegal
Photo left: RonanmcLaughlin. Right: Lukassek/shutterstock

One of the highlights of the Inishowen Peninsula, Malin Head is the northernmost point of mainland Ireland. This incredibly beautiful part of the coast offers stunning views and plenty of opportunities to walk, swim and fish. It’s located 58km north of Grianan of Aileach.

Elisha is a freelance writer, content creator and blogger and her work can be read in Lonely Planet, Remote Lands and Matador Network. You’ll usually find her travelling in offbeat places or hiking wherever there are mountains; always with a camera in hand.

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