The mighty Mizen Head in Cork is one of Ireland’s most iconic attractions and a visit here is one of the most popular things to do in West Cork.
A wild windswept peninsula with a fascinating history, Mizen Head is a breath-taking (literally!) place to feel the power of the Atlantic Ocean.
Stretching out from the southwest of Cork, it’s also the scene of tales, characters and a ragged beauty that few spots in Ireland can match.
In the guide below, you’ll find everything you need to know if you’re thinking about visiting Mizen Head, from when it opens to the story behind the bridge and the signal station.
Some need-to-knows before visiting Mizen Head
Now, although a visit to Mizen Head in Cork is pretty straightforward, there are a few need-to-knows that’ll make your visit that bit more enjoyable.
One of the most southerly points of the Irish mainland, Mizen Head is located at the tip of the Mizen Head Peninsula in southwest Cork. Around 125km from Cork City, you’re looking at a 2-hour drive down. Take caution when you get to the roads leading to the car park as they can get very narrow.
When you do arrive however, there’ll be plenty of parking for you to choose from. Head to the visitor centre and you should have plenty of space to park up.
3. Opening hours
During the winter months – from November to March – the visitor centre is only open on weekends, from 11am to 4pm. From March 17th to May 31st it’s open daily from 10:30 am – 5pm. It’s then open daily from 10am to 6pm during the peak summer months of June, July and August, before returning to the 10:30 am – 5pm schedule for September and October.
For adults it’s €7.50 while seniors and students can get in for €6. Children under 14 cost €4.50 while children under 5 can go for free. A family group of two adults and up to four children can get in for €25 (prices may change).
5. How long you need here
A typical visit to Mizen Head should last around 1-2 hours, but of course you can spend as long as you want! Don’t rush your visit as there’s plenty to read about and explore.
6. Mizen Head weather
One of the wilder sections of the Wild Atlantic Way, it’s worth dressing appropriately when you visit Mizen Head, even at the height of summer. So be sure to bring a hoody or a light jacket. If you’re here on a rainy day then make sure you wrap up and be aware of the wind gusts at all times – don’t go too near the edges!
A quick history of Mizen Head signal station
Mizen Head has a bountiful history attached to it and there’s many tales that can discovered if you visit the visitor centre. Here’s an overview of where it all began.
The early days and the first lighthouse
The wild waters off Mizen Head had always been a treacherous place for ships to navigate, but things came to a head (no pun intended!) in 1847 with the sinking of the American liner the SS Stephen Whitney. With the tragic loss of 92 lives, the Irish Light Board decided a lighthouse needed to be built and one has stood at Fastnet Rock since 1854.
The SS Trada
Sadly, the fog and gales off Mizen Head were too much for mighty SS Trada, which sunk on December 22nd, 1908. However, resident engineer Thomas Lord and his fellow workers were able to rescue 63 crew by pulling them up the side of the cliffs. In the ensuing enquiry, the master of the ship blamed the disaster on the lack of a fog signal.
The fog signal and an armed raid
In 1909 a fog signal was established so that, in any fog conditions, a manual charge of explosives was let off at seven and half minute intervals. Those explosives were the target of an armed raid on the 21st of May 1920 and they were stolen in their entirety. Surprisingly, the fog signal wasn’t re-established until February 29th, 1924.
The first Radiobeacon in Ireland
Ireland’s first radiobeacon was installed at Mizen Head on the 1st of January 1931 at a cost of £10,017 (a pretty hefty sum in those days!). Though more modern technology has since been added, the remains of the beacon can still be seen on the hillside in the concrete plinths either side of the bridge. The Medium Frequency Radiobeacon service was discontinued on 1st February 1999.
1930 – 1968
On October 1st, 1959, a powerful light was established at Mizen Head with a strength of 11,400 candelas. Almost 10 years later, on the 10th of October 1968, the range of the light was increased to 16 nautical miles. 1968 had proved to be a pivotal year in Mizen Head’s communication abilities – a racon (radar transponder beacon) had been established in July 1968.
The withdrawal of the Lightkeepers
As technology progressed, the withdrawal of the lightkeepers became an inevitability. The permanent withdrawal of the lightkeepers finally happened in March 1993 when the Mizen Head light was converted to automatic operation. Thankfully, the surplus buildings were able to be converted to create the Mizen Vision visitor centre!
The story behind the Mizen Head Bridge
The story behind the Mizen Head bridge (pictured on the left above) is an interesting one. Separated by rocky sea inlet, it was decided in 1907 that there needed to be a bridge to span the gap between Cloghane Island and the mainland.
Around 150ft above sea level, the Mizen Head bridge was completed in 1910 and is one of the most interesting examples of early reinforced concrete construction in Ireland.
The reason for this is that it had a longer lifespan than steel in Mizen Head’s salty fog and sea spray. The old Mizen Head bridge lasted almost 100 years before engineers surveying it deemed it unsafe and it was closed overnight in February 2005.
Enveloped by scaffolding for three years, the funds to build a new Mizen Head bridge weren’t secured until 2008, which is crazy when you consider it’s one of the most popular places to visit in Cork.
The bridge was demolished and reconstructed using concrete and reinforced steel between October 2009 and December 2010, before being finally opened in August 2011 by Minister for Transport Leo Varadkar.
Things to do at Mizen Head
There’s plenty of things to see and do at Mizen Head in Cork, from magnificent views to a nice coastal walk.
Below, you’ll find some stuff to keep you busy when you arrive (just make sure to check the weather at Mizen Head in advance of your visit).
1. Kick things off with coastal views
After leaving the visitor centre, you’ll come to a little opening in the steel fence that leads down towards the cliffs. Although the ground is nice and smooth, it can get quite steep so take care.
You’ll eventually come to a little viewing platform where you’ll get some truly epic vistas! It’s important to note that the walk back up to the visitor centre is very taxing, so it won’t suit anyone with low levels of fitness or limited mobility.
2. The Mizen Head bridge
Though useful to get from the mainland to Cloghane Island, the views while you’re actually on the Mizen Head bridge itself are stunning.
With the waves crashing and the gales blowing as you’re suspended 150ft above the wild Atlantic waters, you can get a true sense of the natural power of the conditions in this remarkable part of the world.
You’ll also get more eye-level views of the rugged cliffs as they fall away into the distance. And don’t forget to look out for seals and their pups on the rocks below!
3. The Mizen Head signal station
Despite not looking like a traditional tall lighthouse (check out the ferry tours to Fastnet Rock for that sort of thing), Mizen Head’s lighthouse (or signal station) is still the centrepiece of a trip here.
From the signal station not only will you have the sweeping panoramas of the Wild Atlantic Way, but you’ll be able to have a true sense of what it was like for ships passing by through here before the jet age changed everything – and if the visibility is poor then you’ll get an even more vivid idea!
4. Keep an eye out for dolphins and whales
There’s also an array of interesting wildlife to look out for at Mizen Head depending on what time of year you visit, especially Dolphins and Whales.
You can get a closer look at some of Cork’s amazing marine life by taking one of the boat tours from Baltimore and a couple of other spots along the coast, but you’ll also be able to see their appearances from Mizen Head’s vantage point.
Minke and Fin Whales can be seen from the early summer months onwards, while Humpback Whales join in the fun from around August to January.
Related read: Check out our guide to whale watching in West Cork (there’s info on tours, the best time to do it and more)
5. The Mizen Head visitor centre
The Mizen Head visitor centre is where’ll you’ll be able to get a real sense of Mizen Head’s history and what life was like for the lighthouse keepers of yesteryear.
In fact, they’ve actually reconstructed the living quarters of a keeper, complete with maps of the era and a chart of what his daily routine would have been.
You’ll also be able to learn more about the grizzly shipwrecks that occurred in the area, such the aforementioned SS Stephen Whitney and SS Trada. There’s information on the interesting story of nearby Fastnet Lighthouse too.
6. Mizen Café
Of course, having come all this way, you’ll want some refreshments and the Mizen Café is just the ticket.
Their amazingly fresh fish and chips is the obvious choice if you’re in the mood for a proper feed, but there’s also a delicious selection of home baked cakes and pies if you want something a little smaller and sweeter.
Things to do near Mizen Head
One of the beauties of Mizen Head is that it’s a short spin away from many other notable landmarks of Ireland.
Below, you’ll find a handful of things to see and do a stone’s throw from Mizen Head (plus places to eat and where to grab a post-adventure pint!).
1. Visit Brow Head
At a latitude of 51.43ºN, Brow Head has the distinction of being the most southerly point of mainland Ireland (beating Mizen Head by a mere 9 metres!). Only a short journey from Mizen Head, there’re some deadly scenic walks in this area featuring the ruins of some old mining houses along the way (this was a famous mining area from the mid-19th century until 1906).
2. Barleycove Beach
Located in a sheltered bay between Mizen Head and the Lyroe Peninsula, the gorgeous sweep and sand dunes of Barleycove Beach were actually created by an 18th century tsunami! Relax on the golden sands, go for a walk along the glorious coast or grab a serious feed at the nearby Beach Bar. There’s a reason this is one of the best beaches in West Cork
3. Nearby towns and villages
There are several towns and villages a stone’s throw from Mizen Head. Crookhaven is 15 minutes away. Schull is a 29-minute drive away. Ballydehob is 40 minutes down the road and Skibbereen is a 52-minute drive away.
4. Cape Clear Island
Not only is Cape Clear Island Ireland’s southernmost inhabited island, it’s also an official Gaeltacht area with its own unique identity. Reachable by ferry from Baltimore and Schull, you’ll be treated to a splendid view of the rugged coastline and – if you’re lucky – some whales or dolphins along the way! Some other nearby islands include Bere Island, Sherkin Island and Whiddy Island.
FAQs about visiting Mizen Head signal station
We’ve had a lot of questions over the years asking about everything from how was the Mizen Head bridge build to what there is to see and do.
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 Mizen Head worth visiting?
Yes – without the slightest shadow of a doubt. From the scenery to the Mizen Head signal station and the experience of walking across the bridge, a visit here is well worth it!
What is there to see at Mizen Head?
Soak up the coastal views, see the Mizen Head bridge, check out the Mizen Head signal station and have a nosey around the Mizen Head visitor centre.
How far is Malin Head from Mizen Head?
Malin Head is around 466km from Mizen Head. The Mizen Head to Malin Head cycle is one most frequently tackled by cyclists in aid of charity.