Fanad lighthouse is arguably one of Ireland‘s most impressive lighthouses and this is partly due to it’s location. Fanad head lighthouse is perched on the rocky North coast of the Fanad Peninsula of Donegal. The site is very popular with tourists, who enjoy the guided tours and even the opportunity to stay the night at this unique location. But the whole Fanad Peninsula is packed with things to do and see. From views of Lough Swilly, world famous beaches and Ireland‘s famous coastline. If you keep reading, I’ll bring you through some of the Fanad Peninsula’s best attractions, finishing at the Lighthouse.
Fanad Peninsula – Scenic Donegal Coastline
Driving Fanad Peninsula – the route to take
If you’re interested in driving the peninsula loop, I’d recommend starting at Letterkenny, and head north on the R245 towards Ramelton. In Ramelton you will join the R247 which will bring you north towards the lighthouse with Lough Swilly along your right, passing through the sort of Irish scenery you’d expect and cute towns along the way.
When you are finished at the lighthouse, you can continue on the route starting to head south again along Multroy Bay. Back to Ramelton on the R246 which will bring you back to Letterkenny again.
How long does it take? The entire loop is ~83 km depending which roads you take and takes 1 hr 41 min. That’s without any stops. And believe me, you’re gona wanna stop and enjoy this place.
Ramelton – Heritage town along Fanad Peninsula
Ramelton is the first main town you’ll meet along the Fanad loop. It’s a small little town but visually stunning along the Lennon River, with old stone buildings dated back to the 1700s.
The town is steeped in history and my favourite building is the “Football special” old bottling store. This 3-story building was where Football Special – Donegal’s own fizzy drink was packaged. The building is sadly up for sale so it may not be a big attraction for much longer, so if you’re stopping in Ramelton, be sure to go and see it.
You can download a free audio guide to listen to while exploring Ramelton if you visit:
Donegalcoco.ie/heritage – I think it’s a great idea!
Views along Lough Swilly – Driving to Fanad Head Lighthouse
There are a few great places to pull in between Ramelton and Portsalon where you can look out at the Lough and at Inishowen across the water. One example is the views at Fort Knockalla in the image above. There is a spot to pull in here where you can stop and enjoy the scenery.
Ballymastocker Beach / Strand – Beautiful Beach on Fanad Peninsula
Ballymastocker Beach is an official Wild Atlantic Way point and is just 6km south of Fanad head. Along the twisty hairpin road, you can pull in at the discovery point high on the Knockalla hills to get the best view of the beautiful golden sandy beach below. This place is just stunning on a sunny day and is so typical of a Wild Atlantic Way beach. In fact, it was voted 2nd best beach in the world by The Observer.
It’s a blue flag beach so remember to pack your swimming trunks and there is also a toilet block.
Great Pollett Sea Arch – Things to do near Fanad
Remember in geography learning about rivers and rock formations? It might be hard to find an Ox-bow lake or a large meandering river in Ireland like you’d see in your school book, but, on the Fanad Peninsula Loop, you’ll come across Ireland‘s largest sea arch – The Great Polett Sea Arch.
This was formed as a headland was cut into each side by the waves, forming caves that finally eroded to meet in the middle. While it used to be a popular attraction, in recent years, landowners have blocked public access from passing through private property to get there. So it is a difficult one to witness.
There is another way that is only possible on low tide where you can see it, but it is definitely worth it.
Fanad Lighthouse – Fanad Peninsula Attractions
After such a rewarding drive, you’ll finally reach your main destination, Fanad Head Lighthouse. It’s located at the top of the peninsula and is the most popular attraction in the area – for good reason. It’s been voted the 2nd most beautiful lighthouse in the world and once you visit, you’ll see why.
Fanad Head Lighthouse History – Fanad Head Lighthouse Facts
The lighthouse was built back in 1817, which was due to a ship sinking in Lough Swilly, after hitting rocks near to the location. Side note – the only survivor of the incident was the ship’s parrot, which was shot down in the weeks that followed – it was identified after by its collar – I thought this was sad but pretty interesting.
In recent years although it’s still a working lighthouse. And in 2016 it also opened as a visitor attraction and offers guided tours year-round.
In its day it had a principal and assistant lighthouse keeper, who both lived there with their families. Even more uniquely, you can now stay a night in the lighthouse accommodation.
Staying at Fanad Lighthouse – Fanad Head Lighthouse Accommodation
The living quarters have been renovated into beautiful cosy cottages and are available year-round. Although be warned, it is a 2 night stay minimum and the cottages don’t have any WIFI and TV (although WIFI is available at other spots on-site).
Sounds wonderful to me though, what could be more perfect than a calming digital detox!? The waves outside will settle your phone withdrawals! I would absolutely love to stay here and enjoy this unique experience.
I can only imagine the views from the cottages are brilliant and the cottages are self-catering, with fuel also provided for the fires. BONUS, you also have your guided tour included in the price.
There are three cottages to choose from, each sleeping a different number of people.
On my Ireland Bucket list for sure!
My Experience driving the Fanad Peninsula and visiting Fanad Lighthouse
I visited the lighthouse back in 2018. Although I didn’t get to take a tour of the grounds, me and my boyfriend sat on the grass across from the lighthouse and admired it from there, and walked along the coast nearby. A perfect rest stop on our road trip. I definitely plan on going back to try the accommodation and do the tour, which I’d say is sooo interesting!
We stopped here for quite a while and were appreciating the waves rolling in when Eoghan decided to get up close for some images. A couple of minutes later a huge wave hurled in towards the rocks and the poor lad nearly lost his life when he saw this thing coming for him. It broke just short of him and all was ok but I got some great pictures of it!
The whole Fanad loop was so good, I think I always say this but one of my favourite drives in Ireland! (how many favourite drives do I have now?!). Ramelton was suuuuch a cute little town and I always love seeing old buildings like what you’ll see there.
I am only sad that we viewed Ballymastocker beach from the hills and didn’t actually walk the golden beach ourselves. I do fully intend on coming back again. Although that is the problem with travelling around Ireland, everything is so great I generally want to back to most places a second or third time!
Here’s some footage from my trip to Fanad Peninsula:
Things to do in Fanad – attractions near Fanad lighthouse
In Donegal there is a list a mile long of great things to do BUT, let’s talk about a few:
Besides all the things on this list, if you want to go further afield than the peninsula you are full of options:
- Visit Derry City for a lesson in Irish history
- Drive Glengesh Pass
- Visit the Slieve League Cliffs
- Visit Inishowen Peninsula including Malin Head
I have a full list of things to do in Donegal, to read it, click here for The Best Things to Do in Donegal | The Ultimate Donegal Bucketlist!
How to get from Malin Head to Fanad Lighthouse?
This trip is going to take you just over 2 hours. That’s if you head straight to the light house without stopping. The quickest way to get there from Malin Head is to go to Carndonagh. From there on to Letterkenny by the Quigley Point way. From Letterkenny, you head north on the R245 to Ramelton and continue up along the coast to the lighthouse.
BUT I would highly recommend consulting Google Maps for this journey because I don’t want you getting lost on my account!
How far is Fanad Lighthouse from Letterkenny?
The drive is 40 minutes long if you take a direct route through the centre of the peninsula. The route I have spoken about is longer at about 1 hour but it is definitely worth it!
How long is it from Letterkenny to Fanad Head Lighthouse?
From Letterkenny to Fanad Head Lighthouse is roughly 47 minutes, granted you don’t stop along the way. Although I almost guarantee you will. It’s 42.7 km or 26.3 miles, whichever you’re into!
Can you visit Fanad Lighthouse?
Of course. While you can view the lighthouse from the nearby cliffs and beach for free, there are guided tours of the lighthouse, where you can even climb the tower.
Restaurants near Fanad Lighthouse? Where to eat near Fanad?
There is a cafe on-site at the lighthouse, but for something more substantial, you can grab some pub food in the nearby “The Lighthouse Tavern” which is just over 1.2 km away.
Other than that you can stop off in nearby towns of KerryKeel, Portsalon or even Rathmullen for a bite.
Do you need to book in advance to visit Fanad Lighthouse?
You can book a tour online beforehand on the Lighthouse Website but when I was there, people just turned up on the day and took the tour depending on the availability.
When was Fanad Lighthouse Built?
Construction began in 1815 and the light was first lit in 1817
Can you stay at Fanad Lighthouse?
Yes, you can! You can stay in the renovated cottages at a 2-night minimum. For full information Click here.
Final Thought’s on Fanad Head Lighthouse and Peninsula
Well I mean I think we all know my thoughts. I absolutely love this place which is why it’s on my Donegal Bucket list post. I plan on returning ASAP and staying at the lighthouse if possible. Have you been? If you’ve stayed I’d love if you shared about it in the comments :). Bye for now!
Check out my Instagram here and follow if you enjoy my content!