Wild Atlantic Way 3: Fanad Head Guide

This article is part of the series of blog posts and video guides exploring the Wild Atlantic Way.

Blog Series

This blog is the third in the series, exploring the area around Fanad Head. Click here for an overview of the entire route.

Summary: The Wild Atlantic Way is a 2,500km (>1,550 mile) tourist route along Ireland’s Western coastline, from Malin Head in Donegal in the North to Kinsale in the South. It connects significant historic, cultural and geographic features into a manageable road trip from staggering clifftop vistas to golden strands and stunning lighthouses.  

VIDEO GUIDE to fanad Head

Fanad Head

I started my Wild Atlantic Way adventure in the far North of Ireland, at Malin Head (read that post), before exploring the North of Donegal (covered here). Fanad Head and its lighthouse sit right at the end of a finger of land that stretches into the Atlantic and it's a place of great beauty.

either malin head or fanad head

Visitors might be tempted to choose either Malin Head or Fanad Head as their main stop in the North of Donegal, due to the driving distance. However, don't miss either out if you can. They both have wild beauty and the lighthouse is unmissable. Donegal and Derry are at the bottom of this page.

The drive up to Fanad Head is littered with little areas to pull into which are great for snapping a shot. However, it's worth saving lots of camera space for the lighthouse and its surroundings!

Layout of Fanad Head

Fanad Head Lighthouse is situated at the tip of the Fanad peninsula, which stretches out between Mulroy Bay and Lough Swilly. The lighthouse is a visitor attraction in its own right (click here for info) and both tours and accommodation are on offer. However, I was showing up in my motorhome and hoping for both parking space and a potential park-up for the night.

The road narrows as it approaches this part of the peninsula and, as the lighthouse hoves into sight, there’s a large car park on the left and, ahead, a smaller parking area on the right where the road ends and which is closer to the lighthouse. Unless you are very early or very late, this car park will be full, so best to use the larger space. A number of short hiking routes set out from both car parks although some of these are unofficial and cross a broken fence so take extreme care trying to get the perfect selfie.

This view is just sensational.

I arrived in the early evening around 7pm and there were few people around. This was my first time wild camping in the campervan (meaning I was relying on whatever supplies and power I had on board and using a ‘free’ or unofficial location). I thought that this would be a good place to try it, as it seemed to be permissible here and as it is a cul de sac, there would be no passing traffic.

Before long, the sun began to set. Far from being a quiet spot, cars came and went frequently through the evening. Some people were simply going for a walk, others taking photographs of the sunset.

where can i stay?

Not tempted to camp? The regional town of Buncrana is nearby. Check out this list of hotels and B&Bs at all price ranges.

My personal recommendations are at the bottom of this page.

Two vans appeared and I thought I might have company for the evening. I popped out to say hello but they were not interested in meeting other campers. This is NOT typical of people who use motorhomes who tend to be very friendly and interested. Luckily, neither van stayed for long and went on their merry way. Soon I was alone and able to walk around the site to try to capture some photographs.

This is my favourite one below.

I love how the lighthouse stands out against the darkening sky.

I stayed there the same night as the Eurovision final *(I'm an unapologetic fan!!), so I cracked a bottle of Bordeaux, sat back and tried to chill out. I am probably a bit of a nervous wild camper, super aware of the comings and goings of other vehicles. I'm not sure what I was concerned about… maybe someone knocking on the door and asking me to move? I couldn't quite put my finger on it.

Around 2.30am, a car pulled up and parked right beside me (with no other cars around). I can't say what they were up to…

By 5.30am, the small carpark was filling up with photographers coming to capture the sunset over Fanad Head Lighthouse. First some Italian voices, then French, Irish and English started to tumble out of cars.

It was a stunning morning as I pulled myself out of bed, very underslept, but thoroughly enjoying the vista before me. I grabbed my Sony A7 IV from the counter and captured the pictures above and below – they look like different times of the day, but were taken just moments apart – it's so startling how the sunlight and clouds interact to create these moments of beauty.

The sun breaking through.

An hour or two later, as I was preparing to leave, that special light of dawn had flattened out (no less beautiful of course).

Oh the colour of that water!

I don't know what to call these objects that indicate you're at a place of interest on the Wild Atlantic Way. Are they just signs? Or location poles? One subscriber wrote to me to say they were a very foolish choice as they are basically rusting away. I think that might be the design point (is this core 10 steel?), but know too little about it to have a strong view.

One of the things in this picture is rustier than the other, but I won't mention which!

When you're in this location, it's also worth stopping off at Portsalon beach if you have time. There are lots of great hikes and easier walks in the area too.

The lighthouse is the most dramatic view, but even the green fields have their charms!

Here is Barbara Bailey all parked up and ready to leave!

Barbara Bailey at Fanad Head Lighthouse

Fanad Head Area

The Harbour Inn, Buncrana

Friendly, Sea-View

Inishowen Gateway Hotel

Next Time

Make sure you've subscribed to the newsletter (see below) and pop back to see the next in this series of guides to the Wild Atlantic Way in Ireland.

Find the accompanying video for this article below: