Perched on the west coast of Holyhead island in Anglesey, South Stack lighthouse is one of the most popular lighthouses in the entirety of the United Kingdom.
South Stack is a significant and working lighthouse with lots of history and is located in a remote and attractive spot that oozes atmosphere.
Sailing from Ireland, it would be the first lighthouse you encounter heading toward Liverpool and the Northwest of England.
When you stand on the craggy cliffs of South Stack, ears alive with the squawking of thousands of seabirds as you look down on the creamy white lighthouse, it’s easy to see why this beauty spot rakes in thousands of visitors per year.
South Stack Lighthouse & RSPB Reserve Map
Just here for the walks? Jump to the walks section to see detailed guides on my favourite South Stack Lighthouse & RSPB Reserve walks including maps, photos, step-by-step directions and GPS files.
South Stack Lighthouse Visitor Quick Facts
South Stack Lighthouse Address and Postcode
RSPB South Stack, S Stack Rd, Holyhead LL65 1YH
South Stack Lighthouse Ticket Price
The pricing schedule is £7.50 per Adult and £3.50 per Child, with a Concession fee of £6. A family ticket (2 adults/3children) is also available for £18.50. Card payments are now accepted. You will also need cash for the car park (see more detail below.)
South Stack Lighthouse Opening Times
Access to the lighthouse and visitor centre is just 10am to 5pm from Saturday through to Wednesday.
The trails around the lighthouse and car park are generally open consistently but be warned that poor weather will mean the whole island gets closed, so bear this in mind when you plan your visit
It’s advisable to check the weather forecast before your visit. You can check live weather updates here.
Can You Walk Up to South Stack Lighthouse
Yes! From the main car park, you head on a clear path which takes you down a series of 400 steps.
You then reach a bridge, which you cross to get to the lighthouse proper. There are more steps to manage before you enter the actual lighthouse.
Can You Go Inside South Stack Lighthouse?
Yes! The South Stack lighthouse is a working lighthouse which you are able to enter on the days on which it is open to the public.
How Many Steps are there to South Stack Lighthouse?
There are a significant number of steps to get into the South Stack Lighthouse. There are 400 steps alone between the car park and the bridge, as well as several more inside the lighthouse itself as you ascend toward the lamp room.
In This Guide
- South Stack Lighthouse & RSPB Reserve Map
- Should I visit South Stack Lighthouse and RSPB Reserve, Holyhead, Anglesey?
- South Stack History
- Where is South Stack Lighthouse Located?
- How to Get to the South Stack Lighthouse
- How to Buy Tickets for South Stack Lighthouse
- What Else is There to See at South Stack?
- South Stack Walks
- South Stack Lighthouse FAQs
- Final Thoughts
Should I visit South Stack Lighthouse and RSPB Reserve, Holyhead, Anglesey?
South Stack lighthouse is located within an RSPB reserve on Holy Island, just off Anglesey. It is easy to access, with ample parking for the site only a short distance from the lighthouse itself.
The walk down to the lighthouse consists of 400 steps each way and then a walk over a picturesque footbridge over the wild Atlantic ocean.
In my opinion, visiting South Stack Lighthouse is definitely worth it if you are in Anglesey. The coastline is simply mesmerising and even if you don’t fancy the walk to the lighthouse, you can still admire it from the top of South Stack Cliffs, only a few hundred metres from the carpark.
South Stack History
The area of South Stack is renowned for not only its lighthouse but for the craggy cliffs which overlook it. Both elements form one of the area’s most dramatic coastal landscapes.
The South Stack Lighthouse has over two hundred years of operational history and has evolved over time. The Lighthouse is still working today, illustrating how such a facility has embraced automation to continue serving sailors.
How Were South Stack Cliffs formed?
South Stack comprises two parts: South Stack Cliffs and South Stack Island.
Numerous folds and crumples are easily visible within the cliffs, evidence of the sedimentary shales contorting over the years as a result of the fierce elements of which they are exposed to.
Coastal erosion from both the ocean and wind is what has carved the cliffs over hundreds of thousands of years into the shapes which we see today.
Thousands of years ago, the island of South Stack on which the lighthouse is located, was part of Holy Island alongside South Stack Cliffs, but erosion of the sedimentary rocks gradually led to the isolation of South Stack. This island is what is known as a sea stack.
When Was South Stack Lighthouse Built?
In 1665 a petition to patent and erect the lighthouse was presented to King Charles II. However, the patent wasn’t granted until hundreds of years later, in 1809.
South Stack Lighthouse was then built on the 30.5 metre summit of South Stack Island in 1809 using stone from local quarries. It was the first lighthouse built in Anglesey.
During the lighthouse’s construction a cableway was used to carry building materials from the mainland to the small island.
The first official bridge was added in 1828, at a cost of £1,046, replacing the rope and basket arrangement that was previously used. Later this suspension bridge was replaced for a more rigid bridge.
Over time the lighthouse has been further modernised, with electricity connected in 1938.
From 1983 the entire operation of the lighthouse has been automated and remotely managed, though obviously it is staffed for tourism purposes on the days it is open to the public.
South Stack Lighthouse became a listed building in 1971. The site was taken over and transformed into a nature reserve by the RSPB nine years later.
Who Built South Stack Lighthouse?
The lighthouse was constructed by Trinity House architect and surveyor Daniel Alexander and contractor Joseph Nelson. Daniel drew up plans for the lighthouse in 1808 and construction started right away. 9 months and £11,828 later the lighthouse was complete.
Who Owns South Stack Lighthouse?
Trinity House, the official body for the management of lighthouses in the UK, has ownership of the lighthouse in South Stack.
Is South Stack Lighthouse Haunted?
South Stack Lighthouse has been ranked as one of the spookiest buildings in Britain.
The lighthouse is said to be haunted by the ghost of John Jack Jones, the lighthouse keeper, who was killed in 1859 as he struggled to reach the lighthouse in order to warn ships of the impending storm.
When stumbling across the iron bridge, he was knocked down by a large rock, loosened by the gale. It is said that his plaintive cries for help were drowned out by the unforgiving storm.
That night the storm drowned 200 vessels, killing over 800 people, including the Royal Charter.
He was found the following morning still alive but died of his injuries a fortnight later.
It is said that Jones’ footsteps, panicked rattling of a door and tapping on windows are still heard in the lighthouse today, as Jones still struggles to seek shelter within the lighthouse.
Jones’ father had also died within the lighthouse though the circumstances surrounding his demise are unknown.
The British reality TV series Most Haunted investigated South Stack and concluded it was indeed haunted by Jack Jones.
South Stack Lighthouse Quick Facts
- Location: On a 30.5 metre island just off the coast of Holyhead
- Height of Tower: 28 metres
- Height of Light Above Mean Water: 60 metres
- Light Range: 20 nautical miles
- Built: 1809
- Electrified: 1938
- Automated: 1984
Where is South Stack Lighthouse Located?
South Stack Lighthouse is located on the extreme northwestern corner of Anglesey, just off an island called Holy Island.
Holy Island is connected to the rest of Anglesey via a road bridge.
Anglesey is to the very west of Wales and is connected to mainland Britain by road and rail bridges.
How to Get to the South Stack Lighthouse
South Stack is not ideally served by public transport but is relatively easy to access by car.
South Stack Lighthouse By Car
The main road across North Wales, the A55, leads directly to Anglesey and ends in the major port town of Holyhead.
Regardless of where you are staying on Anglesey, head to Holyhead and from there the lighthouse and nature reserve are about three miles away.
They are signposted on the minor road running west from Holyhead. Brown road signs assist your journey.
Is There Parking at South Stack Lighthouse?
The main car park is a short walk from the walk bridge of the lighthouse, but there are two smaller car parks on the island, mainly used by walkers and bird watchers.
In the main car park the fee is around £2 per hour or £5 for the day and needs to be paid by cash rather than card as there is no Wifi on the island.
South Stack Lighthouse By Bus
South Stack is the remotest point off Anglesey so is not connected easily by bus.
However, there is a bus route (number 50) which runs across Anglesey from the east and will take you to the town and transport hub of Holyhead.
You can also catch the train to Holyhead.
South Stack is under three miles from South Stack, and some taxis are available there, but there is no current bus connection to a point as remote as South Stack.
How to Buy Tickets for South Stack Lighthouse
Tickets are purchased on the day, and you buy them at the RSPB café which is next to the car park.
Make sure you have your tickets before crossing to the lighthouse because you will need them to enter and it’s 800 steps to go there and back!
Advanced bookings available for groups of 10 or more by contacting the café.
Can You Book a Tour of South Stack Lighthouse?
Entrance fees include an optional tour of the whole South Stack Lighthouse by a member of Trinity House staff. They have the experience and knowledge to answer any question. They take you first to the engine room and then you climb up the long spiral staircase all the way to the lamp room.
What Else is There to See at South Stack?
South Stack is famed for more than just the lighthouse. The cliffs themselves are a spectacle; at certain times of year are filled with nesting seabirds.
South Stacks Cliffs RSPB Reserve aka RSPB Cymru Ynys Lawd
South Stack Cliffs, a mixture of vast healthland and dramatic cliffs, are protected by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) not just due to the beauty of the landscape but also as a result of the vast array of birds that visit and nest in the sheer cliff faces during the spring and summer months.
The South Stack RSPB Reserve is known locally as RSPB Cymru Ynys Lawd.
The open heathland which sits atop the cliffs and stretches back for miles is of equal importance as it provides essential breeding grounds for the rare chough, of which there are only 10 pairs.
The RSPB Visitor Centre which also includes a café is perched beside the car park and provides a wealth of information about the site.
The Welsh name for the reserve is ‘RSPB Cymru Ynys Lawd’.
Elin’s Tower RSPB Reserve Viewing Point
Elin’s Tower is a windswept viewing point owned by the RSPB. Painted bright white, it is clearly visible from some distance away and is located on a cliff edge almost facing the lighthouse.
This viewing point offers excellent views of South Stack Cliffs, ideal for those looking to catch a glimpse of some of the rarer residents of South Stack, including puffins.
It is set within 780 acres of RSPB land and the trail to get there takes ten minutes or so from the car park. The route is not hilly but it is exposed, so this makes it difficult in poor weather conditions, and the trail can often be closed in the winter months.
What Birds are at South Stack Cliffs (RSPB Reserve)?
Up to 9,000 seabirds frequent South Stack Cliffs, including puffins, guillemots, razorbills, kittiwake and fulmars. There have also been sightings of peregrines and ravens, while rare choughs also breed in the area.
Visiting South Stack and seeing the birds that call it home was a unique and awe-inspiring experience for me. As soon as I left the car park and made my way towards the cliffs, the squabbling of thousands of seabirds rang in my ears. I felt like I had miraculously appeared in a nature documentary and was half-expecting the soothing voice of David Attenborough to ring out at any moment.
The cliffs were coated with seabirds, their black and white feathery bodies perched on each fold and crevice within the precipice.
The smell was strong – earthy and musky – but it was the sound that really captivated me.
When Can You See Puffins at South Stack Cliffs?
Puffins are one of the more challenging birds to spot at South Stack. There are thought to only be 7 individuals so a sighting is never guaranteed.
Puffins breed at South Stack between May and June. This is the best time of year to attempt to catch a glimpse of these elusive birds.
I visited South Stack in June with the hopes of spotting a puffin myself. I asked the staff at the visitor centre where the best place to spot puffins was and they kindly pointed out a small spot which I’d honestly never have noticed without their guidance, quite a few hundred metres from where thousands of razorbills were, on the main cliffs near the lighthouse.
I kept my eyes glued to the secluded patch of greenery about half-way down the cliff and my breath nearly caught in my throat as not one, not two but three puffins appeared! It was a truly magical moment.
Tip! In order to dramatically increase your chances of viewing a puffin, ask the staff at the Visitor Centre for guidance. They should be able to tell you the best spots where you can view puffins.
South Stack Cliffs Seasonal Highlights
There are highlights to visiting South Stack Cliffs at any time of year. Puffins aren’t the only lure to this beautiful precipice.
We’ll go into the highlights for each season below.
Spring is one of the most popular times of year to visit South Stack Cliffs. The wildflowers which dominate the heathland atop the cliffs are in full bloom, providing a stunning backdrop to the dramatic coastline.
Keep a lookout for the small but colourful stonechats with their stunning orange plumage, and the equally small and brightly coloured linnets, whose males wear a scarlet breast, who are often perched stop bushes.
But arguably the most exciting sightings you can get in the Spring are of the rare choughs and ravens who are busy building their nests. Choughs and ravens look slightly similar – both species wear black plumage. However the chough can be distinguished by their vibrant red beaks and legs.
Spotting a chough can be challenging. There are only around 300 pairs in the entirety of the United Kingdom, mostly dotted throughout the Welsh coast. They are in fact the rarest member of the crow family due to their dramatic decline in habitat.
Summer is by far the most popular time to visit South Stack Cliffs. This is nesting season and you will find thousands of guillemots, razorbills, kittiwake, fulmar and gulls dotted throughout the precarious ledges of the cliffs.
Summer is also the best time of year to spot the elusive puffins. Puffins typically arrive in South Stack in March. They will then stay for the duration of the summer before leaving in mid-August.
Some puffins remain in the North Sea for winter whilst others journey south to the Bay of Biscay, between France and Spain.
Choughs can still be found at South Stack during the summer. In fact, these birds can be viewed all year round.
At this time of year all of the nesting birds have left South Stack for the winter. But this doesn’t leave South Stack empty – anything but.
The rare choughs can still be viewed at this time of year, now appearing in family groups after the breeding season.
Observers can turn to the base of the cliffs, keeping an eye out for marine life. Seals, porpoises and dolphins can all be spotted here.
At this time of year observers get the chance to witness flocks of coughs as they feed on the farmland atop the cliffs.
Ravens are also visible at this time of year, their calls ringing out over the cold morning air and their displays eerily beautiful against the crisp white sky.
South Stack Walks
There are numerous walks you can complete at South Stack, from the short walk down to the lighthouse to a 1.5 mile trail along the picturesque coastline.
We’ll go into some of the most popular walks below.
Walk Down to South Stack Lighthouse
The walk to South Stack Lighthouse is strenuous but worth it. There and back you have to contend with 800 steps!
South Stack Lighthouse Walk Quick Facts
- Walk Distance: 1 mile
- Walk Time: 30 minutes
- Walk Difficulty: Moderate
- Path Quality: Good
- Walk Description: A walk from the carpark at South Stack to the lighthouse and back
- Terrain Description: A combination of wide, well-maintained paths and steep stone steps. Also includes a walk over a metal suspension bridge.
Stage 1: Elin’s Tower and Heathlands
From the main car park, walk along the road which passes the Visitor Centre until you arrive at the small Ellin’s Tower car park.
From there, make your way towards the cliffs, crossing a swathe of heath until you reach the start of the coastal path.
You will pass Ellin’s Tower, erected in 1868 by the Lord Lieutenant of Anglesey as a summerhouse for his wife.
Stage 2: The Descent to South Stack Island
You will then encounter the start of the descent down to the lighthouse. Descend 400 steps to South Stack Lighthouse.
It’s a short but scenic path down to the lighthouse where you can admire craggy cliffs and delightful coastal views as you descend. On a sunny and clear day you can see all the way to the Isle of Man and the mountains of Ireland.
Near the bottom of the steps is a seat carved into a fissured rock. From here you can peer through to the gorgeous South Stack Cliffs. Keep an eye out for small rock pipits and mighty peregrines on the cliffs, and for seals and even divers in the sea.
Stage 3: The Suspension Bridge to South Stack Lighthouse
At the bottom of the stairs you will find the metal suspension bridge which stands over the raging Atlantic ocean. It’s almost spine-tingling as you walk across the bridge, remembering the tale of the resident ghost, John Jack Jones, who came to his untimely demise on this very bridge.
From the lighthouse you can enjoy breathtaking views of the cliffs and may even be lucky enough to spot a seal in the raging waters which surrounds the tiny island on which you are stood.
In the summer months you can enter the lighthouse, climbing thirty metres of spiral staircasing until you reach the very top of the lighthouse. Listen out for the resident ghost who enjoys tapping on the windows and rattling the doors!
South Stack to North Stack Circular Walk
For the more adventurous, this 5 mile circular route will take you further along the stunning coastline before circling round the majestic Holyhead Mountain back towards the carpark.
South Stack to North Stack Circular Walk Quick Facts
- Walk Distance: 5 miles
- Walk Time: 3 – 4 hours
- Walk Difficulty: Moderate
- Path Quality: Moderate
- Walk Description: A circular walk which takes you north along the coastline until you reach North Stack. You will then head inland, on a trail which takes you past Holyhead Mountain, through heathland until you arrive back at South Stack.
- Terrain Description: A combination of wide, well-maintained paths and more narrow, steeper trails.
Stage 1: South Stack Lighthouse
This walk starts in the same way as the walk to South Stack Lighthouse, journeying down the steep flight of 400 stone steps until you reach the suspension bridge. From here you can marvel at the lighthouse and if you are visiting in summer months you can even take a peek inside.
Stage 2: Heathland Trail
Once you are ready to move on, walk back up the flight of stone steps, to the top of the cliffs. From there, follow the coast path signs towards Holyhead Mountain. This trail will take you through wide swathes of heathland, past delightful pools fringed by reeds, forests of aerials, and a cluster of conifers which were used as shelter by migrants.
There are a myriad of trails atop this clifftop, both official and unofficial. However, use North Stack, a small island just off from the above headland, as a guide on which direction to head.
Don’t forget to keep an eye on the raging ocean on your left, looking out for curious porpoises which like to feed on the tidal races.
Stage 3: North Stack
The trail then veers towards North Stack with Gogarth Bay below. Atop North Stack is the North Stack Fog Warning Station which, upon first glance, is easily mistaken for a lighthouse due to its stark white colour and positioning.
The Fog Warning Station was built in 1857 for Trinity House as the protruding headland here was so dangerous. The site used to house two canons which would blast off in foggy conditions, to warn passing ships they were getting too close to the rocks.
However, in the late 19th century these were replaced with a Tannoy Triple Frequency electric foghorn which would sound a chord that could be heard for up to 6 nautical miles.
The Fog Warning Station has since been decommissioned, the siren laying silent since 1986 as a result of South Stack Lighthouse taking over the task. today It is inhabited by an artist called Philippa Jacobs and has been for 23 years.
North Stack is famed for more than just the Fog Warning Station. It is also a crash site. In 1944, an American B24 J Bomber crashed into the ocean near to North Stack as a result of foggy consitions. Only two people survived the crash – the remaining eight who had been on board were never found.
Descend towards North Stack, looking back across Gogarth Bay for seals and even divers. The views from North Stack are spectacular. Here you will find yourself surrounded by steep sea cliffs with curious seals and porpoises below. Keep a look out for mountain climbers as this is a popular spot for a bit of climbing.
Stage 3: The Chough Path
Retrace your steps back from North Stack. However, instead of rejoining the coast path, take the higher route to meet the chough path.
You will pass a disused double, curved roof building which was in fact used to store gunpowder for a nearby quarry. The quarry supplied the stone used to build the Holyhead Breakwater.
This trail was once used by donkeys carrying provisions to the North Stack Fog Warning Station.
Stage 4: The Holyhead Breakwater and Caer y Twr
Rounding the hill, you’ll lay eyes on Holyhead Breakwater which is 1.7 miles long, making it the longest breakwater in the United Kingdom. The breakwater took 28 years to build in the 19th century and seven million tons of stone used in its construction were dug from nearby quarries.
As you continue on the trail, look up to see Caer y Twr on the summit of Holyhead Mountain. This is an Iron Age fort which was once occupied by the Romans. The wall is 3 metres high and 4 metres thick in places. The huge fort covers an area of 19 acres.
As you walk in the shadow of the mighty Holyhead Mountain, keep an eye out for wildlife, of which there is an abundance, from stonechats to the elusive chogh. You may even be lucky enough to spot a short-eared owl.
Stage 4: Journey Back to the Carpark
Once you have finished walking around Holyhead Mountain, it’s a relatively straight route back to the carpark.
Below the path you may notice several prehistoric hut circles.
The RSPB visitor centre will soon come into view. You can end your walk with some refreshments at the café.
South Stack Lighthouse FAQs
Is There a Cafe at the South Stack Lighthouse Visitor Centre?
The RSPB operates a café at the main car park, and there are toilet facilities available there. There is both indoor and outdoor seating, and dogs are welcome outdoors.
What is the Menu Like at the Cafe?
The menu at the café caters for snacks, breakfasts and more substantial meals. The RSPB prides itself on its ethical product sourcing and has won an award for this other and other cafes.
Can You Take Dogs to South Stack Lighthouse?
It is not a particularly dog friendly location. You can walk and exercise dogs on the main island, but they are not permitted to cross the bridge and enter either South Stack Island or the lighthouse itself.
The RSPB nature reserve permits dogs in certain parts, though because of the danger of some cliff faces and other perils you need to be sure your dog is well behaved before attempting a visit.
What is the Weather Like at South Stack Lighthouse?
Weather in coastal north west Wales is very seasonal, and conditions can get very challenging during the dark and wet winter months, while the summers are very bright and sunny.
Weather comes in from the Atlantic and then hits the Irish Sea before making contact with land, and South Stack is one of the most exposed points on the western coast of the island of Great Britain, making it quite a windy location.
Obviously, any storms in the area make it much more difficult to get to the lighthouse, and in bad weather conditions the lighthouse is closed to the public.
I’d recommend taking a look at the weather forecast before your proposed visit.
What Should You Wear for a Visit to South Stack Lighthouse?
Even on a clear day, the exposed position of South Stack makes it a very windy location. Therefore, you’ll want to be sure to wrap up.
Wear several layers of clothing which you can strip back if you find yourself too warm.
The steep steps up and down the cliffs can get a little slippery, especially in poorer weather, therefore I’d recommend wearing firm walking shoes.
If you’re anything like me and your ears feel the cold far before the rest of you, make sure you bring a hat.
What Other Attractions are Near South Stack Lighthouse?
On Holy Island there are a number of things to do including visiting the druidic standing stones a mile or so from RSPB Visitor Centre, or the intrepid can attempt a hike up Holyhead Mountain which is also just a few miles away.
For history lovers there is an interesting maritime museum in Holyhead or on the other side of the island, you can visit the impressive Beaumaris Castle.
South Stack Lighthouse Packing List
- Camera, ideally with a telephoto lens in order to capture the birds
- Binoculars – these are essential in helping you find the elusive puffin!
- Reusable water bottle(s) – especially if you plan on completing the 5 mile hike
South Stack Lighthouse is a magical location which is easily accessible by just a short hike. The area is rich in history and wildlife making it ideal for nature and history lovers alike.
I absolutely loved my time visiting South Stack Lighthouse during the summer and wouldn’t hesitate to visit again, perhaps at a different time of year in order to attempt to see a porpoise or dolphin!
If you are looking for more inspiration on what to get up to in Wales then you’ll love reading about my experience in the spectacular Snowdonia National Park, whose majestic peaks are actually visible from Anglesey.