Visiting Holyhead Breakwater: The Longest in Europe

Holyhead Breakwater

Holyhead breakwater is located on the North-Western tip of Holy Island, Anglesey. The 150-year-old structure snakes out from Holyhead Harbour some 1.5 miles (2.4km) into the sea, making it Europe’s longest breakwater. It’s a fantastic place for several activities and is well worth a visit if you happen to be spending any time in Holyhead.

But first, let’s cover a little of the breakwater’s background, including its decades-long construction.

Holyhead Breakwater Background

Work started on the construction of the breakwater in 1846 to provide shelter to boats operating in Holyhead Harbour. However, it wasn’t until the 19th of August 1873 that the breakwater was officially opened by Albert Edward, Prince of Wales. The construction took so long because the structure was a mammoth undertaking.

In total, the breakwater took 7 million tonnes of rock to build, cost the lives of 40 men, and over 1,000 workers were involved in the various stages of construction. To give you some idea of the scale of this project, the outer facing wall of Holyhead Breakwater is constructed of limestone blocks weighing more than 10 tonnes each. That would be an incredible feat of engineering today, never mind 150-plus years ago.

Breakwater View of Holyhead
A view of Holyhead from the breakwater

Most of the rock used for the breakwater’s construction was quarried from the nearby Holyhead Mountain and subsequently transported using a broad gauge railway, which remained in use until the 1980s. You can still see the remains of the tracks while walking along the breakwater today. The quarry has since been transformed into Holyhead Breakwater Country Park, which offers lovely walks up and around Holyhead Mountain, a fishing lake, and a well-stocked cafe with home-baked treats.

More recently, the breakwater has come under threat from an ever-increasing number of storms and gradual erosion. Back in 2021, the breakwater suffered damage from Storm Arwen and Storm Barra, resulting in its temporary closure to the public. The same year a public consultation was launched after a structural survey revealed that the foundations of the breakwater could fail within 15 years, threatening the 70% of all vehicle movement between Ireland and Wales that passes through the port of Holyhead.

What Can You Do at Holyhead Breakwater?

There are plenty of activities on offer along the breakwater, making it an excellent pit stop on your journey around the Isle of Anglesey.

Holyhead Breakwater Walk

The most obvious attraction offered by the breakwater is that it gives the public a chance to walk almost two miles out to sea. There are two paths available for those wanting to make the trip on foot. The upper path is made up of giant flagstones with a protective wall on the outer, offering fantastic views of the harbour, the incoming and outgoing Stena Line ferries, and the open seas (you can just about see the Skerries on a clear day).

Holyhead Breakwater Path
The upper and lower paths of the breakwater

The lower path has a compacted gravel construction and is much broader than the upper path if you’d like more room on your stroll. However, there isn’t any fencing to prevent falls into the water, something to bear in mind if you have dogs or young children with you. You can often see fish in the harbour water when walking on this side of the breakwater, too.

View the Holyhead Breakwater Lighthouse

The Holyhead breakwater lighthouse is also worth a quick visit due to its unusual nature. Unlike most lighthouses on the island, this one, which was most likely designed by Victorian civil engineer John Hawkshaw, is square rather than round.

Standing three stories high and over 70ft above the high water mark, this imposing building is viewed as architecturally important because it formed part of the ambitious Victorian engineering works to create “harbours of refuge” throughout Great Britain.

Holyhead Breakwater Lighthouse
The unusually square-shaped Holyhead Breakwater Lighthouse

Fishing at Holyhead Breakwater

The breakwater is considered somewhat of a hotspot for fishermen and amateur anglers, with dozens of species available to catch on either side of the enormous walls. Cod, Whiting, Thornback Ray, Pollock, Dogfish, Conger Eel, Bass, Wrasse, Scorpionfish, Mackerel, Herring, Sand Smelt, Gurnard and many others call the water around the breakwater their home.

Plus, there’s a great tackle shop not far away, Winnie’s Worms, that sells both fresh and frozen bait for your fishing adventures on the breakwater.

Visit Holyhead Breakwater Country Park

Once you’ve completed the out and back to the lighthouse, why not prolong your stay by taking in the adjacent country park? There’s a small lake there where you can fish, watch the model boats, or relax in the company of the moorhens and mallards.

There’s also bird watching on the quarry cliffs (look out for the peregrine falcons), fantastic walks through the heather on Holyhead Mountain, and an excellent cafe, Caffi’r Parc, that has everything you need to refuel you after a busy morning or afternoon on your feet!

Holyhead Breakwater FAQs

How Do You Get to Holyhead Breakwater?

Holyhead is accessed from the A55 expressway. From here, take the road through the town centre as if you were heading to the ferry terminals. Rather than going up the ramp for the ferries, bear left onto Prince of Wales Road, which eventually turns into Beach Road.

As you see the marina on your right, take a left-hand turn (just after the mini roundabout). This is the road that eventually leads to Holyhead Breakwater Country Park. You can choose to park in the country park car park and enjoy taking the coastal path down to the breakwater, or you can park a short way up on the right-hand side, where there is parking provision for several vehicles.

When is the Best time to Visit Holyhead Breakwater?

The best time to visit depends on your motivations. The spring and summer months are best if you want to take a pleasant stroll down the breakwater promenade. If, however, you want to watch huge waves splash against the walls during a storm, autumn and winter are a better bet (though they can happen at any time of year).

As for the time of day, if you want to park close to the breakwater entrance, you’ll need to get there early as parking is limited. Alternatively, you can wait until later in the day, when most people have gone home.

Holyhead Breakwater Waves
Waves battering the breakwater on a windy day

Are There Any Facilities at Holyhead Breakwater?

No, there are no facilities located on the breakwater itself. There are, however, plenty of facilities located nearby, including at the Holyhead Breakwater Country Park and Holyhead Marina Cafe & Bar.

On your way home, you can also stop off at the award-winning Chippy Chippy fish and chip shop, one of only two Anglesey chip shops to make it into Fry Magazine’s Top 50 Best Fish & Chip Takeaways in the UK.

What’s the Postcode for Holyhead Breakwater?

The closest postcode is Holyhead LL65 1YF. However, this is for the nearby Boathouse Hotel, and you will need to refer to the instructions above to reach the breakwater entrance.

How Long is Holyhead Breakwater?

From end to end, this impressive winding structure measures 1.5 miles or 2.4km if you prefer, making it the longest breakwater in Europe.

Is Holyhead Breakwater Accessible?

Yes, the breakwater accommodates wheelchair, mobility scooter, and pushchair users. 

Joe Roberts

Joe is a keen runner and loves exploring new places to stretch his legs within North Wales. Particular favourites at the moment include Newborough Forest and pretty much anywhere in Snowdonia.

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