Lighthouses hold a special place in many hearts. There is something romantic about these coastal beacons that were once the most important landmarks for those who traveled by ship. They fascinate with the historic tales that surround them as well as their magnificent, yet often lonely, settings.
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Portland Head Light, Cape Elizabeth, Maine
One of the oldest landmarks of its kind in the United States, the Portland Head Light in Cape Elizabeth, Maine, was constructed over 200 years ago. Its first beacon was created with a lamp that burned whale oil. This historic lighthouse that sits on a head of land at the entrance of the primary shipping channel into Portland Harbor has been altered over the years, but much of the original structure remains the same. Today, the light station is automated, with the tower, beacon and foghorn maintained by the U.S. Coast Guard. The original lightkeeper’s residence is now a maritime museum. Climb to the top of the tower for a stunning panoramic view of Maine’s wild and rugged coastline.
Eastern Point Lighthouse, Gloucester, Massachusetts
Eastern Point Lighthouse is one of the most famous lighthouses on the eastern seaboard, located at the eastern tip of Gloucester Harbor in Massachusetts, America’s oldest seaport. It was featured in the 2000 film, “The Perfect Storm,” and was erected to mark the harbor entrance in 1832. The current brick tower was built in 1890 and is 36 feet tall. In addition to the light, there is a lighthouse station which serves as housing for the U.S. Coast Guard.
Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, North Carolina
Roughly 1.25 million bricks were used to build the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, the tallest in America at 200 feet. This huge structure lights up every seven seconds, overlooking one of the most ominous places in maritime history, known as the “Graveyard of the Atlantic.” Over the past 500 years, more than 2,000 ships have been wrecked on sandbars in the area known as the Diamond Shoals. The original lighthouse was built in the late 1700s on land that was purchased for $50. Today’s lighthouse, constructed in 1870, has a beacon that can be seen for nearly 20 miles out to sea.
Felgueiras Lighthouse, Porto, Portugal
Located at the tip of the jetty Felgueiras on the old north breakwater where the Douro River enters the Atlantic in Porto City, this lonely lighthouse was built in 1886 but has been inactive since 2009. Frequently pounded by storms, the hexagonal granite tower with lantern and gallery stands 33 feet high. It was replaced by a new light at the end of the new north breakwater.
Hook Head Lighthouse, County Wexford, Ireland
Hook Head, sitting at the tip of the Hook Peninsula in County Wexford, is the oldest working lighthouse in the world. The structure as it stands today has existed for 800 years, though monks reportedly lit a beacon here as far back as the 5th century. The first custodians of the light were a small group of monks whose monastery was situated on the peninsula. They lit warning fires and beacons throughout the decades to warn sailors of the dangerous rocks on the peninsula. The monks left the tower and were replaced by the first lighthouse keepers in the mid-17th century. It was converted to automatic operation in 1996 and the last light-keepers who had climbed the stairs and tended the light was permanently withdrawn from the station. Tours of the light are available, organized by the adjacent visitor center. Climb the 115 steps to the balcony for an especially stunning view.
Le Creac'h Lighthouse, Ushant, France
Le Creac’h, standing nearly 180 feet tall, is one of the most powerful lighthouses in the world. Its light flashes every 10 seconds and cuts across the often storm-swept waters of the French Atlantic coast and numerous granite outcrops lying off the Brittany shore with a beam that reaches for over 37 miles. The lantern is surrounded by elaborate screening to protect migrating birds. Visit the lighthouse museum for an insight into the workings of the light.
Fanad Lighthouse, County Donegal, Ireland
When a large ship sank in the waters off the north coast of County Donegal in 1804, residents of the Fanad Peninsula demanded that a lighthouse be built on Fanad head. Some 14 years later, the 90-foot structure was finally completed and lit. In 1909, a new and brighter light was installed, operating on a weight-driven clockwork rotation machine, but it was eventually replaced when the light was converted to electric power in 1975. The lighthouse has frequently been named one of the most beautiful in the world, overlooking Porsalon and Ballymastocker Bay.
Chania Lighthouse, Crete, Greece
Chania Lighthouse is one of the oldest lighthouses not only in Greece but across the entire Mediterranean. It’s a major attraction in the old port of Chania, located at the end of the pier on the old harbor opposite the fortress of “Firkas.” It was first constructed by the Venetians at the end of the 16th century, followed by a restoration in which it took the shape of a minaret around 1839. In its most recent restoration completed in 2006, it was reverted back to the Venetian style with the construction material of the based the same origin and quality used for the fortification of the city of Chania by the Venetians. Although the lighthouse is no longer in operation, it remains a highlight for visitors with its magnificent architecture, making an especially picturesque vignette at night.
Green Cape Lighthouse, New South Wales, Australia
Green Cape Lighthouse sits at the tip of Disaster Bay, located at the border of two national parks, Ben Boyd and Croajingalong. Not surprisingly, it’s seen quite a few wrecks in its time, including the SS Ly-ee which ran aground in 1886, three years after the lighthouse was lit. Although 71 sailors lost their lives, 15 were rescued by the lightkeeper. Perched above a quintessentially Australian bush beach made up of fine, chalky sand, red cliffs covered with tea trees at the edge of wild blue waters, it offers a picture-postcard setting.
Cape Palliser Lighthouse, Wairarapa, New Zealand
The road to Cape Palliser offers dramatic scenery as well as a rich history with numerous heritage sites dotting the landscape. It winds along the edge of the coast, culminating at the lighthouse, resplendent with wide red bands, a cynosure to ships navigating the Cooke Straight off the southern tip of the North Island. If you’re up to it, climb the challenging 250 steps to the top to see why this area was known for seafaring disaster. During the 19th century, some 20 ships wrecked in or near the bay. Looking inland, you’ll view the beautiful countryside known for fine wine and gourmet fare.
South Stack Lighthouse, Anglesey, Wales
South Stack Lighthouse is one of the iconic images of Anglesey and a popular visitor attraction, not only for visits to the lighthouse and spectacular coast views but for the surrounding nature reserve with thousands of seabirds nesting on the cliffs in springtime. The lighthouse has warned passing ships of the treacherous rocks below since it was first lit back in 1809. Visible to passing vessels for 28 miles, it was designed to allow safe passage for ships on the formidable Dublin-Holyhead-Liverpool sea route. It was automated in 1984, with the fog and light signal controlled from the Trinity House Operational Control Centre in Harwich, Essex.
Mouro Island Lighthouse, Santander, Spain
Located on a small island in the front of the Peninsula de ‘La Maddalena, the Mouro Island Lighthouse began operating in 1865. The lighthouse is located 128 feet above sea level, precisely at the entrance of the bay of Santander where waves are known to be especially treacherous due to frequent storms. It was automated in 1920, and in 2004 a new torch was installed making it visible from seven miles out, and emitting three white flashes every 17 seconds.
Slangkop Lighthouse, Kommetjie, South Africa
Kommetjie, an isolated town supporting part of the Cape Peninsula, is home to Slangkop Lighthouse, situated on the beach looking out from the infamous Cape of Good Hope. Standing over 108 feet tall, it was built in 1914 but wasn’t lit until after the First World War in 1919. It can be seen from the mountain pass “Ou Kaapse Wed,” continuing to shine a brilliant white, with repainting likely a constant necessity. Talk to the lightkeeper about a guided tour to find out more about this cast-iron lighthouse.
Yaquina Bay Light, Newport, Oregon
Shortly after the town of Newport, Oregon was founded, residents recognized a need for a lighthouse to protect incoming ships, constructing the Yaquina Bay Light in 1871. Just three years later, the picturesque lighthouse was decommissioned and a new lighthouse was built. In 1946, it was scheduled to be demolished, but the Lincoln County Historical Society saved it by raising money for its preservation. In 1951, the light was recognized as a historical site, serving as a museum for nearly two decades. After more than a century of deactivation, the tower was re-lit in 1996 and remains one of the only lighthouses on the west coast in which living quarters are housed in the same building as the light.
Peggy's Cove Lighthouse, Nova Scotia, Canada
Peggy’s Cove Lighthouse is one of the most famous lighthouses in Canada as well as one of the most photographed. It marks the eastern entrance of St. Margaret’s Bay and was first lit in in 1915. Located in the quaint fishing village of Peggy’s Cove along the South Shore, the image of the lighthouse on top of the massive rocks with sea waves crashing against it has always been a striking sight. The lighthouse was automated in 1958; since that time, the red light was changed to white and then to a green light in the late ‘70s. Finally, to conform to world standards, the light was changed to red in 2007.
Lange Nelle Lighthouse, Flanders, Belgium
This famous lighthouse located along the Belgian coastline on the North Sea in Oostende, Flanders, is the third to be built on the site, guiding fishermen safely into the Ostend Harbor. Though the initial station was established in 1771, the lighthouse tower that stands at 190 feet today, was opened in 1949. The light is visible up to 27 nautical miles utilizing the Fresnel lens lighting system. It was painted with white and blue waves in 1994.
St. Mary's Lighthouse, Bait Island, United Kingdom
St. Mary’s Lighthouse can be reached between the tides via a short causeway, sitting on tiny Bait Island along England’s northeast coast. Visitors can climb the 137 steps to the top of the lighthouse for gorgeous views of the coastline. The lighthouse, standing at 125 feet in height, was decommissioned in 1984. It also has a small museum, visitor’s center, gift shop and café. The surrounding nature reserve features a beach, wetland habitats, cliff-top grassland and rock pools.
Nest Point Lighthouse, Isle of Skye Scotland
Sitting on the most westerly point on the Isle of Skye in Scotland, Neist Point Lighthouse was first lit in 1909, with an aerial cableway used to bring in supplies. The tower stands 62 feet high and features a light that is equal to 480,000 candles that can be seen up to 24 miles away. In 1990, the lighthouse was automated and operated remotely from the Northern Lighthouse Board headquarters in Edinburgh. The point is known as the best place on Skye to see dolphins, whales, porpoises and basking sharks as well as being home to a number of rare and unusual plant species.
Kermorvan Lighthouse, Kermorvan, France
The Kermorvan light sits on the extreme tip of the point of Kermorvan in Brittany, France on the north side of the harbor. Lit in 1849, it remains active, guiding ships into the Chenal du Four. Behind the lighthouse is a stone fort that was used as the lightkeeper’s quarters after the army departed from it in 1898. Although the tower is closed, the site is open to explore.
Old Scituate Light, Scituate, Massachusetts
The Old Scituate Light is located on Cedar Point in Scituate, Massachusetts. In 1810, Congress voted to build a lighthouse at the harbor, and the light made of split granite blocks with a house attached and was activated the following year. In 1827, its height was raised 15 feet and a new lantern room was added to improve visibility. Although in and out of service over the years, it was eventually placed on the National Register of Historic Places and relit in 1991. Today, occasional tours are given by the Scituate Historical Society, though the keeper’s house is a private residence.
Les Eclaireurs Lighthouse, Tierra del Fuego, Argentina
This slightly conically-shaped lighthouse that was put into service in 1920, stands on the northeastern-most islet of the Les Eclaireurs islets from which it takes its name, in the Beagle Channel in southern Argentina. Known to locals as the “Lighthouse at the End of the World,” it stands 33-feet tall and is made of brick, with its walls painted red and white, topped by a black lantern housing and gallery. Still in operation, today it is uninhabited and remote controlled, guarding the sea entrance to Ushuaia. As a popular tourist attraction, it can be reached via a short boat tour from Ushuaia.
New Dungeness Lighthouse, Sequim, Washington
This lighthouse just outside Sequim in Washington State is at the tip of one of the world’s longest natural sand spits, the Dungeness Spit. It’s been burning for more than 150 years and has seen battles, forest fires and shipwrecks in its time. Getting there requires a 5-mile hike across the spit, along driftwood-strewn sandy shores that are home to a wildlife refuge with a wide variety of birds as well as harbor seals. Bald eagles are frequently spotted soaring in the sky above. While it takes a little effort to get to the lighthouse, once there, you can enjoy a tour free of charge and take in magnificent views of the Strait of Juan de Fuca.
Gibbs Hill Lighthouse, Bermuda
The Gibbs Hill Lighthouse, built in 1844, is the taller of two lighthouses that sit on Bermuda. It was one of the first in the world to be made out of cast-iron. The light was manually operated until 1964 when its entire system was automated and run on electricity. While not extremely tall in terms of lighthouse standards, the hill that it stands up on is one of the highest on the island, with the light at 354 feet above sea level. You’ll have to take 185 steps to get to the top. At the base of the tower is the Lighthouse Tea Room, a restaurant converted from the lighthouse keeper’s former living quarters.