Once a necessary tool to warn mariners of land masses, lighthouses are now seen as iconic emblems of sea-travel and waterways—though many still offer navigation assistance to ships. Here are a few of the most beautiful active lighthouses in the world.
Because there are so many stunning lighthouses the world over, I limited this article to only include lighthouses that are still active. So, if you’re really upset that your favorite lighthouse isn’t included in this list, that could be the reason—that and the fact that there are simply so many great ones out there.
1. Lindau Lighthouse, Germany
Flickr: Andreas Flohr
The southernmost lighthouse in Germany, the Lindau Lighthouse is locaed on Lake Constance, Lindau. It was completed in 1856, when it took over the port’s previous light station in the Mangtrum Tower, constructed in 1230. The 108 foot tall structure is quite unique among lighthouses because it also houses a massive clock that can be viewed from the city.
The tower was converted to electricity in 1936 and automated in the early 1990s. It is open to visitors and provides information on local nature and the city’s shipping industry.
2. Fanad Lighthouse, Ireland
After a large ship sank in their waters in 1804, the residents of the Fanad peninsula started to demand a lighthouse be built on the Fanad Head. In 1818, the 90 foot structure was completed and lit. In 1909, a new, brighter light was installed that operated on a weight-driven clockwork rotation machine, built to display six flashes every fifteen seconds. Eventually, this apparatus was replaced in 1975, when the light was converted to electric power.
3. Portland Head Light, Maine
This historical Maine lighthouse is located at the entrance to Portland Harbor in Cape Elizabeth. It was completed in 1791, making it the oldest lighthouse in Maine and one of the oldest lighthouses in America. The 80 foot tower was raised during the Civil War to help ward off increasingly common ship raids. It was lowered to its original height in 1881, and raised back in 1893, after mariners complained. In 1891, the current keeper’s house was built, which now operates as a maritime museum within Fort Williams Park.
The lighthouse is still operated by the U.S. Coast Guard and was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1973. It was automated in 1989.
4. Yaquina Bay Light, Oregon
Flickr: Cindy MC
Soon after Newport, Oregon was founded, the residents recognized the need for a lighthouse to protect ships visiting their port, and the resulting Yaquina Bay Light was completed in 1871. Only three years later, the lighthouse was decommissioned after a newer lighthouse was constructed. In 1946, the structure was scheduled to be demolished, but the Lincoln County Historical Society was able to postpone the destruction by working to raise money for its preservation. Finally, in 1951, the building was recognized as a historical site, where it served as a county museum for 18 years.
In 1970, the lighthouse was added to the National Register of Historic Places, which allowed it to be restored under the Historic Preservation Act. Finally, in 1996, after over one hundred years of deactivation, the tower was re-lit. It is now recognized as an official U.S. Coast Guard aid that is privately maintained. The structure remains one of the only lighthouses on the West Coast in which the living quarters are housed in the same building as the light.
The lighthouse is open for public viewing, but if you’re superstitious, you might was to skip this lighthouse, because it is reputed to be haunted.
5. The St. Augustine Light, Florida
Image courtesy of Kim Young Seng
St. Augustine was home to the first lighthouse in Florida, though the first structure fell into the ocean after its foundation eroded. The newer, current lighthouse was constructed on Anastasia Island and completed in 1874. The building received indoor plumbing in 1907 and the light was electrified in 1936 and automated in 1955. After lighthouse keepers were no longer needed, the keeper’s house began to be rented out to local residents.
By 1970, the grounds were declared surplus by the U.S. Coast Guard, so St. Johns County purchased the property. Ten years later, the Junior Service League of St. Augustine signed a 99 year lease with the county and a 30 year lease with the Coast Guard (which still owned the lighthouse itself) and began restoring the buildings. In 1981, the tower was added to the National Register of Historic Places.
Since 1994, the property has been open to the public as part of the St. Augustine Lighthouse & Museum. Admission fees help support continued preservation of the lighthouse and maritime archaeology programs. The organization continues to operate the lighthouse as a private aid to navigation.
6. Peggys Point Lighthouse, Canada
Image courtesy of Dennis Jarvis
Perhaps the most famous lighthouse in Canada, the current Peggys Point Lighthouse was first lit in 1915. It marks the eastern entrance of St. Margarets Bay and is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Nova Scotia.
The original wooden lighthouse that served the area was converted to the keeper’s dwelling after the current structure was completed, but it was damaged and removed after 1954’s Hurricane Edna. In 1958, the lighthouse was automated. For a long time, the lighthouse used to contain a Canada Post office that was in operation during the summer, but it was closed down in 2009, due to health concerns related to mold.
7. Start Point Lighthouse, England
Image courtesy of Jon Knox
One of 29 lighthouses designed by engineer James Walker, the Start Point tower features gothic elements with a crenellated parapet. Inside the tower features a stunning cantilevered granite staircase. Originally the keeper’s living quarters were inside the tower, but they were removed in 1871 after exterior quarters were completed. The Historic Buildings and Monuments Commission for England has listed the Devon structure as a grade II listed building and it is open to the public during the summer.
8. Tower of Hercules, Spain
Image courtesy of Alessio Damato
The oldest lighthouse in the world, the Tower of Hercules, also referred to as the Corunna Lighthouse or Farum Brigantium, was constructed sometime in the second century. It is located in northwest Spain outside the city of Corunna. The Roman-built tower is believed to have been based on the Lighthouse of Alexandria. While the 180 foot building is around 1900 years old, the structure is not entirely original—during a 1791 renovation, the three-story tower was given an additional level.
These days, the Tower of Hercules is a National Monument of Spain and, since 2009, it has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Pretty impressive considering the lighthouse is still in use after almost two millennia.
9. Bass Harbor Head Station, Maine
Image courtesy of Matthew Paulson
Located in the Acadia National Park in the southeast corner of Mount Desert Island, this beautiful lighthouse remains a private residence for one lucky Coast Guard member and his family. While you cannot enter the 1858 lighthouse or the former keeper’s quarters, you can get close to the light and warning bell and get a great view of the structure by travelling a concrete path and a few wooden stairs that are part of the park grounds.
The lighthouse was automated in 1974 and added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1988.
10. White Shoal Light, Michigan
Built in 1912, the White Shoal Light remains unique not only as the only aluminum-topped lighthouse on the Great Lakes, but also as the only “barber pole” lighthouse in the U.S. The Lake Michigan light is located 20 miles west of the Mackinac Bridge and because it was constructed so far from land, it was considered a great engineering feat when it was constructed. These days, if you want to get a close look at the structure, you’ll have to take a boat or a seaplane.
The building is one of the most famous lighthouses in the Great Lakes and was even featured on a license plate for the State of Michigan in an effort to help fund lighthouse preservation in the state.