Landmarks: World’s Most Beautiful Lighthouses

Whether active or dormant, these beacons of light are some of the brightest out there.

By Hannah Doyle

Portland Head Light

Cape Elizabeth, Maine

This conical white tower topped with a black roof evokes classic Americana on the southwest entrance to Portland Harbor. It was the state’s oldest lighthouse built by the U.S. government, having been commissioned by George Washington. Originally lit in 1791 with 16 whale-oil lamps, the structure was expanded to include 34-by-20-foot keepers’ quarters erected in 1816. The U.S. Coast Guard took over responsibility for the lighthouse in 1939 and automated it in 1989, as it still functions today.

Slangkop Lighthouse

Kommetjie, South Africa

Adventurers can climb the spiral staircase to the top of this 100-foot tower, set on the rocky edge of Noordhoek Beach, 18 miles southwest of Cape Town. Those who do are rewarded with a sweeping view of the Atlantic Ocean and a five-mile stretch of sand that leads to the village of Kommetjie, known for its biking and diving. The lighthouse, with its whitewashed cast-iron frame, was first lit in 1919 and now has a five-million-candlepower light that shines through the thickest fog.

Marine Tower

Yokohama, Japan

Opened in 1961 to celebrate the 100th year of the Port of Yokohama, about 30 miles south of Tokyo, the Marine Tower claims to be the tallest lighthouse in the world, at 348 feet. Though it is equipped with a light for incoming ships, the needle-shaped structure is arguably more functional for land dwellers, with two restaurants, a bar, an observatory and an art hall.

Peggy’s Point Lighthouse

Nova Scotia, Canada

Visitors flock here in droves during the fair weather to see this postcard-worthy lighthouse set within a residential fishing community. The 1915 structure remains active and was repainted in 2012. Facing the Atlantic Ocean, the tower marks the entrance to a picturesque cove, from which the lighthouse gets its name.

Tourlitis Lighthouse

Andros, Greece

The only lighthouse in Greece to be entirely surrounded by waves, Tourlitis seems otherworldly, as if it spiraled up from the ocean floor. Not even a mile offshore, it sits opposite a castle in Andros; while standing there, visitors can observe the lighthouse from afar. Though most of the original 1897 stone structure was destroyed during World War II, the damaged parts were rebuilt in the early 1990s, making it Greece’s first automated lighthouse.

White Shoal Lighthouse

Emmet County, Michigan

Twenty miles west of Mackinac Bridge, which connects Michigan’s upper and lower peninsulas, the red-and-white-striped lighthouse warns of hazardous water in northwest Lake Michigan. The isolated tower was built in 1910 to replace one of the first lightship stations in the Great Lakes and was equipped with a fog signal and keepers’ quarters (the latter not occupied since the lighthouse’s automation in 1976). Those wanting to sneak a peek will find that what accounts for its fame also accounts for its inaccessibility; due to its remote location, the 121-foot tower is visible only by boat.

Cape Hatteras Lighthouse

Buxton, North Carolina

The tallest brick lighthouse in the U.S., at 198 feet, sits on the east end of Hatteras Island. Originally constructed of sandstone in 1803, the black-and-white Cape Hatteras was intended to alert ships to a dangerous swath of the Atlantic. Just offshore, two currents, the Virginia Drift and the Gulf Stream, collide, often forcing ships onto a 12-mile-long sandbar. Opened to the public in 1953 and automated in 1977, the lighthouse is open late April through Columbus Day for self-guided climbs to the top.

Rubjerg Knude Lighthouse

Lokken, Denmark

Sand has slowly been gathering around this abandoned lighthouse since it was built in 1900. Though it’s on the highest point on the Rubjerg coast, 197 feet above sea level, winds from the North Sea have eroded the surrounding cliffs at a rate of five feet per year, dramatically shifting and shaping the nearby grounds. Sand now lines the building’s ground floor and some of its steps. Visitors can explore and behold the sight, but not for long, as its roof, built at 75 feet, is projected to be overtaken in 15 to 20 years.

Hook Lighthouse

County Wexford, Ireland

At the tip of Ireland’s Hook Peninsula, this limestone lighthouse is said to be one of the oldest operating in the world. Named after the Old English word for a piece of land that juts into the sea, Hook dates back 800 years to the medieval era and has 115 steps from top to bottom. Until the mid–17th century, monks watched after the lighthouse. Now visitors can explore the rib-vaulted structure by guided tour year-round and can sometimes spot humpbacks in the waters below. Tip: The old keepers’ quarters now churn out coffee and scones.

  • NOTE: Information may have changed since publication. Please confirm key details before planning your trip.
  • Published: Spring 2017