The rough sea, a biting wind, darkness all around but ahead a light suddenly appears to lead us to safety. For most people, lighthouses are both a symbol of hope and of the romance that sailing brings. Even in the age of GPS, many of these lighthouses still serve their function, but their stunning architecture and magnificent views make them the perfect stop-off point when sailing. So which lighthouses should you visit in Europe this year and why?
1. Porer, Croatia
Croatia is undoubtedly a lighthouse lover's paradise and for this we are indebted to the Austro-Hungarian Empire, which took it upon itself in the 19th century to improve safety at sea by building almost 70 of them. Built on a tiny islet of the same name, Porer is an absolute gem and takes just a minute to go around. If you want to land, there are 3 small moorings, but be aware of the strong local currents. Offering 2 studio apartments, you can even spend the night inside the lighthouse and enjoy breathtaking views of the open sea and sunsets from the 35-metre high tower — considered to be one of the most stunning views in Croatia.
YACHTING.COM TIP: If you are a fan of lighthouses and heading to Croatia, you can find information about all the lighthouses at https://www.plovput.hr/en/aids-to-navigation/lighthouses.
2. Palagruža, Croati
Palagruža Velika, between the coasts of Italy and Croatia, is the most remote of the Croatian islands, located 68 nautical miles south of Split and 26 nautical miles south of the island of Lastovo. Known for its challenging waters, landing requires good sailing skills here but it’s well worth it as the island is renowned for its rich history (an archaeological site with the remains of a temple dedicated to Diomedes) and natural beauty (a protected nature reserve with a large number of endemic plants and animals). As the area around Palagruza is designated for fishing, individual diving around the island is prohibited. If you are planning to sail here, contact the lighthouse keeper in advance to arrange a tour of the main island and the surrounding islets. Located in the middle of the island at a height of 90 m, the lighthouse can accommodate up to 8 people (two 4-person apartments). Otherwise, the island is completely uninhabited, so apart from the keeper, the only people you’ll run into will be tourists brought by boat from Korcula.
3. Tajer, Sestrica Vela, Croatia
If you’re sailing through the beauty of the Kornati archipelago near Zadar and Split, it would be a mistake not to stop off at the Tajer lighthouse which stands on the northeastern tip of the archipelago. Built in 1876, it is the only iron lighthouse in Croatia — its tower was purchased in France and assembling the individual parts took several months. The iron tower is connected by a covered bridge to a large stone building which houses 2 apartments. The island is easily accessible via a spacious seafront with steps rising up from the sea.
4. Phare de Cordouan, France
Known as the Versailles of the sea and nicknamed "the king of lighthouses", the Cordouan lighthouse was built in 1611 and you’ll instantly understand why in 2021 it was added to UNESCO’s world heritage list. Located 7 kilometres out to sea in the Gironde estuary, at 67.5 metres high it is the 10th tallest traditional lighthouse in the world and the oldest lighthouse in France. It is a Renaissance masterpiece designed by leading Paris architect Louis de Foix. A visit will take you up through the multiple storeys: the Salle de Girondins, the chapel with stained glass windows, the King’s Apartment... and reaching the top of the 301 steps, you’ll be rewarded with a magnificent view of land and sea. If you are going to Corduan by boat, you must inform the lighthouse keeper in advance and pay a fee when you get there from 7 to 15 Euros per person depending on the season — more info here https://www.phare-de-cordouan.fr/en/access-to-the-lighthouse/
5. Tourlitis, Cyclades, Greece
Situated in the middle of the Aegean Sea, the Cyclades is probably the most challenging sailing region in Greece — but experienced sailors will get to enjoy a thrilling sailing experience. Constructing the Tourlitis lighthouse near Andros (Chora) was a daring project, being located 200 metres off the coast and the only structure of its kind in Europe built on a rock formation. In the end, construction took ten years, during which the Greek builders even managed to carve out a stone staircase in the middle of the ocean. Completed in 1897, the lighthouse was the first automatic lighthouse in Greece. Although it was destroyed during World War II, it was restored to its former glory in the 1990s. Unfortunately, it isn’t open to the public, but sailing around it is definitely worthwhile.
What other destinations are worth a cruise?
6. Sušac, Croatia
On the open sea between Vis, Korcula and Lastovo, this lighthouse stands on the island of Sušac, perched on the highest point of its southern side and providing some magnificent views. Should you decide to spend the night here, there is a small anchorage and a number of secluded coves on the island which are perfect for taking a dip. Don't expect any shops though, as the island is far from civilization, but take a stroll to admire the surrounding countryside and the beautiful beaches. On the north side of the island is a seawater lake, which can be accessed by swimming underwater through a cave.
7. Struga, Lastovo Island, Croatia
There’s no better place to admire the open sea than from a lighthouse on the edge of a 70-metre-high cliff. The views from Struga Lighthouse are magnificent. Nearby, a concrete area serves as a harbour, and if you decide to stay overnight, the apartments can accommodate up to 15 people. If you need to stock up, the town of Lastovo is only about 10 km away.
8. Torre de Hércules, A Coruña, Spain
The Tower of Hercules, dating back to the times of ancient Rome, is simply stunning. The oldest surviving lighthouse still in use (built in the 1st century), it is located on a peninsula about 2.4 km from the city of A Coruña in Galicia, northwestern Spain. Standing at 55 metres, it overlooks the North Atlantic coast of Spain. But the Tower of Hercules is not just some solitary lighthouse on a deserted island, it can be reached by bus and the port of A Coruña is the second largest city in Galicia. Visiting this place, which in the Middle Ages was a regular stop-off for Crusader ships, is a must when sailing around Spain — both for its history and its unquestionable beauty. More info at www.torredeherculesacoruna.com.
9. Bengtskär, Finland
Once upon a time, Captain Bengt and his ship were caught in a storm and wrecked on a deserted beach. Miraculously, he survived. When his wreck was discovered by the locals, he rejoiced at being rescued. But his celebration was short-lived when the inhabitants of the archipelago ended up stealing his possessions and killing him — the island has been called Bengtskär ever since. This story probably won’t tempt you to visit the lighthouse in the Turunmaa area, but don't miss it if you are heading north. Standing at 51-metres high, the tower is the tallest in Scandinavia, and the lighthouse was recently renovated to offer accommodation, a restaurant, a museum, a chapel and a gift shop. Unfortunately there is no harbour for guests on Bengtskär, and the piers are reserved for cruise ships and service transport, but it is possible to moor at the rocks in calm weather at designated times during the summer months. However, as the number of visitors is limited, you must call in advance on +358 50 307 4227. For more information visit www.bengtskar.fi/en/home.
10. Chania, Crete
This “Egyptian” lighthouse in Chania is considered not only the jewel of Crete, but also of the whole of Greece. Originally built by the Venetians from 1595–1601, it fell into disrepair during the Turkish occupation, and was later rebuilt in the 1830s in the form of a minaret by the Egyptian occupiers. In 2006 it was renovated in Venetian style, but references to the minaret are still visible. Unfortunately, the lighthouse itself is now closed and not in use, but still holds a certain charm — especially when viewed lit up at night.
11. Savudrija, Umag, Croatia
Built in 1818, Savudrija is the oldest lighthouse on the Adriatic and the first gas-powered one. It is also the northernmost Croatian lighthouse, being located near the Slovenian border and only 56 km south of Trieste, Italy. According to legend, it was built by Austrian Count Metternich for a beautiful Croatian lady he had fallen in love with. Cruelly, she died before ever seeing it. But even if this legend is not true, Savudrija itself is a romantic place with an enchanting atmosphere.
12. Phare de la Croix, Brittany, France
The most lighthouses in France are to be found in Brittany — not surprising given the savageness of the Atlantic. With two towers, standing 13 metres high, the Phare de la Croix is located at the mouth of the Trieux River in Ploubazlanec Bay and is only accessible from the sea. It’s a popular excursion spot for families with children who come here by kayak from Loguiva-de-la-Mer. Inside, there is an exhibition on the history of the lighthouses where you’ll learn remarkable facts about the technical discoveries associated with their operation.
13. Akrotiri, Santorini, Greece
Although many travellers want to avoid the island of Santorini for being a bit of a tourist trap, its unique charm is unquestionable. So Akrotiri Lighthouse can’t be left out of our list, especially as it is considered one of the most beautiful in the Cyclades. On the edge of a high cliff directly above the sea and far from the bustling tourist resorts, this white-washed building is especially enchanting in the evening when it is bathed in the warm light of the setting sun.
14. Świnoujście, Poland
The spa town of Świnoujście actually boasts two lighthouses. One of them is Stawa Młyny, a 10-metre-high beacon in the shape of a windmill and frequently photographed tourist attraction. The other, the Świnoujście Lighthouse, is truly unmissable and the tallest lighthouse in Poland. This striking mid-19th century structure stands at 65 metres and ascending the 300 steps, you’ll be rewarded with a spectacular view of the beach, the harbour and Stawa Młyny. Arriving by boat, you’ll find a city port with space for up to 300 boats.
15. Rubjerg Knude, Denmark
In the middle of a sea of sand, Rubjerg Knude stands at 23 metres high and was completed in 1900. Originally, it towered 60 metres above the sea on top of the Lønstrup Klint cliff about 200 metres from the coast. At that time, there were no high sand dunes around it, but shifting sands from the coast led to the lighthouse no longer being visible from the sea and it was decommissioned in 1968. From the 1980s it was used as a museum, but due to the continually shifting sands, even this had to be closed — layers of sand blocked the doorway and the houses around the lighthouse were so covered in sand that they were demolished. Predictions that the lighthouse would collapse into the sea around 2023 due to erosion, led to the decision being made to demolish it. But eventually, in 2019, it was moved 70 metres inland on rails. Apparently, its new location should keep it safe for the next 20–40 years. Nowadays, it is again visible from the open sea, and its story (and the sight of the lighthouse amid the dunes) is unforgettable.
What boat would you sail around these lighthouses?