Nothing quite captures the romance of the coast like a lighthouse, and New England is home to some of the world’s most picturesque. On the craggy shores of the Atlantic Ocean, these lighthouses have stood as beacon for travelers across generations.
Discover the storied pasts of my favorite lighthouses in New England, and learn how you can visit them today.
Bass Harbor Head Light, Tremont, ME
Perched on the rocky coastline of the southwestern point of Mount Desert Island, the Bass Harbor Head Light is one of the must-see New England lighthouses when visiting Acadia National Park. It was built in 1858 to guide mariners into Bass Harbor and Blue Hill Bay, and is still used today as housing for a U.S. Coast Guard family. Because it’s a private residence, the lighthouse itself is not open to the public. Getting the best view of it requires a hike down the slippery cliffside. But it’s well worth it for the stunning scene that awaits.
Brant Point Light, Nantucket, MA
Located at the entrance to Nantucket harbor, Brant Point Light is the second oldest lighthouse in America. Established in 1746, it served Nantucket’s fast-growing whaling industry and guarded against shipwrecks along the island’s dangerous shoals. A total of nine iterations of the structure have stood over the years. Due to fires and structural issues, islanders have had to move or rebuild it more times than any other lighthouse in the nation.
The current structure, part of the U.S Coast Guard and the National Register of Historic Places, continues to welcome all visitors who arrive to the island via ferry. Because it is still an active aid in navigation, you can’t tour the lighthouse itself. But you can visit the sandy spit of land it stands on to snap an iconic pic.
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East Chop Lighthouse, Oak Bluffs, MA
One of five lighthouses located on the island of Martha’s Vineyard, East Chop Lighthouse offers visitors spectacular views of Vineyard Sound. Built in 1878, the East Chop Light and two other Martha’s Vineyard lighthouses (Gay Head Light and Edgartown Harbor Light) were designated for destruction in the early 1980s. But they were saved through federal petition and added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1987.
The light is currently managed by the Martha’s Vineyard Museum and typically open seasonally on Sunday evenings around sunset. During visiting hours, the doors are kept open and a lighthouse keeper is available to provide information about the lighthouse and answer any questions. To reach the lighthouse from downtown Oak Bluffs, it’s about a 30-minute walk along the coast through a residential neighborhood. Limited parking is available on East Chop Drive. The Vineyard Transit Authority (VTA) buses stop at the intersection of East Chop Drive and New York Avenue, but you still must walk up the hill to the lighthouse.
Nubble Light, York, ME
One of Maine’s most iconic lighthouses, Nubble Light in York has protected ships since 1879. Although its official name is Cape Neddick Light, it has been lovingly nicknamed by locals after the 2.8 acre nub of granite upon which it stands. In 1977, when Voyager probes blasted off for Jupiter and beyond in search of possible alien life, they carried images showing some of the landmarks we revere most here on Earth: the Great Wall of China, the Grand Canyon, and Nubble Light. Don’t miss it during the holidays, with its festive red light and wreath.
Visitors are welcome to Sohier Park year round to view Nubble Light sitting atop the large rock island a few hundred feet off shore. The island, and therefore the lighthouse and other structures, are not accessible to the public.
Portland Head Light, Cape Elizabeth, ME
Maine’s oldest lighthouse sits on the rocky shores of Fort Williams Park in Cape Elizabeth, just south of Portland. This quintessential coastal landmark has protected the entrance to Portland Harbor since 1790, when none other than John Hancock gave the sign off for its construction.
Today Portland Head Light is open to visitors year round from sunrise to sunset. Tour the museum within the former Keeper’s Quarters, then enjoy a picnic nearby with views of the dramatic coastline.
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Portsmouth Harbor Lighthouse, New Castle, NH
This might be one of the most underrated on my list of New England lighthouses. Portsmouth Harbor Lighthouse protects the entrance of Portsmouth harbor, New Hampshire’s only deep water port. It’s too often overshadowed by her sister to the north in Portland.
Today the lighthouse and adjacent Fort Constitution is open for tours May through October. My favorite view is from the seaside park Great Island Common in New Castle.
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Sankaty Head Light, Nantucket, MA
Marking the easternmost point of Nantucket, Sankaty Head Light stands tall on a bluff just outside the picturesque village of Siasconset. The name “Sankaty,” which means highlands, is derived from the Wampanoag Native Americans who inhabited the island. The original 1850 structure has never been replaced. But in 2007, it was meticulously moved because its location was threatened by erosion.
The best way to experience Sankaty Head Light is to approach from the ‘Sconset Bluff Walk. One of the most scenic in Nantucket, this path winds through the backyards of impressive cliffside homes. Start your journey just before dusk, and you’ll be rewarded at the end with a spectacular view of the Sankaty Head Light against sunset skies.
Scituate Lighthouse, Scituate, MA
This tiny lighthouse on the South Shore of Massachusetts carries a big past. During the War of 1812, the lighthouse keeper’s young daughters, Abigail and Rebecca Bates, successfully thwarted the British from overtaking the town. The resourceful girls, today known as “the army of two,” noisily played the fife and drum and drove the Redcoats, who mistook them for an entire regiment, into a hasty retreat.
Today, Scituate Lighthouse is open for tours during select open houses, but the grounds and walking paths are open year round.
What are some of your favorite lighthouses in New England? Share in the comments below!