Guiding ships into port was just the beginning for these landmark lighthouse hotels. In their current incarnation as unusual – and in some cases quite plush – hotel rooms, they’re helping travelers steer clear of a rough night’s sleep. Our top 10 lighthouse hotels span perilous harbors across the U.S. (did you know there are approximately 700 lighthouses in the U.S. alone?), the UK, Europe, South America, and New Zealand. While modern technology (radar and GPS) has made their original job less essential, their second shift as a storied keep means visitors can learn firsthand how they work (most on our list are still operational, thanks to automated systems) and about their stormy pasts (some have been working the fog for over a century). Climb the narrow spiral stair, watch the light beam across the sea, and spend the night in an iconic tower – then and always the universal symbol for safe harbor. Check out our Lighthouse Hotels slideshow for a preview of these landmark accommodations.
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Warning approaching ships of the Loch Ryan Sea’s rocky, turbulent coastline is still the job of the Corsewall, a functioning lighthouse since 1815, now pulling double duty as a luxury hotel. The lighthouse hotel is comprised of six rooms within the original structure, all with private bath, and five multi-room suites for larger parties located in a few scattered cottages on the lighthouse grounds. A short 25-minute drive from the town of Stranraer, the Corsewall offers spectacular views of Scotland’s local seascapes (seals, birds, and deer are among the local residents) and the rugged shoreline is ideal for leisurely exploration via bicycle paths. The award-winning restaurant, open to both guests and visitors, serves a daily 5-course dinner and a full Scottish breakfast. Open year-round; rates for a 2-night weekend stay start from $297/person and include dinner and breakfast; www.lighthousehotel.co.uk
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Set on an oft fog-blanketed islet in San Francisco Bay, the restored 19th-century, Victorian-style East Brother Light Station is perfectly poised for an idyllic island retreat – and easily coupled with a visit to San Francisco, located just 30 minutes away. Access the lighthouse-cum-guesthouse via a 10-minute boat ride from the Point San Pablo Yacht Harbor (included in rate) and bunk down in one of working lighthouse’s five individually appointed guest rooms, offering queen- or full-size beds, period furnishings, and bay views. Lighthouse hotel guests can expect more than just breakfast at this B&B – a champagne and hors d’oeuvres reception is provided, as is a seasonally shifting, four-course dinner, paired with wine. Plus, innkeepers offer a guided tour of the island, incorporating its history and developments. Popular guest pastimes include photography, fishing, and wildlife viewing, with rich marine and bird life in the vicinity. Note that the lighthouse hotel permits children under 18 for day-use visits only unless special arrangements are made and due to limited water supply, showers are only available to guests staying more than one night. Also noteworthy: The foghorn is still operational, so light sleepers should count on earplugs. Open Thursday through Sunday nights, year-round; from $295/night, including breakfast and dinner; www. ebls.org
Faro Punta Delgada, a lighthouse on Argentina's remote Valdes Peninsula in Patagonia (a 4-hour drive from the nearest airport in Puerto Madryn), enjoyed an illustrious career from its beginnings in 1905, with incarnations as the main office for the Argentine Postal Service and the Argentine Navy social club. Today, three buildings encircle the lighthouse and contain 27 cozy guest rooms with spacious communal lounges. The on-site restaurant specializes in Patagonian cuisine and boasts an extensive wine list, while the pub shows off historic Navy memorabilia. Wildlife – whales, Magellan penguins, and guanacos (similar to llamas) – can be found in abundance around the peninsula. All activities on the property – from guided hikes to excursions to view elephant seals to horseback riding – are included in rates. Guests can also tour the lighthouse tower during the day or after dark to learn how it works. Closed May to June; rates include breakfast and start from $213/night in March-April and July-August; $308/night in September-February; www.puntadelgada.com
Panoramic views of Harlingen, located about 70 miles northeast of Amsterdam, await guests who brave the spiral stair up the Harlingen Lighthouse Hotel, an art deco tower built above the city’s ports in 1920. The beacon guided ships for some 75 years until it was transformed into a guesthouse in 1999. Only two people can fit in the narrow, 3-floor suite, but what the lighthouse lacks in space it makes up for in novelty, funky décor, and modern amenities. The first and second levels house the bathroom, which includes an inventive circular shower and the bedroom, called the Tower Room, outfitted with a custom-made bed, flat-panel television, minibar, and videophone. The highlight of the stay, though, is easily the third-floor Lantern Room, which has a dining area for two set beneath the lighthouse’s original copper dome and a fenced-in platform for taking in the salty air and sweeping harbor views. Open daily, year-round except for Christmas Eve and New Year's Day; rates average around $396/night; www.vuurtoren-harlingen.nl
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Editor’s note: Heceta Head Lighthouse is currently closed for renovations.
Hardy seafarers navigating the rocky, shallow waters between Oregon’s Coos Bay and Newport first looked for the Heceta Head lighthouse, a Queen Ann-style tower with a neighboring Light Keeper’s Cottage, both constructed in 1894. Today, the still-working lighthouse (operated by the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department, and open for tours year-round during park hours), still casts light from its imposing position 205 feet above the Pacific. Visitors can access the lighthouse hotel by driving 1.5 hours from the Eugene airport or 3.5 hours from Portland. Once there, guests can take in the history and the crashing coastline by booking rooms at the Light Keeper’s Cottage Bed and Breakfast (about a five-minute stroll from the lighthouse tower). The renovated cottage offers six cozy rooms, three outfitted with private bathrooms, with views of the water and lighthouse; nighttime views of the tower’s beam, which shines 21 miles out to sea, are particularly impressive. Add to that a locally sourced seven-course breakfast showcasing Oregon cheeses, fresh fish, and fruits and vegetables from the backyard and you’ve got a satisfying, singular getaway. Open year-round; rates from $133/night with breakfast included; www.hecetalighthouse.com
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New Zealand is known for its gorgeous vistas (who can forget Lord of the Rings?) and what better way to soak up the scenery than from a perch, say from a lighthouse tower? Nestled on the shores of Island Bay, just 15 minutes from the town of Wellington on the country’s North Island, The Lighthouse New Zealand, is a special hideaway where visitors can unplug without traveling too far from civilization. The lighthouse hotel is comprised of a kitchen and bathroom on the first floor, a bedroom with TV and DVD player (but no phone) on the second level, and a sitting room with the "money" views and a wraparound balcony on the third floor. Breakfast is included in rates, and a beach, seal colony at Red Rocks Reserve, and several restaurants are within walking distance. There’s also regular bus service to the lighthouse from the Island Bay bus terminal. For another scenic overnight, head about a mile along the shore to the equally interesting mainstay, The Keep. The lighthouse’s sister is a 3-story stone tower which also offers fantastic views of Cook Strait and the mountain peaks of South Island in the far distance. Guests can climb through a hatch from the bedroom to the roof, and there’s also a small, stocked kitchen. Rates go for $147 (weekdays) and $163 (Fridays and Saturdays); www.thelighthouse.net.nz
Hotel Brosundet, a hip harbor-front boutique hotel in Alesund, Norway, has a single room requested more than any other – and that’s because room No. 47, the hands-down favorite, is located in the still-operational, over-150-year-old Molja Lighthouse, which sits alone at the tip of the harbor’s pier. Guests who book the hotel's lighthouse suite can count on solitude, unrivaled views of the water and of the picturesque town, and a unique but teensy space (the unit spans only 13 feet in diameter). Spend a night in the landmark tower then spend another few back in town in one of the hotel’s other 46 funky-chic rooms. Here, expect a rustic (exposed wood beams and brick) but contemporary (modern art, sleek furnishings) aesthetic spearheaded by Snohetta, the Norwegian architect firm behind Oslo’s Opera House and New York’s 9/11 Memorial. The hotel is also home to renowned Maki Restaurant serving an ever-changing menu of fresh seafood. Meanwhile, the seaside hamlet of Alesund (a 45-minute flight from Oslo or a 7-hour drive) tops national polls as the country’s most beautiful town time and again. The Norwegian beauty showcases striking Art Nouveau architecture (chockablock with turrets, gables, and organic yet ornate floral motifs) and is surrounded by majestic fjords and the crests of the Sunnmore Alps – talk about picture perfect! Open year-round; rates from $299/night; www.brosundet.no
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Set on the shores of Lake Superior in tiny Ahmeek, Michigan (population 150, or thereabouts), the Sand Hills Lighthouse first began guiding sailors in 1919. The lighthouse briefly served as a Coast Guard training ground during World War II before it was decommissioned in 1954. After many years as a private summer home, the Sand Hills Lighthouse Inn opened to guests in 1995 with eight upscale rooms decked out in Victorian-style furnishings, all with private en suite bathrooms. Be sure to request one of the two rooms with Jacuzzis and private balconies looking out onto Lake Superior; one even has a working fireplace. Out-of-state visitors can access the lighthouse via a 20-mile drive from the Hancock airport. The lighthouse hotel is open year-round (all rooms have heat and air-conditioning) and there’s plenty to do in all seasons, from walking along the beach in summer to nearby cross-country skiing in winter, though summer and fall are the busiest seasons so be sure to book ahead. Major perk: Lucky guests may even catch a glimpse of the Northern Lights. Open year-round; rates start at $165/night and include breakfast; www.sandhillslighthouseinn.com
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A red-brick landmark beacon on New York’s storied Hudson River since 1869, the Saugerties Lighthouse today doubles as a hot-ticket B&B. Following a restoration in the mid-‘90s, the structure holds a small museum (always open to guests and accessible to the public via private tours in summer), gift shop, and keepers’ quarters, as a well as a parlor, kitchen, and two cozy, yet utilitarian guest rooms, each outfitted with a double bed and river panorama. For better views yet, climb to the top of the still-operational, 46-foot-high, solar-powered light-tower for sweeping views of the Hudson River Valley and Catskill Mountains. Set at the mouth of the Esopus Creek in Saugerties, New York (about 100 miles from NYC) – an old-fashioned, yet hip hamlet enlivened by inventive eateries, trendy boutiques and antique stores, and a bohemian vibe – the remote lighthouse is accessible by way of a half-mile nature trail and borders a wetland preserve that is primed for fishing, bird-watching, photography, or just lazing it up on the riverbanks. Note that reservations can book up to a year in advance, particularly during fall’s colorful foliage explosion. Also keep in mind that bathroom facilities are shared, there is no AC, and high-demand electrical devices (i.e. hairdryers) are prohibited. Open Thursday through Sunday nights, year-round; $225/night, including breakfast; www.saugertieslighthouse.com
Overlooking the Bristol Channel about a 10-minute drive from Newport, Wales, the West Usk Lighthouse B&B offers quirky yet charming waterfront accommodations in the Welsh countryside. The 1821 tower was decommissioned in 1922 and lovingly renovated by the current owners in 1987. The lighthouse hotel is unique in design with all the living quarters built into the tower, making the structure larger in circumference (we call it pudgy in the middle) than most lighthouses. Guests walk up a stone spiral staircase to one of four wedge-shaped rooms on the second floor, all with en suite baths. While at the hotel, visitors can take advantage of the rooftop hot tub and spa amenities like the infrared sauna located in a neighboring building on the grounds. The hotel also offers some unusual therapies, courses, and workshops from a trained hypnotherapist and alternative therapist. To add to the list of pleasant oddities at West Usk, the lighthouse hotel possesses its own Rolls Royce to chauffeur guests into town in the evenings as well as a 21-foot Mongolian Yurt, also on the grounds, available for parties, receptions, meetings, or classes. Rates start at $125/night; www.westusklighthouse.co.uk
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