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Lighthouse Museums

A guide to some of the must-see lighthouse and maritime museums.

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When I’m on a lighthouse holiday, I love finding places to visit, especially if a nearby museum features lighthouse artefacts.

Greenwich Maritime Museum

There are some amazing maritime museums that feature lighthouses and lightvessels.  Some local museums have former lighthouse optics, which are now preserved for everyone to see.

If you are looking into family history or lighthouse history, museums are often great places to find information.  You may be able to visit or inspect their archives, though you may need to make an appointment.

Here are some of my favourite lighthouse museums to visit and some that are on my wishlist. Some are dedicated lighthouse museums; others are maritime museums with lighthouse exhibits or optics.  Some also have a lovely cafe, which is always a bonus!

Lighthouse Museums in England

ALK Lighthouse Museum, Hurst Castle

The ALK Lighthouse Rooms are located within the grounds of Hurst Castle and are run by a dedicated team of volunteers from the Association of Lighthouse Keepers.

ALK Lighthouse Museum
ALK Lighthouse Museum, Hurst Castle

There is an array of lighthouse artefacts, including the former optic from Egypt Point Lighthouse and the lantern from Nab Tower.

Tours are occasionally available for the old lighthouse within the grounds of Hurst Castle, though Hurst Point Lighthouse is not open to the public.

The museum can be accessed via the Keyhaven Ferry, and opening times are available on the Hurst Castle website.

Where to stay

Anvil Point Lighthouse is just along the coast near Swanage, where you can stay in the former lighthouse keeper’s cottage.

National Maritime Museum, London 

The National Maritime Museum in Greenwich has the former optic from Tarbat Ness Lighthouse on display. 

Greenwich Museum
Former Tarbat Ness optic at the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich

Science Museum, London

The London Science Museum in Exhibition Road has former optics from Eilean Glas and Anvil Point Lighthouses, an arc lamp from South Foreland Lighthouse, and a model of the original Smalls Lighthouse, built by Henry Whiteside.

London Science Museum
Geni, File:Science Museum – Transportation area.jpg by redjar,
CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Trinity Buoy Wharf, London

Trinity Buoy Wharf is located across the river from the O2 Arena. It was the former training site for lighthouse keepers in the Trinity House Lighthouse Service.  Trinity Buoy Wharf now serves as an arts and culture centre, and you can climb the lighthouse tower.

Trinity Buoy Wharf
Trinity Buoy Wharf
Photo: Patrick Tubby

Whilst in London, there are a few other lighthouse-related places to visit. Check out the London Lighthouse Trail.

Where to stay

Search for hotels in London

Harwich 

The Essex town of Harwich is home to the operational headquarters of Trinity House Lighthouse Service.

Harwich Low Lighthouse
Harwich Low and High Lighthouses
Patrick Tubby

There are four lighthouses within close proximity.  Harwich Low Lighthouse is a maritime museum.  There are two further lighthouses in Dovercourt.

LV18 Harwich
LV18 at Harwich
Photo: Patrick Tubby

Alongside the quay is LV18 Lightvessel which is open to the public and worth a visit.

Discover more places to visit on the Harwich Lighthouse Trail.

Where to stay

Search for hotels in or near Harwich

Withernsea Lighthouse

Withernsea Lighthouse dominates the skyline and stands in the centre of the town. Established in 1894, it was decommissioned in 1972 and taken over by the Withernsea Lighthouse Trust in 1989. 

Withernsea Lighthouse
Withernsea Lighthouse
Photo: Patrick Tubby

It is now a visitor centre, and you can climb to the top and admire the breathtaking views on a clear day. 

There is also a cafe and museum dedicated to film star Kay Kendall.  Kendall lived nearby and was a friend of the family who owned the lighthouse.

The former optic was removed and is on display at St Mary’s Lighthouse in Whitley Bay.

Where to stay

Search for places to stay near Withernsea

Merseyside Maritime Museum

The Merseyside Maritime Museum is well worth visiting near Albert Dock in Liverpool. It features many exhibitions and information about Liverpool’s maritime history.

Merseyside Maritime Museum
Merseyside Maritime Museum

Exhibits include the former optic from Hale Head Lighthouse and a model of a former early Bar Lightvessel.

There are also extensive archive materials relating to the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board. 

Where to stay

Search for places to stay in Liverpool

Lighthouse Museums in Wales

National Waterfront Museum, Swansea

The National Waterfront Museum is located within the Maritime Quarter at Swansea. Outside is the former Helwick Lightvessel, and a paraffin vapour burner is on display inside.

National Waterfront Museum Swansea
National Waterfront Museum, Swansea

Various maritime sculptures are nearby, and just outside of Swansea are the Trinity House Lighthouse Depot and Mumbles Lighthouse across the bay.  

Where to stay

Two of the former lighthouse keepers cottages at Nash Point Lighthouse are available to stay in.

Search for places to stay in Swansea

Lighthouse Museums in Scotland

Museum of Scottish Lighthouses, Fraserburgh

If you love lighthouses, you must visit the Museum of Scottish Lighthouses in Fraserburgh! The tour includes visiting the old Kinnaird Head Lighthouse, which is no longer operational but still has all the working equipment in situ.

Kinnaird Head
Kinnaird Head Lighthouse

You can also visit the engine room, and the main museum is crammed with beautiful optics and lighthouse artefacts.

Museum of Scottish Lighthouses

The Museum Cafe has delicious food and an amazing view out to sea. It also has a lighthouse archive. The staff is very knowledgeable and friendly.

Be prepared to spend longer here than you think!

Where to stay

Stay in the former lighthouse keepers’ cottages at Buchan Ness, Girdleness Lighthouse in Aberdeen or Covesea Skerries Lighthouse near Lossiemouth.

National Museum of Scotland 

The National Museum of Scotland is located in the Old Town area of the Edinburgh and is an impressive building.  Be prepared to spend longer here than you think!

Within the impressive grand entrance hall is the former Inchkeith Lighthouse optic and close by is the former Tay Leading Light optic. 

National Museum Scotland
National Museum of Scotland

Other collections featuring lighthouses are also located in the building. It is a must-visit if you are visiting Edinburgh and have the time.

If you have more time in Edinburgh, check out the Edinburgh Lighthouse Tour for more inspiration on places to visit.

Where to stay

Baxter’s Place is the former residence of members of the Stevenson family, now a hotel.

NLV Fingal, former NLB lighthouse service vessel, is now a luxury floating hotel.

Arbroath Signal Tower 

Arbroath Signal Tower stands close to the harbour. The tower was built to communicate with the lighthouse keepers on Bell Rock Lighthouse, 10 miles offshore.  The buildings alongside the ower were used as a shore station for the families of the keepers.

Arbroath Signal Tower
Arbroath Signal Tower
Photo: Patrick Tubby

It is an impressive museum giving information about the building of Bell Rock Lighthouse, which is visible on the horizon on a clear day.

On the way into Arbroath, look out for the Arbroath Mini Lighthouse.

Stewartry Museum, Kirkcudbright

The impressive Stewartry Museum is located in the town of Kirkcudbright. 

Stewartry Museum
Stewartry Museum

Part of its collection includes the former optic and mechanism from Little Ross Lighthouse. The optic was donated to the museum after it was removed from the lighthouse in 2004.

Where to stay

Corsewall Lighthouse Hotel is near Stranraer, Killantringan Lighthouse, and Mull of Galloway Lighthouse.

Gairloch Heritage Museum

The Gairloch Heritage Museum moved to its current location in 2019 from its original site when it opened in 1977.

Rua Reidh Optic at Gairloch
Former Rua Reidh optic at Gairloch Heritage Centre
Photo: Ruth Drinkwater

Within the museum is the former optic and fog signal equipment from Rua Reidh Lighthouse.

Where to stay

Rua Reidh Lighthouse

Lighthouse Museums in Ireland

The Great Light, Belfast

The Great Light is located on the Maritime Mile near the Titanic Experience in Belfast.  It is a hyper-radial optic and one of the largest in the world.

Great Light Belfast
The Great Light, Belfast

The optic came from Mew Island Lighthouse, which had its optic upgraded in 2014.

Maritime Belfast worked with the Commissioners of Irish Lights to preserve the light. The optic was restored and relocated in a new purpose-built structure as part of the Maritime Mile.

Where to stay

Blackhead Lighthouse, County Antrim, is about half an hour’s drive from Belfast, overlooking Belfast Lough. You can stay in the former lighthouse keepers’ cottages at Blackhead Lighthouse.

National Maritime Museum, Dun Laoghaire

The National Maritime Museum is located in Dun Laoghaire.  One of its exhibits is the impressive former optic from Baily Lighthouse in Howth.

Baily Optic
The Baily optic at the National Maritime Museum
Photo: Miguel Mendez, Creative Commons

Search for places to stay in and around Dublin

Check out the full list of lighthouse-related museums in the UK.

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