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The Tailor-Made Top Eleven Stunning Scottish Lighthouses You Must Visit

Updated: Mar 25

Author: Barry Pickard

The history of Scotland’s lighthouses probably started around the mid-sixteenth century, when beacons were installed at the entrances of both Leith and Aberdeen harbours, with the first proper lighthouse being constructed on the Isle of May in 1636. My interest in lighthouses, however, started over two thousand miles away, on a trip to Egypt in 1989.

On this Egyptian holiday, I visited the historic port of Alexandria, which included a trip to the Citadel of Qaitbay. As I climbed the ramparts of this striking little castle, guarding the Mediterranean port, I was amazed to learn that I was probably stepping on the very stones of the Pharos of Alexandria which had dominated this site hundreds of years ago. Arguably the most famous lighthouse in history, the Pharos had been one of the Seven Wonders of the World, until it was destroyed by two earthquakes in the fourteenth century, with the only trace of it being the castle made from its ruins.

Neist Point Lighthouse

Lighthouses are often engineering masterpieces, literal and figurative beacons of hope, and quite simply stunning sites to be admired, being perched on some of Scotland’s most picturesque and dangerous coasts. So, join us in this post to find out our top eleven lighthouses that should be visited during a trip around Scotland.

Don’t forget that Tailor-Made Itineraries delights in creating bespoke self-guided tours. So, if visiting any of these lighthouses appeals to you, reach out to me by email. I would be more than happy to design a self-guided tour around your requirements incorporating the lighthouses of Scotland, or indeed, a general tour of Scotland.

11. Chanonry Point Lighthouse

Chanonry Point lies at the end of Chanonry Ness, a spit of land extending over a mile south east into the Moray Firth from Fortrose and Rosemarkie. There are superb coastal scenes and the views across the Moray Firth to the vast and grimly functional bastion of Fort George. The lighthouse at Chanonry Point was first lit in 1846 and was designed by Alan Stevenson.

Tailor-Made Top Tip: Look out for the stone memorial in the carpark near the lighthouse, which marks the spot where the Brahan Seer, Scotland’s Nostradamus, was burned to death in a barrel of tar. For more on this grizzly story, read our post on the Myths, Magic and Lore of Scotland. Also, look out for the 200 or so dolphins, which can often be seen just off Chanonry Point. The best time to see dolphins is from around one hour after low tide.

Chanonry Point Lighthouse

10. Girdleness Lighthouse and the Aberdeen Harbour lighthouses

Girdleness Lighthouse is situated near the Torry Battery on the Girdle Ness peninsula just south of the entrance to Aberdeen's harbour. It is an active light, managed by the Northern Lighthouse Board. The tower is 37 metres (121 ft) tall and there are 182 steps to the lantern which produces two white flashes every 20 seconds.

Girdleness Lighthouse

In 1813 the whaler Oscar was blown ashore in a storm into Greyhope Bay, at the entrance to Aberdeen Harbour. Despite rescue attempts only two men of the forty-four on board were saved. The disaster had nothing to do with the lack of a light – the crew were drunk and incapable – but there were strong calls for a lighthouse to be built on the headland above the bay and this was achieved in 1833 with a Robert Stevenson design. Originally sperm oil was used in eighteen Argand burners, then, in 1847, a dioptric light was installed. In 1870 paraffin was used experimentally and in 1890 the light was replaced by a single 200,000 candlepower revolving light.

Until 1987 the associated foghorn was operated when visibility was less than 5 nautical miles (9.3 km; 5.8 mi). It was affectionately known as "Torry Coo" because it sounded like a cow – one that could be heard twenty miles away. Although it is no longer used, the siren has been preserved.

As well as Girdleness Lighthouse, there are two further lighthouses that mark the entrance to Aberdeen Harbour. The South Breakwater Lighthouse was established in 1866 on top of the breakwater, and in the same year, the North Pier Head Lighthouse was also constructed. If that wasn’t enough, there are also the Torry Front Lighthouse and the Torry Rear Lighthouse, both having been built in 1842.

The South Breakwater Lighthouse

Tailor-Made Top Tip: While viewing the lighthouses, check out the Torry Battery. This large gun emplacement was built in 1860 to defend Aberdeen Harbour, and even saw action during World War Two.

9. Tod Head Lighthouse

Tod Head Lighthouse was lit in 1897 and decommissioned in 2007. The real highlight, however, is the shore below the lighthouse and the great view along the coast.

Tailor-Made Top Tip: Kinneff Old Church is just two miles south of the lighthouse. Pay a visit to this historic church and uncover the story of Scotland’s buried Crown Jewels. For a more in depth look into this fascinating story, click here.

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8. Cromarty Lighthouse

Cromarty Lighthouse was established in 1846 to guide vessels in from the Moray Firth to the Cromarty Firth. Being a large, safe anchorage, the Cromarty Firth was an important base for the Royal Navy at Invergordon. The cottages, engine room and lighthouse were decommissioned in 2006. The University of Aberdeen now owns the buildings, being part of the school of Biological Sciences.

Tailor-Made Top Tip: Make a day of it in Cromarty by visiting the Cromarty Courthouse and the Hugh Miller Museum and Birthplace Cottage. Both are excellent and interesting museums.

Read on to find out which lighthouse tops the list.

7. Covesea Lighthouse

Completed in 1846, the Covesea Lighthouse was manned until 1984 when automation meant that the keepers were no longer required and the switching on and off of the lamp could be done remotely from the Northern Lighthouse Board headquarters in Edinburgh. The lighthouse was subsequently opened to the general public as a visitor attraction in 2013. There is also the added attraction of the Royal Air Force Heritage Centre, which can be found below the lighthouse.

Tailor-Made Top Tip: The best view of the nearby RAF Lossiemouth can be gained from the top of the lighthouse. The base is one of the largest and busiest fast-jet stations in the Royal Air Force and is one of two main operating bases for the Eurofighter Typhoon FGR4 in the United Kingdom.

6. Buchan Ness Lighthouse

Buchan Ness Lighthouse was surveyed by Robert Stevenson, Engineer of the Lighthouse Board, and built in 1827. In 1907 a broad red band was painted on the tower to distinguish it for seafarers by day. During the World War a drifting mine was washed ashore and exploded some 50 yards from the lighthouse. No one was injured but 3 lantern panes were cracked, 12 other panes of glass were broken in the tower, engine room and cottages. In 1978 the light was converted to electricity, and in 1988 it was automated.

Tailor-Made Top Tip: The two cottages at the base of the lighthouse have been converted into holiday accommodation. An ideal destination for those looking for an unusual place to stay.

5. The Bell Rock Lighthouse and Signal Tower Museum

The Bell Rock Lighthouse, off the coast of Angus, is the world’s oldest surviving sea-washed lighthouse. It was built between 1807 and 1810 by Robert Stevenson on the Bell Rock (also known as Inchcape) in the North Sea, 11 miles (18 km) east of the Firth of Tay. Standing 35 metres (115 ft) tall, its light is visible from 35 statute miles (56 km) inland. Boat trips are available from Arbroath Harbour to see the lighthouse.

The Bell Rock Lighthouse
The Bell Rock Lighthouse

The lighthouse operated in tandem with a shore station, the Bell Rock Signal Tower, built in 1813 at the mouth of Arbroath harbour. Today this building houses the Signal Tower Museum, a visitor centre detailing the history of the lighthouse, as well as an insight into Arbroath’s fishing and maritime past.

The Signal Tower Museum showcases how the lighthouse was constructed over 200 years ago, creating a marvel of engineering that still stands today. As well as this, the museum shows what life was like for the lighthouse keepers on board the Bell Rock, as well as the experiences of their families back at the Signal Tower shore station.

Tailor-Made Top Tip: When visiting Arbroath, you should also visit Arbroath Abbey, where Scotland’s most important document was penned and signed – The Declaration of Arbroath.

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4. Stoer Lighthouse

The Stoer Lighthouse stands on a rocky promontory surrounded on two sides by cliffs near the westernmost point of the Stoer Peninsula. Some twelve miles by single track road north of Lochinver this is a remote spot today, and must have been still more so when the lighthouse was built in 1870. The Minch, which separates the Western Isles from the mainland, has a reputation for being one of the most formidable stretches of water anywhere in the world in bad weather, and over the centuries this area became the graveyard of many ships. Stoer Head Lighthouse was built by David and Thomas Stevenson. The lighthouse itself is just 14m tall, but its location means that the light is actually 54m above sea level.

Tailor-Made Top Tip: Follow the coast north of the lighthouse on foot for about 40-minutes and view The Old Man of Stoer, which is a 60 metres (200 ft) high sea stack of Torridonian sandstone. Waterproof footwear is advised!

3. Rattray Head Lighthouse

Rattray Head Lighthouse was designed and built by David Alan Stevenson and was operational in 1895. The five-wick paraffin lamp had a candle-power of 44,000. A mains electricity supply and telephone cable were laid under the sea-bed in 1977. In February 1982, the light was made fully automatic and the keepers withdrawn.

Tailor-Made Top Tip: Plan to spend some time on the beach in front of the lighthouse. There are 11 miles of sand, with giant dunes over 30m (100ft) high. There are also stunning wind carvings throughout the dune system where the loose sand is blown away revealing ornate shapes in the underlying damp sand.

Have you guessed yet which lighthouse tops the list?

2. Neist Point Lighthouse

Neist Point is an iconic viewpoint on the most westerly point of Skye. Neist Point Lighthouse has been located there since 1909 and projects into The Minch. The basalt at Neist Point is very similar to that at the Giant's Causeway in Northern Ireland.

Tailor-Made Top Tip: Whales, dolphins, porpoises and basking shark can be seen from the point. Common seabirds include gannets, black guillemots, razorbills and European shags. Several rare plants, including saxifrages are also found on the point.

1. Kinnaird Head lighthouse and the Museum of Scottish Lighthouses

The Museum of Scottish Lighthouses is housed at the Kinnaird Head lighthouse, which itself was built within a castle. Kinnaird Head (cinn na h’airde in Gaelic) means ‘at the head of the point of land’ and is the point where the coastline takes a 90-degree turn, creating Scotland’s north-east shoulder.

In 1786, two centuries after the castle had been constructed, the newly created Northern Lighthouse Board chose the Frasers’ old tower as the location for one of its first four lighthouses. This combination of old tower house and new lighthouse is unique – and it’s also lucky to have survived. In 1824, the great lighthouse engineer Robert Stevenson called for the tower to be demolished and replaced by a purpose-built structure. That the grandfather of Robert Louis Stevenson was persuaded to change his mind is probably down to another of Scotland’s literary giants, Sir Walter Scott. In 1814, Scott accompanied Stevenson on an expedition around Scotland on the Board’s ship Pharos. In the end, only the buildings around the tower were demolished, to make way for accommodation for lightkeepers and their families.

The first light at Kinnaird Head, designed by Edinburgh engineer Thomas Smith, was the most powerful of its day. The 17 reflectors were arranged in three horizontal tiers, giving a range of more than 12 miles. Spermaceti – oil from the head of the sperm whale – was the preferred oil for use in lighthouses, as it burned brighter and longer than any other. Another first for Kinnaird Head was that it became the first British location for a radio beacon, in 1929.

Tailor-Made Top Tip: Plan to spend an hour in the museum itself to fully discover the history of the Kinnaird Head and lighthouses in general. From the museum, you can sign up for a tour of the lighthouse itself.


Although most Scottish lighthouses are not open to the public, they are still a perfect addition to any Scottish itinerary, since you are almost guaranteed to see some of Scotland’s most beautiful and dramatic seascapes.

Related Blog Posts

If you are interested in finding out more about wide variety of interesting places to visit in Scotland, please view the Tailor-Made Itineraries posts below:

Which stunning lighthouses have we missed off our list. Comment below and let us know what was your favourite lighthouse.

Don’t forget that Tailor-Made Itineraries delights in creating bespoke self-guided tours. So, if visiting any of these lighthouses appeals to you, reach out to me by email. I would be more than happy to design a self-guided tour around your requirements incorporating the lighthouses of Scotland, or indeed, a general tour of Scotland.

Tailor-Made Itineraries posts every two weeks, and you can subscribe to the latest blog and newsletter here. Until then, happy reading and safe travels.


Tailor-Made Itineraries creates one-of-a-kind bespoke self-guided travel itineraries for adventurous and curious travellers.

These self-guided tours deliver a personalised and exciting holiday experience that takes the effort out of trip planning.


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