What Are The Most Isolated Lighthouses In The World?

Precariously perched on a rock pillar in the Westman Islands in Iceland, the Þrídrangaviti lighthouse is arguably the most isolated lighthouse in the world.
August 04, 2021 | 10:47
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A cluster of slender rock pillars jut out from the ocean’s surface like fingers stretching toward the sky, miles away from civilization. From a distance, it looks like a colorful speck has settled atop the largest one. Look closer, and you’ll see it’s a tiny red-roofed lighthouse, perhaps one of the loneliest in the world.

The whitewashed lighthouse is perched atop the tallest of the rocky cliffs, which stretches an impressive 120 feet upward. It’s off the coast of the Westman Islands, which themselves are about 4.5 miles from mainland Iceland. Because of its isolation, some on the internet have jokingly dubbed the beacon a haven for introverts.

Photo: Arctic Image/ Alamy
Photo: Arctic Image/ Alamy

Þrídrangaviti translates to “three rocks.” On the highest pillar sits the lighthouse, known as Háidrangur, or High Rock. Located in the west, the attraction is near the Westman Islands (Vestmannaeyjar). This famous archipelago is known as the puffin capital and offers puffin-watching tours that start in Reykjavik.

Þrídrangaviti (pronounced Thridrang) Lighthouse, inspired a best-selling crime novel Why Did you Lie? and actually has its own Facebook page (although the Wi-Fi connection on the rock leaves something to be desired).

The lighthouse is surrounded by open water and is precariously perched on a cliff. Morgunblaðið/Árni Sæberg
The lighthouse is surrounded by open water and is precariously perched on a cliff. Morgunblaðið/Árni Sæberg

Before the helipad was built, the coast guard had to sail to the cliff and scale it. A witness describes how it was first built 1939:

“The first thing we had to to was create a road up to the cliff. We got together of experienced mountaineers, all from the Westman Islands. Then we brought drills, hammers, chains and clamps to secure the chains. Once they got near the top there was no way to get any grip on the rock so one of them got down on his knees, the second stood on his back, and then the third climbed on top of the other two and was able to reach the nib of the cliff above. I cannot even tell you how I was feeling whilst witnessing this incredibly dangerous procedure.”

The remote lighthouse was built right before the dawn of World War II. Constructing this lonely lighthouse was no easy task, as helicopters had yet to take to the skies when the work began in 1938. Builders scaled the cliffs to reach the pillar’s pinnacle, laying out the groundwork by hand. They faced slick rocks, rain, and fervent winds knowing that one slip could send them plunging into the frigid North Atlantic Ocean that thrashed and splashed below.

The strong surf below the lighthouse. Photograph/ Árni Sæberg
The strong surf below the lighthouse. Photograph/ Árni Sæberg

“The first thing we had to do was create a road up to the cliff,” said project director Árni G. Þórarinsson in an interview. “We got together a group of experienced mountaineers, all from the Westman Islands. Then we brought drills, hammers, chains and clamps to secure the chains.”

To accomplish this impressive feat took quite the balancing act explained Þórarinsson.

Photo: Morgunblaðið/Árni Sæberg
Photo: Morgunblaðið/Árni Sæberg

“Once they got near the top there was no way to get any grip on the rock so one of them got down on his knees, the second stood on his back, and then the third climbed on top of the other two and was able to reach the nib of the cliff above. I cannot even tell you how I was feeling whilst witnessing this incredibly dangerous procedure.”

Now, thanks to advances in aviation, maintenance workers can take a helicopter to the far-flung beacon. Yet even still, visiting the Þrídrangaviti lighthouse is a daunting endeavor. One wrong step, and any unsuspecting explorers just may find themselves going for an unplanned swim with the killer whales that sometimes lurk within the waves.

Other world’s loneliest lighthouses in the world

STROMBOLICCHIO LIGHTHOUSE - Stromboli, Italy

Photo: Giovani/ Wikipedia
Photo: Giovani/ Wikipedia

Sitting atop a rocky volcanic crag in the Tyrrhenian Sea is the Strombolicchio Lighthouse. Built in 1905, the remote lighthouse sits atop the exposed chimney of a former volcano, an island unto itself. A part of the famed Aeolian islands, which the Greeks believed were the home to the god of the winds. Visitors can hike up to lighthouse itself, but be warned the trip is somewhat perilous.

WHITEFORD LIGHTHOUSE - Llanmadoc, Wales

Photo: Thomas Guest/Flickr
Photo: Thomas Guest/Flickr

This old Welsh lighthouse is the last of its kind, but what a lovely survivor it is. Located off the coast of the Gower Peninsula, the cast-iron beacon was built back in 1865. It remained in service until 1920, when a newer lighthouse took over the Whiteford stations duties, but the metal tower stayed in place, abandoned and rusting. Today the Whiteford Lighthouse seems like a setting from the video game, Myst, but the only mystery in this lighthouse is why more people aren’t amazed by it.

POINT SUR LIGHTSTATION - Big Sur, California

Photo: Carlos Xavier Hernández/Atlas Obscura
Photo: Carlos Xavier Hernández/Atlas Obscura

What is it about giant volcanic boulders that makes us want to build light houses on top of them? Here was have another example of a frozen bit of volcanic geology that is home to an incredibly remote station. Built in the late 1800s after a ship dashed itself against the rocks near Point Sur, the light station was hard to reach and kept the light house keepers who ran it, extremely isolated. That is until 1972 when the Coast Guard automated the light, and full-time keepers were no longer needed. Today it is the only complete turn-of-the-century lighthouse in California open to visitors.

TURTLE ISLAND - Toledo, Michigan

Photo: Atlas Obscura
Photo: Atlas Obscura

This fortress-like lighthouse on the Port of Toledo has been abandoned for over a hundred years, but still stands sentinel on its tiny island. The Turtle Island lighthouse was first built in the 1830s on a small spit of eroding land. By the 1880s the little lighthouse had been shored up into its current fortress-like state, and breakwaters were put in place to keep the erosion at bay. Unfortunately the lighthouse was abandoned a few years later in 1904, and has remained empty ever since. Today the island is privately owned and no plan for rehabilitation has stuck.

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