A Walk Around the Portland Head Light

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Despite the advance in modern technology, I still find it amazing how historic lighthouses are still used to this day to assist in maritime navigation. Of course technology has developed these iconic structures but one thing that has remained consistent is the preservation of their notorious architectural design. I am sure whenever you see a lighthouse, you pretty much know what it is!

On our recent trip to the New England states, I knew that this would be the best chance to see some of USA’s most famous lighthouses. One in particular, the Portland Head Light, given it’s legendary status among America’s finest was the one that I most looked forward to exploring. I am sure that Portland, Maine has a lot more to offer than just the lighthouse, but given that our time there was limited this was the only attraction we were able to experience.

Portland Head Light

Located in Cape Elizabeth, just outside the main center of Portland, the Portland Head Light sits proudly on a head of land overlooking the Gulf of Maine and beyond into the Atlantic Ocean. Approaching the Fort Williams State Park where the lighthouse is situated, we immediately noticed the overcast conditions as the fog swept across the ocean.

The eerie yet beautiful appearance of the lighthouse was certainly an impressive sight among the rugged landscape of the surrounding cliffs. We had not been there for very long whenever the fog began to lift and the sun started to break through.

Rugged Cliffs near Portland Head Light

It was really cool to peer over the ocean and notice other islands appear in the distance as the fog disappeared. You can just imagine those sea fairers fighting through the fog-swept seas with their only assistance being the Portland Head Light. We were fortunate enough to hear the foghorn several times, helping those vessels navigate their way along the New England coastline.

Portland Head Lighthouse

The original fog bell is located outside the lighthouse and although it is no longer in use, it still stands proudly as an iconic resemblance of the historic signals that took place over the years.

Portland Head Light Fog Bell

We really enjoyed our time at the Portland Head Light and would highly recommend anyone visiting this if you are in the region. The history of this lighthouse makes it one of the best to visit and definitely worth exploring on a weekend getaway to Portland!

Lighthouses are such mysterious and interesting pieces of architecture. Of course they are still a necessity in maritime navigation but even without that, their unique appearance makes them a worthwhile place to visit.

Do you enjoy visiting lighthouses or other maritime locations? Where have you experienced something similar?

71 COMMENTS

  1. I am in love with lighthouses! I think they are just so neat looking, and there is always an interesting story behind all of them. Beautiful photos, I’d like to visit here someday!

    • Definitely agree Lauren! They all have a unique story behind them that is so cool to learn about. There is always something mysterious about them as well which I think is interesting. Thanks for your kind comments!

    • Cheers Ryan, yes it was a perfect day to take some great shots of the lighthouse especially with the contrasting conditions that we experienced during our short time there!

  2. Just love your blog!
    It’s so inspiring that you can work full time and travel as well. I’m doing exactly the same thing, but I felt a little bit strange reading other blogs of full-time-travelers.

    Thank you 🙂 I thing I will start using your #WeekendWanderlust on twitter and fb 🙂

    Travel safe!
    Isabella (from Poland)

    • Thanks so much for your kind comments Isabella! I definitely agree with you that whenever you have a full-time job but still love to travel, it’s difficult sometimes to relate to those that are fortunate enough to travel all the time. Please continue to link-up with us for #WeekendWanderlust every week, it’s certainly a great way to get some extra exposure for your blog and also find some great spots around the world worth exploring!

    • It certainly has a very mysterious vibe to it whenever you approach the lighthouse from a distance and you can only see the bottom half. But then to watch the fog clear, well you can see from the photographs just how cool it looks.

    • I have never stayed in one before Sammi but I have read several folks experiences and they all said that despite the eerie feeling, they are really worth it! I am sure there are many great stories to tell from those that have stayed in one. However, I also think it’s a shame for those that are renovated into places where you can stay rather than just maintaining them as a historic landmark along a coastline.

    • Definitely Alli, plus whenever you are fortunate enough to be there to see the contrast between foggy conditions and clear conditions it’s a really cool experience.

  3. Hey I was not finished yet! (It posted my comment too early) I was also going to say that I find lighthouse photography so beautiful and almost kind of eerie sometimes! (In a good way). I can just hear the foghorn now 😉

    • I hear you Alli! They are just really majestic pieces of architecture. Even modern day designs maintain the old-school look in lighthouses which is great to see.

    • They certainly do Ashley! Honestly have never really taken many photographs of them before but after visited this lighthouse and seeing the great shots that you can get, we will definitely be doing more of this in the future.

  4. I’ve walked past the lighthouse on the cliffs above Dover and one near Land’s End, but never had the opportunity to get nearer to have a good nosey round. They are amazing pieces of architecture though – I also like old windmills dotted across the landscape.

    • We also walked past the lighthouse at Land’s End and took some good pictures but didn’t really spend too much time there exploring the history of that lighthouse because we were more interested in walking along the scenic coastal path. Will definitely have to check out the one near Dover. Definitely agree with you on windmills. They are just as iconic as lighthouses, in fact what a great combination they are together and anywhere in the world that offers both of these are certainly a must-see spot for us!

      • I was far more interested in the coast too 🙂 The lighthouse at Dover is owned by the National Trust I think; it was open the day we walked past but we didn’t have time to have a peek.

  5. I’ve always loved visiting places with lighthouses and this one is exceptional. Wish I could visit on a sunny day, never get that opportunity whenever I visit one.

    • You make a great point there Noel that the fog seems to descend over lighthouses all too frequently and tends to be always when you head there to capture some great shots! I think you can still get some cool shots with the fog and overcast conditions but whenever the sun breaks through, that’s when you can really capture the perfect picture.

  6. I have always had a thing about lighthouses – I love them, and love visiting them! We saw so many when we were on Cape Cod but I never got bored! You definitely got the best weather to see them as you saw how eerie but how important they are. Even on a clear day they are incredibly useful to sailors – as you can use them as way points as well as often they are the only distinguishing feature that can be seen over a long distance along a coast line

  7. Were you able to go inside, Chris?

    I visited the lighthouse on the Lizard Peninsula in the UK earlier this year which doesn’t look too dissimilar to this one.

    There are a number in the UK now that you can not only visit, but can also stay in… I haven’t done that yet but would like to one day!

    • Unfortunately not Paul! I believe it is only open on the weekends, at least it was whilst we were there and our visit was on a Thursday so we missed out on the opportunity to experience the interior of the lighthouse. They are such iconic structures along a coastline, not only for sailors but also for tourists who seem to be attracted to visiting them (for good reason too!).

      We have also visited the lighthouse at Land’s End, again we weren’t able to go inside, in fact I can’t recall ever going inside one though I may have done with my parents when I was younger. I really think that staying in one would be a cool experience!

    • Well if you take the lighthouse and the beautiful scenery along this part of the Maine coastline, then yes it certainly is worth a trip to experience Portland. I am not sure there is much to see and explore in terms of the town, away from the coast or at least nothing beyond spending a day or two here but Portland is in such a great location if you are heading further north across the Canadian border or south towards Boston. It certainly is a very picturesque part of the country!

  8. I LOVE lighthouses! There’s something old-timey about them that really appeals to me so I check them out whenever I get the chance. Great shot of the lighthouse in the fog- what a perfect setting!

  9. Love the pictures. I think the fog adds to it. I love stopping and taking pictures of lighthouses but have never really stopped at one long enough. I am sure there are tons in Maine, which I need to get to. I have a few cousins that retired there and absolutely love it.

    • Cheers Emily, it definitely was a worthwhile experience and I guess you could say that we lucked out by being there at the right time to capture both the foggy and clear conditions! But as the old saying goes, you have to be in the right place at the right time!

  10. I am another one who loves lighthouses…so it’s great to read this article. Thinking about lighthouses makes me feel how we have no control over the sea, and also makes me think about mermaids and sirens. Of course sleeping in a lighthouse, with one’s other half, with the waves crashing against the rocks would be extremely romantic.

  11. beautiful post guys. I know why the area is called New England… the weather is similar to Old Blighty! And Chris, as a Brit, I’m sure you appreciate that! There’s a charm to lighthouses I’ve always been unable to resist, and I harbour the ambition of spending a night in one…

  12. I find lighthouses fascinating – they’re such a distinctive form of architecture. I think some of the New England ones do B&B – it would be great to stay in one some time.

  13. Portland is such a great city. I have not been there since I was younger, but friends that moved there really enjoyed it. Lighthouses like these are a nice link to the past. That black and white shot captures the Maine coast perfectly – precisely how I remember it and how I continue to envision this part of New England.

  14. I do love lighthouses, especially in a storm. I actually stayed in one in Cromer on the Norfolk coast in the UK which was great, though unfortunately I didn’t get to go up to the top.

  15. Love the pictures Chris. Especially the ones covered with fog creates a soul stirring mood…must have been quite romantic to walk around the lighthouse. I love lighthouses and capturing them within frame just makes the picture even more beautiful. Have been fantasizing of staying in a light house lately.

  16. What a beautiful lighthouse! I love visiting them, too. They usaully have so much history and can be found on gorgeous sections of coast. I love the picture with the fog!

    • We will definitely look forward to hearing about your experiences Brianna exploring the Portland Head Light and other lighthouses along the New England coastline.

    • Thanks Bianca, even though we really only experienced this lighthouse, I would highly recommened anyone to visit Portland just for that very reason! But I am sure there are many other things there that are worth seeing, and I hear the cuisine in this part of Maine is amazing, so do you need any more reason to visit here 🙂

    • I’m with you there Siobhan, maybe it’s just because of their unique structure and their iconic position along coastlines as you feel like you are at the end of the world as you stand there looking out over the ocean!

  17. I’m such an old romantic but lighthouses seem so protective and emotive. Whether its stormy seas or fog, its just such a dramatic scene and so much history in these places. The idea of a beacon of light to safely guide mariners is brilliant (and an ancient practice) but the fact lighthouses have the same shapes around the world makes them so distinctive. Really great photos and it seems like a beautiful place in Maine

    • Cheers Kate, we appreciate your kind remarks! Just standing close to the lighthouse made me peer out over the ocean and start thinking about all the old tales from books that I read a child. I remember reading many stories of lighthouses and how sailors were shipwrecked only to seek asylum in the lighthouses which came to their rescue in the middle of nowhere. Great memories for sure!

      I love the fact that lighthouses are so distinctive and pretty standardized throughout the world.

  18. Beautiful photos! I really hope you get to go back to Portland soon. In addition to having the best lobster in the world, it is such a cool town! Love that its right on the waterfront, with so many awesome restaurants, and that it’s totally walkable.

    • Thanks so much! That was one thing we noticed Kristen how walker friendly Portland seemed! In fact that was one of the best aspects of all North East USA that we found, particularly in Boston where we spent a day wandering around. But of course hopefully we will get back to Portland sooner rather than later and you can let us know some of your favorite restaurants and other spots worth exploring!

    • Cheers Mike! Hopefully you will get over to the States sometime soon and really get a chance to explore some of these hidden gems. Of course places like NYC and San Fran appeal but sometimes just taking the time to experience these lesser known spots are equally rewarding.

  19. I would love to visit more lighthouses. I’ve only been to a few, including in Savannah. They have so much history! I follow a gal in Michigan who wants to visit all of the ones in her state. Fantastic pictures!

    • Thanks Muriel for your kind comments! As we are located in the heart of USA, we rarely get the opportunity to see lighthouses either so this was a really great experience to see the Portland Head Light. Will have to check out the one in Savannah also.

  20. Looks like a nice spot. While I have seen plenty of lighthouses in the distance, It is on my list to climb a lighthouse one day. And maybe even stay in one for the night sometime,

    • That really would be a cool experience to stay in a lighthouse overnight! I know that many have been converted from their original purpose but just exploring them is worthwhile even if you don’t get the opportunity to stay in one overnight!

  21. I spent most of my life in the US but have seen precious little of the New England states. Maine in particular is the most intriguing. Glad to see you made the time to visit here.

    • The New England states really appealed to me Bob before exploring here. I love the fact that everything is closely packed together with 6 different states relatively close and some major cities such as NYC and Boston scattered among them. But the hidden gems are the spots that I really love experiencing because you never know if you will get the opportunity to see them again!

  22. The lighthouses look so lovely! There is something so romantic about lighthouses in the fog… in theory. In practice, I assume that’s pretty dangerous and undesirable 😛

    • We can stay in that dream world because I agree with you that the fog really adds to the quality of the image. But as you state, I am sure the sailors are not too fond of the foggy conditions!

  23. Great post. Somehow I always have a “thing” for lighthouses, they seem to have a lot of history and a lot to tell… I hope they won’t dissapear altogether now in the modern days…

    • I hope you are right as well Antonette. It would be a real shame to see them disappear though I have a feeling they will be around and have a place in maritime navigation at least for the rest of our lifetimes!

  24. Heather and Chris! I love a New England road trip, for the tiny villages and the lighthouses. Jim and I visited the Portland one a couple years ago, and loved it. I think it would have been great to see on a foggy day! BTW: Your B&W photo is stunning!

    • Thanks Corinne, we really appreciate your comments! Credit to Heather on that black and white photo, she is the pro photographer in our relationship and I agree it really turned out great capturing the eerie feeling of the conditions. As I have mentioned to everyone else, the reality is that we picked a perfect day to visit the lighthouse because we got the best of both worlds with the foggy and clear conditions! Makes for some great contrasting pictures.

    • Every lighthouse has their unique stories and I always find it interesting to try and find an old local who has been around over the years to tell you some of the hidden, untold stories within the lighthouse.

  25. I’ve never been to Portland, but reading your post really made me feel like I was there right now ! Loved the photos with the lighthouse and the smog, stunning !

  26. HOME!!! I miss Maine SO much sometimes, I used to run around Portland head light and its such a beautiful area. I’m always happy to see other love it as much as I do.

  27. […] The iconic Portland Head Light once played an integral role in the maritime industry around the Gulf of Maine. The history of this lighthouse dates back to the late 18th century and despite some renovations, today it is still proudly standing at the head of the primary shipping channel into Portland Harbor. […]

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