Northern France Tourism : official website

Horizontal view of the Saint Pol lighthouse, bathed in pink light

The lighthouses, sentinels of the sea

The usefulness of lighthouses on one of the busiest sea lanes in the world is fundamental, regardless of the performance of new navigational aids. Under Napoleon, signalling arrangements were put in place which included three lighthouses along the north coast: the ones in the Channel and the North Sea at Dunkirk, Calais, and the lighthouse "de la Canche" at Le Touquet-Paris-Plage. They are classified as historic monuments. As symbolic in our northerly regions as the fortresses, bell towers, and mills, they reflect an epic maritime history that is several centuries old. The architectural diversity of these sentinels of the sea must be explored, from lightships to lighthouses and lights whose bright glow guided so many mariners. 

The lighthouse at Calais, white with blue at the top
  • The lighthouse at Calais
  • © Pascal Morès

In Dunkirk, explore a lightship

The shifting sand banks in our region make the construction of lighthouses at sea impossible. To compensate for this local geographic peculiarity, some ships are equipped with lighting facilities at the top of a mast: lightships, inventive and original! Of the 16 lightships that have successively been moored on the banks off the Pas-de-Calais between1863 and 1989, the Sandettié remains, classified as a historic monument. Moored in Dunkirk's commercial port, you visit it when you visit the Port Museum. Dunkirk has another lighthouse, the Risban lighthouse, not far from the town centre which is dominated by its tall white silhouette. This is also where the staff of the Lights and Beacons service work. Their daily job is to manage the signalling and safety of the sea routes.

Dunkirk, the lightship - the Sandettié
  • The lightship: the Sandettié
  • © Nord Tourisme

A trip following the diversity of the lighthouses

The white tower of the Risban at Dunkirk; the Art Deco brick Saint-Pol light; the stylish black and white stripes of Grand-Fort-Philippe, just like the red and white one at Berck-sur-Mer; or even the stone lighthouse at Gris Nez. Each of these towers has a page in regional history. Some are even made of metal! As is the Aprecht lighthouse, south of Boulogne-sur-Mer, a rod with a metal spiral staircase round it, 17 metres high (cannot be visited). The Walde lighthouse is unique; it sits on partially submerged sand banks between Calais and Grand-Fort-Philippe. Made of metal and secured by struts supporting a platform, it could withstand the onslaught of the sea! It was saved due to action taken by the heritage group, the Fédération pour le Patrimoine et la Culture maritime du Nord-Pas de Calais.

The red and white striped lighthouse at Berck-sur-Mer
  • Berck-sur-Mer: the lighthouse
  • © Eric Desaunois

Boulogne-sur-Mer, the only lighthouse in the sea

It is called the Carnot lighthouse, a fine silhouette built post war (in 1968), on a massive blockhouse. At the end of a 3 km sea wall built at the end of the 19th century, it is the only one along the coast to be classified as a "lighthouse in the sea". It is also called "le blanc" - the "white one". The town of Boulogne-sur-Mer also has two lights, one green and one red each at the end of two jetties... A nice place for a stroll even though they cannot be visited.

Boulogne-sur-Mer - lights at sunset bathed in a soft ochre light
  • Boulogne-sur-Mer: lights at sunset
  • © Eric Desaunois
Lighthouses to see and visit