Lista Lighthouse: One of many “cathedrals” along Norway’s coast

Lista Lighthouse: One of many “cathedrals” along Norway’s coast
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Text and photos by Sigrid Thorbjørnsen.
Translated and edited by
Michael Holtermann and Ken Kiesnoski.

Lista Lighthouse is one of the coast’s many cathedrals,” I read on How true.

It is almost midnight, and the midsummer sun dips just below the horizon here in southern Norway, but it is not quite dark. Nothing about the temperature says summer. It is 54 degrees (12° Celsius) out and the wind is blowing hard – taking hold of the clouds, the sea, and me. There is salt in the air and sparkling sunshine late into the evening. It’s still not hot, but it is bright.

I’ve been looking forward to getting to Lista Lighthouse for a while now. The first things I see when I finally arrive at the site is a long pebble beach dotted with wandering sheep, waves that play against boulders, and the 112-foot (34-meter) tall stone tower of the lighthouse at the tip of Lista. In all this landscape, there’s nothing that rises higher than this beacon. Majestically, it sends out welcoming light to all who sail, walk, or drive. Now I’m here.

Seven Kinds of Blossoms …

Around the lighthouse, everything is green. Very green. Wildflowers grow in large clusters, fighting for attention. According to an old Norwegian belief, if girls pick seven different varieties of flowers on St. Hans’ Eve and then put them under their pillows that night, they will see their future husbands in their dreams. Here, there’s no problem collecting the seven kinds of blossoms … there are plenty to choose from.

There’s good pasture for the sheep grazing around the lighthouse throughout the day. As I sit watching the sheep, listening to them walk around – they’re wearing bells – in concert with the symphony orchestrated by the wind and the waves, my mind drifts back to times past. To the stories of those who lived here long before I came, long before vehicles, paved roads, and electricity entered the picture. I cannot imagine what hard work it must have been to eke out an existence here, tending to the soil and livestock. The stone fences in this part of the country may document that the land was owned, but, more so, testify to the need to clear the fields of rocks and pebbles. There is an abundance of such fences, many of them quite old.

American Lista

Life on Lista could be hard, and the exodus from this area was substantial. From 1901 to 1915, according to a city history by Olaf Arild Abrahamsen, around one-quarter of the local population left. What’s remarkable is not only the unusually high number of migrants, but also that so many eventually came back. It became very common among people on Lista to spend just part of their lives in America. Married fathers went there to make money, and young men and women went there for adventure – and money. Author Siv Ringdal has described this in her book “American Lista” (Det amerikanske Lista).

They left as locals and returned as Norwegian-Americans. The impulses from the other side of the Atlantic affected everyday life back on Lista. Many children here grew up with fathers who lived in America while their mothers tended the farm and young ones at home. The girls who migrated often became maids. Men, however, worked as sailors or carpenters. After a few years “over there,” some came back. Others lived overseas for the rest of their lives, while others again went back and forth several times … an early kind of commuting, if you will.

World’s Largest Lighthouse Complex

I watch the ocean and think of Lista, this little place with so much history. The many lighthouses found along Norway’s shores are a distinct cultural patrimony that characterize the country as a coastal and maritime nation. Originally raised in 1836, the Lista beacon soon became part of the world’s largest lighthouse complex because, from 1853 to 1872, there were, in fact, three lighthouses on the island. (To avoid confusion between various lighthouses along the coast, two additional lighthouses were built on Lista near the original. When modern lighthouse-illumination technologies arrived, it was no longer necessary to have three towers here, so two were dismantled and moved.)

Although this one remaining lighthouse has not seen all history from the dawn of time, it has borne witness to major natural and historical events. For example, the coast of Lista is Norway’s largest ship graveyard. And during World War II, cannon emplacements were built around the lighthouse. Generation after generation grew up at the lighthouse. Today, no one lives there permanently, but the lighthouse rays still sweep regularly across Lista.

It’s as if Lista’s story is being whispered out of the lighthouse walls. Be quiet and you’ll hear a story just for you. Open your eyes, and this cathedral of the ocean will be revealed. This is not a dream … this is an experience.

A lighthouse vacation is a lovely, salty experience accompanied by the waves – with peace and time to relax.”

Lista Lighthouse 101

Lista Lighthouse is located in Farsund. From within Norway, take a bus to Farsund or Lyngdal (there is no train service to Farsund), and from there you can continue by bus to Lista. (The bus trip from Borhaug to Flekkefjord costs NOK139, or about $23.) If you need to travel by plane, Lista is situated between Kjevik Airport in Kristiansand and Stavanger’s Sola Airport. There are bus connections to Lyngdal from both cities/airports. Request that the bus stop in Borhaug. From there, if you have heavy luggage, you have to take a taxi to the lighthouse. Otherwise, it is possible to walk the remaining distance of 1.4 kilometers, or just under 1 mile. (See map below.)

Lista Lighthouse offers both day visits and overnight stays. Between 30,000 and 40,000 people visit the lighthouse annually. The main attraction is climbing the 112-foot (34-meter) tall tower. Accommodation at the lighthouse costs NOK700 (about $116) per night and NOK4,250 (about $705) per week.

You’ll find:

  • 3 bedrooms that sleep up to 7 people (+ two additional mattresses in each room)
  • Toilet
  • Washroom with toilet, shower, and washing machine
  • Kitchen with fridge, stove, microwave oven, coffee maker, and dishwasher
  • Living room with sofa, dining table, and TV
  • Fantastic views


Note: If you are interested in birds, a variety of migratory species pass through Lista each spring and autumn. The lighthouse Bird Station is active, and you can read more about local birding at

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