Can you see the Northern Lights in Scotland? What are the Northern Lights? When is the best time to see the Northern Lights? Where is the best place to see Northern Lights in Scotland? Need tips on how to view the aurora borealis in Scotland?
When people talk about seeing the Northern Lights they tend to mean travelling to somewhere like Norway to see them. You can actually see the Northern Lights in the UK and Scotland is one of the best places to see the Northern Lights (also known as the aurora borealis).
Photo: Maria Macdonald, Taigh Mairi Anndra self-catering holiday cottage, South Uist
Read our top tips on how to view the Northern Lights and then take a holiday to Scotland to see this breath-taking natural spectacle before it’s too late. Aurora may not be visible from the UK by the middle of the century according to research by the University of Reading in January 2017. So make 2018 or 2019, the year you see the Northern Lights in Scotland.
Best places to see the Northern Lights in Scotland
So where can you see the Northern Lights in Scotland? In theory, the Northern Lights can be seen anywhere within the UK if geomagnetic conditions are very active. Usually, it’s the north of the UK which gives you the best chance of seeing the “mirrie dancers”. This is why Scotland’s Highlands and Islands are such a great place to stay to see the Northern Lights. They’re also a lot cheaper to get to than Norway or Iceland and other popular places.
Some of the best places to see the Northern Lights in Scotland’s Highlands and Islands are:
Isle of Coll
The Isle of Coll is proud to be a Dark Sky Island The Coll community has rejected the introduction of street lighting making it one of the best places to observe for star-gazing and aurora-watching.
Isle of Skye
There are 9 Dark Skye discovery sites on Skye so you’re spoilt for choice when it comes to finding somewhere without light pollution.
Isle of Mull
Caithness coast and Sutherland
In Shetland they call the Northern Lights the “mirrie dancers” which is a perfect name for these dancing ribbons of light.
The Outer Hebrides is a fantastic place to see the Northern Lights in Scotland and I’ve been fortunate to see them several times whilst on holiday on North Uist. This island chain has little light pollution so take your pick from Lewis, Harris, South Uist, North Uist, Benbecula, Barra, Eriskay.
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The area of Moray is one of the more southerly areas where you might have a good chance of seeing the Northern Lights in Scotland. Moray’s Astronomy Club, Sigma, sometimes runs public aurora watching sessions.
Wester Ross coast (eg. Gairloch area)
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The aurora stretching from the summit of Tom na Gruagaigh to the summit of Sgurr Mor on Beinn Alligin, Wester Ross. The lights in the center are from Gairloch and further away are the ones from Stormowayvsnd the Western Isles. What a great night to be on a mountain! #beinnalligin #summitcamp #summit #auroraborealis #nightsky #moonlit #westerross #explore_scotland_ #scotland_greatshots #munro #scottishmountains #igscotland #thisisscotland #nikond750 #visitscotland #nc500 #visitwesterross #grahambradshawphotography
Ullapool and surrounding area
Scotland Northern Lights holidays
Great Little Breaks have some short break holidays at locations in Scotland suitable for seeing the Northern Lights
Check out our directory for some stunning holiday accommodation in the Scottish Highlands & Islands to see the Northern Lights.
How to view the Northern Lights – our top tips for increasing your chances of seeing the Northern Lights
- It needs to be a night with increased solar activity – we list some ways to find out when the Northern Lights may be seen below.
- It needs to be a clear night – you may be able to still see them through broken cloud but if you can’t see the stars then you won’t see the northern lights.
- Find a dark location away from light pollution from street lights, cars and buildings. The lack of large cities and towns in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland means you won’t have to go far to find your perfect spot.
- A full moon will also make the northern lights difficult to see.
- Look north but be aware that if there are high levels of geomagnetic activity you should check in all directions.
- Wrap up warm and take a flask of tea or a hip flask of your favourite single malt (as long as you don’t have to drive!).
- Although everyone would love to capture amazing images of the Northern Lights we suggest that you don’t be too fixated on taking photos, just enjoy watching the magical, shifting ribbons of colour, especially if it’s your first time. Be aware that our eyes don’t see such bright, vivid colours that are captured by a camera. This means photos of the aurora are normally more impressive than what you will see live.
- Preserve your night vision by using a torch with a red light instead of white light. White light negatively affects your night vision. Torches with red lights are available from Amazon.
- Be patient. The best times to view are generally between 9pm and 12am so be prepared to wait. There will be some incredible night skies and shooting stars to look at while you wait.
- Don’t give up. If you don’t see them the first time, keep on trying. When you do see them it will be worth it!
Best time of year to see Northern Lights in Scotland – when can you see the Northern Lights in Scotland?
So when is the best time to see the Northern Lights in Scotland? The Northern Lights don’t appear on set dates each year. The aurora are only visible in dark skies so the best time of year to see the Northern Lights in Scotland is the autumn and winter months. We saw them in September in 2015 and 2017. Locals said that was quite early as normally they wouldn’t see them until October.
Can you see the Northern Lights in the summer?
The Northern Lights can happen at any time of year but because summer nights are very light in the north of Scotland (and the rest of the aurora-watching places) it’s virtually impossible to see them during the summer months.
Best months to see the Northern Lights
A clear, dark winter night can give you breath-taking views of this display. As a general guide, we recommend:
We don’t suggest you plan a holiday to see the Northern Lights in the months of:
- June – the longest day is 21 June when there is very little darkness
Although there is still a chance you may see the aurora if it’s dark enough at night, if your main aim is to see them, you’re best to avoid these months.
Northern Lights Scotland forecast 2019 / 2018 – will I see the Northern Lights tonight?
For a Northern Lights forecast in the UK, there is AuroraWatch UK, part of Lancaster University, which provides free alerts when the aurora borealis may be visible from the UK including Scotland’s Highlands and Islands. I use their free smartphone app which I discovered when on holiday north of Ullapool in 2015. AuroraWatch UK share it’s data so you monitor geomagnetic activity in real time.
If you want to know whether you’ll see the Northern Lights in Scotland or the UK tonight, check out the latest info below which is direct from the AuroraWatch website.
Video – See the Northern Lights in Scotland
Watching this short film will give you an idea of the kind of thing that you should look out for when you’re watching the aurora borealis.
How to photograph the Northern Lights
Taking photographs of the Northern Lights can be tricky but worthwhile because the camera sees the aurora better than the human eye. Check out the guides below which include equipment, camera settings and more and don’t forget to share your photos with us on social media.
- Northern Lights Photography – the definitive guide by Dave Morrow
- How to photograph the Northern Lights – a good beginner’s guide from Photography Life
Resources and further reading
- Follow @AurorawatchUK on Twitter for alerts and news
- Great Little Breaks have some short break holidays at locations suitable for seeing the Northern Lights
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