Can you see the Northern Lights in Scotland, UK? What 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?
When people talk about seeing the Northern Lights they tend to mean travelling to Norway, Iceland or Finland 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 view 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.
Best places to see Northern Lights in Scotland
In theory, the Northern Lights could 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” which is why the Highlands and Islands are such a great place to go. They’re also a lot cheaper to get to than Norway or Iceland and other popular places.
In the Scottish Highlands and Islands some of the best places to view the Northern Lights are:
- Isle of Skye
- Isle of Mull
- Caithness coast
- Orkney Isles
- Shetland – find accommodation on Shetland
- Outer Hebrides (also known as the Western Isles which includes Lewis, Harris, South Uist, North Uist, Benbecula, Barra, Eriskay, etc).
Check out our directory for some stunning accommodation in the Scottish Highlands & Islands to see the Northern Lights.
— Marcus McAdam (@mmcadamphoto) 15 March 2016
How to view the Northern Lights – our top tips for seeing the Northern Lights
- 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. For us last year, it was conveniently in the garden of the holiday cottage we were renting.
- 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 don’t be too fixated on taking photos, just enjoy watching the magical, shifting ribbons of colour, especially if it’s your first time.
- 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.
Northern Lights: Interesting books
- The Northern Lights: Celestial Performances of the Aurora Borealis
- Aurora: In Search of the Northern Lights
- Northern Lights: The Science, Myth, and Wonder of Aurora Borealis
- Photographing the Aurora Borealis: How to Shoot the Northern Lights
Best time of year to see Northern Lights – when can you see the Northern Lights in Scotland, UK?
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 2015 in September and locals said that was quite early as normally they wouldn’t see them until October. In the north of Scotland summer nights are very light so don’t expect to see them during the summer months.
Northern Lights Scotland forecast 2017 – 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 Northern Lights 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 last autumn. AuroraWatch UK share it’s data so you monitor geomagnetic activity in real time. So 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.
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 guide below which includes 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
Helpful resources and further reading
- Au revoir aurora: Britain to lose Northern Lights due to solar winds of change
- AuroraWatch UK also post alerts on Twitter: @AurorawatchUK and have an interesting blog
- 15 stunning photos of the Northern Lights in Scotland
Find your perfect holiday destination to see the Northern Lights in Scotland
Check out our directory for some stunning accommodation in the Scottish Highlands & Islands.
Have you seen the Northern Lights in Scotland? Please tweet us your stories and photos @holidayhighland. We never tire of looking at photos of the aurora.