Best time to travel to Scotland

Northern Lights in Scotland

The elusive Aurora reveals itself only to the most patient

Northern Lights
Northern Lights
Northern Lights

Although Scottish lands offer excellent conditions for observing the northern lights thanks to the low light pollution, in recent times not many have had the opportunity. Such a mischance is attributed to low sunspot activity. Nevertheless, you might still be the one to catch the aurora by its shining tail.

When is the best time to see northern lights

The most suitable time to look for northern lights is winter when the skies are the darkest. On clear nights, you can see aurora borealis as early as in October. December is the month with more hours of darkness than through the rest of the year. In late March, chances to see northern lights start to decrease dramatically.

Top spots include Shetland, Orkney, Outer Hebrides, Caithness, Aberdeenshire, the Moray Coast, Rubna Hunish Skye, and also far northwest observatories like Applecross, Lochinver, Cairngorms, Angus, the Fife Coast, Rannoch Moor, and Perthshire. Scotland also has the​ only UK's dark sky park—Galloway Forest Park. The luckiest might even see the aurora in the capital city of Edinburgh by Calton Hill or Arthur’s Seat.

The Shetland Islands

The Shetland Islands, located the closest to the north pole, offer a decent chance to see the aurora. Many photographers, based in Lerwick, were able to capture the northern lights during the colder season. They even have a special name for it in Shetlands: the Mirrie Dancers, which refers to flickering of the lights in the night skies. Another name that is mentioned in Scottish Gaelic is Na Fir Chlis meaning “the Nimble Men”. According to Scottish folk tales, during winter nights Nimble Men and Merry Maidens dance in the dark skies.

The Outer Herbides

The Outer Hebrides, also called the Western Isles, are located north-west off mainland Scotland. Since the islands are not densely populated, they produce very little light pollution, which makes them a perfect spot to see aurora borealis. Pick one of the remote villages on the north coast with sea views. Lewis and Harris, the northernmost isles suit the best. North Uist, Benbecula, Berneray, and Eriskay are also good spots.

The Orkney Islands

The Orkneys, located north off the mainland, are also perfectly positioned for aurora borealis chase. Popular spots to watch the beautiful phenomenon include Birsay, a parish in the north-western part of the isles, and Rendall, which is located east of Birsay. You can also make pretty good pictures from the top of Wideford Hill or from Dingieshowe, the famous beach a place where Vikings gathered and planned their attacks.

Skye

Rubha Hunish, the northernmost point of Skye Island, is another great location to go on an aurora hunt, The area is home for many seabirds, dolphins, and otters. Rent one of the picturesque cottages on the northern coast, facing the sea. On a clear day, you get a beautiful view of the Outer Hebrides. Duntulm Castle is another beautiful location where you can photograph lights dancing in the sky.

Practical info

Can you observe the Northern Lights in Scotland and where are the best places to watch them?

The Northern Lights can be seen from almost anywhere in Scotland with little or no light pollution, although some places are better than others. To improve your chances of seeing this natural phenomenon, head to Shetland, Orkney, Outer Hebrides, Caithness, Aberdeenshire, the Moray Coast, Rubna Hunish Skye, or the far northwest observatories like Applecross, Lochinver, Cairngorms, Angus, the Fife Coast, Rannoch Moor, or Perthshire. Show more

When is the ideal time to witness the Northern Lights in Scotland?

The best time to observe the Northern Lights in Scotland is from October to March, with December being the ideal month, as it has extended hours of darkness. You can, however, witness the auroras as early as October on a clear night, without clouds or rain in the sky. Typically, the decreasing stage of the auroras is observed in March in Scotland. Show more

What are the other names for Northern Lights in Scotland?

The Northern Lights are called 'Mirrie Dancers' in Shetland and 'Na Fir Chlis' (the Nimble Men) in Scottish Gaelic. These names reflect the moving and ethereal character of the auroras, which have been a part of Scottish folklore for centuries. The legends of Nimble Men and Merry Maidens dancing under the Northern Lights on winter nights are still a part of Scottish culture. Show more

Where can you witness the Northern Lights on the Outer Hebrides of Scotland?

Due to a low level of light pollution, the Outer Hebrides is an ideal spot to experience the Northern Lights. The best spots include Lewis and Harris, the northern isles, North Uist, Berneray, Benbecula, and Eriskay. If you choose a remote coastal village, such as in Birsay and Rendall, with a sea view, your chances of witnessing the auroras are high. To get a great view, you could also view the Northern Lights from the top of Wideford Hill or Dingieshowe Beach. Show more

Which area of Skye Island in Scotland is ideal for aurora hunting?

Rubha Hunish and Duntulm Castle are the best areas on Skye Island to witness the Northern Lights. Located in the area are many seabirds, otters, and dolphins. As these spots are isolated and offer a great view of the Outer Hebrides, renting a picturesque cottage on the northern coast is highly recommended. With the accompaniment of an uninhibited view of the sea, you can also capture this magical natural phenomenon through photography. Show more

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Last updated: by Eleonora Provozin