One of the most incredible natural displays, northern lights, is typically associated with Scandinavia and Canada. However, if you get lucky, the lights can be seen throughout the north of the UK, like Northumberland and the Lake District. Scotland is where you have the biggest chances to see northern lights, especially the Scottish Highlands or Scottish Isles. Northern Wales and Northern Ireland are also good destinations for aurora chasers.
The best time to see northern lights
The most suitable period to look for the stunning northern lights in the UK is from late September to March. For higher chances to witness the lights on your visit, subscribe to the AuroraWatch UK alerts by the Lancaster University. The autumn equinox, which always happens in September, is considered to be a good time to witness the phenomenon due to geomagnetic and solar activity. December has the shortest days, hence there are more hours of darkness than during the rest of the year. Spring equinox also increases chances to see the aurora. In late March, however, these changes start to decrease dramatically. Light pollution and cloudiness are the main obstacles for aurora chasers in the UK.
Thanks to the absence of light pollution and the fact that Northern Scotland lies at the same latitude as Nunivak Island, Alaska, or Stavanger, Norway, it is the perfect location to spot northern lights. Top spots to see Northern Lights include Shetland, Orkney, Outer Hebrides, as well as Caithness, Aberdeenshire, the Moray Coast, Rubna Hunish in 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. It's possible to see the aurora even in Edinburgh by Calton Hill or Arthur’s Seat.
Under some circumstances, it's also possible to enjoy Northern Lights in England, particularly in Northumberland, The Lake District, Cornwall, and Oxfordshire. The Lake District is an excellent area to start with. Derwentwater, near Keswick, is one of the favorite locations for aurora borealis chasers since the local lake serves as a perfect backdrop for stunning pictures. Northumberland hosts the International Dark Sky Park, Europe’s largest area of the protected night sky, an ideal spot for observing northern lights and stargazing. Exmoor National Park in Devon and Cornish coastline are also popular areas.
Anglesey is one of top northern lights destinations in Wales. The island, located off the north-west Welsh coast in the Irish Sea, consists of Holy Island to the west and a few smaller islets. Anglesey is sometimes lucky to have aurora borealis in its skies, especially at times of autumn and spring equinoxes. The Brecon Beacons is another good spot to go on an aurora hunt. A mountain range and National Park is located in South Wales. It includes South Wales' highest peak, Pen y Fan. It also serves as a designated International Dark Sky Reserve. The Brecon Beacons National Park can be easily reached from Cardiff in less than one hour.
In Northern Ireland, the lights are best viewed from the Antrim coastline that offers a clear view of the northern horizon over the Malin Sea. Some of the popular photography spots along the shore are Downhill Demesne on the North Coast and the ruins of Dunluce castle creating an excellent backdrop of the lights.
Sperrin Mountains is another popular spot that gives some advantage due to elevation. This is one of the largest upland areas in Northern Ireland. Lough Fea Lake nestled in the mountains looks stunning with the reflection of northern lights. On the south-east edge of the Sperrin Range, there is one more exceptionally scenic spot: Beaghmore stone circles, located just 8.5 mi(13 km) north-west of Cookstown, in Tyrone County.
It is mostly impossible to see northern lights in London unless you get extremely lucky. Light pollution and geographical position of UK's capital leave little chances to spot aurora borealis in London's sky.
Where are the best locations in the UK for Northern Lights sightings?
Scotland is the ultimate Northern Lights destination in the United Kingdom. Remote areas of the Scottish Highlands and Isles, Shetland, Orkney, Outer Hebrides, and Aberdeenshire promise some of the best aurora borealis experiences. Other regions like Caithness, Moray Coast, Rubna Hunish in Skye, Angus, the Fife Coast, Lochinver, Cairngorms, Rannoch Moor, and Perthshire are also worth visiting. Northumberland, the Lake District, Anglesey, Antrim Coast and the Sperrin Mountains are good alternatives, but with a lower likelihood of spotting the aurora. Show more
What is the best time to visit the UK for a chance to see Northern Lights?
Late September to March is the optimal time to see the Northern Lights in the United Kingdom. This period presents the highest solar and geomagnetic activity. In September, the autumn equinox adds to the appeal of this natural spectacle, but December has longer dark hours, which increase the chances of aurora sightings. Another peak time is the March equinox, which also brings heightened geomagnetic activity. Incidentally, late March is when the odds of spotting the Northern Lights start to decline markedly. Show more
Do Northern Lights occur in England, Wales and Northern Ireland?
Northern Lights phenomena can happen in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, but the chances are meager compared to Scotland. The Lake District and Northumberland Dark Sky Reserve in England offer beautiful skies, while Anglesey is considered one of the prime Welsh spots for aurora borealis sightings. Dunluce Castle ruins or Lough Fea Lake situated in the Sperrin Mountains are the top Northern Ireland locations to see the Northern Lights' enchanting atmospheric display. Show more
What can be done to increase the chance of seeing Northern Lights in the UK?
One way to heighten the chances of spotting the aurora borealis is to select a location with low light pollution. As these natural lights occur with magnetic activity, the local geomagnetic weather forecast is also relevant. September's autumn equinox and December's longer dark hours improve the odds of viewing the Northern Lights in the UK. Signing up for AuroraWatch UK alerts, which utilizes Lancaster University data, can provide frequent Northern Lights notifications. Show more
Is there a possibility to see Northern Lights in London?
Due to high light pollution and geography, it is improbable to see Northern Lights in London. To witness this beguiling natural phenomenon, travelling to other areas of the United Kingdom's north, such as Scotland, Northumberland, Anglesey in Wales, Antrim coastline and Sperrin Mountains in Northern Ireland, is necessary. While these areas offer slightly brighter prospects, observing Northern Lights is still a rare event. Show more