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How to see the Northern Lights in the Highlands

If seeing the Northern Lights is on your bucket list, you might just find yourself lucky and catch a glimpse of this magnificent natural phenomenon while visiting Scotland. Believe it or not, the Highlands is on the same latitude as southern parts of Norway and Sweden, so, with a bit of planning, you might just witness this natural light display while visiting Scotland.

Caused by the collision of electrically-charged particles of the sun entering the Earth’s atmosphere, Aurora Borealis is a truly magnificent sight to see. Since the Northern Lights are dependent on solar activity, there’s no way to guarantee that you’ll see them during your visit. However, here’s some handy information to increase your chances of crossing this one off that bucket list of yours!

Northern Lights near Inverness


The ideal conditions for spotting Aurora Borealis

The ideal situation to see Northern Lights is a clear, dark night in an area free of light pollution – this means far away from big cities. That being said, Aurora Borealis have been spotted from time to time in Scottish cities like Inverness and Edinburgh. Stay up until the wee hours for a better chance to catch sight of the dancing lights.

Cold, dark nights are your best bet, so unsurprisingly, autumn and winter are the best seasons to see Northern Lights. October through March is prime time for seeing the lights in action. Ideally, you should have a clear view of the horizon to the north – this is where you’ll see the lights at first before they (hopefully) get stronger and travel overhead.

To check when you’re most likely to see the Aurora Borealis, you can sign up for alerts or simply check the likelihood of seeing the lights on any given day of your holiday. Lancashire University has a website dedicated to this. There are also apps to help you track the likelihood of witnessing the phenomenon. That being said, keep in mind that the Northern Lights can be very unpredictable: you could wind up seeing them on a night when the alert sites say it’s highly unlikely, and vice versa.

The best places to see Northern Lights in Scotland

As we already mentioned, the Northern Lights have been on occasion been seen in pretty much every corner of Scotland, from Edinburgh to Inverness. However, as the light phenomenon is one created in the polar regions of the Earth, it makes sense that the further north you are, the likelier you are to witness it.

Shetland is the most northern inhabited area of the UK, so it’s little wonder that it usually tops the list of places best for seeing the Aurora Borealis. Fun fact: the Northern Lights are referred to as the Mirrie Dancers in Shetland! Apart from Shetland, the Cairngorms, the Moray Coast, Orkney and Rannoch Moor are all top of the list for places to see the dancing lights.

If you’re visiting Inverness, your best chance to see the Northern Lights is getting slightly outside the city on a clear night. You could try driving up to Findhorn or Nairn, where you’ll have good views far ahead over the sea. Getting anywhere with a bit more elevation is also a good idea. Ord Hill is an excellent choice for this, and even if you don’t end up seeing the Northern Lights, you can enjoy spectacular views over Inverness and the Moray and Beauly Firths.

Preparing for your Aurora Borealis expedition

Once you’re on your trip, you’ve checked the weather forecast and Aurora alert sites, it’s time to go hunting for the Northern Lights! It’s best to check out the spot you’re planning to take beforehand, or at least arrive there while there’s still some daylight left so that you can easily find parking, walk to the spot and set up your camera if you’re taking photos (and why wouldn’t you?).

Remember to bundle up with plenty of warm clothes and bring a torch with you. A thermos full of something yummy and warm will help keep your spirits up as you wait. If you’re lucky enough to get phone signal in your location, you can follow live updates via Twitter and email – otherwise, you’ll have to rely on your own eyes and patience.

In this case, train your eyes on the north horizon for signs of white or grey curtains or arches hanging over the sky – this could turn into the greenish Aurora Borealis we most commonly know. Do keep in mind, though, that the colours of the Northern Lights are usually not as vibrant to the naked eye as they appear in pictures taken with long exposure times. Regardless, Aurora Borealis is a magical sight that can make your trip to Scotland all the more enchanting.

Planning your trip to the Scottish Highlands

Inverness makes for an ideal base for exploring the wider Highlands area, with the Moray Coast and the Cairngorms National Park, both known as good places to spot Aurora Borealis, within easy reach. If you need a hotel in Inverness, it’s hard to do better than the Inverness Palace Hotel & Spa. This lovely family owned hotel is ideally located in Inverness city centre, opposite Inverness Castle. It’s the perfect place to relax, in your stylish and comfortable room after a long night of Aurora Borealis chasing.

To start planning your Northern Lights adventure in the Highlands, give us a call on 01463 22 32 43 or email us to #bookdirect.


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