The Blog

Hunting the heavens for the Northern Lights

OK. Let me start by predicting that if what you’re about to read has not yet made it onto your bucket list, it will most definitely bump all other things right down to the bottom once you’ve read this. Or at least, it will leave you with itchy feet and that uncontrollable urge to travel and chase it down yourself. Either way, let me introduce you to the Northern Lights.

As the crisp, clear months of winter are fast approaching and the hours of darkness increase the further north you travel, this season is a gala occasion to experience the phenomenal masterpiece of brightly glowing sky known as the Northern Lights, aka the Aurora Borealis.

Named after Aurora (the Roman goddess of dawn) and Boreas (the Greek name for north wind), the birth of this amazing spectacle takes place on the Sun when electrically charged particles emanate and travel in solar winds towards Earth, where they collide with the magnetic fields of the Earth’s atmosphere and set the night sky alive with dancing, curtain-like rainbows of lights.

Ranging from green rippling ribbons to blue swirling, smoke-like dances, to whirling purple arches and diffuse silky luminescence – it comes in all colours, shapes and patterns.

It’s wondrous. It’s dramatic. It’s simply surreal.

Take a look at the amazing Northern Lights photos that our fans shared with us at the end of February 2014 when the phenomenon lit up skies across Scotland.

Northern Lights light up skies across Scotland - February 2014

Northern Lights light up skies across Scotland – February 2014


Northern Lights © Fay Vincent

The Northern Lights © Fay Vincent

Now that you know the science behind this striking visual wonder, did you also know that northern Scotland is renowned as one of the top places in the world to go Northern Light hunting? Benefiting from the same latitude as Stavenger in Norway and Nunivak Island in Alaska, it means that without spending a fortune, you’re in with a good chance of spotting one.

Add to this the fact that the strength of auroral activity this winter is predicted to bring one of the brightest Northern Lights displays in 50 years due to the ‘twin peaks’ patter of the ‘Solar Maximum’ (according to NASA), you shouldn’t need more reasons to start planning your Scottish adventure with the ‘Mirrie Dancers’, as they’re known in Shetland.


The northern reaches of Scotland – including Shetland and around the Caithness coast as well as Orkney and the Outer Hebrides. In fact, it can be seen anywhere in Scotland where the light pollution is at a minimum.


Autumn and winter are the prime seasons for spotting the Northern Lights – nights need to be cold and the sky clear of clouds with a chance of increased solar activity. Staying up until the wee hours of the morning may also help. You can keep an eye on the Aurora Forecast from Aurora Watch UK which offers notifications on increased auroral activity by free text message alerts.

Check out more facts about the Northern Lights.

Northern Lights © Fay Vincent

The Northern Lights © Fay Vincent

Don’t forget to plan what else you’ll want to see and do in Scotland when you’re not staring up at the night sky imploring the spectacle to occur.

Oh, and don’t forget to pack up something warm – it may be a bit nippy – and your camera, because how else are you going to share your dazzling images of this fantastic phenomenon with us @VisitScotland?

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Aldona Krzemien

Originally from Poland, she's now based in Edinburgh and can't imagine life without four things: travels, photography, fishing for antiques and haggis! Motto: ‘I haven’t been everywhere, but it’s on my list’ - Susan Sontag


  • Cheoy Lee

    I had no idea that you could possibly see the Northern lights from Scotland! Some beautiful images here, I’d love to see them more than anything, so it’s a joy to hear that they are closer to home than you’d think!

  • Tina Somberg-Buiks

    So close to home and a possibiity for everone to watch this phenomenon!

  • Alan Howarth

    Well we in the North East of England and went up to Scotland a few months back to see if we could see them, Lock Leven and St Andrews but it was a no go.. Hopefully going back up this month or next to see if there is any joy..

  • NK

    We will be in the north of scotland 20th Feb. Is there any chance we would see the norten lights?

  • Lynn Scott

    really wanna see the Northern Lights. when and where is the best time. Looking to plan for this year

  • Many Scottish Northern Lights chasers use our aurora forecast tools here: Everybody is welcome to do so. With a bit of experience forecasting when the northern lights will show up is quite easy. I’ve seen some great pics from Caithness and Western Isles last aurora season.

  • Sandra

    I want to go there 2016. Where can i get information about routs, low-cost hostels and tours? I want to have an adventure trip and know a lot of people.

  • kathryn james

    Can anyone recommend the best place in northern scotland to see the northern lights or where they have been seen the most. Looking to go this winter.

    • Hi Kathryn, there are many locations in Scotland that are potentially good places to see the Aurora. You can really see the Northern Lights anywhere, but generally the further north you are, the greater your chances. And while viewings in the north may be more frequent, sightings in the Central Belt and even in the south of the country do occur. The map from Aurora Watch UK… is a great starting point to deciding where to go, and it also offers Aurora alerts. Remember though – if you travel to an area that’s likely to experience the merry dancers, choose a spot that is shielded from nearby light pollution! Hope this helps 🙂

    • Brent Wilfort

      Just spent a few days at Durness. Lights clearly visible on two consecutive nights. Speaking to locals it is a regular occurrence. some pictures we took

  • Emily Dixon

    I am wanting to get my partner for Christmas a weekend break away to hopefully see the Northern Lights for January 2016. What times in January (beginning or end) are the best for us to see them at that time?

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