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Can You Really See the Northern Lights from SCOTLAND?

can you see northern lights from scotland

Scotland is often cited as one of the best places to glimpse Northern Lights, but with the country located more south, we were skeptical. In this article, we dig into the real likelihood of seeing northern lights from Scotland, and whether it deserves a spot on the aurora ‘best of’ lists.

There is nothing more mesmerizing than watching the northern lights as they dance across the night skies. Every year, hundreds of thousands of travelers make their way to places like Canada, Alaska, Norway, and other far-north countries to view the natural phenomenon. But what about countries south of the arctic circle, such as Scotland?

In today’s article, we answer the question ‘Can you see the Northern Lights in Scotland?’, and if so, what is the likelihood of actually seeing them.

Visibility of Northern Lights from Scotland

Can You See the Northern Lights in Scotland?

Scotland and The Auroral Oval

As a general rule, hunting for the aurora borealis within the auroral oval will give you the greatest chance of capturing a glimpse of the ghostly lights. The auroral oval is located within the northern polar region and encompasses all of the Arctic Circle and a large portion of Canada and Alaska.

Scotland is not located within the auroral oval, but it is very close to the edge. Although the chances of viewing the northern lights increase dramatically as you get closer to the North Pole, Scotland nevertheless offers an excellent advantage.

In the northernmost part of the country including the Orkney and Shetland Islands, it is possible to view the auroras during most of the solar cycle due to the naturally dark skies in the region. But, you’ll still need to plan your trip around a few essential factors including month and geomagnetic conditions, which we’ll discuss further down.

Scotland’s Unique Advantage

Although Scotland may not be located within the auroral oval like other popular destinations, it provides visitors with a couple of unique advantages over any other destination. Considering that Scotland is further south, it tends to be a bit warmer than it is in northern countries like Iceland and Norway, during the peak of the winter months.

The northern coastal islands provide a stunning backdrop for those hunting for the elusive lights and offer picturesque views that provide an amazing opportunity for celestial photographers. Furthermore, the position of the Shetland and Orkney Islands means there is loads of darkness in the northern skies with extremely low light pollution, and better aerial visibility compared with many other locations.

best place for northern lights from scotland is shetland islands
The best place for seeing northern lights from Scotland is the Shetland Islands (pictured is Lerwick, Shetland Islands).

Essential Factors for Viewing Aurora Borealis in Scotland

You don’t have to go north to view the elusive lights, because they can be seen as far south as Scotland during the peak of the solar cycle. However, there are several factors to take into consideration when it comes to capturing a glimpse of the northern lights from Scotland, which include timing, geomagnetic activity, as well as solar activity.


Timing plays a pivotal role in determining how well you can view the northern lights from Scotland. The best time to view the lights is during the winter months when the nights are at their longest.

This means, that you should make your way up to Orkney Islands or Shetland Islands towards the end of September until the earliest part of April. During this time of year, the nights are extremely long as well as cold, which provides the perfect conditions for viewing the elusive lights.

Geomagnetic Conditions

You cannot have the aurora borealis without the earth’s magnetosphere. For the creation of the northern lights, solar radiation must pass over and around the Earth’s magnetic field, charging it much like that of a fluorescent light bulb. When there is a higher level of geomagnetic activity, it’s easier to charge the atmospheric particles, allowing the lights to be seen further south in places like Scotland.

Since Scotland is located south of the auroral oval, it is important to pay attention to the geomagnetic conditions, as the northern lights are much less likely to be visible from Scotland when geomagnetic activity is low. The best way to monitor geomagnetic activity is through a good northern lights app like those listed in that article.

Another good source is the NASA 30 minute forecast, which shows the activity on a visual map.

Solar Activity

The number one factor in determining whether the elusive lights will make an appearance is the level of solar activity. The sun operates on an 11-year pattern, which peaks out at what has become known as the solar maximum.

During the solar maximum, the amount of activity on the surface of the sun increases exponentially, resulting in large amounts of radiation being ejected into the solar system. This radiation travels through space creating the solar winds, and as the particles travel around the earth’s magnetosphere, they charge the particles in the upper atmosphere.

To ensure that you get the best viewing opportunities possible, you will want to plan your trip around one of the years that coincides with the peak of the solar cycle. In this current solar cycle, the peak is 2024-2026, so now is a good time. For more info, check out our article on choosing the best year for aurora borealis based on solar cycle.


To increase your chances of seeing the northern lights from Scotland, you need to make your way to the most northern part of the country that you can manage. This is because the closer we get to the Arctic, the more vivid the aurora displays will be. Next, we’ll share the best locations in Scotland to target.

Where to See Northern Lights from Scotland

Best Destinations for Chasing Northern Lights from Scotland

Although there are many excellent destinations within Scotland for viewing the northern lights, not all of them are created equal. Here are some of the best destinations within the country to hunt for the elusive lights, when the geomagnetic conditions are right for it.

Scotland DestinationLatitude (approx.)
Shetland Islands60.5°N
Orkney Islands59°N
Isle of Skye57.5°N
Cairngorms National Park57°N

Shetland Islands

The Shetland Islands are uniquely isolated in the far northern reaches of the country. Thanks to their location at a higher latitude than the rest of the country, they offer an amazing vantage point for those wishing to capture a glimpse of the northern lights from Scotland. Their location from shore, and low population, ensures that light pollution is virtually nonexistent, which only helps to improve the chances of viewing some of the most awe-inspiring vistas imaginable. There are countless lookout points located along the northern shores of the islands, where one will have an unobstructed view of the northern horizon.

Orkney Islands

Just like the Shetland Islands, the Orkney Islands also offer a unique viewing opportunity for those wishing to view the aurora borealis in Scotland. One distinct advantage that the Orkney Islands offers to visitors, is the rich history and countless landmarks located throughout the islands. The ancient and historical sites provide a romantic setting for those wishing to experience the auroras with someone special. The islands also offer photographers countless opportunities to capture amazing images of historic sites with the stars and the northern lights as a backdrop.


Although the Shetland Islands and Orkney Islands are located far north of the mainland, it is still possible to view the elusive lights from the Scottish shoreline, when you make your way to Caithness. Caithness is situated in the northernmost part of the Scottish mainland, which makes it a much more accessible destination for those wishing to capture a glimpse of the ghostly lights as they dance through the night skies.

Isle of Skye

If you are looking for a picturesque destination that provides the most dramatic landscapes for capturing the northern lights on film, then look no further than the Isle of Skye. Although not as far north as other destinations including the Shetland or Orkney Islands, the Isle of Skye is well known for its clear skies throughout the winter months, making it an excellent destination that offers increased chances of viewing the elusive lights. Due to its nearly perfect wintertime weather, the Isle of Skye is a popular option for those wishing to view the heavens above.

you can see the aurora borealis in scotland cairngorms
You can see the aurora borealis in Scotland Cairngorms National Park (pictured) during periods of high geomagnetic activity.

Cairngorms National Park

Many adventurers around the world, choose to make their way to national parks to view the northern lights. Those who choose to visit Scotland are no different, as the Cairngorms National Park is not only the largest national Park in Scotland, but is also one of the most popular destinations for aurora hunters in the country. The park is in a remote location, and its elevation ensures that the amount of light pollution is minimized dramatically. This provides visitors to the park with the perfect aurora viewing conditions throughout the winter.


When chasing the northern lights, most aurora enthusiasts are aware of the golden rule of staying within the Arctic Circle. This is because northern lights activity is concentrated in an area called the Auroral Oval around the north pole, which is roughly in line with the Artic Circle.

For the best chance of seeing the Northern Lights, we and other aurora borealis hunters always recommend staying within the Auroral Oval, that is, north of the Arctic Circle. And certainly, if you are planning a vacation specifically to see the Northern Lights, you should too.

For this reason, we can’t really recommend Scotland as being one of the best destinations for viewing the Northern Lights in the world, simply because of its placement well outside the Auroral Oval. To put it into context, the northernmost point of Scotland is around 60°N latitude, while it’s generally advised that northern lights be hunted at latitude 66.5°N and above.

Even despite Scotland’s advantages such as dark skies, the proximity to the auroral oval is just a bit too far to make it a ‘best northern lights’ destination. It’s not bad, just not the best.

Yes, you can see Northern Lights from Scotland, but only during periods of high geomagnetic activity.

When the solar cycle is at its peak, it is possible to view the aurora borealis from several locations further south of the auroral oval including Scotland. The best advice for seeing northern lights from Scotland is to keep an eye on the aurora forecasts and choose to travel on a year that coincides with the solar cycle peak as this is more likely to bring strong geomagnetic activity.

If you are planning a vacation specifically to view the northern lights, our best advice is to head into one of the Nordic European countries instead, such as Iceland, Norway, Sweden or Finland, or Greenland. You can learn more in our Northern Lights Europe articles section.

Happy aurora hunting!

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