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The Northern Lights above Loch Melfort Hotel, Oban, Scotland

The allure of witnessing the Northern Lights, or Aurora Borealis, dancing across the night sky is a dream for many of us. Particularly here in Scotland, where there’s been heightened anticipation that 2024 could be the best year in over a decade to witness this spectacular natural phenomenon.

Let’s jump in and explore the potential of seeing the Northern Lights in the Scottish Highlands. We’ll look at sighting predictions, and circumstances to boost your chances, and even delve into the use of apps to elevate your Aurora-hunting escapade.

Can You See the Northern Lights in the Scottish Highlands?

Scotland is indeed one of the fortunate locations where the Northern Lights can be observed, particularly in the Highlands and islands. The ethereal display of colours in the night sky is breathtaking, a sight unlike any other that draws photographers, nature enthusiasts, and adventure seekers from all over. Of course, the key to experiencing this celestial show is knowing when and where to look.

Predicting the Northern Lights in Scotland

News has been buzzing about 2024 being an exceptional year for viewing the Northern Lights in Scotland. Scientists attribute this to a peak in solar activity, increasing the likelihood of vibrant auroras gracing the skies. The Scottish Highlands, with its minimal light pollution and expansive vistas, becomes an ideal canvas for this celestial spectacle, and we’re here for it!

It might be useful to understand what causes the aurora to happen. In simple terms, it’s an interaction between charged particles from the sun and the Earth’s magnetic field and atmosphere.

To predict the Northern Lights, it’s vital to keep an eye on solar forecasts and sunspot activity, which contribute to increased auroral activity. This might sound complicated to most of us, but don’t fret, websites like SpaceWeatherLive and the Space Weather Prediction Centre make it easier to understand by providing real-time data on solar storms and geomagnetic conditions.

Other websites like AuroraWatch UK or the Geophysical Institute’s Aurora Forecast offer predictions and valuable resources. Keeping a watchful eye on these indicators offers insights into the potential visibility of the Northern Lights in the coming days. It’s not so tricky after all!

Increasing Your Chances of Seeing the Northern Lights

While the Northern Lights can be unpredictable, there are ways to increase your chances of catching this magical display:

  • Choose the Right Time: Winter, with its long nights and clear skies, is considered a favourable month for Northern Lights sightings in the Scottish Highlands. Plan your visit during periods of high solar activity for an increased chance of witnessing the auroras.
  • Optimal Locations: Seek locations away from urban areas to minimise light pollution. The Scottish Highlands, with its remote and sparsely populated areas, provide excellent opportunities for clear views of the night sky.
  • Stay Informed: Stay updated on weather conditions and Aurora forecasts. Cloud cover can obstruct the view, so choose nights with clear skies for your Northern Lights adventure.
  • Look North: It goes without saying that peering north will improve your chances of catching the Northern Lights. But how do you find north without a compass? Search for the North Star! Also known as Polaris, this star isn’t always as easy to find as some may think – it’s actually not the brightest star in the sky (though still fairly bright). If you’re finding it difficult to locate, take a look for the Plough (also known as the Big Dipper). There are two stars at the end of it that, when you draw an imaginary line through and follow upwards, will lead you to the North Star.
  • Bring Equipment: While the Northern Lights are always impressive on camera, a lot of people don’t realise that they can often be quite difficult to see with the naked eye. A camera, especially one with a good ‘Nighttime’ mode, will be able to help you spot them. For even better photographs, bring a tripod for a shake-free, blur-free capture.
  • Wrap Up Warm: The Northern lights can be unpredictable and will flare across different colour spectrums and times as you watch them. At their best performance across Loch Melfort Hotel last year, they flared for more than an hour in freezing cold temperatures close to midnight. If you want to enjoy them, bring cosy clothing to ensure you’re comfortable during their display.
Purple Northern Lights in the West Scottish Highlands

Purple Northern Lights captured right above our hotel in April 2023

Is There an App to See the Northern Lights in Scotland?

In the age of technology, there are indeed apps that can improve your chances of witnessing the Northern Lights. These apps provide real-time information on aurora forecasts, helping you plan sightings more effectively. Some popular apps include:

  • Aurora Forecast: This app provides real-time data on the aurora forecast, including the probability of sightings in your location.
  • My Aurora Forecast & Alerts: Offering notifications for potential aurora activity, this app also provides a map showing the expected visibility areas.
  • Northern Eye Aurora Forecast: Tailored for Scottish locations, this app offers accurate forecasts and maps to guide you to the best spots for viewing the Northern Lights.

Best Places to See Northern Lights in Scotland

While the entire Scottish Highlands offers fantastic opportunities for Northern Lights viewing, there are specific locations renowned for their optimal conditions:

  • Isle of Skye: Known for its dramatic landscapes, the Isle of Skye provides a stunning backdrop for the Northern Lights, especially during periods of high solar activity.
  • Cairngorms National Park: Shares a latitude with Norway and Alaska and is one of the darkest places in the UK with minimal light pollution, making it an ideal spot for aurora enthusiasts. Tomintoul and Glenlivet are among the best viewing places, both awarded gold-tier Dark Sky Park status by the International Dark-Sky Association.
  • Loch Ness: The iconic Loch Ness, with its tranquil waters and surrounding hills, serves as a picturesque setting for Northern Lights photography. Other hot spots in the Inverness area include Clava Cairns and the Black Isle.
  • Craobh Marina: If you’re staying at Loch Melfort hotel and have time to hop in the car to catch the lights across the waters, our guests picked up some incredible images from Craobh Marina in 2023. The marina is located just under 3 miles south from us, a 5-minute whhip down the road in the car.
  • Loch Meflort Hotel Boat House: If, like us, you’re planning to tear into the grounds in your pyjamas as soon as your App alerts start sounding, our team were able to capture some colourful shots across the hotel from the bottom of our garden, just before the Boat House.
The Northern Lights captured across Oban and Craobh Marina

The Northern Lights from Craobh Marina, captured by our team member Peter

Northern Lights at Loch Melfort Hotel

In 2023, we witnessed an extraordinary year of Northern Lights sightings and a few of our guests were lucky enough to catch a glimpse from our grounds.

As we look forward to 2024, expectations are high for an even more spectacular Northern Lights display. We’ve crafted the perfect Cosy Winter Offer for you to experience it in style. Enjoy an overnight stay in a Sea View Room with a dinner allowance and a full Scottish breakfast.