The Best Places to See Northern Lights in the UK
The shimmering display of atmospheric gasses known as the Northern Lights, make it onto most explorers bucket lists. While it makes for a great trip, you don’t have to travel to Iceland or Canada to see the lights; you can view them in many locations across the UK.
What are the Northern Lights?
The lights we know as the Northern Lights or Aurora Borealis are visible when solar particles interact with the Earth’s magnetic fields. It’s at the North Pole and the South Pole that the particles enter the Earth’s atmosphere and collide with gasses, causing a chemical reaction that produces a variety of glowing lights. The different colours of the lights are due to the different gasses involved in the reaction. For example, if you see green light, it’s a good bet that the reaction taking place involves oxygen.
The Northern Lights we can see in various places in the UK are actually the chemical reactions taking place in the North Pole and the South Pole.
Where to see the Northern lights in England and Wales
The Snowdonia National Park
With some of the highest peaks in Wales, the Snowdonia National Park is an International Dark Sky Reserve, just one of 12 in the world. On a clear night, you’ll be able to see the Milky Way, all of the major constellations, shooting stars and if you time it perfectly, you might just get a glimpse of the Northern Lights.
The forest-fringed lake of Llyn Geirionydd, Ty Cipar the former gamekeeper’s house set in boggy surroundings and Llyn y Dywarchen which is a popular fishing lake are among the many places to get a great night sky view.
The Brecon Beacons National Park
Designated an International Dark Sky Reserve, those visiting the Brecon Beacons National Park might be lucky enough to catch a glimpse of the Northern Lights.
An International Dark Sky Reserve is an area of land that’s kept free of artificial light pollution, making it ideal for viewing the night sky. There are lots of recommended areas in the Brecon Beacons National Park for stargazing; we recommend the National Park Visitor Centre, Usk Reservoir and Sugar Loaf Mountain.
North York Moors National Park
There are three Dark Sky Discovery Sites to choose from in the North York Moors National Park. With clear horizons and minimal light pollution, on a clear night here, you’ll be able to see all of the features of the fascinating sky.
You can often see the Northern Lights from these locations; they’re also ideal viewing points for meteor showers and annual meteorological events.
Northumberland National Park
With panoramic views over the North Sea, Northumberland is a great place to see the night sky lit up in shades of green and purple. Millions of stars light up the sky of the Northumberland International Dark Sky Park, Europe’s largest area of protected night sky.
Lake District National Park
The Lake District National Park is actively seeking recognition as a Dark Sky Reserve. Drawing stargazers from all over the world, the Lake District offers dark skies and wonderful lakeside backdrops. On the rare occasion that the Northern Lights are visible, there are some fantastic viewpoints. Grizedale Forest, the Langdale valley and Wasdale are some of the darkest and most promising locations.
Exmoor National Park
The night sky above Dunkery Beacon, the highest point in Exmoor National Park offers breath-taking views of the solar system above. Exmoor National Park was the first location in Europe to be awarded the title of International Dark Sky Reserve.
A cold, crisp winter night is the best time to view the night sky here, with less chance of humidity.
Where to see the Northern Lights in Scotland
Scotland’s proximity to the North Pole makes it one of the best places to see the Northern Lights in the UK. Around 70% of Scotland is remote rural land with minimal light pollution, making many areas ideal for seeing the lights.
Cairngorms National Park
The Cairngorms National Park is one of the best places to see the Northern Lights in the UK. Visit during October through to March for the best chance to see the Northern Lights. One of the best places to see the night sky in the Cairngorms is the Glenlivet and Tomintoul area which is accessible for all and has some of the darkest skies around.
Calton Hill Edinburgh
Home to the National Monument and the Old City Observatory, Calton Hill is a must-visit on any trip to Edinburgh. The hill provides panoramic views across the city and out to the North Sea. If the Northern Lights are particularly strong, it is possible to see them here. Weather permitting; Calton Hill is a great location to see the night sky year-round.
Where to see the Northern Lights in Northern Ireland
For an uninterrupted view of the northern horizon, head to Giant’s Causeway. The result of an ancient volcanic eruption, Giant’s Causeway is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the most popular tourist attractions in Northern Ireland.
The 40,000 stone columns are a very popular location for stargazing and catching a look at the Northern Lights.
The Northern Lights are just one of the many things to look out for in the night sky while stargazing in the UK. For more ideas of things to do while you're staying on one of our campsites, view our holiday ideas.