Orkney northernlights: a journey to Scotland’s enchanted skies

The Phenomenon of the Aurora Borealis

The aurora borealis, or northern lights, is a celestial ballet of light dancing across the night sky, with a palette of green, pink, and violet hues. These vivid colors are the result of collisions between electrically charged particles from the sun that enter the Earth’s atmosphere. Predominantly observed in high-latitude regions around the Arctic and Antarctic, the phenomenon is a bucket-list spectacle for many stargazers and photographers alike.

Orkney’s Prime Location for Viewing the Northern Lights

Scotland’s Orkney Islands, situated off the northern coast, provide a remarkable stage for the northern lights. The archipelago’s latitude, coupled with its rural character and minimal light pollution, create ideal conditions for aurora sightings. The crisp, clear skies of winter months especially enhance the chances of witnessing this natural wonder. Understanding the science behind the aurora is key to appreciating the full splendor of the experience.

Best Time to Visit Orkney for Northern Lights

Timing your visit is crucial for maximizing your chances of seeing the northern lights in Orkney. The winter months, from October to March, are the most favorable, with the long, dark nights providing an ample window of opportunity. Solar activity, which follows an 11-year cycle known as the solar cycle, plays a significant role in the frequency and intensity of auroras, hence keeping an eye on space weather forecasts can greatly benefit planning.

Where to Go in Orkney for Aurora Viewing

Orkney boasts several prime spots for aurora watching. Choosing a location with a clear northern horizon and devoid of artificial light is crucial. Here are a few recommended locations:

  • Birsay: This coastal area offers a sweeping view of the sky above the North Sea.

  • Stromness: With its picturesque waterfront, this village provides a unique backdrop for the lights.

  • Hoy: The island’s dark skies are perfect for a night under the stars and the aurora.

  • The Italian Chapel: A historical site that, on a clear night, may offer more than just beautiful architecture.

Keep in mind that mobility and flexibility are key—being ready to move to a different spot can sometimes make all the difference in your aurora chasing adventure.

Photographing the Northern Lights in Orkney

Capturing the ethereal beauty of the aurora borealis requires patience, the right equipment, and a bit of technical know-how. A tripod is essential to keep your camera stable for long exposures, and a camera that allows manual control of ISO, aperture, and shutter speed will give you the best chances of securing a stunning image. Experimentation is the name of the game, with adjustments being made in real-time to suit the intensity and movement of the aurora.

Local Culture and Auroras

The Northern Lights have deeply influenced Orkney’s folklore and local culture. The islands are rich in ancient history, and viewing the aurora overhead can feel like a connection to the past. Local residents often share tales and viewing tips, adding to the communal aspect of aurora chasing. Visiting local businesses and taking part in tours can enrich your experience, supporting the community while learning about their heritage.

Preparing for Your Aurora Adventure

Being well-prepared for a night out under the Orkney skies can make the difference between an enjoyable aurora experience and a disappointing one. It’s crucial to dress warmly, in layers that can handle the often frigid temperatures. Checking aurora forecasts, such as those provided by the Space Weather Prediction Center, and having access to real-time aurora alerts can also improve your chances of a sighting.

Conservation and Sustainable Aurora Tourism

While chasing the northern lights is a dream for many, it is important to approach this experience with a sense of stewardship and respect for nature. Sustainable tourism practices help ensure that the beauty of the auroras and the pristine environments from which they’re viewed can be enjoyed by future generations. Being mindful of one’s environmental impact while visiting Orkney—such as by staying on marked paths, reducing waste, and considering eco-friendly accommodation options—contributes to conservation efforts.


In summary, the northern lights are an awe-inspiring natural phenomenon that can be observed in the Orkney Islands with careful planning and a dash of luck. The combination of geographical advantage, cultural heritage, and community spirit makes Orkney a premier destination for both seasoned aurora enthusiasts and first-time sky watchers. Remember to travel responsibly, with an awareness of weather conditions, local advice, and environmental considerations. An adventure to Scotland’s enchanted skies is not just about witnessing the dance of the aurora borealis—it’s about immersing yourself in the wonder of the universe and the charm of Orkney’s celestial theatre.