‘The Northern Lights’ are undoubtedly one of the world’s great solar phenomenons. But if you're not prepared to venture to the Arctic Circle, where can you see the Northern Lights? Lucky sky-watchers can experience this incredible and unusual sight right along the clear, unpolluted skies of the Wild Atlantic Way.
The natural light displays known as Aurora Borealis, which can vary across many colours from pink to bright green, are caused by collisions between electrically charged particles from the sun that enter the Earth's atmosphere. The phenomenon occurs near the magnetic poles of each hemisphere as bright, dancing particles that shimmer across the night sky with an eerie glow.
Northern Skies: where to see the northern lights
In recent years, Ireland’s North West has seen significant activity of this wonder as sky-gazers and photographers have increasingly flocked to witness these incredible displays. Though for photographer and Inishowen-native Adam Rory Porter, the Northern Lights have always graced the night skies of his hometown. “Talking about it among the older generation, it was common around Buncrana and Malin Head, it was just part of the night sky. There was no light pollution then and the locals thought nothing of it”.
Always wanted to see the Northern Lights for yourself? We asked Adam the top five questions of any traveller keen to observe this wondrous sight along these Northern Headlands.
1. What gives the northerly spots on the Wild Atlantic way such potential for Northern Lights visibility?
Ireland is located between the 52nd and 55th Latitudes which makes it right on the edge of the High Latitude and the perfect place to see the edge of the Aurora Borealis/Northern Lights. While countries like Iceland and Norway often see the lights above them we get a beautiful view of them on or above the Northern horizon, dancing in across the skies.
2. Where are the best regions on the Wild Atlantic Way to see great Northern Lights activity?
The most consistent regions are the most Northern, because even a relatively small show can be seen from the likes of Malin Head to Dunree Head in the Inishowen Peninsula to Fanad Head, the Rosguil Peninsula and beyond all the way around to Glencolmcille and Sliabh Liag. So if you're wondering 'exactly where are the Northern Lights?', the fact is when we get a large showing, you can see them all the way from Donegal to Cork!
3. What tips can you share to see the Northern Lights at their best?
Anytime after dark when there is activity, away from light pollution caused by streetlights or large buildings and with a clear view Northwards is best. But at times, like in the higher latitudes, they can appear above you or even behind you!
4. How do you create the best Northern Lights photography with your camera?
Camera settings can vary, but from around an 8 second exposure at iso1600 and f2.8 to 20 seconds at iso3200 and f4.0, depending on the camera and lens. Each situation can be very different, but if you begin there and adjust the exposure times you should get great results. Don’t forget a tripod to steady your camera. Keep torch use and light use to a minimum or you may ruin yours or others’ photos with stray light.
5. What should you bring when out viewing Northern Lights activity?
Often the Northern Lights appear in spring and winter months, so it’s important to dress for the cold. Gloves and a hat to cover your ears, plus a good coat is essential. If you have your car nearby, you can use it for shelter. Keep the engine running for warmth, but keep your lights off and your mobile phone dimmed as much as possible. It will help your eyes stay more accustomed to the darkness and also help to let other viewers and photographers enjoy their viewing experience.
Aurora Borealis at Malin Head, County Donegal
Northern lights dance in the night skies of Inishowen, County Donegal
If Adam’s travel tips have inspired you, why not explore the route? Make sure to cast your eye over our comprehensive guide on what to pack for your next Wild Atlantic Way trip, too!
For more dark sky sights check out this stunning Wild Atlantic Way attraction.