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Where Can You See the Northern Lights?

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The Northern Lights are one of the world’s great solar phenomenons.

But away from the Arctic Circle, lucky sky watchers can experience this once-in-a-lifetime sight along the clear, unpolluted skies of the Wild Atlantic Way.

The awe-inspiring natural light displays known as Aurora Borealis can vary in colour from pink to bright green, and are caused by collisions between electrically-charged particles from the sun that enter the Earth's atmosphere. This occurs near the magnetic poles of each hemisphere, appearing as bright, dancing particles shimmering across the night sky with an eerie glow.

Shrove Lighthouse on Insihowen Peninsula, County Donegal

Northern skies

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.” 

We asked Adam the top five questions for any traveller keen to observe this wondrous sight along the Northern Headlands. 

1. Why are the Northern Lights sometimes visible along the northerly parts of the Wild Atlantic Way?

Ireland is located between the 52nd and 55th latitudes which makes it the perfect place to see the edge of the Aurora Borealis. 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.

2. Where are the best areas on the Wild Atlantic Way to see the Northern Lights?

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. 

  • Malin Head, County Donegal

3. How can we 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 capture the Northern Lights with your camera?

Depending on the camera and lens, typically from around an 8 second exposure at iso1600 and f2.8 to 20 seconds at iso3200 and f4.0, then adjust the exposure times for 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?

As well as a camera, the Northern Lights often appear in spring and winter months, so it’s important to dress for the cold.

If Adam’s tips have inspired you, why not explore the route? For more dark sky sights check out this stunning Wild Atlantic Way attraction.

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