With a basic sense of geography, it might seem easy to guess where the northern lights are visible. Places like Sweden, Greenland, and Alaska all make a ton of sense. But did you know that you can also see the northern lights in Ireland?
It’s true! Ireland doesn’t have as many nights of aurora activity as other northern countries, but under the right atmospheric and weather conditions you can definitely see it. If you heard that the northern lights are going to be visible over Ireland soon and want to know where to go, this post will help you.
You’ll learn about the science behind the aurora, when and where to view the northern lights in Aurora, and some other tips to help make your aurora chasing trip a success.
What are the “Northern Lights?”
Before we dive in, it can help to understand what the “northern lights” actually are. When charged particles emitted by the sun strike atoms in the atmosphere of earth, electrons in those atoms change energy states. As they return to their resting state they emit light, and voilà! This is what we call the aurora.
However, it’s important to note that the phenomena of the northern lights are affected by the shape of the earth (a sphere), the magnetic field around our planet, the magnetic poles (north and south), and earth’s axial tilt. You can generally see the northern lights (and their sibling, the southern lights) at locations within a few degrees of latitude of the Arctic or Antarctic Circle.
As their name suggests, the northern lights or aurora borealis are visible in the northern hemisphere only. The top destinations to see the northern lights are the northern destinations in the world, including Ireland, Canada, Norway, and many other countries.
The Best Time of Year to See the Northern Lights in Ireland (2019-2020)
If you’re trying to see the northern lights in Ireland, it’s important to understand when they’ll be visible. The best months to try and see the northern lights in Ireland are September and March. This is due to the earth’s axial tilt and the way our atmosphere encounters solar wind.
Additionally, any of the dark winter months – October through February – are also good opportunities to see the northern lights. If the sky is dark and the solar conditions are right, it’s possible to see the aurora!
There are some good websites to help you. know when the northern lights might be visible. Aurora Service has great tools for seeing the aurora forecast for the whole northern hemisphere, including Ireland. There is also a Twitter account, @aurora_ireland, that occasionally tweets when the aurora will be visible that night.
The Best Places to See the Northern Lights in Ireland
Below, you’ll find a list of places to see the northern lights in Ireland, broken down by county. Unsurprisingly, County Donegal, in the far northern part of the country, is the most ideal place to see the northern lights. There are a few other spots you might see the aurora under the right conditions, so we’ve included them too.
County Donegal should be your top destination if you’re trying to see the northern lights in Ireland. Here are some of the top places to see the aurora in County Donegal:
- Dooey Beach – Located on a small peninsula, Dooey Beach has great western views across the water and northern views with limited light pollution.
- Dunree Head – One of the top spots to see the northern lights, Dunree Head juts out into Drongawn Lough and has fantastic northern views.
- Fanad Head – An ideal aurora viewing spot, Fanad Head peninsula has 270° views to the north.
- Glencolmcille – Further south than others on this list, Glencolmcille has decent views to the north and west from the coastline.
- Inishowen Peninsula – The whole of the Inishowen Peninsula, including Dunree Head, Malin Head, and Mamore Gap, is a great base for an aurora trip in County Donegal.
- Malin Head – A northern-facing peninsula, Malin Head is the northernmost part of the main Irish isles, and is the top spot to try and see the northern lights in all of Ireland. If you’re going to see them – you’ll see them here!
- Mamore Gap – Another spot on the Inishowen, Mamore Gap offers mild mountain elevation to reduce light and atmospheric pollution when trying to see the aurora.
- Rosguil Peninsula – The Rosguil Peninsula, including Tra na Rossan Beach, is another northerly peninsula that has great views from the coastline.
- Tory Island – Small Tory Island is located off the northern shore of Ireland in the North Atlantic Ocean. As with most islands, it’s an ideal place to see the night sky and aurora with limited light pollution. It does take a ferry to reach the island though!
- Trá na Rossan Beach – Located on the Rosguil Peninsula, this north-facing beach is another popular spot to see the northern lights in Ireland.
Located in southern Ireland, County Kerry is not as good of a spot for trying to see the northern lights. However, it’s far more accessible to most people, especially those from Dublin attempting to see them. (Need a place to stay in Dublin before or after aurora chasing in county Kerry? Here’s where to stay in Dublin.)
In particular, Kerry Dark Sky Park should be your top destination if you’re going to try and see the northern lights in County Kerry. This certified dark sky park is one of the darkest, least light-polluted places in Ireland. Base yourself in Ballinskelligs for the weekend, and make your way to the west-or north-facing coastline to try and spot the aurora low on the horizon. For even better odds, drive across the bridge onto Valentina Island.
While it doesn’t make every list for where to see the aurora in Ireland, County Mayo has a few spots worth considering. Mullet Peninsula, connected to the mainland at the town of Belmullet, has extensive coastline with expansive northern sky views. It’s undeveloped enough that you’ll encounter little light pollution and a great option for those in Glasgow who want to see the northern lights.
Downpatrick Head is another option in County Mayo. The northernmost point in the county, this small peninsula has unobstructed views to the north all the way to the Arctic Circle!
County Sligo, south of County Donegal, is another option for aurora chasers, but it has less impressive northern (especially coastal) views. In particular, the best spot to try and see the northern lights in County Sligo is Mullaghmore. This small peninsula has directly north-facing views, but you may encounter some light pollution from County Donegal to the north. This is the best spot for those in Sligo to try if you’re not up for a longer drive to County Donegal.
Popular Tours & Day Trips to See the Northern Lights in Ireland
Instead, your best bet is to choose a night when the forecast is good and rent a car to drive to one of the places we highlighted above. You’ll undoubtedly meet other aurora chasers there who can give you tips on where to set up for a great view.
How to Photograph the Aurora in Ireland
Some aurora-chasers will have their heart set on capturing a perfect picture of the experience. If you’re one of those types of travelers, here are some tips:
- Bring the right gear. You’ll need a tripod and remote to photograph the aurora since you’ll be shooting on longer exposures.
- Bring extra batteries. The cold will drain your batteries faster, so bring 2-4x more batteries than you normally use for shooting photos. Or just bring all the batteries you have.
- Shoot on manual. We’ve got some helpful tips on setting your camera up for astrophotography, so check out that resource to get an idea what settings you’ll need.
- Consider your foreground. You might be so excited to photograph the aurora that you forget to put any thought into composition. Iceland is full of stunning geologic features like mountains, glaciers, waterfalls, and lakes. Put one of these in your foreground and your photos will be even more interesting.
Don’t forget to check out our astrophotography tips if you’ve never shot night photography before. They’ll help you make sure you get the kinds of pictures you’re hoping for.
Have other questions about viewing the. northern lights in Ireland? Let us know in the comments.
Featured photo credit: Rita Wilson for Tourism Ireland
Special thanks to Greg Clarke for sharing his Ireland aurora photos on Flickr.