It’s almost the best time of year again to watch the incredible light show that is the Northern Lights, but where in Europe are the best places to catch them? Did you know they can actually see the Northern Lights in Ireland, with some of the best viewing spots in Inishowen, County Donegal. You can also spot them further along the coast in Northern Ireland. if you’re interested in seeing the Southern lights, read this post!
Where to see the Northern Lights in Ireland
Feature image credit: Image: Michael Gill / Tourism Ireland
Inishowen Peninsula and the Northern Lights
The Inishowen Peninsula in Donegal is a stunning example of Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way, and one of the most beautiful places to visit in Ireland. Sculptured by the Atlantic’s waves and winds for millennia, it’s northernmost point, Malin Head, is the very definition of wild and is one of the best vantage points from which to view the Northern Lights in Ireland.
There is very little light pollution on Inishowen so if bracing into the biting winds on Malin Head to watch the ‘lights’ isn’t your thing, you can always visit Moville on the eastern side of Inishowen for a more sheltered view. The picturesque town overlooking Lough Foyle has an old Victorian park which has a bandstand to shelter from the winds.
Dunree Head on the western side also offers shelter in the form of the decommissioned Dunree Fort – now a museum – and has several nature walks and a beautiful beach in a small bay to keep you occupied during the day.
What are the Northern Lights?
The Northern Lights or Aurora Borealis are one of the most mystical and awe inspiring displays to be found in nature. Charged particles in the solar wind collide with the Earth’s magnetosphere at the North Pole causing multicoloured displays of swirling light in the night sky.
Can I really see the Northern Lights in Ireland?
Depending on the strength of the Solar Wind, the Aurora can be seen in latitudes south of the Arctic Circle. While it is impossible to predict what type of display may occur, the lights will usually appear in the northern horizon but can sometimes appear directly overhead as they would at the North Pole.
When is the best time to see the Northern Lights?
There is no guarantee that the lights will appear but the best time to try and catch them is in Winter and Spring. Predicating an appearance of an Aurora can only really be done on the day and then there is no guarantee it will happen. If the forecast is for clear skies, travel to Inishowen and hope for the best.
What do I need to bring?
A proper winter coat or wind breaker that can protect you from those Atlantic winds with warm layers underneath. A flask of warm soup or tea would make the time pass that bit easier while waiting in the cold.
To get some cool photos we recommend bringing a very strong torch / flash light, not only to help you find you way, but to highlight people or objects in your pictures.
If you already have one or are an aspiring photographer, this is pretty obvious. If you’re neither of those, I really do recommend investing in some sort of camera before a trip to see the Northern Lights as the photo opportunities are unbelievable. One of the most popular cameras on the market right now is the mirrorless Sony Alpha range. As new models keep getting released, the slightly older (but still amazing) Sony Alpha A6000 can be bought for less than $500.
If you are serious about getting photos of the Northern Lights, then investing in a decent tripod is a must. The Joby Gorillapod is what I use. It’s super sturdy but very affordable. It’s probably not for super professional photographers but does the job for me!
Can I photograph the Northern Lights?
It can be done with the right sort of camera and lens. A tripod is essential as you’ll need a 8 to 20 second exposure depending on the lens, iso and aperture. If you are serious about photographing the northern lights, don’t show up without a sturdy tripod – otherwise your photos will be blurry!
Where do I stay?
If you’re going to travel all that way, you’re going to have to make a weekend of it. Besides, if you miss the Aurora on the first night you might still catch it on the second. There’s plenty to do in the meantime with lots of walks and beaches and you can even try your hand ‘as Gaelige’ with the locals in their very particular dialect. Inishowen has no shortage of accommodation from the Sandrock Holiday Hostel in Malin Head (cash only – no cards) to the 4 star Redcastle Hotel in Moville.
Don’t be a light polluter!
Be aware of other Aurora seekers and turn your lights off outside and inside your car. It’s not uncommon for people to leave their car engine’s running so they can shelter from the wind. Keep the use of torches to a minimum and dim the illumination on your phone so your eyes can adjust more easily to the natural light.
How do I get to Inishowen?
The best way is by car. Malin Head is over 4 hours from Dublin, over 4.5 from Galway and over 6 hours from Cork. The fastest route from the east coast or from the south to Inishowen will take you into Northern Ireland via Antrim and Derry or via Tyrone and Derry, so either bring some Sterling or have a bank card that will work in the North in case of emergencies. Don’t forget, with Liberty Insurance you can get a car insurance quote online in as little as two minutes. Terms and conditions apply….but you’re better off not driving through the wilds of Donegal without insurance!!