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Scotland in February - Inverness or Aberdeen - want to see Northern Lights

HI. Going back to Edinburgh in February and not renting a car .... trying to decide if we should go up and stay in Inverness for a night to see the Highlands again (only got to Doune last time) but I am so drawn to Aberdeen to see the Northern Lights. Everything I've read about Aberdeen says industrial and doesn't sound really worth it - has anyone see Northern Lights there? Is there a strong enough chance to take the risk or would you stay in Inverness if given the choice?

Posted by
5586 posts

How long are you going to be there? No matter where you go, one thing you need to do is be there long enough to "get lucky" with all the conditions aligning. If you're only going to be there a few nights, your chances are low. If you're going for a few weeks, your chances are significantly better; if you'll be there for a few months, your chances are quite good. Stay a while to increase the odds of catching them.

That said, you will want to get away from all lights - so away from all urban areas (Aberdeen or Inverness) and away from all towns, lighted roadways, buildings, etc. - you want to be way out from any town if possible.

Posted by
569 posts

As David said the conditions need to be right no matter where you are if you want to see the northern lights. You don’t have to go all the way north, but the further north, the better. Interestingly, we have been fortunate enough to see them here where I am in southern British Columbia, but it is not common, and conditions were perfect. This web sit has some good suggestions

I think it’s a bit of a dice roll even if you are fairly far north as bad weather is also common and will obscure your view of anything so I’m not sure I would plan my vacation around it.

Posted by
5551 posts

The chance of seeing the northern lights is slim, so I would focus your trip around what you want to see during the day and consider the lights as a bonus if you see them. Your best chance for the lights is after midnight in an area with no light pollution (so rural areas) and of course, you need a cloudless sky. February is one of the months when we get the most snow, so finding clear skies maybe a problem.

Posted by
11 posts

You all are the BEST!!! I love the song!! :) Such valid points and good reminders - as a photographer sometimes I get caught up in getting "the" shots and not just going with the flow and experiencing all there is to experience. I think we will stick with the Highlands for our night "out of town" and maybe just venture up to Aberdeen for a day. :)

Posted by
2940 posts

Some years ago, friends reported getting a fabulous view of northern lights on the airplane during their flight to Europe. Don't assume this can't happen!

Posted by
956 posts

Hi, suzi.nole,

You're right about Aberdeen being an industrial city. However, most of that industry is centered around the harbour area and offshore. There are attractive parts of the city, including the Winter Gardens at Duthie Park; Old Aberdeen, near the university; and Footdee (Fittie), just outside the harbour area.

Aberdeen's main shopping thoroughfare, Union Street, has become an untidy mile of boarded up shops and litter. It's unfortunate, as Union Street was once the pride of the city. If you're approaching Aberdeen from the north or the west, the city appears quite attractive. Approaching from the south is much less attractive, especially if you end up at the harbour.

Having said that, there is much to see and do in Aberdeen, even in February. There is a thriving music and restaurant scene, and in addition to Duthie Park, there are several good parks to visit. The beach won't be worth a visit in February, unless they've scheduled some sort of Loony Dook while you're there. (It's an Edinburgh tradition, similar to a Polar Bear Plunge!) However, the excellent Inversnecky Cafe on the beach front is a great place for an ice cream. Try the Scottish tablet ice cream. It's amazing!

As others have mentioned, the chances of seeing the Aurora are fairly slim, especially from Aberdeen (despite the song). You'd have a better chance north of Inverness, but the atmospherics have to be just right.

If you do see them, make sure to be near a phone box, so that you can call Felix Happer in Houston!

Enjoy the hunt!

Mike (Auchterless)

Posted by
5623 posts

If this isn't too little, too late, and throwing in a separate two-cents-worth, Shetland is even farther north, and reachable by a cheap flight on flybe. We were there in August (and rented a car, by the way), so the Northern Lights weren't on the agenda, but the owner at our B&B told of one night that there was a spectacular show, and all the locals took out bottles of wine and blankets, and stayed up until 5AM and had a group party under the night sky. Hope you get a night with a good light show!

Posted by
611 posts

Bear in mind that here on mainland Scotland the Northern Lights when they do show up are quite low in sky - maybe up to about 25 degrees above the horizon. Also most people only see them in monochrome. It is better to photograph them if you want to capture all the colours. There is an Ap called Glendale Auroras, and an associated web page that gives lots of information about Aurora spotting in Scotland. Personally I wouldn't build a trip around hoping to see the lights. You would be much more likely to see them further north, e.g Shetland, Norway, Iceland.