The Northern Lights, scientifically known as Aurora Borealis, is one of the world’s most beautiful, yet mysterious natural phenomena. Tourists from all across the globe travel to Iceland to witness this extraordinary display of dancing coloured lights in the night sky, showcasing shades of green, blue, red, yellow, and purple. The curtains of light are caused when natural gases in the Earth’s atmosphere collide with charged particles from the Sun which results in light being emitted. The particles from the Sun are normally blocked by magnetic fields on Earth but these are weakened near the poles, in this case the North pole, so charged particles are able to get in which is why the Northern Lights are visible. Seeing the Northern Lights is not guaranteed due to irregularities in the solar particles, but we have put together the following guide to maximise your chance of seeing this spectacular light show in Iceland this year.
The Perfect Conditions
To see the Northern Lights in Iceland, there are a number of factors to bear in mind including the location, time, and weather conditions. Even with the perfect balance of these, witnessing the Aurora Borealis often requires patience and sheer luck. Begin by travelling to Iceland which is known for being one of the best places to catch a glimpse of the lights. While the lights can be viewed in a number of countries including Norway, Greenland, and Sweden, Iceland has a prime position that enables the Northern Lights to be viewed for over half of the year, typically September to April. This is because the sky needs to be pitch black in order for the lights to be shown in their full glory and these winter months are the darkest and the longest. It helps to research when the next full moon is and this period should be avoided because the light from the moon can dim the aurora. The optimum time falls between 9:30 pm to 1 am and is when most tourists focus their search. Many will look at motorhome rental in Iceland which allows them to stay further away from light pollution and give themselves the best opportunity to see the Northern Lights.
There are a number of other factors that are a little more difficult to control, for example the solar activity needs to be relatively high and it is ideal for the sky to have no clouds or the view of the lights will be blocked. While you can view the forecast of what these conditions will be like, this is normally only available a few days in advance. This is why it is extremely important to have flexibility during your trip as you may plan to see the lights on a specific night and might have to change your plans last minute, or risk missing this bucket list opportunity altogether.
The Iceland Experience
There are a number of different ways to experience the beauty that is the Northern Lights, including both guided and self-guided tours. There are a number of pros and cons to each with the biggest benefit of a guided tour being the fact that you often have the opportunity to visit lesser-known areas and can increase your chance of catching a glimpse of the light because tour givers are typically very experienced in spotting the right conditions. The advantages of driving yourself include the increase in privacy and flexibility but can often become challenging when trying to locate the best spots for viewing the light show. Another way to view the aurora is to take a boat tour which can have less light pollution and as a result make the lights more visible. This option has the downside of potentially being quite expensive.
It is important to remember the essentials no matter what type of tour you decide to take. These include:
- Warm clothes
- A decent camera
- Spare batteries
- Hot drinks in flasks
There are several other attractions in Iceland and since seeing the Northern Lights is very unpredictable, you should try to incorporate some other activities into your trip. Favourites include visiting the Blue Lagoon, a selection of national parks, and the Seljalandsfoss waterfall. As well as all of this beautiful scenery, there are a number of popular adventures to be had too. These include, whale watching, cave exploring, horse riding, and a number of water activities.
It is important to plan how you intend to travel around Iceland once you get there. There are a number of transport options from aeroplane and train to bus and taxi but the most convenient and cost-effective way to get around is to travel by car. Whether that’s hiring a car or taking your own, you will be able to travel the country with much more freedom and have the flexibility to change plans wherever necessary. You can also decide to choose from the traditional vehicle and include plenty of overnight stays, or you could opt for a luxury campervan which comes with the freedom of a car but can help you to save money on accommodation fees. This is perhaps the ultimate way to experience the multiple bucket list destinations throughout the country of Iceland without extortionate fees or having to rely on other modes of transport.
Author: Roxanne Berry
Passionate about travelling, writing and being able to capture adventures and memories through a lens. Instagram: @roxannecberry