Iceland is filled with natural wonders. There is a reason they call Iceland the land of fire and ice. It has got the largest glacier in Europe and also a devastating active volcano; Erupting geysers & thundering waterfalls; Rugged landscapes and amazing fjords. Another interesting phenomenon and the reason why thousands of tourist visit Iceland is to see the Aurora borealis, commonly known as the Northern Lights
Various reasons contribute to the Northern lights being easily visible in Iceland. Its proximity to the North pole, dark skies, and longer nights during the winter helps. The best time to catch a glimpse of the aurora is from September to March
Northern Light is a natural phenomenon occurring because of the solar waves combined with several other weather factors. It is not a guarantee that you can see them easily at night. We shall discuss this in detail in our blog. You can also chase aurora in other nordic countries, Canada & Alaska. But the reason for us to recommend Iceland is because of the variety of activities it offers. If you get to see the northern lights, it is a bonus
Iceland remains our No.1 destination amongst the countries we have traveled to and extremely worth a visit even if you don’t see any Northern Lights.
What is Aurora Borealis?
Aurora Borealis are natural lights appearing in the sky.
The Sun emits solar waves and they travel through space. When they reach the earth atmosphere, they collide with the earth magnetic field and form bright dancing lights
This activity happens near the poles and the strength slowly fades out moving towards the equator. That's is the reason why we can see these lights predominantly in Iceland, Norway, Finland, Canada & Alaska. It is also visible closer to the south pole and it is called ‘Aurora australis’ or Southern Lights
Green is the color that is seen as the color of Aurora. Pink is an additional bonus.
These lights are present throughout the year, but because of the sun's light overshadowing the aurora, it is not visible. That's why the winner time is the preferred time to chase the Northern lights. The polar region has a longer night time during winters
Video Illustration of how the Northern Lights are formed
Best Time to see Northern Lights
Winter is the best time to see the northern lights. Starting from September till late March, you will get strong Aurora. April the lights start to fade out.
The conditions are so favorable during these months where you have a longer night time. The Sky needs to be clear and dark. Full moon days also aids in locating the lights where it illuminates the foreground making the sky much more darker. If you have a cloudy night, it is impossible. At least these are the conditions that you can predict with the weather app
The most important factor contributing to the northern lights are the solar flares which are highly difficult to predict. we recommend trying to chase the Aurora all the night you are in Iceland.
The northern lights cruise tour
Where to See the Northern Lights
Öskjuhlíð, Reykjavik - The closest point we can get to. Located inside the city, it is a small hill that gives you elevation and overcomes the light pollution
Alternatively, you can hire a boat and join a group tour, get to someplace in the sea that is free from light pollution.
Thingvellir National Park - One of the most captured locations in Iceland. A short drive will get you there from the city. Tour operators also arrange Northen lights Night tours here
Skogafoss Waterfall - This is the perk of having a rental car. This will help you in driving even more further. Lights dancing over the waterfall is the sight to watch
Jokulsarlon & Vik - if you are making an overnight stay in Vik, you can drive to jokulsarlon and look for the aurora. Some of the pics we saw online were gorgeous and a treat to our eyes
Thingvellir National Park
How to Monitor the Aurora Activity
Regularly monitor the Aurora forecast online. Download My Aurora forecast app and turn on the notifications. This is the best we have used. Midnight is the best time to look for the lights
Play with the app and try to learn some of the terminologies. Make yourself familiar with what is going on. we were also a member of the Facebook/Instagram page Aurora forecast. You will see Aurora chasers constantly updating on activities. This is also a good chance for you to focus on the spot
We were on our south coast tour and our tour operator was randomly checking the forecast app. He was the one who informed us that we will have high chances of witnessing the northern lights from Reykjavik itself. We booked a tour with a boat operator instantly. They also organized an additional special tour departing midnight. That's how we ended with seeing the northern lights for the first time
Some of the key factors you have to look for:
KP Index: higher the index, the higher the chance of seeing northern lights
Also, check viewing probability & cloud cover. This will be updated every hour
Northern Lights Tours/Prices
Night trip starts from Reykjavik city depending on the Aurora activity. There is no itinerary or a specific set of locations, instead, the tour operator will take you to locations where the chances to see the lights are high. You can also see plenty of operators/tour bus leaving the city by night. No wonders!!
Tour prices start @ 6500ISK (3700 INR), includes pick up and drop
Alternatively, you can also take the 2~3 Hours cruise which has a similar agenda. But you will witness it from the sea away from the city's light pollution. We took a boat tour and were able to see the dancing lights. The disadvantage of this is the boat movement, it is not ideal for taking pictures. Most of our pictures were shaky. We suppose it should not be a problem for the professionals.
Tor prices start @ 10000 ISK (5600 INR)
Another advantage of going through the tour operators is that they know alternate arrangements if you are unable to locate the lights in a particular location. they will also help you with the correct DSLR settings
Our Tour Operator
Our Personal experience in Capturing the Northen Lights
Blurred pics, but thats the best we got
Additional tips for the Northern Lights Tour
Before booking your tour, check for the cancellation & refund policy. Northern lights are not guaranteed. But some operators will offer you an alternate day to come again. Check before making a booking
Check for the correct DSLR settings required beforehand. Do your research online or feel free to ask the pro's in the aurora group. Our tour guide manually changed our camera settings instead of explaining as he had a bunch of people requesting him. So we didn't have a clue, but we were able to catch some of the dancing lights. You need a tripod to photograph the Northern Lights, this is a mistake from our side. All of our images were shaky
Be prepared for the outcome
As we have stressed this point enough, don't be disappointed if you couldn't get to see the dancing lights. Keep trying throughout your stay. It is not under our control
Snacks & Hot drink
Yes, if you could carry them. It may take 2~3 hours to return. Snacks will come in handy
What toWear in Iceland?
Image Courtesy : www.fullsuitcase.com
Keep yourself warm with layered clothing in Iceland. We will be writing a separate blog on what to pack & wear while traveling to Iceland. This one however gives a short idea of what you need going out on an organized tour. if you have your own car, you can carry as much as you need
Thermal tops & pants
Fleece tops or a nice warm full sleeve t-shirt
Quick-dry pants (similar to Ski pants)
Strong Rugged shoes
Conclusion & Our Recommendation
Seeing the Northern lights is once in a lifetime experience for us. Do not miss it if you get a chance to visit any of these countries close to the Polar region (North or South). Try to add this to your plan all evenings & nights. If you miss one night, you'll be lucky to see it on another night
We don't have a clue about the photography techniques. We read this article from a fellow travel blogger who has been chasing lights for ages. The content is simple and easily understood. Click here for photography techniques
We found the below pin on Pinterest. It explains the entire Northern lights phenomenon in simple words. Image courtesy: Inntravel
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