Northern Lights tours from Reykjavik, or from Akureyri in North Iceland. Escape the city lights and look into the sky. You'll need patience and persistence, but seeing this miraculous phenomenon for yourself is simply breathtaking. Check below for Northern Lights hunting opportunities.
The Northern Lights or Aurora Borealis is a celestial light show that appears above the Northern sky during the winter. They happen frequently in Iceland illuminating the winter sky with dancing patterns, ribbons of color and curtains of ethereal light. The Northern Lights are prominent on most bucket lists and Iceland is the perfect place to see them.
The closer you are to the Earth’s two magnetic poles, the more likely you are to see the Northern Lights. So the best place to see an aurora is in remote locations, like the Polar regions.
Auroras have also been known to appear over Australia and England, however, these occurrences are rare and certainly wouldn’t merit a trip to go and see them. As a result, the best and most convenient place to see the Aurora Borealis is in countries like Iceland or Canada, which are accessible, yet still close to the Earth’s magnetic poles.
The Northern Lights occur throughout the year, however, it’s impossible to see them when the sun is shining. But as the summer is a time of lengthy daylight and the midnight sun in the Arctic regions, the best and only time to see the Aurora Borealis is during the winter.
Visitors to Iceland are most likely to catch the Aurora Borealis between late August and mid-April. If you want to maximize your chances of seeing the Northern Lights in Iceland, then late September to late March is the best time to visit, as it gets dark around 18:00 and auroras are at their peak.
Iceland is one of the best places in the world to see the Aurora Borealis, thanks to its proximity to the Arctic Circle, sparse population and lack of city light pollution. Reykjavik is the perfect launching bad to embark on a Northern Lights tour – a vibrant, multi-cultural city that is just 20 minutes’ drive from remote countryside locations perfect for aurora viewing.
Iceland is also blessed with a myriad of natural wonders and glimpsing the flickering colors of an aurora illuminating them is nothing short of breathtaking. The opportunity to see the Northern Lights dancing above glaciers, waterfalls, mountains or volcanoes should not be missed!
Auroras are caused when electrically charged particles from the sun collide with atoms in the Earth’s atmosphere. This creates a chemical reaction, forcing electrons to move further away from the atom’s nucleus. When the electrons move back to their original orbit, they release a light particle or photon, which can be seen from Earth and is known as an aurora or the Northern Lights.
The Northern Lights commonly appear as a curtain of lights, however, they can also be arcs or spirals. Many scientists believe that the patterns of the aurora are correlated to the Earth's magnetic field. Green auroras are the most common, but you can also see yellow, blue, violet, white and rose – red auroras are the least common but happen in Iceland more than anywhere else in the world.
The color of the aurora that you see depends on the kind of atom that the electrically charged sun particles collide with – oxygen particles cause green auroras, nitrogen causes blue or red auroras and various other elements lead to blue, pink and yellow auroras.
The ethereal colors of the Northern Lights have enchanted sky gazers since prehistoric times. Cave paintings by the Cro-Magnon people in the South of France are believed to depict the Aurora Borealis – meaning that humans have been fascinated by auroras for more than 30,000 years! Descriptions of the auroras regularly appear in Chinese, Babylonian and Roman history, with Plutarch – the most important Roman historian describing them.
One of the most famous stories about the Northern Lights in ancient history, occurred when Phillip of Macedonia (the father of Alexander the Great), was sieging Byzantium. He ordered his soldiers to dig tunnels beneath the city under the cover of night, however, unfortunately, an aurora illuminated the sky, allowing the Byzantines to see the would-be attackers and fight them back.
Auroras were believed to be bad omens in early European history and descriptions of them were usually associated with the deaths of martyrs or the end of the world. A notable English description of the Northern Lights tells of them appearing after the death of Thomas Becket in 1177. Auroral descriptions also regularly appear in Viking writings.
Scientists began trying to explain the Northern Lights in the 17th century and this is when they were given their scientific name – Aurora Borealis. The name is credited to the French mathematician, Gassend, however, Galileo had been using it for more than 30 years before him.
The mesmerizing beauty of the Northern Lights has inspired a host of myths and legends over the centuries. The ancient Greeks and Romans believed that the Northern Lights were created by Aurora, goddess of the dawn, racing across the sky in her multi-colored chariot. Europeans generally believed that auroras signaled bad omens and their appearance in the sky above England was believed to herald the blood that would be spilled during the French Revolution.
The Chinese believed that auroras were dragon fire – the result of an epic heavenly battle between the forces of good and evil. While North Americans had a host of different myths and legends relating to the Northern Lights. Perhaps, the strangest of these was the Inuit belief that the Aurora was the result of spirits playing a giant celestial ball game.
We can assume that Auroras were also prominent in Viking legends, but they don’t appear in any sagas. According to one British source, Vikings believed them to be light reflecting from the shields or armor of the Valkyries. Warriors also might have believed them to be a rainbow bridge, which took warriors who died in battle to the halls of Valhalla.
There are a number of different factors that affect aurora viewing, including recent solar activity, cloud density, and darkness. These factors vary wildly – thus it’s better to check the forecast a few hours beforehand. The forecast gives you insight into when the auroras might appear, how intense they will be and whether you’ll be able to see them through the clouds. It is important to note that the aurora forecast is a bit like the weather forecast, and is not totally accurate all of the time.
Even if you do not want to leave the city, you can still find some nice spots in town where the light pollution is lower and your chances are better.
Outside of Reykjavík:
If you take an organized Northern Lights tour, you will be in the safe hands of a local tour guide. These guides are experts, especially skilled at finding the best spots, and at making the most of the stay while you are waiting for the show.
Every tour is different. There is no fixed location. The tour operators pick the destination based on the actual cloud cover and the aurora forecast. They know all the best viewpoints, the safest parking places, have years of experience, and local wisdom.
Northern Lights tours depart almost every day from the middle of September until the middle of April. A tour can get canceled due to unfortunate weather conditions or cloud cover. They will not take you out if there is no chance to see any lights. In these cases, you will be offered a spot on the next day’s tour or get a full refund.
No one can assure that you will see the aurora. Even if the conditions seem optimal, you can go on a tour and have no luck with the lights. In this case, you will be offered a spot on the next day’s tour for free. In order to maximize your chances, book a Northern Lights tour on the day of your arrival and repeat the tour every day until you finally see the aurora.
There are plenty of amazing and adventurous ways to see the aurora which make the waiting time fun. You can take a bus tour, super jeep tour, go on a boat ride, or combine them with other activities and multi-day tours.
Enjoy the benefit of being guided by local experts. They closely monitor the forecasts and have a great amount of experience with the Icelandic road conditions and terrain. Relax and enjoy the comfort of having nothing to worry about, and no need to drive in a foreign country in a dark and snowy winter night.
Thanks to the warm ocean streams around the island, being at 65° North in Iceland is much more pleasant than other parts of the world at the same latitude. But having said that, Gulf Stream or not, we are still at 65° North, so winter is pretty cold. Be prepared for the Icelandic conditions.
Choosing the right clothing will make your waiting time much more tolerable and comfortable. Standing in the darkness, waiting for the magical auroras to show themselves requires good insulation since you will be standing around with very little activity.
Have a warmly insulated, windproof outer layer. Good, warm, sturdy, waterproof boots; warm, windproof hats and gloves; and a cozy scarf are all necessary. It is smart to have some reusable pocket warmers to use during the long waiting period.
Still got questions about the tour? Hopefully you will find the answer here.
The Northern Lights are natural phenomena and we, unfortunately, cannot promise you will see them. Their appearance depends upon atmospheric and weather conditions.
For more information on the Northern Lights, please have a look at our Northern Lights tours.
We, unfortunately, do not have one simple answer to this question.
There isn’t just one single setting for your camera that ensures great photos. However, if you have manual options, you are probably best served with experimenting with various combinations of ISO, aperture, and exposure settings. As a rule of thumb, ISO setting between 800 and 3200, aperture between f/2 8 and f/5.6, and shutter speed at between 15 seconds and 30 seconds have proven effective.
A good thing to keep in mind, ISO setting between 800 and 3200, aperture between f/2.8 and f/5.6, and shutter speed between 15 seconds and 30 seconds have given great results.
Different combinations may give very different results. Higher ISO setting will allow you to capture faster exposures, but the downside to this might be for example grainier images.
If the shutter speed is above 15 seconds it will result in a slight star movement.
Wider angle lenses are usually more versatile in low light settings, but longer lenses give you different options for compositions. Make sure that you remove all lens filters, as they may distort images. You will probably get the best results with manual setting for infinite focal length.
Reimbursement is not given if the northern lights tour goes ahead and no lights are seen but we do offer you the change to join a Northern Lights Minibus tour free of charge.
Please contact our Customer Care to re-book your tour.
When Northern Lights tours are canceled it’s usually due to unfavorable weather conditions.
In that case, your options will be to:
Please go to customer portal to re-book your tour or contact us by phone +354 562 7000
The northern lights are a pretty difficult thing to predict. We recommend you to check en.vedur.is to see the forecast and if the level is high and the skies are clear then it’s very likely that the tour is going ahead. We do update our website’s tour departure sheet with the information at 17:00 pm the latest. If your tour is canceled then you will receive an email from us.
If we think there is no chance at all of seeing the lights we will cancel the tour. We don’t want to bring you out and disappoint if there is no chance of the lights to be seen.
Yes, the guide on your tour will take a photo of you with the northern lights in the background.
These can be single or group photo’s and are free of charge.
The Northern Lights season is from late August until mid-April. However, if you want to increase your changes of seeing them, it is best to wait until the clear winter months of mid-September until March.
The northern lights depend on luck and weather if that is in your favor than you will be able to see the Aurora Borealis above the inviting streets of Reykjavík. Whether you see the lights or not they depend on two different factors. The first being the weather. If the sky is clear, no clouds, then you are halfway there to seeing the astonishing spectacle that is the Northern Lights (although light pollution can sometimes be a problem). Increased solar activity is the second half so, if these two merge together you may well be able to see the Northern Lights from Reykjavik.