The Northern Lights have enchanted onlookers for millennia. Ancient whispers in the night speculated on their otherworldly, even supernatural, qualities. With heavenly shades of color and haunting dances, they are, without a doubt, Mother Nature’s greatest show. Join us on one of our Northern Lights tours in Iceland for a profound bucket list experience that will stick with you forever.

Northern lights over Mt. Kirkjufell

Check out Northern lights tours in Iceland

ALL ABOUT THE NORTHERN LIGHTS IN ICELAND

Information

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.

FAQ

Still got questions about the tour? Hopefully you will find the answer here.

No, we cannot guarantee that you’ll see the Northern Lights on a specific day – the Northern Lights are a natural phenomenon and their appearance depends on atmospheric and weather conditions. However, we use all the tools at our disposal, including local knowledge and the aurora forecast to give you the best possible chance of seeing them.

Unfortunately, we’re not able to provide refunds if the tour goes ahead and you don’t see the Northern Lights. However, we do offer the chance to join another Northern Lights Minibus tour free of charge. Please note – such tours are subject to availability and it is your responsibility to book a place on the second tour.

Our Northern Lights tours are usually canceled due to unfavorable weather conditions – in this case, you will have three options -

  1. Reschedule for another day.
  2. Find another tour to do and use the deposit for it.
  3. Get a full refund.

The Northern Lights are incredibly difficult to predict, but we do everything in our power to maximize your chances of glimpsing them on our tour. We recommend checking the information at en.vedur.is to see the forecast – if the level is high and the skies are clear, then your tour is almost certain to go ahead.

We will only run the tours if we believe that there is a chance of you seeing the Northern Lights – we don’t want to run the tour and then disappoint you with no lights.

If your tour won’t proceed, we will let you know by 17:00 at the latest. If booked on our tour, you will receive a notification email from us. We also update our website’s tour departure sheet.

The Northern Lights are notoriously difficult to photograph and there is no one simple answer to this question.

  • There is no perfect camera setting for photographing aurora. However, if you have manual options, then we recommend experimenting with various combinations of ISO, aperture and exposure settings. We generally find that an ISO setting between 800 and 3200, aperture between f/2.8 and f/5.6, and a shutter speed between 15 seconds and 30 seconds to be the most effective
  • Different combinations give different results. A higher ISO setting will allow you to capture faster exposures but may also lead to grainier images.
  • We usually find that shutter speeds above 15 seconds will result in slight star movement.
  • Wide angle lenses are generally more versatile in low light settings, but longer lenses allow for a broader range of composition options. Make sure that you remove all lens filters as they might distort the images.
  • We generally find that people get the best results with a manual setting for infinite focal length.

Yes, our guide will take a photo of you with the Northern Lights behind you. The photo can be by yourself or in a group and is free of charge.

The Northern Lights Season runs from late August until mid-April, however, your best chance of seeing them comes between September and March – when the nights are at their darkest and auroral activity is at its peak.

Because of the light pollution, Reykjavik is not the best base in Iceland to see the Northern Lights, but a few lucky times, people have seen an aurora dancing above the city. Whether you see the Aurora Borealis  or not is dependent on two separate factors – the weather and increased solar activity. The skies need to be clear of clouds and the solar wind needs to be powerful. Light pollution can also be a factor, which is why our tours take you to remote locations where you don’t have to worry about it.