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Northern Lights Tours & Holidays

Northern Lights Tours & Holidays

Northern Lights tours are the surest way for hunting the elusive and beautiful aurora borealis. With a huge variety of options departing from various locations across Iceland, you’ll witness the most awe-inspiring Northern Lights displays when you look towards the stars during the winter months.

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What are the Northern Lights?

The northern lights, otherwise known as the Aurora Borealis, are phenomena that occur at high latitudes when solar particles ionise as they enter the earth's atmosphere, appearing in the night sky in the form of waving ribbons of colour. These ‘ribbons’ have captivated their viewers for centuries, bringing about defying awe and unspeakable mystery.

The northern lights are, in fact, occurring throughout the year, yet it is only during the dark winter nights that they become visible to the human eye. This is, naturally, what makes northern light hunting one of the most popular winter activities in Iceland. You can partake in numerous tours that take you to the best northern lights spotting locations, such as an affordable Northern Lights Bus Tour that takes you far away from the city's light-pollution, or a Northern Lights Boat Cruise that allows you to witness the auroras out on the open sea. Outside of Scandinavia, it is only possible to go northern light hunting in such places as Alaska, northern Canada and Siberia. Modern scientific understanding of the northern lights did not mature until the 1880's when researchers discovered their connection to solar activity. Further study, seventy years later, would deepen this revelation, with new breakthroughs made in the knowledge that electrons and protons travel to earth on a ‘solar wind’. Today, research is ongoing into the northern lights as we further our understanding of deep space and our connection to it.

The northern lights have long been known to the Scandinavian people, inspiring some of the greatest and longstanding tales to have ever come out of Norse Mythology.One of the most prominent of these relates to Ragnarök, a great future battle that, as foretold, will see the world submerged in water, and a significant number of the Gods dead, including the likes of Odin, Thor and Loki. After the events of Ragnarök, it is said that the world will be born anew, strengthening the ancient themes of birth, death and rebirth.

To prepare for this battle, Odin, the Chieftain of Asgard, would summon his most prized warriors, the Valkyries, female battle-maidens who rode on horseback carrying spears and shields. Ancient stories would surmise that the northern lights were a reflection of this Valkyrian armour.

Another widely spoken about interpretation is that the aurora was the ‘Bifrost Bridge’, a rainbow walkway that led deceased warriors into the glorious, glowing halls of Valhalla.

To the Icelandic Vikings, the aurora was a phenomenon to be celebrated, a popular trend that has continued to this day with countless Northern Lights tours taking place across the land of Ice and Fire. Neighbouring Scandinavians, however, were less than trustful.

Many Norse people, such as the indigenous Finno-Ugric people, the Sámi, felt that the lights were to be feared. Believing these dancing green, red and yellow light waves to be the souls of the dead, the Sámi were careful to never show any sign of disrespect towards the lights, be that whistling beneath them, singing, talking or even waving them to them.

It is said, that those who fail to heed these warnings will be pulled up into the sky, forever trapped among these nocturnal spirits. Due to this slumbering myth, it is thought that some Sámi people, even today, will not go outside when the northern lights dance above.

It is perhaps the Finnish who have the most beautiful allegory for the auroras, believing them to be created by the arctic fox, an animal that just so happens to be Iceland’s only native mammal. The Finnish name for the aurora translates to “Fire Fox”, a direct reference to the ethereal fox that would dash so quickly across the night sky that his tail would brush against the mountains, thus causing a vast and colourful outburst of sparks.

Still, another interpretation of the Arctic fox story differs somewhat, and provides some justification on the part of an ancient people as to why the lights only appeared in winter; instead of sparks, the fox’ tail was thought to have kicked up snowflakes into the air which then caught the light of the moon.

When it comes down to the folklore of Iceland particularly, it was believed that the northern lights helped to soothe the pain of childbirth, though women who had yet to give birth were warned not to look at them directly, in fear that the child would be born cross-eyed.

During your visit in Iceland, you have the option of seeing the northern lights on your own. But should you want to view them from the best spots, far away from the light-pollution of human settlements, you would be well advised to take a northern lights tour, in which a knowledgeable guide tells you all there is to know about this fantastic phenomenon.

Frequently asked questions

When is the best time to see the Northern Lights?

The best time of year to see the Northern Lights is from the start of September until mid-march, during Iceland’s winter nights. For the best viewing conditions you’ll need a cloudless sky, away from towns and cities light pollution and good solar activity. It’s frequently the case that the best displays statistically happen near the September and March equinoxes.

What region in Iceland is best for spotting the Northern Lights?

North Iceland and the Westfjords have less hours of sunlight per day during the wintertime than the rest of the country, so those areas present more opportunities. The northern lights are regularly seen in all regions of Iceland, however, so long as the sky is dark and clear.

Is a sighting of the Northern Lights guaranteed on the tours?

No, the Northern Lights are a natural phenomenon and sightings can never be guaranteed. Tour operators try to predict them the best they can, according to solar wind- and weather forecasts. Some tour providers will offer a tour for another day free of charge should your hunt for the aurora borealis be unsuccessful. 

What happens if I don’t see the Northern Lights on the tour?

There are no refunds, but most operators allow you to try once more, free of charge. Please contact the tour operator for a rescheduling and further details.

What happens if the tour is cancelled?

You can either decide to move it to another date or get a full refund.

How long does the tour last?

It depends on the tour you choose, please contact a travel planner for further information.

Is the tour going to be on a big bus or a minibus?

We have a great selection of tours, and you can choose between a minibus, a big bus, a super jeep and a boat.

Can I see the Northern Lights in the summer?

Not at the height of summer, but it’s possible in late August when autumn is approaching and the nights get dark. This is not guaranteed, but frequently the first aurora sighting of the season will happen at the end of August.

What colour are the Northern Lights?

The northern lights are most commonly green, but if they are particularly strong, they can also be purple, red, pink, white and blue. The colours you see by eye vary both from person to person and the intensity of the aurora. The more intense the Northern Lights, the stronger the colours. If you are bringing a DSLR camera with you, this will pick up the colours better than the naked eye.

Why are the Northern Lights so common in Iceland?

Iceland has long dark nights throughout the winter, providing the perfect canvas for the northern lights to appear. Also, Iceland is situated well above the 60° north latitude line, which is the lowest point on which the lights are regularly seen.

What are the best DSLR camera settings for capturing the Northern Lights?

Your DSLR camera settings for capturing the aurora will depend on the intensity of the display. As a general rule of thumb you’ll always want your camera set to manual, your lens focuses near infinity with a shutter speed between 4-30 seconds and an ISO between 100 - 3200 (depending on how strong the aurora is), and your widest aperture possible. You’ll also need a tripod with you to avoid camera shake when taking long exposures. See our full guide on capturing the Northern Lights.