Northern Lights Tours & Holidays

Best Northern Lights Tours in Iceland

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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 in Iceland?

The best time to see the northern lights in Iceland is between September and April. Daylight hours are shorter throughout these months, providing more opportunities to see the magnificent aurora borealis. The conditions need to be just right to witness the northern lights, so the more nighttime hours, the better your chances of catching them during your trip.

Why are the northern lights so common in Iceland?

Iceland is situated well above the 60° north latitude line, the lowest point from which the northern lights are regularly seen. The dark and long nights during the winter in Iceland also make auroras more prominent and easy to spot.

Can I see the northern lights in the summer in Iceland?

At the height of summer in Iceland, you cannot see the northern lights because of the extended hours of daylight. However, it’s possible to see them in Iceland in late August when autumn is approaching and the nights get darker. But the chances of seeing the aurora are better in Iceland's winter months.

Are northern lights tours in Iceland worth it?

Northern lights tours in Iceland are absolutely worth it! Several tour options are available when looking for opportunities to see the aurora borealis, many of which depart from Reykjavik for convenience. Whether you choose a self-drive road trip or a guided tour, Iceland is one of the best places in the world to see this incredible natural phenomenon.

Is a sighting of the northern lights in Iceland guaranteed on the tours?

No, the northern lights in Iceland are a natural phenomenon, and sightings unfortunately can't be guaranteed. Tour operators try to predict them the best they can and find hot spots for northern lights activity for visitors to enjoy. However, northern lights tour companies in Iceland usually offer you a second opportunity to try and see them for free if your first tour is unsuccessful.

What region in Iceland is best for spotting the northern lights?

Northern lights are regularly seen in all regions of Iceland as long as the sky is dark and clear. But North Iceland and the Westfjords have shorter sunlight hours than other parts of Iceland in the winter, meaning a higher chance you’ll see northern lights there.

What's the best northern lights tour in Iceland?

The best northern lights tour in Iceland (or at least the most popular) is a 5-day tour that includes ice caving, exploring the Golden Circle, and a visit to the Blue Lagoon.

What's the cheapest northern lights tour in Iceland?

The cheapest northern lights tour in Iceland is at the Aurora Basecamp Northern Lights Observatory, which starts from 28 USD. This northern lights tour allows you to learn more about this natural phenomenon from an expert guide.

How much is a tour to see the northern lights in Iceland?

The price can range from 70 USD for a northern lights bus tour from Reykjavik to 116 USD for a 2-hour northern lights boat cruise. There is also a wide range of private northern lights tours that can be in the hundreds of dollars.

What happens if a northern lights tour in Iceland is canceled?

If a northern lights tour is canceled due to weather conditions, most tour companies will offer a full refund or the option to reschedule the tour for another night. It's important to check the cancellation policy of the tour company before booking.

How long does a northern lights tour in Iceland last?

It depends on which northern lights tour in Iceland you choose. The most popular northern lights tours have departures from Reykjavik and only take a few hours. However, the longer tours can last a few days as you explore the countryside while aurora hunting.

Is the northern lights tour going to be on a big bus or a minibus in Iceland?

We have a great selection of various northern lights tours throughout Iceland. You can choose between looking for the aurora borealis on a minibus northern lights tour, a big bus northern lights tour, an adventurous northern lights tour in a super jeep, or even a northern lights boat tour to view the phenomenon at sea.

Do you offer a northern lights tour from Reykjavik, Iceland?

Yes, we offer many northern lights tours that depart from Reykjavik, Iceland.

Do you offer northern lights photography tours in Iceland?

Yes, we have several northern lights photography tours in Iceland. The tours available range from a short 5-hour small-group tour to an 8-day aurora borealis photography workshop tour, and more.

What colors are the northern lights in Iceland?

In Iceland, the northern lights are most commonly green, but they can also be purple, red, pink, white, and blue if they are particularly strong and conditions are good. The colors are more vibrant if the aurora is strong, but what you see varies from person to person. A DSLR camera can pick up the colors better than the naked eye.

What kind of camera do I need to capture the northern lights?

To capture the northern lights, you will need a camera with manual settings, such as a DSLR or mirrorless camera. A tripod is also recommended, as you will need to take long exposure shots to capture the lights. It's important to bring extra batteries and memory cards, as cold temperatures can drain batteries quickly.

What are the best DSLR camera settings for capturing the northern lights in Iceland?

It depends on the intensity of the display. In general, you should: Set your camera to manual mode; Lens focus to near infinity; Shutter speed between 4–30 seconds; ISO between 100–3200 (depending on how intense the aurora is); The widest aperture possible; Mount your camera on a tripod (this avoids camera shake when taking long exposures). For further advice, see our full guide on capturing the northern lights in Iceland.

What causes the northern lights in Iceland?

The natural phenomenon called the northern lights is caused by solar wind particles interacting with the Earth's magnetic field. Because Earth's magnetic energy is strongest at the poles, it causes the solar particles to discharge and release energy in Earth's atmosphere. Because of Iceland's proximity to the North Pole, we perceive this exchange of energy as dancing streaks of green, purple, and pink lights in the sky.

What should I wear on a northern lights tour in Iceland?

Since the northern lights are only visible during the Icelandic winters, it is wise to wear warm clothes. Since you will want to spend some time outside enjoying the aurora, we recommend you wear a winter coat, scarf, headwear, gloves, and winter boots if you have them. It's also wise to pack a battery pack for your phone, as phone batteries get depleted faster in cold conditions.

What are the ideal conditions to see the northern lights in Iceland?

First of all, the sky should be clear so clouds aren't blocking your view of the northern lights. Ideally, the solar wind activity should be high, which causes the aurora to become more vivid (you can check solar activity on the aurora forecast).
However, the only thing you can control is the amount of light around you. Avoid brightly lit areas and seek wide plains or other remote environments so you can see the sky clearly.

Do the northern lights happen every night in Iceland?

The rate of the northern lights depends on the power of the solar storms occurring on the sun some 93 million miles away. The stronger the solar storms, the more active the northern lights are in Iceland. However, even if a solar storm is strong, the conditions must be right to see them.
Therefore, they're not visible if it's bright outside (which is 24/7 during summers in Iceland), if it's cloudy, or if the light pollution in the city is too strong. Factoring in all requirements, the northern lights are visible about 3–4 days a week in Iceland during winter.

Can you see the northern lights in Reykjavik, Iceland?

Yes, even surrounded by street lights, sometimes the aurora is so bright and strong that you can view the northern lights in Reykjavik. However, that is very rare and ideally you should go outside of the city where it's darker. If you can't get out of Reykjavik, there are some places in the city where light pollution is low such as the Grotta lighthouse, Perlan and the surrounding area, or Hljomskalagardur park.

What time of day is best to see the northern lights in Iceland?

The best time of day to see the northern lights in Iceland is during the evenings and nights in the winter. Since the days are short during the Icelandic winters, it can be dark outside as early as 5 pm which can make the aurora visible in ideal conditions.

Can you see the northern lights from the Blue Lagoon?

Yes, under ideal conditions, you can view the northern lights from the Blue Lagoon. When aurora activity is high and the sky is clear, it is possible to see them from the Blue Lagoon as long as the light pollution from the area is not too strong. If you're planning to visit the world-famous spa, make sure to book admission to the Blue Lagoon ahead of time.

How long do the northern lights in Iceland last?

Usually, they last about 10–15 minutes although this is highly variable depending on conditions. If the sky is clear, aurora activity is high, and you're viewing them from a dark area (free from light pollution), the northern lights in Iceland might last for 1–2 hours.

How long do northern lights tours in Iceland last?

Northern lights tours in Iceland usually last between 3–4 hours, depending on the tour. Some tours may also include additional activities, such as a visit to a geothermal spa or a traditional Icelandic dinner.

Can I see the northern lights on my own in Iceland?

Yes, it's possible to see the northern lights on your own in Iceland. However, joining a guided tour is recommended for the best chance of seeing the lights, as the tour guides are experienced in finding the best viewing spots and can provide additional information about the phenomenon.
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