Wednesday, January 1, 2014

The northern lights in Iceland

Many travel to Iceland on the sole purpose of seeing the northern lights. Others just take it as a nice surprise, or a bonus, if the northern lights can be seen during their trip to Iceland. In either case you should take the following, five rules of the northern lights into consideration:
  1. Dark: To see the northern lights the sky must be dark. And because the summer months in Iceland mean 24 hour daylight, your visit should take place during the winter months.
  2. Light pollution: For enjoying the northern lights in their most splendor and glory you should travel outside the capital area. You don’t have to travel far; a 20 – 30 minutes drive should suffice. The northern lights can be seen even though you are in the city by they do not look as bright as when you are outside the city.
  3. Cloudy skies: If it is cloudy you probably won’t be able to see the northern lights, or just briefly between clouds. Clear skies are the northern lights viewer’s best friend.
  4. Cold: As the best conditions to see the northern lights are on clear nights during winter you should expect cold weather. So bring your warmest clothes to fully enjoy the experience.
  5. Non-constant: The northern lights are a natural phenomenon that is triggered by sun storms. These sun storms are variable in their power and therefore the northern lights are variable in their intensity from time to time. Sometimes they appear as a barely visible veil in the sky while on other occasions they appear as bright, ever changing band of light and color. The best time to see the northern lights is 2 – 3 days after a especially violent sun storm. 
Many travel operators in Iceland offer northern lights tours. Most of them work together in the way that if one finds a good spot to see the lights he lets the other operators know. Many also offer a guarantee in the way that if you book with them and the lights can’t be seen, they offer you unlimited trips without additional fee, until the lights are seen (do check this with your operator before booking).

You can of course also be on your own, for an example on a rental. It is not difficult to find roads leading out of the city if you have a map but on the other hand, finding the right spot on that particular night might be difficult. You have much more chance of seeing the lights when using the tour operators as they let each other know if one finds a good spot. 

As you can see you need a considerable amount of luck to see the northern lights in Iceland. Therefore I strongly suggest that you do not make the northern lights your sole reason for visiting Iceland. Instead make your travel plans around some of the many interesting sights and things to do in this incredible country and always have plan A and B for the afternoons and nights (plan A being a northern lights tour and plan B what you can do if the conditions are not good). With the mindset of enjoying Iceland first and foremost, and treating the northern lights as special bonus to your trip, you can avoid a lot of disappointment and frustration.

You can now get a northern lights forecast for Iceland here but I don't know how accurate it is.


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