Northern Lights in Iceland

 

Northern Lights in Iceland

I have to admit the only reason I booked my trip to Iceland was to see the Northern lights as I didn’t really know much else about the country apart from this was the best place to see the Aurora Borealis.

My quest for searching for the Northern Lights begun, I didn’t realise it would involve so much chasing around I thought you would just see them in Reykjavik.

Pictures used at the beginning of post are not my own as I did not know how to capture the lights on camera. But I wanted to share with you how spectacular they can look when the photo is taken properly.

What are the Northern Lights

The Northern Lights are a natural phenomenon also known as Polar lights and if they are seen in the Southern Hemisphere they are called Aurora Australis. They are colourful lights that appear in the sky at night and can be various colours but most commonly the northern lights are green.

the green lights that are the northern lights

To be honest I dont understand what they actually are I just know I have seen pictures and they look beautiful and it was on my bucket list to see the Northern Lights in Iceland. They can be spotted in other countries such as Finland and even closer to home in Scotland. However Iceland was the cheapest and best option for me on my quest to spot the Northern Lights.

I visited Iceland on my own and booked my tours through Viator there is also a cool group tour with G Adventures which you can book here



Day 1 Searching for the Northern Lights

I was so excited, the forecast for seeing the lights was great so my fingers were crossed that I was going to see them on my first night and every night after that.

It was my first night in Iceland and the next few nights forecast were not looking that great as it was going to be cloudy and apparently it is best to see the Northern lights on a clear night. This is a cool website for checking the forecast of the likelihood or seeing the Northern lights but of course nothing is guaranteed even if the weather is perfect.

aurora-borealis

The tour company Gray Line picked me up from the hotel and took me to the main office to get onto a larger coach. I was on the 7pm tour and it was nearly full I had a spare seat next to me and I think there are only a couple of spare seats so it is really popular.

There are also tours leaving at 8pm and 9pm. I got chatting to a couple who have been out the previous night and didn’t see anything, they told me if you don’t see something you get a free tour which I wasn’t aware of had a few days in Iceland so I was not that concerned if I wasn’t going to see the lights as I had more nights to try and spot them.

Chasing the Northern Lights is really surreal it was like we were hunting for aliens or something. They call it chasing the Northern Lights as that is literally what we are doing. They are told over radios where the lights are or are likely to be showing and the bus heads in that direction. A quick message over the radio could mean we all have to get on the bus and quickly head to a new destination before the lights disappear so it really each like chasing after something that can vanish in a few seconds.

We pulled up outside a café where it was possible to get hot drinks and snacks. It was only about 8pm and someone told me the lights don’t normally show until 11-1am. Everyone was excited, there was a great atmosphere as we all stood out in the cold looking up at the empty sky.

It was so windy and cold. I started taking pictures of the sky even though there was nothing there but sometimes you can pick the lights up with a camera even if you can not see them.

My camera wasn’t getting anything but another guy was getting some great shots, he explained to me about having to change the settings on my camera, being a bit of a novice and only snapping on auto I knew nothing about what setting to use. You can find out more information here if you are interested in taking pictures of the Northern Lights.

Two other coaches arrived and then we went off in convoy.

We had a tour guide but he wasn’t very informative and was actually quite boring so I switched off listening to him and looked out of the window trying to spot the lights. We went to another viewing point this time it was just an empty carpark. It got more windy and freezing cold as the night went on. I got off the bus but didn’t last long as I was being blown over and there was nothing to see yet so I decided to get back on the nice warm bus.

There is a bit of excitement as the tour guide says the lights are coming they are just very faint at the moment. I could not see anything. Nothing gets stronger and we head back to Reykjavik slightly disappointed but I still have a few more days here to try again.

Even though the lights were very faint we are told we are entitled to a free tour. I thought the lights in Iceland would be easy to spot and I didn’t realise we would be driving around hunting for them. I imagined just looking up into the sky and see the green glow but I was so wrong.

Day 2 Searching for the Northern Lights

I was booked on a Northern Lights cruise, but this was cancelled due to the weather. I was pretty happy about this as it’s was way too windy to be going out on a boat and the sea looked really rough.

I got an email late in the afternoon as they didn’t know until the last minute if the tour was going to go ahead or nit so I advise if you do book a tour to keep checking your emails for any cancellation or updates.

Looking back on the trip and I am slightly gutted that I didn’t get to see the lights from the water as I bet that would also be amazing. If you want to go on a Northern light cruise this is the one I was booked on.

So I spent this free time trying to work out the different settings on my camera so I could get the perfect picture of the Northern Lights. However this never happened as my camera skills are just not good enough.

Day 3 Searching for the Northern Lights

Today I did a tour of the Golden Circle and at the end of the tour our guide informed us that there was a good possibility to see the lights tonight. Excitement cascaded through the coach and as they dropped us off near the booking office I went in to see if they had any places on the Northern Light tour and they did so I booked on for tonight.

example of what the northern lights can look like

Example of what the northern lights can look like

My tour wasn’t until 9pm this time which was OK as I think the earlier tours just meet up with the later tours anyway so it meant I wasn’t out in the cold for longer than necessary. I went and had dinner at the Reykjavik fish restaurant which was one of the best fish and chip dinners I have ever had

Read More : Where to eat in Reykjavik

This time we did a different route the tour companies monitor where the best places to see the lights on the night will be, first we stopped by a church. There are about 6 coaches already there. Our coach parks right on a path of ice which is not good as we all go skidding when we get off the bus. The tour guide put down some sand down but it was still really slippy so I didn’t want to keep getting on and off the bus as I had no one to hold me up. 

However it looked like the lights were coming, but there are so many artificial lights every time I took a picture it was picking up the street lamps. I waited on the bus with some others and after about 10 minutes the tour guide comes back to tell us the lights are appearing round the back of the church so most of us get off to have a look.

I couldn’t see anything. There is a lot of caos as people are banging into each other as it is dark and slippery and everyone is looking up at the sky rather than where they are walking.

It was not a nice experience as it was cold and just too many people as the are coach loads there. So I get back on the bus feeling miserable that the lights still haven’t shown again.

iceland northern lights

Another example of what the Northern Light can look like

We then drive to the south coast for about 1 hour. We are now in a convey of 6 coaches and I bet the locals think there goes the “light hunters”. Our guide said this was going to be the stop for the night now and it was looking really good that the lights were going to show.

She was so much better than the guide from the 1st night, she was entertaining and told us some interesting facts about the Aurora Borealis. She is also really enthusiastic which made a great atmosphere on the bus plus she keeps our hopes us by saying “We are definitely going to see the northern lights today guys!!!” 

We were parked in a carpark of a restaurant, we are told we can go in for some really good lobster soup but I was still full from my fish and chips earlier. I got off the bus to explore but the wind is so strong, we get attacked by lots of flying little stones so most of us get back on the bus again. The things with this tours is most of the time is going to be spent on the bus so be prepared, bring snacks, drinks and maybe some music to listen to as there is so much waiting around for the Northern Lights to appear

I decided once the lights start to show someone was bound to come and tell us on the bus and then i would brae the cold in the meantime I stayed warm on the bus, but even the bus was getting a battering from the wind and was thrashing about as one pint I thought it was going to tip over. and then I could get off into the cold. 

All the lights were switched off on the bus so we were sat there in the pitch black. It was such a weird experience at first as we all sat there silent not really sure what was going on. But then everyone started chatting and it was lots of fun hearing about peoples experiences in Iceland so far. I love listening to other people travel stories.

After an hour passed, no lights and again we left disappointed. I was starting to think I was not going to see the lights during this trip to Iceland. If you are going to go to Iceland to find the Northern Lights then I would advise you are prepared for the cold here are my essentials for a trip to Iceland in the Winter.

Day 4 Searching for the Northern Lights

Over cast all tours were cancelled

Day 5 of Searching for the Northern Lights

The tour I was on today dropped me off outside the booking office again so I popped into see if there were any spaces on the Northern Light tour for tonight. To be honest I was tempted to just go back to my hotel as it had been a really long day but I so wanted to see the lights as at the end of the day that was my main reason for coming to Iceland.

I got a seat on the 7pm tour. When I went to pick up the tour it was 6.50 and the coach looked full, the guide opened the door and said they had no spaces. I explained I was booked on the 7pm tour so he rang the office and then said another bus was coming to pick me up and this bus drove off.

When the next bus arrived the driver asked me if I was booked onto the Northern Lights Delux tour and I said no I was on the standard tour but the bus drove off without me. The 2nd driver also rang the office and then said he had been told me drop me off at the main bus terminal to pick up the standard bus tour. But when we got there we had missed the bus and I was starting to get a be pissed off at this point. I am so cold and tired and felt as though i was being messed around. I was told that they could move me onto the 8pm tor but i had already waited ages and asked them to arrange to take me back to the office so I could get back to my hotel.

They did lots of talking in Icelandic and then said we have decided to upgrade you to the deluxe tour which is to leave in 5 minutes is that OK . Of course it was, I was actually going to ask if I could pay the extra and go on the deluxe one but got it for free instead so I can’t complain.

It was a little bus, the guide was also the driver and was really friendly such a contrast to the other tours where they treat you like cattle. You even get a bottle of water and a blanket. I would highly recommend going on the deluxe tour even though it is twice the price it just felt more special.

free blanket on northern lights delux tour

We went to a lovely restaurant called the cow shed which is literally a converted cow shed and you can even hear cows (obviously there not in the restaurant but sheds next door) and we were given delicious volcano soup which is a beef broth (mushroom option for vegetarians) and homemade bread. It is great when they include food on a tour as it is such an icebreaker when people are sat around a dinner table they get talking and we all got chatting and then it felt like we knew each other and I was sharing the tour with friends which made it so much nicer than the large bus tours.

volcano soup in iceland

After dinner we drove to the waterfall Seljalandsfoss. I had been to this during the day but it looked totally different at night time.

It was magical, the stars were so vivid and bright I had never seen stars like it before. My pictures really don’t do the lights justice as I didn’t have a tripod which you really need to take decent pictures of the Northern Lights.

After a few minutes of looking up at the sky I got back on the bus to warm up. Everyone else soon got back on and we drive off to another spot.

I was looking to the right of the bus and it looked like a big cloud was appearing the driver said “That’s the lights” and we all got off the bus really excited. The cloud started to get brighter and brighter and then there it was the Northern Lights. OMG it was one of the most spectacular things I have ever seen and this is so worth the days of waiting as I suppose it made it more special because I really thought I wasn’t going to get to see them.

Maybe if I had seen them on the first day I might have not appreciated them as much.

To watch them by this beautiful waterfall as well was amazing. I don’t want to lessen the majestic of the lights but it is not as neon as it shows on the pictures though it is still very special and definitely worth seeing. My camera picked up the lights though again not brilliant I was a giddy little kipper as so chuffed with what I was getting.

We were given some hot chocolate as we watched the lights. They looked like they were dancing as they moved about.

spotting the northern lights in iceland

After about ten minutes they started to fade. We drove off and a few minutes down the road we could see them appearing again so the driver pulled over.

Wow these ones were vertical and horizontal and they were also dancing. There was one point where two little clouds made a cross in the middle of the lights. I had now seen the lights crossing something off my bucket list. I was so happy as I got into bed at 2am cold and knackered but it was absolutely worth it.

northern lights in reykavik

Day 6 Search for the Northern Lights is over

I left Reykjavik to spend a couple of nights in Keflavik which is near the airport. It is a lovely little village by the sea with little sailing boats, great views of the mountains and excellent place to look at the sea.

Since I had already seen the lights and wasn’t preparing to go on anymore tours this was a time for me to chill before heading home. I was lying in bed watching TV when I noticed something moving in the window. I looked outside and was amazed to see the green glow from the lights.

northern lights from my window

The view from my window

I went outside but it was hard to get photos due to the street lamps but they were easy to see by the naked eye.

Aurora borealis in iceland

It is more like a glowing cloud. I walked up to the cliff past the street lights where it was pitch black and the view of the northern lights were amazing. A totally different perspective of how I had seen them a few days ago closer to the city. It was right over my head instead of in the distance so when I looked up, half the sky was green it was truly beautiful and I so happy I have seen them like this too.

Aurora borealis in keflavik

I couldn’t stay out here too long as my over imagination starts worrying about being on a cliff edge in the pitch black on my own, plus I came out without my gloves and my hands are starting to really hurt. You will definitely need thermals if you go to Iceland in the winter as it is one of the coldest I have ever been.

nothern lights in keflavik

If you like the sound of these tours then you can find more information on the tours I did here

This however is one of the best things I have ever seen, another tick on the bucket list, now I have to think of something truly amazing to do next…… (suggestions welcome)

Further articles you may find interesting

10 Essentials you need for Iceland

Why visit Iceland : My guide to Iceland

20 Cool facts about Iceland

If you liked this post please share and pin for future reference

Northern lights in Iceland ǀ What it is like to see the Northern Lights in Iceland ǀ Spotting the Northern lights in Iceland ǀ Where to see the Northern Lights ǀ How to see the Northern Lights in Iceland

  • Originally published in Aug 2016 updated in Feb 2019

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9 thoughts on “Northern Lights in Iceland”

  1. I had no idea you had to hunt for the Northern Lights. I guess that makes it more exciting when you find it? I would be pretty disappointed if I hadn’t seen them at all during a trip to Iceland, especially since it seems like one of the major attractions for visitors and I wouldn’t see it at home.

  2. Yea i thought u would just look up
    and see them but it was a lot of driving around and a few disappointing nights of nothing. In Keflavik you just look up as there isn’t many artificial lights around. I would of been upset if I hadn’t seen them as it was the reason I went lol

  3. The Northern Lights have been a dream for us for some time, we hope to make it someday in our lifetime. Indeed it must have been an exciting experience, and yes I think no camera can do justice to the real experience.

  4. This blog post on the Northern Lights is the real deal! You have explained in great detail the things you have to go through to experience a truly magical moment. Indeed, no pain, no gain. Keep it up!

  5. I want to see northerns lights too!! Luckily, they could be seen in lower latitudes as well, since Iceland it’s not cheap to travel too, but still, I live in Italy and to find a proper spot to find them I have to travel a bit anyway!

  6. Amazing post!!
    Im looking forward to travel to Iceland and i would love to see someday the northern lights!!
    I loved the diary style 🙂

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