When in Rome you must see the Coliseum and when in Iceland you must see the Aurora Borealis. As we got off the plane, all I could hear in the back of my head was Thomas Rhett’s song “Die A Happy Man.” The chorus starts, “If I never get to see the northern lights…” and I was determined to see them. Here are my top Iceland northern light tips so you can ensure you will have an amazing time.
Iceland Northern Light Tips
We booked our tour for the first night we were there in case we didn’t get to see them or if the company cancelled. Unfortunately they did cancel our tour the first night. Luckily for us we had two more nights to go “hunting” as the Icelandic’s say. The company emailed us and assured us that we’d be on the next tour tomorrow night and we were super excited. The forecast wasn’t great but there was a chance we would get to see them.
Tip: If you plan on doing a Northern lights tour make sure you do it one of your first nights. That way if you do not see them the first night your tour operator will take you out again.
The reason you may not get to see the Northern Lights is due to the weather and cloud coverage. If it’s snowy, rainy or cloudy you likely won’t get to see them because these conditions block the views. Our forecast was slightly cloudy but still we were hoping for the best.
Tip: The Northern Lights viewing season is from October to March. Make sure to travel within that time period for optimal chance of seeing them.
We bundled up in layers upon layers of clothing topping it off with scarves, hats and gloves. With excitement bubbling we made our way to the hotel lobby to wait for our bus to scoop us up. We booked a smaller tour bus so that we could get to harder to reach areas and have a better viewing experience. It ended up being sixteen people in a tiny bus and an awesome driver.
Tip: There is a great Northern Lights forecast website which will tell you how likely you are to see any activity. Link here.
To see the northern lights we had to drive about an hour outside of the city area of Reykjavik and head out into the country. On the way our bus driver told us about some history and myths about the Aurora Borealis. Aurora Borealis is another name for the northern lights. He also gave us awesome tips on how to best capture the lights on your camera. I’m no photographer but we were able to set our camera just right so we could get a great picture. There are also apps you can download to your devices but we didn’t use any apps.
Fun Fact: The bright dancing lights of the aurora are actually collisions between electrically charged particles from the sun that enter the earth’s atmosphere. We still prefer to think of it as magic.
Our guide pulled over to an isolated area where he was seeing signs of the lights. We all got off of the bus and set up our cameras. We had a nice view of the prime minister of Iceland’s summer house too! We did a .25 second shutter speed which meant staying still for a very long time! But the pictures were so worth it. It was about 11 PM and it was so cold I thought I was going to freeze into an icicle. Luckily our tour guide provided blankets, hot chocolate and pastries to keep us warm. It was super cloudy out but we did get to see glimpses of the lights which were amazing! The pictures captured what we saw and it was truly a magical moment. In New York occasionally we have cool skies at night, but nothing like this or even close to this spectacular.
Tip: Our guide had a tripod we could borrow but I definitely recommend bringing one to get the best photos. The key to a great photo is to have a slow shutter speed and to keep very still.
After being outside for about an hour the clouds started to move in so we got back in the bus and headed for another spot. We were able to see some more glimpses of the lights here and I got some really cool pictures of them. Just standing outside and taking this all in was truly amazing.
I almost felt like I was dreaming it was so pretty!