What are they? The northern lights, or aurora Borealis, are created by the collision of charged particles from the sun as they enter earth’s atmosphere. They can be seen above the magnetic poles of the northern and Southern Hemispheres making Iceland a prime location to see them! The timing for our Iceland trip was book primarily for the higher likely hood of getting to see the Northern Lights. We were told they’re out most nights but due to light pollution or cloud coverage it’s not always possible to see them.
Why see? Seeing the northern lights is on just about every travel bucket list that you will find. Increased light pollution in developed countries has led to reduced visibility. This makes them best seen in remote locations where there isn’t a lot of light at nighttime. If seeing the northern lights is on your travel bucket list, you should definitely take advantage of seeing this natural phenomenon before light pollution wipes them away for good.
When? The best chances of seeing the northern lights are in areas where the sky is completely dark. With that being said, be sure to research the moon cycles consider the time of the year that you are visiting Iceland. They are best seen from late August to mid April when there is complete and total darkness (there is midnight sun in the summer). If there is a full moon, visibility will also be reduced as this adds light to the sky.
How? You can go northern light chasing on your own, or book a tour while in Iceland! We opted for a tour, hoping that our chances of seeing the lights were higher since they’d know where to take us. Most tours offer a guaranteed sighting or promise a free return trip on another night. This worked in our favor because our first scheduled trip was cancelled, but we did get to see them the following night.
Insider Tip: Our tour took us to Thingvellir National Park where there was complete and total darkness, if you are hunting on your own, this may be a good place to take your chances.
What were they like? In person, the northern lights are magical. They literally dance across the sky almost like there is a huge strobe light shining upward. One thing that we didn’t realize until we saw them in person was that the most colors are naked to the human eye you can see the green and some gray but unless you know how to change your camera’s settings, photographing them can be difficult. The lights will not show up when taken with an iPhone and you will get a lot of grumbles from unhappy people if you turn your flash on and keep trying! If you don’t have an upgraded camera it’s better to just put the phone away and just enjoy the show.
Insider tip: there are apps that adjust iPhone settings to allow for the lights to show up in some photos. Our tour guide recommended the “northern lights camera” app.