You’ve seen the pictures, heard the rave reviews, and now you want to experience them for yourself: the aurora borealis, the northern lights, those elusive, magical, shimmering rows of colour that dance across the Nordic skies in winter.
The northern lights are definitely near the top of sights to see for the majority of tourists that travel to Iceland in the winter. However, frustratingly, they tend to play hard to get. They don’t just appear on command, and there are no guarantees. For one thing, the conditions have to be just right. Obviously, it has to be dark, with an absence of cloud cover. It also has to be cold, preferably below freezing, which – you may be surprised to know – is not always the case in Iceland in winter. In fact, thanks to the country’s marine climate and the close proximity of the Gulf Stream, to say nothing of global warming, it’s far more common for temperatures to be above freezing than below it.
Also, the chances of seeing the northern lights are far greater during the darkest winter months, meaning November to January. By February the day is already getting longer, and the chances of catching a glimpse of aurora diminish rapidly.
A number of tour operators run northern lights tours, which is probably an excellent bet for those serious about their northern lights viewing. The tour operators keep tabs on conditions at any given time and will head out to locations where the aurora are most likely to appear. This will usually mean heading into the countryside, since light pollution is another major deterrent to successful northern lights viewing. Hence the likelihood of experiencing those swirling, dancing lights increases substantially outside of the capital area.
If you think all this sounds like too much trouble just to see a few lights in the sky, think again. Standing out in the moonlight, far from human habitation, with those stunning columns of light wafting above you – and even emitting a vague whooshing sound! - you’ll be awestruck and thrilled in equal measure. And you’ll thank us later.
Take a Tour: Iceland Excursions