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Aurora Borealis: One of Iceland's Top Attractions

Updated: Aug 9, 2023

The Northern Lights are an unusual and unique phenomenon. Unfortunately, not everybody is lucky enough to see them. Due to the location of some countries, they enjoy the privilege of seeing them every year. In Iceland, the aurora borealis works like a magnet: hundreds of tourists come to Iceland to see them year after year.

Iceland's Jokulsarlon Lagoon with the Aurora Borealis in the background

The Icelandic weather is not very favorable nor mild; we have constant rain and severe winds. Therefore we got the hypnotizing northern lights as a reward and compensation. No wonder why many people want to choose the right and proper time when planning their trip to Iceland. Do not miss your chance and check how and when to see the Northern Lights in Iceland.

How do the Northern Lights form?

The formation of the Northern Lights is directly related to solar activity and solar storms. In the course of explosions and flares, elementary particles are thrown into space. As they approach earth and collide with the upper layers of the atmosphere, the energy is released, and it is seen in the form of auroras. It has many colors, green, yellow and red and even white.

The color depends on the given gas. It is said that when the particles collide with oxygen, the aurora takes green and pink colors. When the collision is with nitrogen, dark red, blue, burgundy, and purple colors are the final result.

The unusual lights' show has also been a constant element in myths and legends in the Scandinavian countries. In Norse mythology, the Northern Lights are identified with Bifrost, the bridge connecting the earth with Asgard. Asgard is home to the gods and paradise for warriors. Others say the Aurora Borealis are reflections of the Valkyries' shields as they cross the sky to Valhalla.

Although the scientific explanation of the formation of aurora seems to make more sense, while being in Iceland, it is impossible not to associate this phenomenon with mythology. The whole show of the lights has something special about it, and it's easy to think that it is pure magic.

When to see Aurora Borealis in Iceland

The best time to see aurora borealis in Iceland is between the end of September until April. The official season starts in October and ends in March. Winter is when the nights are dark, and the possibility to see the auroras is higher. Usually, the best time to see the lights is from 23-2 am.

The solar storms occur all year long, but we can only see their effects on the sky when it is entirely dark. In Iceland, you get dark nights in autumn and winter as summer brings us Midnight Sun with endless daylight. To increase the chances of seeing auroras head to areas where there is little to none light pollution. That is usually outside of the cities and populated towns.

You will also need a clear sky with no clouds which can cover the lights. This isn't easy in Iceland, may I say. All right, so we have a dark night, clear skies, no artificial lights, what else do we need? A bit of luck!

How to watch the Northern Lights in Iceland

The Northern Lights in Iceland can take not only different colors but also different shapes. While observing it, you can notice that it can take a form or an arch and quickly change. You can even see how it is moving gently in the dark sky. You can see the auroras even when solar activity is relatively low in Iceland; they can stay in the sky for hours! However, there are nights when the activity is deficient, and even if all the conditions seem to be perfect, you might not find any sign of the lights.

There is a particular application which you can download on your phone for free. It can indeed be beneficial in hunting for the Northern Lights. It shows you the solar activity level and estimates your chances to see the auroras on a specific day. It might not be 100% accurate, but it will still be much of a help if you are a beginning hunter. Check the official website for the aurora forecast too!

All around the island, you will find many companies offering the Northern Lights tours. Many of them are combined with other tour options so you can fully enjoy your day. The experienced guides know their country best and know when and at what time the chances to see the lights are higher. They will take you in a unique, usually a four-wheel-drive vehicle for a ride, far from the city. Sometimes they can go off-road if that means increasing the chances of watching the lights. Do not worry about paying for the tour and missing the opportunity to watch the Aurora borealis; in such cases, most companies offer a second tour for free on a different day! It may not be guaranteed to see the Northern Lights in Iceland, but you indeed will have several opportunities.

Waiting for the Northern Lights

If you ask me the best way to see the Northern Lights in Iceland, I would say, while soaking in a hot geothermal spring! This is the best that can happen to you! Just imagine soaking in warm, geothermal water, having a nice Icelandic drink, and watching the Northern Lights dancing in the sky. and ideal view, with the mountains covered in snow in the background. The description of what a wonderland is!

Kirkjufell mountain with the Aurora Borealis in Icelnad

The most well known Icelandic mountain with the aurora borealis in the sky is the Kirkjufell mountain on the Snaefellsnes peninsula. You might have seen it already when you google pictures for auroras in Iceland. Many tourists dream of capturing this unique phenomenon in this epic place. This is definitely on of the best Icelandic souvenirs you might get. Remember, you should absolutely get the mountain, the waterfall, and the auroras in the frame!

Otherwise, we will consider it mmm a bit of a fail! You have the best chance to see the Northern Lights in the North of Iceland, where the sky is often cloudless, and the strength of the aurora is greater. Sometimes, you can be lucky enough to watch the Northern Lights right in the center of Vik city. However, this isn't easy to achieve as there are many city lights on during the night.

Aurora Borealis in Iceland, in the capital city Reykjavik

One of the most popular attractions in Iceland is undoubtedly the Blue Lagoon spa. It is usually a preferred spot to observe the aurora. These spa waters, rich in minerals, will ease your mind and work as a relaxing method for your body. If you are lucky enough and the Northern Lights show is on that night, you will spend your most beautiful moments in Iceland.

Whichever option you choose for hunting the Northern Lights in Iceland, make sure you prepare yourself well. Besides checking the available mobile applications to see your chances for the lights' show, select the right clothes. Sometimes you must wait for the lights for long hours in the cold night when the temperature drops. Wear some warm clothes and take a thermal bottle with some delicious warm drink. It will keep your body warmed up for longer. You can even bring a sleeping bag or a blanket to cover yourself while waiting. This way, the whole tour will be a unique and unforgettable experience.

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