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Hunting for the Northern Lights in North Iceland - Tips and Tricks

Iceland is an unusual country in many aspects. It is a place where you can observe geological processes with your own eyes and see the power of the geothermal forces. In Iceland rocks and lava make formations that capture everyone’s imagination. There are wonderful waterfalls, streams, lakes, glaciers, and geysers. There is one more phenomenon in Iceland that attracts so many people - the Northern Lights. It is an unusual atmospheric occurrence and Iceland is the perfect place to watch it. Thousand of tourists are travelling to Iceland especially to observe the show of the colourful lights of  Mother Nature. It is also well known as the Aurora Borealis. It’s not that easy though to see it, though. It’s not like you wish for it and it magically appears on the sky... I wish that were true!

There are some Northern Lights hunt tricks that you should make use of. Let's find out all about it!

Couple of tourists enjoying the Northern Lights in the North Iceland in a hot tube

North Iceland tour - Northern Lights hunting tricks

Let's start with how the Northern Lights are created. This wonder in the sky can be observed at the North pole of our planet. It is a complicated physical phenomenon associated with the solar wind, which is a stream of charged particles that travels towards the Earth at an enormous speed. As you know, we have a magnetic field around the Earth that protects us. It has some weaker points though, like holes. When molecules come to the atmosphere they fall into these holes. When they collide with oxygen and nitrogen, they transfer their energy. Oxygen and nitrogen then must then give away this energy. They do this by emitting photons or light particles. In this way, we can see the colours of the Lights.

The colours depend on whether the oxygen or nitrogen or their mixture reflects light and at what height.

In most cases, the human eye can see the aurora as a light green colour, which is caused by poor sensitivity of the eye to colours in low light (night). That is why normally we can see colourful, green, pink-red lights only in photos.

If you are planning to hunt for the Northern Lights there are a few things you should know about. In order to be able to see the lights, several conditions must be fulfilled.

1. Light pollution must be lowered as much as possible. What does that mean? You should get as far from the city lights as possible. If you decided to rent a car, it’s a perfect decision because you can just pack all the things you will need and go as far as you need to be able to see the show.

2. The sky needs to be clear. If the cloud cover is thick, you will not be able to see much. It does not mean though that the Northern Lights are not created on a cloudy night, it is just that you will not be able to see them through the clouds.

3. It has to be dark. So the only chance to see the Aurora Borealis is at night. There is no certain time which would be best for the Northern Lights but most of the people who saw them said it was between 9 pm and 1 am. Around midnight is also perfect. Do not forget to get some warm clothes or even blankets or sleeping bags with you because sometimes you need to wait a while for it. A good idea is to bring some hot or warm drinks with you as well so you can warm yourself up any time.

Taking photos of the Northern Lights is not easy and can only be done in winter months

For those whose dream is to photograph the Northern Lights, they should definitely prepare their camera and the right lens in advance and be ready to take a photo of the Northern Lights any time! Northern Lights photography is not easy and not everyone is able to capture them in a photo. The important thing is the exposure time. The longer the shutter stays open, the more light will come in and the better the picture will be.

In Iceland, all those conditions can be fulfilled mainly in winter and the season for the Lights is from late October to April but if you are lucky enough you will even be able to see them in September already.

Some might ask where is the best area in Iceland to see the Northern Lights. There is no definite answer here. Statistically speaking, the further to the north you go the greater the chance there is to see them. If you are planning to see them while travelling around Askja, check first what is the best way to get there. It might indeed increase your chances to see them when you are in an uninhibited area with the night sky clear of city lights.

The aurora forecast in Iceland

Sometimes it is really hard to say if the night is dark enough and if the sky is clear enough to be able to watch the lights. In this case, this website where you can check the Aurora forecast is very helpful. It is a very nice and easy tool which will show you what are your chances for the show. In most of the cases, it really shows you the correct possibility of the Northern Lights so it is really worth checking it out. If it can help you out, why not?

There is also an app that you can download on your smartphone called MyAuroraForecast. It’s not free of charge though it is very reliable. According to your location, it will count the chances for the Northern Lights show.  I must admit it works quite well.

Northern Lights tour in Iceland

Tourists enjoying the Northern Lights tour in North Iceland

If you though do not feel like hunting for the Northern Lights in Iceland on your own, we have a solution for you! The local companies offer fully guided Northern Lights tours. If you are coming to Iceland in a larger group you can even rent a Super Jeep for yourself and do the private tour. It is really a great idea for those who stay in Reykjavik and wish to see the lights but do not want to rent a car just for one day. The guide will know exactly where to go and what to do to increase the chances of seeing the Northern Lights.

Of course, you can’t always predict the Northern Lights, this is obvious. There is nothing to worry about though, it is not like you will just waste your money. You will be offered another tour free of charge on the following night if you don’t see anything on the night of your tour. Isn’t that great?

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