One of the many things Iceland is famed for is the chance to see the northern lights. The aurora borealis. They are elusive and notoriously difficult to predict, but they draw 1000s of tourists every year to Iceland on a hunt for these magical lights.
Spoiler alert: We didn’t see them.
So is it worth going on an organised tour to hunt for the northern lights?
Kind of. Hear me out on this will you.
Aurora the greek goddess of Dawn, it makes sense when you think about it. Dawn brings the light. Aurora Borealis. The Northern Lights are inspiring and captivating. They say seeing them once is never enough.
What Causes the Northern Lights?
My non astro physicist, GCSE science explanation is: The sun throws out solar flares (think of the sun been sick), these travel through space on the solar winds and hit Earth magnetic field. This is where the particles from the solar flares interact with the gases in our atmosphere. These then appear as the northern lights. Green most commonly seen is the interaction between these gasses and solar particles with oxygen, other gases such as nitrogen produce different colours.
If you want a elegant more technical explanation you can check out NASAs website.
Icelandic Mythology say the Northern Lights can predict the weather; if the lights are still in the sky there is good weather ahead, if the lights are dancing there are storms coming. Also more obscurely, if a pregnant lady looks at the lights while in labour the baby will be cross eyes and if she does not look at the lights she will have a painless birth.
Hunting the Northern Lights on an Organised Tour
This is where things get interesting of sorts. So our holiday had 2 tours included and one of these was a Northern Lights hunt. They call it a hunt because there is no guarantee you will see them. (If you don’t see them many tours will take you out again for free the next chance there is).
I’m going to be honest here, I was a little disappointed. In my head I expected to go with a small group of people into the country side miles away from no where and have this ‘romantic’ hunt for the lights. It most definitely was not that. We got on a coach, drove around an hour outside of Reykjavik to a golf course. It just happened that this was the choice of the evening for multiple companies and 10+ other coaches turned up too. Thats a lot of people in one area. You’re looking at close to 600 people. All looking for the Northern Lights.
The location wasn’t necessarily a bad one, there was a church to one side and they had some huge flood lights which made it difficult to see the night sky. (You can see in the bottom left of my picture the light bleeding in)
Even though there were lots of people around we managed to bag a spot away from the crowd and I set up my tripod and camera. And patiently waited.
We stayed in the location for around 3 hours, the clouds parted a few times and I managed to get some lovely pictures of the milky way but no elusive lights. I was expecting to go to a few different locations in one evening hunting the lights. But I guess that this would have been difficult with a coach load of people. More so that some people got fed up after an hour and went to sit back in the coach.
Is Worth Booking an Organised Northern Lights Tour?
So I guess is an organised tour worth it? I’m sticking with kind of. If you don’t have your own car then yes, the tour will take you to a relatively dark area which has a good chance of a clear sky. The staff will check the weather and take you to where they think is the best spot to see the northern lights. There is no guarantee though. You literally are at the mercy of the solar gods.
If you have your own car, I would recommend going hunting by yourself. The Icelandic Met office has its own website that tracks the solar flares and cloud cover so you can have the best chance of seeing the lights. But ultimately you need to remember a few things, 1. you need to be patient 2. there is no guarantee you’ll spot the northern lights and 3. get away from all light pollution.
May the luck of the Norse Gods be with you.
You can read about my other Icelandic adventures here