The Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis) is a natural phenomenon where you see colourful lights of green, blues and sometimes red in the clear, night sky. Since it is a natural phenomenon, sightings of the Northern Lights are not guaranteed. However, if you read on and follow my tips, you may have a higher chance of getting lucky! We saw the Northern Lights on the first night of our tour and we think it is because of our careful planning and research!
We visited Iceland with my Aunt and cousin. They were on a Eurotrip and decided to join us so without giving it much thought, they trusted our instincts to travel to Iceland at the beginning of December and it paid off.
Tips for seeing the Northern Lights
When we booked our trip, we considered the following:
- Reduced Light Pollution: The lights are most visible when there is minimal to zero light pollution. We stayed in the city of Reykjavik, Iceland, but booked a tour that would take us out of the city into areas where we are most likely to see the Northern Lights. We selected a coach tour due to my pregnancy, but there are various tours available.
- No Moon: We booked the tour when there was likely to be a new moon (i.e. when the moon is not visible). This results in less light pollution and a higher probability of seeing the Northern lights.
- Clear Skies: The lights are also only visible when the sky is clear i.e. no cloud coverage, snow or rain. Since weather in winter is unpredictable, try to book at least 3 days in Iceland to give yourself a better chance of experiencing good weather conditions for seeing the Norther Lights. Don’t worry about being bored because there is so much to do in Iceland in the meantime – horse back riding, snow-mobiling, geyser watching, glacier hiking etc! I actually want to return again one day!
- Months to travel: November to March is the best time to travel to Iceland for the Northern lights because it is winter time and the sun goes down early.
- Camera Settings are important: We saw the Northern Lights in two locations and sometimes your camera may not capture what your eyes can see and vice versa (more about that later)! If you have an automatic point-and-shoot camera like we do, here are the best camera settings for capturing the Northern Lights: ISO 800-1600, Exposure of 15 seconds. Bring a tripod! Our photos would have looked less blurry if we had thought of this earlier.
We saw the Northern Lights on Day 1 of our Tour!
As I mentioned earlier, we saw the Northern Lights on day 1 of our tour and with careful planning, I think you can too.
During the day, we spent the day on another tour. I will tell you more about that tour later but it took us to parts of Iceland where the cloud coverage was 100%. Now, if you read my tips above, you’ll realise that 100% cloud coverage is not ideal weather conditions for the Northern Lights.
Then it started to snow and rain over a period of a few hours. Also not great conditions to see the Northern Lights.
This did not discourage us. We knew that weather conditions in Iceland could change quickly and as we sat in the air-conditioned coach, it did. The sky was black as ebony and we could clearly see stars above us. There was not a cloud to be seen.
Location 1: Seeing the Northern Lights
The coach tour was exhausting especially when we reached the first location. We were rugged up but nothing could have prepared my cousin and Aunt for the immense cold (they are from Australia). Rick and I had lived in London long enough to at least expect such cold conditions. There we stood and waited to see a glimpse of the Northern Lights.
As we looked up at the sky we could see lights forming above us. They were shades of grey at first and that was because the lights were not so strong. It was beautiful but nothing like the photos I had seen on the Internet. We took some amazing photos but our naked eyes could only see the shades of grey with slight hints of colour.
I love this picture below which captured another person trying to take a picture, just as a car drove past!
My Aunt had a great camera but couldn’t seem to capture the colours on her camera. She could only capture the darkness of the night, despite several attempts by 10+ people to help her out. The tour guide concluded that we had seen the lights and we all boarded the bus feeling excited but slightly disappointed.
Location 2: seeing the Northern Lights with the Naked Eye
I slept on the bus until the I heard the tour guide talk louder than usual, telling us to exit the bus. I ran out of the bus and it was there that we saw the Northern Lights in its full glory. The tour guide had spotted the lights as she was looking out the window and wanted us to catch a glimpse of them. The colours were magnificent. Just above us was a streak of green and blue light, almost as if someone had taken a paint brush and painted the sky with gorgeous colours.
Behind us were shades of red lights, which is rare but can be seen in perfect conditions. The picture is slightly blurry as we didn’t have a tripod but I think it captures what we saw pretty well!
We saw the Northern Lights with the naked eye and it was only by chance thanks to our tour guide! I ran inside the coach to wake up my sleeping cousin and Aunt. My Aunt loaded her camera and didn’t even bother to change the settings, used my cousins shoulder as a tripod and just pointed in the direction of the light. She captured the streak of green in the sky with minimal fuss. We giggled about her limited camera skills afterwards but agreed that it was amazing to see that the photography captured exactly what our eyes were seeing, even with her limited photography skills!
Such an amazing experience and one I will never forget. Have you seen the Northern Lights? If so, which country did you visit to see them?
Check out the photos below and let me know what you think of the Northern Lights.
Get inspired or get hungry
- Read more about the Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis) here.
- The Ultimate Guide to seeing the Aurora Borealis here.
- If you want to book the same coach tour as me, check it out here. However, I only booked this because I was pregnant and it was safer. I would have preferred a jeep tour which would have been adventurous!