What it’s really like looking for the Northen Lights in Iceland

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Seeing the Northern Lights had been on my bucket list for a long time. I think it had been on my boyfriend Tom’s for even longer.  So when we landed in Reykjavik we were super excited to finally get a chance to see them!

But despite this, I was anxious. The thing is, everything you read tells you not to plan your trip around seeing the aurora, but come on now, NO ONE goes to Iceland without planning their trip round this, and we were definitely no different. And on top of this, the forecast had been pretty crap and the sky had been overcast for days. It was not looking promising, but the Northern Lights are unpredictable.

SO WHAT ARE THE NORTHERN LIGHTS?

Here’s a bit of science for ya…

So I’m sure you all know that the scientific name for the Northern Lights is the Aurora Borealis. But what causes it? Basically, it occurs when electrically charged particles (ions) from the sun are drawn to the magnetic poles of the Earth and enter into the atmosphere. Which is exactly why you’ve gotta head up North to see them! Although most of the pictures you see will show the beautiful green lights, they can actually vary greatly in colour. This all depends on the type of gases colliding and how far up in the upper atmosphere they do this. Oxygen ions colliding about 60 miles up creates the green colours, red/blue are from Nitrogen ions colliding and blue/purple are from hydrogen ions. As with many things in science, it’s unpredictable so you never know what you might get!

**Ok, Science Hats off**

So we decided to book our trip for our first night in Reykjavik. We booked through Superjeep (who I would highly recommend) as we figured this would be out best chance at finding the Lights. You can use coaches and mini buses also, but off roading in their 4x4s is way more fun! They can also reach the places where the lights might be showing quicker.

Seeing the Northern Lights with Superjeep

All day we were checking the Aurora forecast and the Superjeep Facebook page praying for no cancellation announcements. Superjeep offer a second tour out if you do not see the lights on your initial tour, which is exactly why we chose to do the tour on our first night (yeah yeah I know, ‘don’t plan your holiday around the lights’. Whatever). I believe that other tour companies also have this policy but it’s definitely worth checking!

SO THE TOUR BEGAN…

We were picked up from our hotel around 7.30pm where we had been waiting with all our 30 layers of clothes ready to go.We stopped off at a couple of other hotels and then joined up with the other Superjeeps to convoy out of the city. Reykjavik is a wicked place and it’s hard to believe that the lights had been seen right there in the middle of the city. But they have!

We drove for about 40 minutes to the middle of nowhere. I’m pretty sure my eyes were glued to the sky the whole way but unsurprisingly I saw nothing. When we stopped I didn’t have a clue where we were but it didn’t matter. The Superjeep guys do everything they can to show you the lights.

The guides spoke great English and gave us tips on how to photograph in the dark which was amazing for us as we were very much going for the trial and error method. It’s good to note however that Superjeep carries their own cameras and take pictures of you with the lights when the time happens. So don’t worry if you’re not a pro photographer, they’ve got you covered!

After a while here, nothing was happening. Patience really is the key but I can only assume that these guides knew when they were fighting a lost cause. So we all piled back in our jeeps and off we went. Driving across the ice and snow is amazing! Crazy but amazing. There were a few hairy moments but that’s what it’s all about!

At our next stop, the guides brought out flasks of hot chocolate and vodka for everyone. Not gonna lie, I was freezing (I have no circulation) so was hitting the vodka a fair amount. Although adding it to the hot chocolate is surprisingly good! But however distracting the booze was, there were still no sign of the lights!

We stopped a further couple of times to no avail and I was starting to get pretty desperate. I know no one can tell if they will show but this was the season for it! By now it had been about 3 hours and I knew the time was coming to an end. I was disappointed, freezing and down right pissed off. We all clambered back into the jeeps once again and started to head back to Reykjavik.

Don’t get me wrong, the ride back was still fun in the jeep and even though is pitch black I could make out the beautiful mountains and surroundings outside. But then this pissed me off again because I’d much rather see those in daylight.

Then suddenly we stopped again. I thought we were just waiting for the other jeeps to catch up but before I realised, our guide had got out the van with his camera. I didn’t really catch on to what he was doing but when he showed us his photo, we all practically flew out the van. I don’t know how he had seen anything as it was invisible to me, but there it was, the beautiful green of the Northern Lights on his camera, starting to show!

It was a frantic scramble to get photos taken, constant looking up in the hope it showed more. And it did…

The Northern Lights

It grew and grew and danced all over the sky. It seemed too unreal to be real. It was like I was watching a film of it somewhere.

After taking a bunch of photos, Tom and I stopped. It is one of those moments in life where pictures are a must but there is nothing like stopping and absorbing yourself in what’s going on. It was just amazing and simply beautiful.

I don’t know how long the lights performed for us, but I do know you can’t take it for granted. It can stop at any moment and that could be it. I couldn’t believe how lucky we had been to catch them like that! I can safely say that I wouldn’t have stopped had I been driving. The Superjeep guides are incredible and although the option of a second chance is there, I’m so glad we didn’t need to use it!

Just to show how unpredictable the Northern Lights are, Tom and I continued to follow Superjeep on Facebook and saw that the rest of their trips were cancelled for the remainder of our trip. Lucky is an understatement, that’s for sure! Hunting for the Northern Lights is tricky, but never give up hope as it really could happen any second!

The cost of this trip was 19,900 ISK each which converted is £150. It’s not exactly Budget but Iceland is expensive. But do I regret spending this much? Not at all. Superjeep are fantastic! They did everything they could to show us the lights and always had their eyes peeled for them. Did the people who went out on the coach tours get to see the lights? I don’t know, but I sure did! I owe a massive thank you to Superjeep for helping me tick this off my bucket list, and a massive thank you to Mother Nature for letting me!

I would love to hear from you! Leave me a comment below and share your stories of your Northern Lights Trip!

Want to know what it's really like hunting for the Northern Lights in Iceland? Find out about the highs and lows here.
Want to know what it's really like hunting for the Northern Lights in Iceland? Find out about the highs and lows here.

22 Comments

  1. So envious! I wanted to see the lights badly when I traveled to Iceland, but no such luck for me. Regardless, Iceland remains one of the best places I’ve ever been to.

    • It’s an amazing place to visit! I really want to go back in the summer to see it looking so different. Shame you didn’t see the lights but what an excuse to go back!

  2. Northern Lights are a pure magic!!! This has been my dream for such a long time! I am happy that yours has come true. The puctures are amazing!

  3. I am slated to go to Finland soon and am really looking forward to seeing the northern lights. .Hope I am lucky (keeping fingers crossed) .. Could you share the tips for photographing the northern lights? Thanks in advance.

    • Oooo amazing!! I would love to go to Finland! Looking forward to seeing how it is.

      For photographing them you will need a tripod and a way to automatically take the photo as the camera can’t move at all. You will also need a long shutter speed, your highest ISO and your aperture between 2.8-5.6. Have a play at night before you go and see how you get on! Hope this helps!

  4. I wonder if there is any traveler who doesn’t have the northern lights on their bucket list. I am no different and I have been waiting to witness this grand show of nature some time soon. I m really glad that you were finally able to see the lights.

    • Haha very true, who doesn’t want to see them! I hope you get the chance to see them soon too!

  5. Pictures are great, those shots of Aurora Borealis lights always leave me stunned! On my bucket list as well. 😉 And it’s easy to imagine that moment of “absorbing” the scene… I would have probably forgotten to take out my camera! 😀

  6. We were just in Iceland in October and pretty much CHASED the lights in our campervan. We were there for 10 days and saw it 4 times! After a few photographs, we did the same and just enjoyed it. I think seeing it and taking it all in is 100 times better than any photo could every portray. Love that you got the most out of your tour because I do hear of many cancellations!

    • Omg that’s amazing! What was it like staying in a camper in Iceland? And definitely, you might not see them again so always good to stop watching through a screen

  7. Northern lights have been on my list too. And at this point even I am not sure of that’s going to happen very soon. And it comes as a surprise to me that theres going to be some depending on luck also for you to be able to get a glimpse of this beautiful phenomenon.

    • You have to go! Reykjavik is so nice as well. But yes it’s all quite down to chance. I hope you get to see them when you do eventually go!

  8. What a trip and such Northern lights. Iceland itself is already full of wonders, but with these lights, i think this is something completely extraordinary. When we made our Iceland roadtrip we missed the lights, also because it was summer, but i think just for this I would definitely come back one day…

    • I agree, it’s definitely a country I want to explore more! What was it like in summer? I can’t imagine with without snow!

      • Summer was just fantastic, even though in the very north we still had snow on the roads! But don’t forget that an Iceland summer is not a summer like anywhere else 😉 Weather can anytime do whatever it wants…

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