Iceland’s Northern Lights Tour
I find it ironic that I live in Canada but travelled to Iceland to see the Northern Lights (also known as the Aurora Borealis) instead of paying a visit to northern Canada. However, I want to go up north as it is on my list of places to go! But all in good time.
As with the Golden Circle Tour, I took this tour with Reykjavik Excursions; although there are other companies you can also choose from as well. I’ve always been fascinated with science and astronomy topics, so I was super excited for this tour. Here is what I learned:
I knew in advance of going on this tour that you can only see the lights at night, that it requires total darkness to increase visibility, clear skies, and that moonlight limits visibility as does light pollution from towns and cities. So these tour companies depend strongly on the weather, and they are likely to decide if they go ahead with taking a group out each night, or not, based on the level of the Northern lights forecast. So be sure to check with them before you head out.
Aurora Borealis sightings are NOT guaranteed. My experience with this tour included two failed attempts to capture the Northern Lights before success was found on the 3rd. However, for each failed attempt that I didn’t see any lights, I was able to rebook and go again at no cost because I was there for a long enough time (10 days). Unfortunately it is possible that you could leave Iceland without seeing the Aurora Borealis if your visit is short where you cannot rebook, or you visit Iceland outside the peak season for the Northern Lights. In Iceland, this is from late August to roughly the end of April. I went at the tail end of the peak period, so it was a gamble for me, but the 3rd time was the charm!
During the tour, I also learned about some of the various myths that are associated with the Northern Lights. For a fun read about these myths, check out this website.
If you do the Northern Lights tour, make sure you dress VERY warmly because it is quite cold being out at night and there is not a lot of protection from any wind that may be present. The busses do allow you to sit in them to keep warm, and the tour guides are good at letting people know when there is activity so you can come out and see what’s taking place. Plus tourists get excited, so you are likely to hear commotion if something is going on in the sky above. I did pretty good at staying outside for most of the tour time during all three nights, but eventually my fingers and legs got cold, so I had to warm up inside the bus a few times. Oh, and I suggest you bring a snack or two!
The camera you use on this tour is important. I realized fairly early on in the tour that my camera was greatly lacking the ability to take decent night time shots because my camera did not have the suggested settings. The tour guide had gone over the ideal settings a camera should have to capture the Northern Lights as best as possible. I was told to use manual mode, change the ISO to slow (roughly 400), the aperture between 2.5 and 5.6, and exposure time or shutter speed should be 15 seconds. For more on photography, check out this website.
Thankfully I befriended a wonderful woman during this tour, her name is Inge, and she had a much better camera. Afterwards she kindly sent me the following 3 shots of what we witnessed together, which I immensely appreciate! Thank you Inge!
Although these photos only capture a bit of what I saw, seeing them in person is truly majestic and amazing. The Northern Lights are absolutely brilliant, so if you ever get a chance to see them, do so! I can’t imagine how anyone would regret it!