How to Best See the Northern Lights in Iceland

The northern lights should be on everyone’s bucket list. This natural phenomenon is one of the most colorful in nature, yet they can be very elusive. Many travelers have gone to northern countries in order to see the lights, only to return home disappointed.

Northern Lights

Iceland is renowned for its northern lights shows; so much so that Icelanders don’t consider them special and sometimes hardly notice them. It is possible to see them from Reykjavik, Iceland’s capital, but if you really want to see them at their best, here are some tips to follow.

Download a Northern Lights App

There are numerous apps in the iStore and Google Play which give up-to-the-minute information for the northern lights. Some examples are My Aurora Forecast, Aurora Borealis Forecast and Aurora Forecast. These will give you a prediction of how strong the northern lights will be the night you’re going and over the next few days, although the truth is that there is very little accuracy until they are actually happening. Most of them also give you cloud maps, so you can find where the open sky is. Iceland is notorious for its cloudy skies, which must be taken into account. If you’re planning to head out yourself in a car to see the northern lights, one of these apps is essential.

Take a Boat Tour with Reykjavik Sailors

One way to escape the clouds is on a boat tour with Reykjavik Sailors, leaving from Reykjavik harbor. The boat uses real-time forecasts to find the best locations for viewing the lights, and lasts a couple hours.

I took a tour with them on my first night in Iceland and got exceptionally lucky. Before we had even left the harbor, the northern lights had already started. A band of green stretched from one horizon to the other. As we left the coast, the show became phenomenal, with the full spectrum of greens and pinks dancing wildly across the sky. The sailors said it was one of the best nights they had seen that year. The lights sometimes last longer or cover more of the sky (barely), but rarely get brighter than what we saw. In fact, they were bright enough for me to capture with my new Samsung S8 phone as the boat swayed from side to side.

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The tour leaves every night at 9 p.m. and includes warm flotation overalls, heated cabins and restrooms, and even free wi-fi onboard so you can immediately upload your photos. Best of all, if you don’t see the northern lights on your tour, you can get a free ride on the next available tour for another attempt. Contact them through their website or by email – info@ReykjavikSailors.is. Bring a scarf, ear muffs and gloves, as it can get quite cold on the water.

Take a Bus Tour with Reykjavik Sightseeing

If you’d prefer to stick to land, Reykjavik Sightseeing is an excellent alternative to the boat. Also leaving at 9 p.m. every night, this tour will pick you up from your accommodations and take you out into the countryside of Iceland to find the best northern lights sightings. They use the above-mentioned apps, but also have a network of individuals who will call them up to provide the best information. My tour brought us to three locations to see the northern lights, each one with a brighter viewing than the last.

The buses are very cozy. They have USB chargers for every seat, binoculars, tripods, an audio guide for the northern lights in 10 languages, wi-fi and instructions on how to best capture the lights on your camera. The tour lasts three hours, and will stop whenever the lights are visible. Just like the boat tour, if you don’t see the lights, you can go back the next night for another try. Visit their website or contact them at info@rss.is.

Happy hunting!

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