a VirtualTourist member from Newcastle upon Tyne
can anyone tell me what to expect with the Northern Lights tours? For example, if there's very little chance of seeing them, do they cancel the trip, or do they head out anyway just in case there's a break in the clouds somewhere?
Do they normally return at a set time? Or continue driving around in hope (!)?
Also, if the lights are seen, do we stand around in deep snow for a long time, etc? I plan to wear my warmest (and waterproof) things, but it would be interesting to see what other people experienced.
Thanks very much.
I am assuming you are referring to an evening excursion from Reykjavik? Although we did not take one of those, I will reply from my recent experience of Northern Lights in Iceland.
We were there from 13th - 20th January this year, and saw the Northern Lights three out of seven nights. They were apparently visible on the very first night we were there too, but we missed them.
The lights are generally better seen in places where there is no or little light pollution - having said that, we saw some in the centre of Reykjavik on our last night that was awesome, and the best I've ever seen was in the centre of Narvik in Norway some years ago.
When we were there, there was very little snow, but than could of course change at any time. We did stand around for hours, so warm clothing is a must. We found the temperatures weren't as cold as anticipated, but there was an almost constant bitingly cold wind.
The conditions can and do change rapidly in Iceland - two of the evening we were told there was almost no chance of seeing the lights as it was cloudy and raining. Both times we saw them clearly less than an hour later. On both occasions the level of activity was said to be a 2, yet the lights were more like an 8 or 9. One night we got up in the middle of the night (the hotel offered a wake-up service if the lights appeared) when the activity was said to be a 6, only to find a mere faint glow in the sky.
In other words, you cannot predict what you are likely to see. You have to be patient and be in the right place at the right time. The lights generally appear in the north/east, but not necessarily, and can be seen any time during darkness.
On the last night in Reykjavik (we toured the country for the week, so were in several different locations to try and see the aurora) we wandered down to the harbour area and stood around for a couple of hours, and did see a faint glow, but not a lot else.
If you want to photograph the aurora, make sure you take a tripod and a camera that be set on manual focus and a timed exposure. The camera will see the aurora better than you can.
Good luck, it really is the most amazing natural spectacle.
Thanks very much. Just the type of information I was looking for. I went to Tromso two winters in a row and was very disappointed in having cloudy skies almost the whole time (although I did see faint auroras, it wasn't enough). I'm going Feb. 8 to 11, and the 10-day forecast doesn't look too good so far as we can see in advance. Sigh.). I did know most of what you said, but was wondering is the tours returned at a specific time, which is something you wouldn't know, if you didn't take any of the tours. Thanks again.
I have been on the Northern light tours several times - the link to my tip is here [original VT link] - but I can quote from the tip if you want:
"When a VT-friend was visiting Iceland we decided on going together on a northern-light tour with Iceland Excursions. We booked at their office, then they let you know in the hotel reception if they are going or not, which all depends on the weather forecast. They decided on going but that night Reykjavík excursions cancelled their tour. We were then picked up at the hotel at 19:30 by a mini-bus which then went and picked up more people in other hotels. We were driven to the Iceland Excursions' office where we bought the tickets and got on a bigger bus which then took us northern-light hunting. We drove along the South-shore of Iceland, but they can also take you to the area around Keflavík or even Þingvellir, it all depends on where it is least cloudy. We drove to Selfoss, where we got off at the gas-station for a pee-break and then drove further and further east by the soath-coast and it wasn't until we reached Seljalandsfoss which is 120 km away from Reykjavík, that the sky was clear of clouds. So there we got off and saw the awesome Seljalandsfoss bathed in lights. An awesome sight and my photo doesn't come close to giving it justice, but I add in anyway - as there were no northern-lights on this trip, alas :(
The northern-lights, Aurora Borealis, can only be seen on a clear night from September through April. Northern lights can be seen here in Reykjavík and 2 days before I went on the excursion (February 3rd) I saw the most beautiful green-pink northern-lights from my balcony. But the light-pollution from the city makes the lights less bright. When I was walking to school as a young girl I remember it often being northern-lights and they scared me when I was walking alone there as they flicker above your head. Now I love them :)
The cost of the tour was 30 euros for one and a second tour free of charge if there are no northern-light sightings. And free tours for as long as it takes for you to see the northern-lights. The guide said that one Japanese tourist went on 5 tours before he saw the lights. All in all these tours can take up to 3-5 hours, ours took 4,5 hours but then we went very far looking for the northern-lights.
In February 2010 I went on 2 other Northern-light tours with another VT-member, the first one took us to Grótta and a museum next to Ísal aluminium plant right outside of Reykjavík - still no lights - and the other tour took us to Þingvellir national park - no nothern-lights on that tour either".
The tours don´t last more than 5 hours max. You don´t have to get out of the bus and wait and freeze, you can wait inside until the lights appear, if they appear. But dress very warmly as you will be standing outside when they appear and it if the wind is blowing then it can get really cold.
I hope you get to see the lights :)
Wow, what a fantastic reply. Just the information I was looking for. I'm very impressed the buses may go as far as the national park (I don't have the keyboard letters to type in Icelandic alphabet); I was there 2 years ago and know how far that is.
Am hoping to see the auroras. have already bought my ticket online and have only 3 nights so with a whole lot of luck I might see them. I went to Tromso 2 years in a row and had almost total clouds. Did see slight auroras, but not the type of display I really hoped to see.
Thanks so much for your help. Will let you know if I do see the lights.