“Then that’s what the Northern Lights are. All the lives that we’re not living.” ― Adi Alsaid
Getting to bask in the mystic glow of the Aurora and admire the spectacular wonder in real life has always been one of the biggest dreams of mine, which is why when my friend Cathy invited me to go to Iceland with her, I could not have said yes to her any quicker. During my 6-day trip to Iceland (unfortunately had to skip some classes), although the weather was quite unpredictable, we became some of the luckiest ones to see THE NORTHERN LIGHTS!!!
This is one of the best experiences in my entire life and I can still recall those colourful lights dancing in the cold Icelandic night. Below is a guide of some know-hows of chasing the Northern Lights in Iceland and hopefully all aurora hunters can be just as lucky!
When is the best time to see the Northern Lights in Iceland?
You can see the Northern Lights in fall/winter months from September to April as long as the weather condition is favourable. I personally would recommend the end of September or mid-March as you have enough daytime to enjoy the stunning Icelandic landscape while being able to see the Northern Lights earlier at around 7 or 8 at night.
To see the aurora, you need:
- Complete darkness away from towns
- A cloud-free sky
- Strong aurora activity (a high intensity of solar eruption)
Instead of the perfect weather conditions, you are more likely to get:
- Light Pollution (especially in Reykjavik)
- Almost 100% of Cloud Coverage (which was what happened to us in our first two nights of hunting)
- Low KPI (Index of measuring the solar activities)
That’s why it is usually quite hard to see the aurora as you really can’t control the weather.
What should you bring with you?
Warm clothing, a quality camera, a sturdy travel tripod, snacks and endless patience.
Which camera should you use?
The brand actually doesn’t matter much. You’ll want a camera with:
- A large sensor (for minimal noise at high ISO settings)
- A wide-angle lens
The rest is pretty much dependent on how you set your camera and whether you are experienced or not. There are quite a few posts online teaching you how to do the settings and focus your camera at night. If you are unskilled (just like me), maybe go to the LSE Photography Society workshops and grab someone to ask.
Who should you go with?
The ones you love and/or the ones who love you
How to chase?
You can either chase the lights with your own rental car by yourself or get on an organised Northern Light Tour (usually from Reykjavik). The easiest option (which my friend and I took) is to simply buy a tour as you will have professionals who are used to chasing the lights leading the tour. Plus, they will usually offer hot chocolate and twist doughnuts along the way to keep you warm. However, driving in your own car gives you more flexibility in the sense that you don’t have to head back if you don’t feel like it. It really depends on what type of trip you want and your travelling budget.
I knew from the very beginning that travelling would be an important part of my uni life and studying in London has given me way more opportunities to travel than I expected.
One final tip from me: Don’t go to Iceland just because of the northern lights! Go out there to explore the country and enjoy the nature the country has to offer. I bet you will love it as much as I do.
Happy Aurora Hunting!