Northern Lights: Why choose Iceland?

Why would we want to go to Iceland in winters when the place would be more conducive in summers? Photographing the Northern Lights was a key factor that made us zero down on February/March as our travel month. We had seen the lights dance in Abisko, Sweden in 2013. However, we were not able to get any good pictures then and I had been itching to see the lights dance again and catch them on camera. Ahoy Iceland… here we come!

Northern Lights at Abisko National Park, Sweden from our trip in Feb 2013

Northern Lights at Abisko National Park, Sweden from our trip in Feb 2013

You can plan a trip to any of the Nordic countries to witness this Northern Lights. Iceland was the country of choice for us for many reasons…and here are a few of them…

Iceland: Getting there…

Getting to Reykjavik is easy from mainland Europe. Iceland Airlines flies from plenty of European cities to Reykjavik. The flying time is about 3 – 5 hours only. If you are coming from Asia, mainland Europe can be a stopover to help you break a longish journey. Considering that Iceland can be visited on a Schengen visa, there is no additional visa cost involved.

We took the KLM/Delta from Mumbai to Amsterdam followed by the Iceland Air flight from Amsterdam to Reykjavik. While going, we had only a four hour lay over in Amsterdam and we pottered around at the airport. One our way back, we extended our eleven hour layover to two days and enjoyed a weekend in Amsterdam!

Up...up...and away....off to Iceland!

Up…up…and away….off to Iceland!

You can see the lights from Reykjavik…

Reykjavik is the northernmost capital in the world. On a day when the lights are strong, you can see them from your balcony. We spent the first two nights in Bus Hostel. I could watch the swirling and swaying ribbons of green light from my bunk bed in the hostel. Isn’t that a good substitute for a bedtime story? The day the lights are weak, you simply need to drive out of Reykjavik for about 30 minutes to eliminate the city lights and watch the aurora in all its glory.

We highly recommend joining an aurora watching tour as the tour operators know the best location where probability of seeing the lights is higher, depending on the weather conditions and aurora forecast. We did our aurora watching tour with Time Tours, a small company that gave us personal attention, helped us with the camera settings and took us to the Thingvellir National Park to watch the lights.

Northern Lights at Thingvellier National Park on a moon lit night

Northern Lights at Thingvellier National Park on a moon lit night

Reykjavik, a lively city…

To those who come from bigger cities, Reykjavik may seem like a small city…and maybe it is! But it has anything and everything that you would want in a city and it makes sense to spend at least a day and half wandering through the streets and sipping coffee in various coffee shops. There are museums (regular ones like the one on Iceland’s history and quirky ones like the phallological museum), fine restaurants and cafes, boutiques to satiate the shopper, hot water pools to let you laze around and a state of the art concert hall to let you witness some fine performances. Here is the link to Reykjavik Tourism to help you plan your time in the city.

Colourful houses in Reykjavik

Colourful houses in Reykjavik

The city has a rocking nightlife, especially over the weekend. We were returning back from our aurora watching tour at about 2 am and the city centre seemed to be buzzing with activity. Even though I was busy pulling my cap over my forehead, I did manage to see smart and chic youngsters who were merrily bar hopping. We spent our last two night at the Loft Hostel, which was on the main street that housed all the bars and restaurants …superb location that let us eat, drink and be merry on any day… at any time!

Day trips from Reykjavik…

You surely don’t come aurora hunting and intend to catch up on your sleep at night? Well, you will spend half your nights hunting for the lights and going crazy clicking them. Few hours at night, you will catch up on your sleep. In a country like Iceland, which is blessed so generously by Nature, it would be unfair to sleep through the day and miss out on what the country has to offer.

Reykjavik is a perfect base for day trips – Golden Circle, South Shore, Blue Lagoon, Lava Tubes and many more, which will let you admire the country’s beautiful landscapes. Local tour companies are very efficient and provide pick up and drop facilities from your hostel/hotel. There are so many day trips that can be done from Reykjavik that a week doesn’t seem too long to be in the city.

Skogafoss on the South Shore of Iceland

Skogafoss on the South Shore of Iceland

Temperature and weather conditions…

Iceland isn’t as cold as its name …seriously…not joking! In February 2013, when we went to Abisko in the Arctic, we experienced temperatures as low as -25 degrees Celsius. In Feb 2015, when we visited Reykjavik, the lowest temperature that we experienced was -13 degrees Celsius (including wind chill) on one night only. All the other nights, the temperature hovered between -5 to -3 degrees Celsius, which made us feel fairly comfortable.

Warm in a sweater made of Icelandic wool

Warm in a sweater made of Icelandic wool

Local Icelanders say, ‘If you don’t like the weather. wait for five minutes and it will change!’. That is true indeed. It can be snowing…and within the next few minutes, it will be bright and sunny. Don’t get carried away…it might start raining in the next five minutes! It is this characteristic that makes it imperative for one to stay here for 5 – 6 days if one is keen on watching the lights.

So, have you decided to visit Iceland as your aurora hunting destination? Struggling to plan your trip? Send us an email and we would be glad to help.

Let the travellers’ tribe grow!

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13 Responses

  1. I LOVE that Northern Lights pic – just magical! We had a tough choice to make for when to visit Iceland summer v winter and spent hours weighing up the pros and cons, ultimately opting for summer. We had an amazing time and it was so weird being in a place where the sun was shining brightly at 10pm but it of course means I'd love to return again one day and see the lights!

    1. We went in winters…but the country is so awesome that we want to go back and do a road trip in summers as well! The mid night sun in on our list…maybe will go to Norway for that!

  2. I live in Northern Michigan in the U.S. so we have a few nights a year where we see the auroras. Reykjavik would be a perfect getaway to catch more of the lights. I really enjoyed reading about your adventure and glad you were able to catch some good photos of the spectacle.

  3. I’ve always wanted to visit Iceland – and my plan is to go there maybe next year, and road trip my way across the island 🙂 the northern lights must be amazing there. Your photos are beautiful, but I’m sure it’s even better in person 🙂

  4. Wow your photos are stunning, it makes me want to pack up and go now! When is the best time you would recommend visiting? I worry that the one time I go to Iceland I will miss the Northern Lights1

  5. Ohhh I need to find my way to Iceland as soon as possible. This place is surreal! Thank you for sharing it with us! And those photos… just WOW. How hard is it to take such a great photo of a northern light?

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