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Chasing the Northern Lights in Iceland

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03/10/2023 08:10

Northern lights, that elusive magical moment in the sky that many feared or revered in the past as either an omen of bad things to come or as a sign the ancestors were watching over us.Perched on the edge of the Arctic Circle, Iceland offers a front-row seat to one of nature's most breathtaking performances.

Its untamed landscapes, vast open spaces, and minimal light pollution make it an ideal theater for the Northern Lights to take center stage. Welcome to a land where science meets wonder, where the Northern Lights are not just a phenomenon but a profound, almost mystical experience.

The Science Behind the Northern Lights:

The aurora borealis as they are also known, are a natural light show caused by a fascinating interaction between the sun and Earth. In the past, before the science was fully understood, many would believe the lights were caused by freezing temperatures but it turns out the sun and the earth's magnetic field are the main driving force of this natural phenomena. The reason it is often associated with the cold is that in order to see them properly you need almost total darkness. Which means no light pollution from towns and cities and clear cloudless and preferably moonless nights. But the darkest time of year is also the coldest which explains the correlation between the cold and the lights. The sun is in fact the main driving force for the lights, it constantly releases charged particles towards our atmosphere in bursts, known as solar wind, into space. When these particles reach Earth, they collide with gasses in our atmosphere. This collision creates the mesmerizing colors we see in the Northern Lights—reds, greens, blues, and purples all caused by different gasses. At last the way the lights dance is a captivating result of Earth's magnetic field guiding these charged particles to put on a stunning display in our polar skies. To get northern lights predictions click here.

Top viewing spots:

Although the best way to see the aurora is in clear dark night conditions you can still see them appear on clear nights in the city. Reykjavik has a few areas where you can enjoy the show especially if the lights are strong. Grótta lighthouse is one of these areas, there has been a lighthouse on the promontory of Seltjarnarnes since 1897, the current lighthouse dates from 1947. Even though this area is walking distance from the city center it is still removed enough to be out of the light pollution and is quite a popular viewing point for the northern light hunt. Another popular spot is by the Sun Voyager, the iconic sculpture shaped like a viking ship is by the coastline right by the center. If you prefer to stay warm while waiting for the lights why not make use of SKÝ Lounge & Bar. The rooftop bar is located in Center Hotels Arnarhvoll which is just on the other side of the street from the Sun Voyager. Another area which is walking distance from the city center for northern lights is Perlan which has a 360 view over the Reykjavik night sky. For those of you with a car, Heiðmörk, Hvalfjörður and Lake Þingvellir (Parliament Lake) are also good areas not too far out of the city. Just remember to stay safe on the roads and to park in designated parking areas rather on the side of the road if the lights should appear on your drive. For information on road safety in Iceland click here.

Tips for an Unforgettable Experience::

Icelandic nights can be quite chilly even in the warmer months so we recommend bringing along warm layers, it is always easier to remove layers then it is to add them if you don´t have them with you. That is the Icelandic mentality. If you need ideas on what to pack you might also be interested to read our “what to pack” blog. If you´re feeling ambitious with your photography then bringing a tripod to stabilize your camera might be good as the lens needs long exposure to capture the whole spectrum of the lights. Lastly the lights are a natural phenomenon and can be unpredictable, like with any hunt, we encourage you to be patient. But also if the lights do appear, before you pull out your camera for that amazing shot. Then take a minute or two to take in the show with your naked eye as the lights can disappear as quickly as they appeared.

We hope you have found this blog useful and that you feel ready to venture into the Icelandic night, where science meets wonder, and let the Northern Lights paint the sky with their magical colors. It's not just a phenomenon; it's a profound experience that will stay with you forever. You can book tours through our website, click here for options.

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