Home » What it’s really like watching the Northern Lights in Iceland

What it’s really like watching the Northern Lights in Iceland

written by Steph Millington September 1, 2018
Northern Lights Iceland

The widely disputed list of the 7 Natural Wonders of the World contains some staggering spectacles, but I consider only one worthy of being at the top of the chart; Aurora Borealis or The Northern Lights.

Why? It’s an exclusive natural phenomenon where no one display will match the next. I recount the moments leading up to the first time I witnessed the lights in all their glory…

Skipping down the hotel stairs like a kid at Christmas, a small group gathered around the local daily newspaper in reception. I’ve never read the weather forecast with so much interest. Clear skies expected. We’re good to go!

Wrapped up in my warmest cold weather attire, almost waddling towards the door of our vehicle, I felt a sense of nervous excitement. We’re heading out of the bright lights of Reykjavik and into the darkness to a more remote corner of the country for a better view.

Northern Lights Iceland

Sunset in Reykjavik

As the journey gets underway, I fiddle with my camera settings feeling determined to take the perfect shot that evening.

Stepping gingerly off the minibus onto the thin layer of snow underfoot, the group disperse to set up camp. Some had brought little folding stools to sit on, most had a tripod for their camera, which is so key for taking that golden picture when the time comes.

With impeccable comic timing, Bjork’s “It’s oh so quiet” pops into my head as the group starts to settle and hush descends, all eyes on the sky, mouths left gawping at the stars. The atmosphere prickles with a sense of anticipation.

As the hours pass, a few of us have started to huddle like penguins against an icy backdrop. Sups from a flask of hot chocolate or drams of Icelandic Schnapps (an acquired taste) are taken like a medicine to ward off the cold.


Looking around in the darkness, I see people swaying from one foot to the other, others pacing in small circles and swinging their arms, or readjusting their hats, jackets, gloves and scarves. Part of me wonders whether I’ve stumbled across a warm up for a bizarre late night athletics meet. “We’re here for the Northern Lights, right?” I ask of my bewildered neighbour, who smiles sympathetically and looks back up at the sky.

Suddenly, quiet coos of delight and gasps of amazement break the silence and I blink several times to ensure my eyes aren’t deceiving me.

Northern Lights IcelandA green shimmer wafts across the sky, growing in intensity with every minute. There’s no guarantee how long it’ll last or what shape it will form, so I soak it all up with a contented grin on my face.

Eventually, the dancing, shimmering miracle fades and vanishes but the imprint in my mind will be with me forever.

Feeling inspired? Check out our 6-day Northern Lights Escape trip.

Multiple viewing opportunities are possible over several days in areas chosen to avoid light pollution. This gives you the best chance of witnessing nature’s magic at its colourful best.

All images courtesy of Intrepid Travel.

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Sue Alford August 8, 2014 - 10:52 am

!Just received your email regarding the Northern Lights tour. Could this tour please be available for the rest of the year, as it is a great 6 day tour for the price. I would definitely book it if it was available in the summer month as I am planning a trip from Australia to Europe in May 2015. Please give consideration to this idea as I am sure it would be a very popular tour. Looking forward to a reply – thanks!

Sue Elliot August 8, 2014 - 1:33 pm

Hi Sue,
Thanks for your comment and you could be on to something here! Your message has been passed on to our operations team in case there’s a way to run this trip in summer – though unfortunately when the temperatures rise often so do the local prices. Will let you know if anything is planned.
Best wishes,
Sue, Intrepid Editor

Anonymous August 11, 2015 - 7:23 am

From a North Norwegian: the northern lights are not visible in warm weather/summer!!!! Basic knowledge….

jEAN kELLAWAY August 8, 2014 - 4:49 am

I would like to hear more about your upcoming trip to Iceland. Seeing the Northern Lights again is one of my
dearest wishes. I was fortunate enough to have experienced a rather weak show when I was growing up in
New Brunswick, Canada, but it was more than enough to instill in me in me a desire toone day see the real thing.
I fear I won’t have too much more time to realize my heart’s desire.

Sue Elliot August 8, 2014 - 1:39 pm

Hi Jean,
Thanks for your message. The Northern Lights are definitely one of those bucket list kind of adventures. You can find out more about the trip on our website and in the detailed trip notes: http://www.intrepidtravel.com/iceland/northern-lights-escape-83798
If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to let us know.
Best wishes,
Sue, Intrepid Editor


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