For those keen to encounter the Northern Lights as part of a programme of sightseeing and other activities, we offer a range of winter holidays – some of which we have created ourselves, others are organised by our carefully-selected Icelandic partners. Please see the Escorted and Independent pages on our website.
The Northern Lights or Aurora Borealis are a natural phenomenon and sightings cannot be guaranteed. The best time to see them is between October and March, which is why our Northern Lights packages are available in these months. Please note that additional charges will apply to breaks taken over Christmas and New Year.
We suggest that, if you want to give yourself the most chances to see the Northern Lights, we book you on an Aurora hunting expedition from one of our recommended providers on your first available evening in Reykjavík, which will take you away from the lights of the city. Tours can be by bus or by boat, or can be combined with a traditional Icelandic dinner at a countryside restaurant or even a hike into a lava cave. If you are staying outside the capital, some hotels offer a wake-up service if the Lights appear after you have retired to bed. Please ask us for details of the tours we offer. On most of these, you should expect to be out until after midnight.
Iceland is an excellent place from which to view the Lights. Named after Aurora, the Roman goddess of the dawn, and Boreas, the ancient Greek personification of the North Wind, they are at their most intense in a circle around the North Pole and are best viewed on the long dark nights between October and March.
So what causes this spectacular natural phenomenon? The solar wind – a stream of electrically-charged particles emitted from the sun at speeds of between 300 and 1000km per second – is the ultimate source of the Northern Lights. They result from collisions between these solar particles and high atmosphere gases. These excite the gases’ atoms causing the release of photons, or light particles.
The Earth’s magnetic field deflects the charged particles but some enter our atmosphere at the poles, where the field is weaker, and an Aurora is formed. It can also be visible at lower latitudes and much excitement was caused when they were seen in parts of the UK in the spring of 2016.
The colour of the lights varies according to the type of gas – oxygen or nitrogen – that collides with the solar particles. Typically they are green, pink and red, yellow and multiple shades of blue and purple. Oxygen produces green or orange-red lights while nitrogen causes them to be blue, purple or red. They may appear static in the sky or highly mobile, swirling and dancing as they are blown about by the solar wind.
There are many stories connected with the Aurora Borealis. Some Inuit people in polar North America believed they were the spirits of the deceased. The ancient Greeks thought they were a predictor of war and disease while the Vikings believed they were the Valkyries riding across the sky.
Please note: The increasing popularity of Iceland as a holiday destination means we recommend booking as soon as you can if you are looking to travel in winter 2016-17, hoping to see the Northern Lights. Please contact us to discuss your requirements.