Looking At Aurora Borealis - The Reykjavik Grapevine

Looking At Aurora Borealis

Looking At Aurora Borealis

Published December 17, 2010

Haukur S. Magnússon
Photo by
Art Bicnick

Hi everyone! Welcome to your holiday trip to Iceland! We know that you really only came here to avoid your family and watch TV in your hotel room, but surely you must have some trips planned too, right? There’s a whole country out there just waiting to be explored and conquered by excited holiday tourists!

Now. We have no idea what sort of trip you’re interested in. But if you need ideas you can start by reading about the Eyjafjallajökull hike on your left. Not interested? Well, then we advise you to check out the rest of our travel section online. There’s lots of informative articles about exciting trips there. Also talk to the tourist information centres. They’ve got info about everything, and they can probably book your trip too.

Now, if you have no idea what to do, might we suggest trying to find some Aurora Borealis to look at? Everybody loves Aurora Borealis (also known as Northern Lights); they look really cool and most of your friends probably haven’t seen them. Spotting Aurora can be as easy as tilting your head upwards, but if you’ve done that repeatedly without any results, we’ve got some tips. Read on!

Now, the first thing you need to realise when it comes to Aurora Borealis and the viewing of which in Iceland (or anywhere, for that matter) is that there are no guarantees. In fact, you probably won’t see them. Or you might. Who knows! In any case, there is no precise way of predicting where and when Aurora will appear, so it cannot be guaranteed.

However, just like in Dick Cheney’s world, there are known unknowns and unknown unknowns—as well as known knowns—to take into consideration when one seeks the viewing of Aurora Borealis in Iceland. Here are some of the known knowns:

You will not see them during summer. Optimal viewing time is between September and March (approximately).

You can indeed observe Aurora Borealis from cities, like Reykjavík, but light pollution will render all but the strongest instances of it damn near invisible. So you can stay in town and hope for the best (an intense case of Aurora), or you can venture outside of Reykjavík and increase your odds of spotting the elusive natural phenomenon.

Anywhere away from intense electric light pollution is suitable, really. A thirty-minute drive away from Reykjavík is often enough.

Cold, crisp, clear nights are the best. If it’s cloudy, you won’t see a thing (obviously), so check the weather conditions of whatever out-of-town destination you have in mind for Aurora-watching. Keep in mind that it’s also nice if the weather is sort of calm-ish. You’ll want to stand outside and gaze in amazement at the Aurora, and it’s better if you’re not thrown over by a gust of wind whilst you’re doing it.

There are organised ‘Aurora-spotting’ tours that go from Reykjavík. Downside: they can’t guarantee your seeing them. Upside: you’ll have an experienced driver and guide that takes you around looking for Aurora, and you’ll be reimbursed (or get another attempt for free – I forget (or it might depend on the tour provider) if you don’t see anything.

Natural hot pots and geothermal pools line the Icelandic countryside. These are excellent places for Aurora-spotting for obvious reasons, especially since OPTIMAL AURORA VIEWING CONDITIONS will mean that it’s really cold out. Get yourself a copy of the excellent ‘Thermal Pools In Iceland’ (2010, Skrudda. Available at the next bookstore) and plan your trip accordingly.

My personal favourite place for viewing Aurora Borealis is a small resort called Reykjanes, in the West Fjords. If you wish to find out why, try googling “Experiencing Aurora Borealis Underwater” (with the quotation marks). I wrote that article about it way back in 2006, long before Iceland and myself lost our faith and innocence. The pool’s since been renovated, but it’s still good.

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