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Discover the amazing Northern Lights in Iceland

Discover the amazing Northern Lights in Iceland

We know that many of you dream of the Northern Lights, and seeing them once is a wish of many people.

Many people ask how they can see the auroras in Iceland and we totally understand since you probably don’t know much about this breathteaking phenomenon.

We at Kuku Campers have been observing them for a long time, so we really know about them. Today we share with you our experience and we even have some special advice for you guys, but hush, keep that for yourself!

Here’s a handy guide which will explain what those lights are, when they appear and above all we will give you precious advice based on our experience to maximize your chances of seeing one (at least)!

Follow the guide to finally see auroras in Iceland!



WHAT ARE THE NORTHERN LIGHTS?

A bit of history

Aurora Borealis or Northern Lights comes from the Latin "aurora borealis" in reference to Aurora, Roman goddess of dawn, and "borealis" which means the north wind.

This phenomenon has been observed since the dawn of time and has always had a mystical, supernatural side, as descriptions can be found in some old writings of northern peoples.

For some ancient peoples the polar lights were a bad omen, and meant war and bloodshed, for others, seeing them was the sign of good fortune and abundant fishing.

In northern mythology, those lights are a dance of animal spirits. So when you see it, tell yourself that it is the spirits of salmon, reindeer, seals or even whales dancing high in the sky.

Iceland Northern Lights
Photo: See the spirits dancing over the mountains

What does it look like?

These long waves of light are sometimes visible from the northern hemisphere. You can sometimes see a fine luminous line in the sky, if you’re luckier, they will cover the sky, offering you an aurora zone, and therefore a striking spectacle of beauty.

Sometimes they seem to dance in the sky, appear and disappear in a sumptuous choreography, believe me, it is an unforgettable natural show.

So as we said the lights you can see in Iceland are called aurora borealis, but if you were on the other side of the world, on the south pole, you would see aurora australis or southern light !

Created by KotyS Photography

How does it work?

This mainly green light phenomenon is caused by the impact between charged particles from the sun and particles from the atmosphere.

These lights appear after a solar flare, throws towards the Earth a huge quantity of charged particles, also called solar wind.

When these particles come into contact with the geomagnetic activity of Earth, they are going towards the magnetics poles, and the north pole in our case. 

From there, the particles collide with the gases in the atmosphere, which creates radiation, and therefore polar ligths. This collision takes place in the high atmosphere; therefore it is impossible to see them if there are a lot of clouds.

Well, we're not going to hide it, it's less classy than in Nordic mythology. We clearly prefer the explanation given by the Vikings!



Photo: Created by KotyS Photography



WHAT ARE THE BEST CONDITIONS TO SEE THEM?

The first thing you need is a night sky, but it has also has to be clear, so here we're answering the big question, how to see the Northern Lights?

Another factor is light pollution, if you are in a city the lights will keep you from seeing the the lights. Therefore, you must sink into darkness and get away from all human activity, avoid as much as possible anything that lights up and that can prevent you from seeing the sky.

Northern light in Iceland with light pollution on the back ground
Photo: Here you can see how light pollution keep you from seeing polar lights.

Photo: 

Then, you must follow an index called the Kp index, it allows you to know if the they are likely to appear; the higher the index, the more likely you are to see them, and the more numerous and intense they will be. You can see auroras from an index of 3, on a scale from 0 to 9.

In summary, you will need:

  • A dark night
  • Clear skies
  • No light pollution
  • A Kp index of at least 3

WHY DO THEY CHANGE COLORS?

In Iceland, the colors are various, and they can be green, pink, red, purple, and indigo.

The factors for these colors are:

  • the altitude
  • the nature of the gases in the earth's atmosphere
  • the intensity of the energy towards the Earth

In general, the further the collision is from the Earth, the waves will draw towards red, otherwise, they will draw towards purple (but do not worry, after several beers in Reykjavik, they will probably have the same color…).



northern lights of different colors in iceland

Photo: Northern Lights Colors - Created by KotyS Photography



However, as we said, the color is also depending on the gas encountered, so the colors vary depending on whether there is oxygen or nitrogen in the atmosphere:

If the gas in the atmosphere is oxygen:

  • Low altitude: the color of the aurora is green
  • High altitude: the colors draw towards red

On the contrary, if nitrogen is present in the atmosphere:

  • Low altitude: blue colors
  • High Altitude: purple colors

The most common color is green, but with extreme luck, you can see more than one color at the same time, if this happens to you, we want photos!

Northern lights above a lake and mountains in Iceland
Photo: Northern lights above a lake and mountains in Iceland

When can you see the Northern Lights in Iceland?

This is a question that comes up often, and it is legitimate, we are often asked the question of when or in what season we can hope to see this natural phenomenon. No secret, we will get straight to the point:

To maximize your chances you want to come here from November to February.

The best time to see Northern Lights in Iceland is therefore simply winter. Indeed, the nights are long and dark, and that's exactly what you need, and it is perfect for your winter adventures!

More generally, you are likely to see them from the end of August to April. It is a phenomenon that occurs throughout the year, simply it is impossible to see them in summer since there is no darkness.

You can definitely see an Aurora in Iceland out of season, but it is much less likely, and it may be less bright than in winter.

But there are also some years when there will be more lights in the sky. Because the sun activity has a period of 11 years, some year will be more active and some less.

The last solar maximum, which is the period where the sun is the most active, was in 2010.

The next one is expected no earlier than 2023 by Nasa, but it doesn't mean that you won't be able to see auroras before that time!

sky filled with blue and green northern lights in iceland

Photo: Created by KotyS Photography

CAN WE PREDICT AURORAS?

It is impossible to know exactly when they will appear, that said, we can estimate from data collected when you are most likely to see them.

There are apps for this on smartphones, they let you know in real time if you are likely to see them based on your location.

Otherwise, the most reliable website in Iceland is "Vedur.is", it is an Icelandic website (hence the ".is") on which you can find the weather forecast but especially the aurora forecasts.

If you want to check the solar wind speed by yoursel, you can check the space weather right here.

You will therefore have information about the time of sunset and sunrise, on the presence of cloud or not as well as the Kp index, these are the three most important criteria.

Forecasts change regularly, and for the most reliable information, do last minute checkings.

Remember, go out on a good night, on a clear day and with a Kp of at least 3.

Just watch this video to learn more about how to forecast them: 

Where are the northern lights?

A lot of people ask us what is the best place to see Northern Lights.

To be honest, they can be seen all over the country. The main thing is to find a place without any civilization, not that you are more likely to be seen when you are all alone, but it is more fun!

It’s also a good way to have as little light pollution as possible.

Where can I see the Northern Lights?

You can see them various places on earth like scandinavian countries, north america, and in Iceland! And here, you can experience this phenomenon all over the country, from northwest territories to southwest. 

Just pick a place you like, but if you don’t know very much Iceland, here are a few places you might like:

  • þingvellir National Park: it is part of the Golden Circle, it is a magnificent natural park, and a very good spot!

  • Reykjavik, yes yes I’m serious there, it is possible to see the them while staying in the capital city.

  • From Kirkjufell mountain, this mountain on the north coast has a particular shape and is a superb place to enjoy the show, see for yourself in this picture:
Kirjkjufell in iceland with blue northern lights
Photo: Kirkjufell mountain in Iceland with blue auroras

Our best spot

The best spot to chase the aurora in our opinion is Möðrudalur, it is located in the northeast of the country an at an altitude of 469 meters above the sea, this small farm is the highest farm in Iceland, there you will find some typical houses, a cafe / restaurant and, last but no least, a campsite.

This place is therefore perfect for spending the night observing the sky, in the middle of nowhere during your campervan road trip in Iceland.

fjallakaffi store front in Möðrudalur spot to see northern lights in iceland

Photo: Möðrudalur - Luc Coekaerts - Flickr

How to photograph northern lights?

We see a lot of people around Iceland trying to take photos with their phone hoping to see something. 

There's no hope my friend, all you're gonna have is a black picture, and this is not what you want.

This is what you're gonna need if you want to take amazing pictures:

  • A good camera
  • A tripod 

That's it. 

We at Kuku Campers are not experts in photography, we just try to keep you from being disapointed when you're here. And to help you prepare your trip better. 

See for yourself, here is a picture taken by a phone: 

Photo: Aurora shot by a smartphone in Iceland

Here, you can see something because that night the ligths were super strong. But don't tell me that this photo's good.

And here is a picture take by a good camera: 

Auroras in Iceland, green and a drak sky

Photo: With a camera your pictures will look way better

Now you see the difference, you can see the full lights and the shape isn't the same at all!

So don't be a fool and bring your camera when coming in Iceland!

TO SUM UP

  • Theis natural phenomenon i due to (or rather thanks to) solar activity

  • They are visible from November to February, and more generally from the end of August to April

  • Iceland is perfect to observe the auroras

  • Plan your night trip on a clear night, avoid cloud cover

  • Get out when it's dark

  • Equip yourself with warm clothes and windbreakers if necessary, the weather can be harsh!

  • Avoid all light pollution by moving away from cities and going deep into remote regions

  • Follow the forecasts on the internet or on your smartphone application, the more they are distant in time, the less they are reliable

  • Be really patient, keep smiling and don't lose faith, you’ll see them I’m sure!

ENJOY THE SHOW FROM YOUR KUKU CAMPERVAN

Traveling with a Kuku campervan in Iceland is definitely the best way to see the Northern Lights in Iceland, you have complete freedom to stop anywhere you want for the night, and it's handy for running away from the clouds!

We will also be of great advice to you, if you have any questions please do not hesitate to ask us when you pick up your van, we will be happy to help you!

Follow there simple rules to increase your chance to see auroras:

  • Rent a Kuku Campers van (self-promote!)
  • Follow the weather forecast and the Kp numbers on Vedur.is to know where to see northern lights.
  • Determine the places you have to go based on the northern lights forecast
  • Find a campsite near the location you have chosen, for more information on campsites in Iceland, it's here.
  • At nightfall, keep your eyes open, they can appear at any time.

Last word of advice, take advantage of this moment of calm, in the middle of the night, to completely relax, and remember, if you do not see polar lights, you will still have had the chance to contemplate the magnificent Icelandic starry sky.

Don't wait and organize your trip to Iceland this winter to appreciate the Northern Lights!! Unique experience guaranteed.

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