The Northern lights are highly unpredictable and you should count yourself very lucky if you get to sneak a peak of them while in Iceland. Here is a list of the basics that you need in order to be able to see the spectacular Northern lights. But first you should accept that there is no way you can be guaranteed to see the Northern lights no matter how well planned your trip is. The green lady Aurora dances only when and where she pleases.
The darker the better. One of the most challenging things about getting a good view at the Northern lights is getting away from all light pollution. If you want to spot the aurora you should definitely get out of town. Book a Northern lights trip or rent a car and drive to the country side yourself. However, be very careful if you decide to drive yourself. Always check the weather and road conditions before embarking on your adventure.
The Northern lights season in Iceland is from late September to late March. However, the darker the month the better as this gives you more hours of darkness to spot the Northern lights in.
A geomagnetic storm (a high KP index)
Without going into an elaborate science lesson the Northern lights are actually created by solar winds. The KP index measures the activity of these solar winds from the sun. The scale goes from 0-9. 0 is extremely weak and 9 is a major geomagnetic storm. A high KP index equals goods chances of seeing the aurora borealis. If a KP index of 4 or higher is predicted for the evening/night then you should consider booking your Northern lights tour.
Keep an eye on the KP index
Download the Aurora or AuroraNow app on your smartphone. It is by far the easiest way to keep an eye on the KP index.
A high KP index is no guarantee that you will be able to spot the aurora. A geomagnetic storm is no good if you can’t get a clear look at the night sky. In order for you to get a good look at the Northern lights you need completely clear skies. If the weather prediction is heavy overcast you might as well forget about seeing the green lady dance across the night sky. However, some clouds should not stop you from sneaking a peak at the aurora in between the clouds.
You need patience to see the aurora borealis. In fact, you need a whole lot of patience. Most of the time on a Northern lights tour is spend waiting. Waiting and hoping. Therefore you need a lot of patience. A part from this you need to keep you eyes peeled at the night sky the whole time. The Northern lights are highly unpredictable and sometimes they suddenly appear and disappear just as fast again.
Because seeing the Northern lights require darkness and patience it also requires a very warm outfit. Some companies equip their guests with a pair of thermo overalls to keep people warm. However, you still want to wear your warmest gear possible – from top to toe.
One thing is when and if the Northern lights appear another factor is where they will appear.
A Northern lights tour is a chase. Your are literally chasing the aurora from your trip starts until it ends. It can be highly recommended to go with the means of transportation that is fastest and most flexible. This gives you the best chance of seeing the Northern lights. On most guided bus tours the guides also use their network and share intel with each other on whether anyone has spotted the lights. This also increases you chances of getting to see the aurora.
Some companies offer other variations of Northern light trips. Going on a boat can be very romantic and the same goes for booking a bubble or a panorama lodge. However, it requires a lot of luck for you to be in the exact spot where the aurora is going to show that night. If they are going to be visible at all.
One final tip that will stop you from being disappointed
Don’t ever expect lady aurora to show just because you want her to. You will most likely be stood up.
In other words: Don’t plan your entire trip to Iceland around seeing the aurora. Make sure that you plan plenty of other activities. There is snowmobiling, ice cave exploring, ice climbing, glacier hiking and so much more to do. Then, if you are in luck, you might be able to sneak a peak of the green lady across the night sky. However, consider this an add on. This way you won’t be disappointed.