The Aurora Borealis is a spectacular natural light show that darts across the sky. It is made from electrically charged particles from space that enter the earth’s upper atmosphere. It is mostly seen in the winter months, even though this light display is happening all year round, as obviously in summer there is too much sunlight. Just travelling to the north is not going to guarantee you a show, which is a mistake you might make if you simply book a flight for a few days presuming you will see them every night. I met some tourists who had a week in Iceland and didn’t see anything while we saw them numerous times by chance.
The Best Way to See the Lights
To see the lights, you need the sky to be dark and clear of clouds. Obviously for the clearest view you are going to want to be away from any light pollution and on a night when the moon is bright you are less likely to see the lights clearly. Therefore, as you can imagine, it is not always possible to see the aurora borealis even if they are active. As the lights are a chemical reaction, understanding the weather conditions and the KP Index will help you know where best to see them and therefore it is often best to take a guided tour for ‘chasing’ the lights. Guides know how to read this and speak with other guides who then inform each other on active spots. The KP index measures geomagnetic storms and is the best indicator for strength and brightness. Of course, this is only an indicator and not a guarantee.
What Causes the Northern Lights?
Solar storms on the sun create electrically charged particles which can travel millions of kilometres to the earth surface. When they collide with the earth’s surface they collide into atoms and molecules. Depending on which they hit will determine the colours that you see in the sky. This colliding causes waves and flickering in the sky and the gases that they mix with cause the colours. The primary colours in the atmosphere are nitrogen and oxygen. The oxygen causes green, which is the most common, while nitrogen causes the purple, blue and pink hues. Apparently, you can see beautiful red scarlet when the oxygen is very high in the outer atmosphere and the storms are very energetic. Of all the lights I have seen I must admit I have mostly seen green, but whatever the colour and wherever I saw them, it was always a most awe-inspiring moment.
All the Other Fabulous Things to Do in Iceland
Iceland has a plethora of amazing things to see. While top on the list for many is the Blue Lagoon, for us it was ok. The Lagoon is huge and the water is lovely and warm but there are so many people and it felt a bit like swimming in urine. Not sure I should say that, but that was just my feeling. The restaurant on the upper floor was very nice and the food also.
There are so many waterfalls to visit in Iceland and if you have the time and are nearby, I would visit them all. Some are larger than others but all very spectacular. The drive is always breath-taking as you past the endless lava fields. We were lucky enough to have amazing weather in November, meaning we saw some blue skies, which was obviously also good for seeing the northern lights.
As there are about 10,000 waterfalls and 200 of them are named it is difficult to name them all. We visited Seljalandsfoss which is in the south of the island as well as Skogafoss. The tallest waterfall is Morsarfoss which is 220 meters and only became visible in 2007 with the melting of the glacier Morsar.
As we only had 5 days it was not easy to go too far, as also the days were short and the drives were long. We did however go out to Akranes and pass many mountains. The sheer ruggedness of the Icelandic terrain makes you feel like you are on the moon. The wind can also be tremendous and we were told never to stop on the coast when the wind is up as the sand could peel the paint of your car. Also always take out windscreen cover as you are very likely to get a crack in your windscreen. Which by the way we did.
There are 269 names glaciers in Iceland. This is a phenomenal amount considering the size of the island. Many are in volcanos and in fact they are constantly shifting, hence the cracking you here and the formations of crevices and ice caves. These glaciers were formed thousands of years ago and with climate change are constantly shrinking.
Jökulsarlon Glacier is one of the most popular to visit in Iceland with beautiful iceberg sculptures floating in the lake beneath. You can even take a cruise in the Lagoon. The closest glacier to Reykjavik is Langjökull. It is also very beautiful and definitely worth a visit and take a snowmobile tour.
Iceland is quite simply spectacular. Our 5 days was just a sampler and Reykjavik the city needs more exploring. For our next adventure. But if you love nature, then Iceland is an absolute must on the bucket list.