At our information office on Laugavegur, we got a lot of questions about the Northern Lights tours. There are many options out there so, of course, people want to know which tour to take. To make things a little bit easier for you, take a look at our guide to choosing the perfect Northern Lights tour for you.
First, let’s cover the basics. The Northern Lights, or the Aurora Borealis, can be seen everywhere in Iceland (you don’t need to go up north, despite the name) but in order to get a good look at them, you need to be far away from the city lights dimming your view. A Northern Lights tour takes you away from the city and (whenever possible) towards wherever there are no clouds, on a night when the auroras are active.
The Northern Lights are not a guaranteed show because it depends on weather conditions, the earth’s atmosphere and the sun itself if they show themselves or not. Northern Lights tour guide can’t show you the Northern Lights if there aren’t any, but they can find the best spots to see them, run from the clouds, so your view’s not impaired and tell you everything they know about them.
Also, there’s something called the aurora forecast, published by the Iceland meteorological office. It’s not infallible, but it can give you an idea of what to expect. If the Northern Lights don’t cooperate on any given night, you can usually go back the next day for free.
There are three different main categories of Northern lights tours, depending on your vehicle: jeep tours, boat tours and bus tours. In addition, there are several combo tours, combining the Northern Lights with something else, and these also have benefits and drawbacks.
The Northern Lights tours will cancel if the weather is too bad or if the lights aren’t active on a given night. (This may not be the case for all the combo tours).
The most cost-effective, no-thrills-but-gets-the-job-done way to see the Northern lights is just to take a bus out of the city, with a driver who knows where the best viewing spots are and spend some time taking in the experience. The tour usually takes around 3-4 hours, but it could be longer if they think this means you will see the lights.
- It’s the cheapest way!
- The buses are warm and comfortable.
- It’s easy to book and several different tour operators offer this tour
- It’s not as easy to follow the lights since the bus has to stick to the main road.
- This also means crowds, since there’s sometimes more than one bus parked in the same spots
There’s no law saying you have to get out of the city by car; in fact, taking a boat to see the Northern Lights can be a great experience, seeing the city lights fade away, mirrored in the water. Even if you don’t end up seeing any Northern Lights, it’s still an experience to remember (and as always, if you don’t see any Northern Lights, you can always see go again the next night for free). The trip is usually around 2 hours, give or take half an hour.
- Though not as cheap as the bus tour, it’s still relatively inexpensive.
- You get to go on a boat, which is always fun
- Even if you don’t see any lights, a boat tour is still an experience.
- If the tour goes ahead but no lights appear, you sail again for free.
- Boats are more weather dependent than land-based tours, since you don’t just need a good Aurora forecast, you need decent sailing weather.
- Duration: 1,5-2,5 hours, occasionally a little longer than that.
Taking a modified jeep to see the Northern Light is a much more luxurious experience. Not only does the jeep take much fewer people, giving you a lot more privacy when viewing the Northern Lights, but taking a jeep also gives you much more freedom to hunt the lights down, even over rough terrain. It’s exclusive and thrilling!
- Smaller groups give you more privacy
- More freedom to hunt down the lights
- A knowledgeable guide is at your fingertips
- You’ll see more of the country as well in a jeep rather than a bus
- The availability is more limited – book ahead!
- It costs a bit more
Combo tours include another activity besides the Northern Lights excursion, so you generally get more for your money. Activities include but are not limited to: Bathing in a hot spring, a boat trip to the Yoko Ono peace monument on Viðey Island, a lobster dinner, horseback riding, the Horse Theatre, and glacier hiking.
On the other hand, because these include another activity, some of them are not cancelled if the Aurora forecast isn’t looking good, and you generally don’t get to go again if you don’t see any lights. But this way you can be sure you do something awesome, and then the northern lights are more like a bonus.
There are several different types of tours, combinations, and offers available. Check them out!