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One of nature’s most spectacular wonders is the Aurora Borealis (the Northern Lights), and those visiting Iceland between the months of September and April have a once-in-a-lifetime chance to see the stunning light show as shades of green and purple dance across the sky. Be aware that seeing the lights – even in the coldest winter months – takes some luck and you’ll need to get away from the light pollution in the city. Local tour guides know some of the best spots to hunt for the lights, so booking a tour can increase your chances. There are plenty of options out there from basic bus journeys, off-roading in Jeeps and SUVs, boat cruises, snowmobiling trips and combination tours that often include stops at top attractions in the Golden Circle.
While most tours depart from the capital city of Reykjavik (in southern Iceland), keep in mind that the further north you go (to places like Akureyri or Husavik), the better your odds are of seeing the lights. Many tours that are dedicated to searching for the lights will offer travelers a second chance to go again for free if the lights don’t show the first time, while combination tours that include additional attractions or activities typically do not provide the same opportunity. Here are the best Northern Lights Tours to book before you head to Iceland, so you can get your adventure started early.
Best Budget: Northern Lights Tour from Reykjavik
If you’re visiting Iceland on a tight budget but still want to experience the Northern Lights, consider the Northern Lights Tour from Reykjavik. The basic tour includes round-trip transportation on a large bus to Reykjavik’s countryside – far away from the city lights – but you’ll be sharing the experience with many other travelers. While en route, the guide will give travelers a background on the Aurora Borealis and how it is formed by electrically charged particles in the Earth’s atmosphere. Guides can also provide pointers for capturing the lights with your camera. The tour lasts about three to five hours before returning to Reykjavik hotels. If the conditions aren’t right to see the lights, you can go again on a different night free of charge.
Best Small Group Tour: Small Group Northern Lights Tour
For a chance to get into some more rugged terrain outside of Reykjavik with a smaller group size, the Small Group Northern Lights Tour is an excellent option. The super jeeps have massive tires (38 inches tall), allowing travelers to go off-roading into hidden areas with clear skies that large tour buses cannot – thus increasing the chances of seeing the lights. The four-hour, small-group tour picks up and returns to hotels in Reykjavik and includes commentary from a Northern Lights expert, as well as hot chocolate and biscuits to snack on. Guides will help travelers set their cameras to capture the bests possible images. Be sure to wear warm clothing and hiking shoes as some amount of trekking may be involved.
Best Combination Tour: Reykjavik Secret Lagoon and Northern Lights Tour
If you’d prefer a more low-key day (and night) trip, the Reykjavik Secret Lagoon and Northern Lights Tour is the perfect combination of relaxing, dining, and observing the beautiful light show. The six-hour tour includes round-trip transportation from the hotel in a comfortable bus, with the first stop being a relaxing, lesser-visited lagoon for a soak in the natural hot springs (so be sure to bring your towel and bathing suit). Next up is a buffet dinner of traditional and Icelandic dishes at a country restaurant, followed by a search for the northern lights. The bus heads away from light pollution to several locations as the driver helps to hunt for the lights.
Best from Northern Iceland: Northern Lights from Akureyri in a 4x4 Jeep Tour
Travelers who like to get away from the big city to see lesser-visited areas and countryside should consider a trip to northern Iceland – where chances of seeing the lights are greater than in Reykjavik. Akureyri is the unofficial capital of northern Iceland with a population under 20,000 people, and opportunities to explore the remote areas that are prime for viewing the Northern Lights. On the Northern Lights from Akureyri in a 4x4 Jeep Tour, you’ll head out to the countryside in a jeep after being picked up from a local hotel. Hot chocolate and Icelandic doughnuts are served, and if the lights are not seen you can join the next tour free of charge. The tour has a maximum of eight people.
Best Full Day: Golden Circle Afternoon and Northern Lights Tour
If you only have a short time in Iceland, the Golden Circle Afternoon and Northern Lights Tour pack some of the highlights near Reykjavik with a Northern Lights viewing on a 10-hour tour – giving you a taste of everything. Begin with a hotel pick up in a large jeep to Thingvellir National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage site, followed by a visit to Geysir, a geothermal field of hot springs and steam vents. Along the way, guides talk about the geography and history of Iceland, as well as provide information about the Northern Lights. The tour also stops at the stunning Gullfoss waterfall before night falls, and then search for the lights begins with stops at several peaceful locations. Bring warm clothes and a lunch or snacks – only hot beverages are provided.
Best Boat Trip: Northern Lights Cruise from Reykjavik
The northern lights are spectacular by land, but watching the lights from the water adds an exciting element that can enhance the experience. The two-hour, Northern Lights Cruise departs from Reykjavik to escape from shoreline and city lights. The boat has an outdoor viewing deck in addition to a warmer interior area where beverages such as soft drinks, hot chocolate, alcohol and snacks can be purchased. The crew provides a set of overalls to help keep guests warm, but you should still bundle up. If there are no sightings, travelers can reschedule the trip for another time (for up to two years) for a second shot at seeing them.
Best Adventure Tour: Northern Lights Snowmobiling Experience
If you’re an active traveler who is searching for adventure, then combine the stunning northern lights with a fun-filled snowmobile adventure. Check off two bucket list items (glacier snowmobiling and the Northern Lights) with the Northern Lights Snowmobiling Experience on Langjökull Glacier from Reykjavik Tour. The 10-hour experience departs from Reykjavik with bus transportation from your hotel to the Langjökull Glacier, with information from the guide along the way. Then, it’s time to board snowmobiles for a thrilling ride under the starlit sky to the observation base, where travelers can warm up and wait for the lights to appear. Light refreshments are provided, but you’ll want to bring some snacks as you wait for the lights.