In some ways Iceland is almost a fairly normal place, sometimes. But that certainly cannot be said of the nights. The frantic weekend partying is perennial, but you have to book flights to Iceland at specific times if you want to experience the midnight sun and the northern lights.
Iceland has spent years trying to persuade the world that it's not a summer-only destination – and we really do think you'll love it here at any time of year. But among the hundreds of good reasons to visit Iceland off-season, the northern lights shine out near the top of the list.
You have a chance of seeing the northern lights, or aurora borealis, in Iceland whenever it is fully dark and not cloudy. That basically means from about September to March for the best displays – although you might be lucky enough to see a little bit in early April and late August too.
Only a fool would say “book flights to Iceland and you'll definitely see the northern lights” because in reality they are elusive and not at all obliging to people's whims. But if you visit when there's plenty of night time and you get some clear skies there is a very good chance you'll experience what happens when the earth's upper atmosphere protects us from deadly solar winds.
As we say, the northern lights are temperamental and seeing them should be a real treat and not taken for granted (unlike the nameless North American lady who kicked up an angry storm at a Reykjavik tourist office in July, saying the northern lights were the only reason for her visit and that the midnight sun could be shoved where it doesn't shine).
Here are a few WOW air tips that may or may not help:
Any time from September to March is good; but if you're really serious about seeing the northern lights you should visit Iceland when it is statistically darkest and clearest. The nights are nice and long from November to February and of those four months, December and February are (on average) slightly less cloudy.
Dress up extra warm; because the more you're wearing, the longer you'll comfortably be able to stay outside waiting and/or watching. And remember that clear nights tend to be cold nights.
Feel free to drive your own hire care in search of the aurora – it will be fun! Organised tours, however, use technology and mountains of experience to go to the right place at the right time for a sighting. Some nights they're everywhere, but other nights the guides really earn their keep.
If you take a northern lights tour, take it early in your holiday. That way if you don't see anything, you'll have time to take the tour again for free.
For best results stimulate all four main senses at the same time: why not find a quiet natural hot pot to bathe in while looking up at the northern lights, sipping hot cocoa from a flask and listening to suitably relaxing and epic music; like Sigur Rós's 1999 classic album, Ágætis Byrjun
No need to thank us. Just enjoy!
Top photo. Kirkjufell. Photo: Martin Schulz