You’re about to start your Northern Lights hunt. Here’s what you must know.

The decision has been taken! You’ve decided to travel to the most beautiful country in the world (no, we’re not biased at all!) to view the Northern Lights, one of the most spectacular natural phenomena there are. Congratulations! Now, let’s talk about what to expect and what your options are.

What’s the best time to view the Northern Lights?

First off, to see the lights, the conditions must be right. The skies have to be relatively clear of clouds – that’s the most important thing. The clouds can block your view of the sky and the lights, but with partial cloud coverage you can still sometimes see the lights.

Second, it must be dark out. That means that the summer months in Iceland are out of the question, as it’s bright all night long! So the best time is to visit between late August and late April.

Thirdly, you’ll want to get out of the city lights, thus driving (or sailing!) a little out of towns and cities.

After that, it’s a mix of patience and luck. The Northern Lights are totally natural phenomenon and, like trying to catch a glimpse of a deer in the forest, you don’t have much to say about your success. Except wait and keep a watchful eye.

Northern lights spotting - What to know before your tour

Breathtaking Northern Lights over Faxaflói bay in September 2022

Northern Lights tours – what are my options?

Iceland offers several options for you to help you see the aurora. There are many bus companies that will take you outside city limits, drive you around while trying to spot where the lights may be happening. There’s also the option of renting a car and going by yourself to look. And then there’s us – we take to the seas to hunt for this spectacular show. But why should you consider taking a boat to see them? Well, in a few words, it’s way more fun.

The fact of the matter is that the chance to see auroras from the sea is not higher than on land. In fact, the chances are usually very similar. So why is the boat a better option? Picture this. You’re on a crowded bus with dozens of other people, driving for a while just to leave the city, all the while you’re stuck in your seat and unable to go outside until the bus driver decides to stop. Once you do, you can finally get out and breathe in some fresh air and hopefully enjoy the light show… before having to be stuck in your seat for another 1-2 hours on the way back. And hopefully you dressed warm enough, as well.

Northern lights spotting - What to know before your tour

Spectators photograph the Northern Lights from a boat

Advantages of seeing the lights by boat

Being on a boat with us opens up so many possibilities. We depart from the Old Harbour in Reykjavík, just a 5-minute walk from the city centre (but if you’re staying farther away, we offer an optional pickup and drop-off service to major hotels and guesthouses).

During the whole duration of the trip you are able to stay outside, watching the skies, enjoying every minute of the trip and maximising your chances of seeing the Northern Lights. Or, if you’re feeling cold or want to take a break, you can go inside and enjoy our comfortable and warm cafeteria and bar, maybe have a snack or a drink. But also, all our passengers can borrow our wonderful thermal overalls for free, which can make it feel downright cosy sitting or standing outside.

On our way out of the harbour and back in, you get a chance to view the magnificent Reykjavík city lights and the Harpa concert hall from the sea, which is a great start and end to the tour.

And the best part – on every tour, an experienced and motivated guide will tell you all about the science and magic behind the Northern Lights! We aren’t the only company in Reykjavik offering Northern Lights by Boat, but we were the first company in Iceland to do so. That gives us a lot of experience, which we are happy to pass along to you.

Northern lights spotting - What to know before your tour

Dancing Northern Lights above the mountains

So you’re ready to go? Great! Here are some practicalities to prepare for the tour.

Are you wondering what to do in Reykjavík on a rainy or snowy day? Looking to explore a less touristy part of the city? You’ll find it worth your time to head out to Grandi, just next to the Old Harbour, an area of the city you might normally not think about twice. As a tourist in a new place, it would never cross my mind that a place with huge hangars and industrial vibes would turn out to hide such gems. Here are our best places to visit at the Reykjavik Old Harbour.

Once an area whose only purpose was to house the fish processing plants and shipyards, today Grandi at the Old Harbour is a haven for Iceland aficionados that want to learn more about the island’s natural wonders and have fun while doing so. Let’s not forget about the many foodie-approved places, so this truly is a place where everybody can find something interesting.


Best places to visit at the Reykjavik Old Harbour

People walking in Grandi disctrict, Old Harbour, Reykjavík. (Photo:


If you are like me and can never get enough of whales even if you see them live on the open seas, then the Whales of Iceland museum is for you. Marvel at the life-sized replicas of whales and dolphins encountered in Icelandic coastal waters. Prepare to feel dwarfed and humbled, while learning more about them with the help of an audio guide or a very knowledgeable live human guide.


Best places to visit at the Reykjavik Old Harbour

Life-size whale exhibits at Whales of Iceland museum


Missed the latest volcanic eruption of Meradalir? No need to worry, Lava Show has got you covered. Witness real live molten rock being poured in front of your very eyes while an educated guide tells you all you need to know about what happens during a real outburst of lava.

If you are visiting Iceland in winter, then it’s safe to assume that you’re a member of Team Northern Lights! Even when hanging around the Old Harbour, you can get close to the amazing lights! We all love to learn about the topic of our fascination and for that purpose Aurora Reykjavík has what you need. They’ll tell all you need to know about this incredible celestial phenomenon. Hot tip: VR experience and coffee included! Another hot tip: Great in combination with a northern lights tour by boat!

Not afraid of heights? Brilliant! The experience of flying above some of Iceland’s less know breathtaking landscapes will leave you breathless. FlyOver Iceland invites you aboard a simulator that gives you the feeling of being able to fly! Bring a hoodie with you, there can be a lot of mist in the clouds.


Best places to visit at the Reykjavik Old Harbour

Visitors having a thrill ride at FlyOver Iceland


I bet all the excitement will have made you hungry. Time to hit one (or more) of the places that offer delicious food! The first and obvious choice is the Grandi Mathöll (Grandi food court) where you can choose between Korean street food, sushi, pasta, Indian and of course Icelandic dishes. Those of you that are used to Mediterranean culinary standards and are skeptical about Nordic pizza will be pleasantly surprised after tasting Flatey Pizza‘s festival of doughy goodness.

Further along the same street, there’s Luna Flórens, where you can chill with a coffee and cake in a cozy atmosphere. Now for some dessert! At Valdís you will not only be happy because icecream(!), but you’ll also be one step closer to becoming a true Icelander that enjoys their frozen treat when and where it makes sense the most – during winter!

Who knew a day at a fish processing area could be so culturally and gastronomically uplifting! 😊

Written by Lucas Heinrich

The northern lights are truly a sight to behold. These otherworldly green ribbons regularly lighting up the skies of the arctic and subarctic have inspired awe for millennia. It is, then, little wonder that they top the list of the Seven Wonders of the Natural World. Today, we roughly understand the science behind them – including what causes them, and how to maximize our chances to see them. But throughout recorded history, auroras have inspired myth and legend in creative attempts to explain their causes and effects. Some people revered the lights, while others feared them. Some saw the lights as good omens, and others as harbingers of evil and despair. Here, we explore some of these myths and legends about northern lights.

Myths and legends about northern lights

Aurora Borealis by Frederic Edwin Church, an 1865 painting

The Sámi, the indigenous people Scandinavia, are among the cultures who had a healthy distrust of the northern lights. They believed that if northern lights came too close to Earth, they could swoop down and grab unsuspecting people – and so people hid from the lights, or tried to scare them off by clapping their hands loudly. But it was also discovered that whistling would draw the lights nearer. Sámi children would dare each other to whistle at the lights, until they came nearly close enough to grab them, and then scare them away again by clapping. So next time you’re out hunting the auroras, maybe give whistling a try!

Here in Iceland, few records of northern lights myths remain. One common belief was that northern lights could ease the pain of childbirth – however, if a pregnant woman were to gaze upon the auroras, her child would be born cross-eyed! Another belief was that auroras could be used to predict the weather – if the lights were dancing and waving in the sky, it meant a storm was coming, and people had to make preparations. Alternatively, if the lights were dancing, it meant a war was occurring somewhere in the world.

The Finnish word for northern lights – revontulet – translates directly into English as “fox fires.” This comes from an old legend of a magical Arctic fox – the “firefox” – who ran continuously across the tundra. Depending on the telling of the legend, the northern lights were caused by either its radiant fur, or the sparks that rose into the sky as it swept its tail across the landscape.

Myths and legends about northern lights

The aurora borealis lights up the sky around a cottage in Ruka, Finland

Meanwhile, Sweden was one of the places where northern lights were considered a good omen. A common belief was that the northern lights were reflections of lights off the scales of herring swimming far away in the sea – so if a fisherman saw the lights, a good catch was on the horizon.

In Denmark, legend spoke of swans who would hold competitions to see who could fly the farthest north. But swans who flew too far north might get their wings frozen. By flapping their wings, the ice crystals could be shaken loose, and reflect the sun’s light into the sky, causing the northern lights.

In Norse mythology, the northern lights were said to be reflections from the silver armour and spears of the Valkyries, the choosers of the slain. When a Viking warrior fell in battle, should he be worthy of the honour, he was escorted to Odin’s hall in Valhalla to feast with the Norse gods. The Valkyries were the female figures responsible for choosing these worthy warriors. So the night before an important battle, if a warrior looked up into the sky and witnessed the auroras, it meant the Valkyries were watching and ready to make their choices.

When watching the auroras dance on a clear night, behaving as they are breathing and have taken on a life of their own, it does not take a stretch of the imagination to see how many cultures saw them as manifestations of spirits or gods. Should you count yourself among the lucky ones to witness such a sight, then you can make your own conclusions. Come join us on one of our northern lights by boat tours – you might just witness the sight of a lifetime. (For tips on how to prepare for a northern lights hunt, click here!)

By Jonathan Rempel

Are you planning to come to Iceland and dreaming of seeing the northern lights? Then you’re probably also wondering about your chances of seeing the northern lights in Iceland. Worry not, we are here to explain.

The northern lights are an amazing natural phenomenon that has astounded humanity throughout recorded history. Only the slightest minority of people had ever heard about these celestial lights, much less seen them with their own eyes. But over the past 1-2 decades, thanks to the internet and social media, photos of the lights – or aurora borealis, as they were nicknamed by Galileo – have spread like wildfire and ignited the burning desire to venture into tiny corners of the world where the lights can be seen. One of which, of course, is Iceland.


chances of seeing the northern lights in Iceland


Northern lights are the result of the charged particles in solar wind – protons, electrons, and alpha particles – with gas molecules hundreds of kilometers up in our atmosphere. The excitement of those gas molecules causes them to produce light, which we perceive as auroras. Generally, auroras only occur within a narrow band at high latitudes, because the Earth’s magnetic field deflects the majority of the solar wind towards the north and south poles.

While it is occasionally possible for this “auroral oval” to widen, such as during strong solar storms where a significantly higher amount of solar wind is sent our way, generally one must venture far north to have a chance at witnessing the northern lights – and Iceland usually lies right within the brightest part of that auroral oval. Just check out this Aurora Forecast, with a screenshot taken right as I was writing this article:


chances of seeing the northern lights in Iceland


That means that by visiting Iceland, you are already in one of the best places in the world to spot the Northern Lights. Well done! But that isn’t always quite enough, of course. The weather has to cooperate as well. Now, you may have already heard about Iceland’s famously fickle weather – well, that applies even more so to weather in the winter, which is the only time of year the auroras are visible here. Sometimes the weather doesn’t cooperate – which means aurora hunting requires patience, and a few tries. But overall, your chances of seeing the auroras here are good. Just don’t get lazy – during your trip to Iceland, be sure to try every single night, no matter how tired you are. And who knows? What you see might just be the experience of a lifetime.

Special Tours Wildlife Adventures was the first company in the world to offer northern lights tours by boat, an incredible experience that goes far beyond what any bus company can offer. And we are well aware of the weather – if your tour is cancelled due to cloudy conditions, we provide a backup plan to give you an enjoyable way to spend your evening, plus the option to rebook for the next evening.

Keep your eyes on the skies, and happy hunting!

By Jonathan Rempel, Head Guide

What to expect on a Northern Lights boat tour

Between September and mid-April, Special Tours offer Northern Lights boat tours in the evenings. The tour lasts for two to two and a half hours and takes our passengers to the fjord of Kollafjörður, north of Reykjavík. There is no need to go very far, only far enough to escape the light pollution of the city. Aboard our boats Andrea and Lilja, our passengers can enjoy a guided tour, snacks and drinks at the cafe, and of course, hopefully, a beautiful Northern Light show and take many photos.

As we leave the harbour, the guide will instruct the passengers about safety and go over everything that is available onboard for their comfort. The use of a microphone allows everybody to hear the guide, wherever they are on the boat, so everyone can move around freely without missing out on anything. Our boats Andrea and Lilja are divided between indoor and outdoor areas. Therefore people have the possibility to go out to look at northern lights, but also to go back in to warm up and rest. They can also borrow the warm overalls there are onboard in order to brave the cold. A cafeteria is open throughout the whole tour and serves all kinds of hot drinks, alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages, including Brennivín (a typical Icelandic snaps) and Icelandic beers (Gull, Brío) Christmas drink Malt and Appelsín, waffles and snacks. We recommend the combo of hot chocolate and waffle for an instant happiness boost. You can try the Icelandic way, and have your waffle with rhubarb jam and a lot of whipped cream!

What to expect on a Northern Lights boat tour

During the tour, the guide will share knowledge about the physics behind Northern Lights, where they come from, how they form, their different colors, etc. They will also tell you about the many stories and legends auroras inspired throughout History. They can help you set your camera and will assist you with finding the lights in the sky. A camera is an essential tool when chasing the auroras. Not only it allows you to keep a trace of this magical moment, but it also helps you to find them. Faint northern lights can easily be mistaken for grey clouds by our eyes. Fortunately, your camera would not be fooled and would detect their real colors. It allows you to know where the auroras are while waiting for them to become more active and start showing glowing colors for your eyes too.

While cruising in the fjord of Kollafjörður, we encounter many small islands. The biggest one is Viðey, it is now uninhabited but remains of a village and a school still stand and can be visited in summer. The other islands are nesting grounds for many seabirds, like the Cormorant. The islands of Akurey and Engey also welcome puffin colonies every summer, who come there to nest and breed. This is where the Puffin Express tours of Special Tours takes you to see these fascinating birds. This part of the fjords also offers beautiful views on the snowy mountains around the capital, even by night, like mount Esja, Úlfarsfell, or the ski resort of Bláfjöll.

You can also admire the lights of Reykjavík in the distance. There you cannot miss the concert hall of Harpa, and the church of Hallgrímskirkja. If you visit Iceland around the time of New Year’s Eye, you might be able to see fireworks in the sky of the capital. Icelanders love fireworks and will often continue to fire them long after the 1st of January. They are sold by the Search and Rescue Association in order to fund their operations, which is one more reason to buy big quantities every year.

What to expect on a Northern Lights boat tour

As we run this tour between September and mid-April, a big part of those tours is going to happen during the heart of the winter. Our passengers should be prepared for all kinds of weather conditions, winter conditions and cold temperatures, strong wind, etc. This is where the overalls and the warmth of the inside of the boat are gladly welcomed. You also need to be well prepare: What to bring on your northern lights cruise. Hot chocolate is also the best remedy when feeling very cold.

As we are only sailing inside the fjord and not to the open ocean, conditions swell-wise are not often rough, and people sensitive to seasickness should not be too bothered by that. But seasickness tablets are offered on board for whose who need them.


What are northern lights and what are the right conditions to see them ?

Northern Lights, also called polar lights or Aurora Borealis are a display of light in the sky, that comes in different colors and different shapes. They are a completely natural phenomenon, and it is impossible to predict if they are going to be out, when, and for how long. Therefore, we can never guarantee sighting. But we only go out when the conditions are favorable.

Favorable conditions here in Iceland to see the Northern Lights are a clear sky and darkness. Darkness is an important factor, as auroras occur all year around at any time of the day or night, but are only visible when it’s dark enough to see them. Therefore, Northern Lights are visible in Iceland as soon as night comes back, after many days of constant daylight in summer. That is why we operate our tours only in the evening from September until mid-April, as the rest of the year has only few hours of darkness or not at all.

Besides darkness, you also want a clear or partly clear sky, which means that our tours are weather dependent, and we only go out when the conditions are good enough in terms of cloud coverage.

Northern lights happen inside an oval-shaped band around the North pole. This band encompasses Iceland, Scandinavia, Siberia, Alaska, Northern Canada, Greenland, etc. If the auroras activity is high, this oval can stretch southwards, and auroras can be seen further south than usual. But Iceland is at a high latitude and therefore always inside this oval, so we can potentially see them even on a low-activity night. And we have in the past seen amazing display of auroras when the forecast showed little activity.

Here you can read: How to read a northern lights forecast.

And some other times, even though all the conditions seem good, auroras simply don’t appear in the sky. Their appearance depends on solar activity, which is something we try to predict but cannot know for sure.

In case we do not see the Northern Lights, all our passengers are invited to join another tour free of charge to try again.

Written by Claire Dutilleul

What to expect on a Northern Lights boat tour

If you’re lucky enough to see the Northern Lights during your Iceland trip, it will be a lifelong memory. These fickle green and purple ribbons dance across darkened skies when high levels of solar activity coincide with clear, cloudless skies. They’re not guaranteed, but when they do show up, it’s a truly magical sight. Now, let’s prepare you for a pleasant evening (hopefully) witnessing the spectacle – let’s look at what to bring on your northern lights boat tour.

What To Bring On Your Northern Lights Boat Tour

The Northern Lights and summer don’t go together

The long hours of daylight make sightings of the Aurora Borealis impossible. Instead, you’re most likely to catch a glimpse of them between September and April, which means you’re going to need to dress for cold temperatures. The uncertainty associated with aurora hunting means that there’s likely to be a far amount of down time, either waiting for the lights to show, or while you watch them dance. Here’s what we suggest you should bring on your Northern Lights boat tour.

The right kind of base layer is essential

Getting the base layer right is crucial. The job of the piece of clothing closest to your skin is to make sure it doesn’t get damp. If it does, you start to feel cold. So you need something that will absorb sweat and wick away that moisture. Synthetics and wool such as merino are excellent in this respect; cotton is not as it doesn’t dry out once wet. Opt for long sleeves, of course.

What to put on top

Over your base layer, add a decent fleece or a thick wool jumper. Warm air is trapped between the layers and that will prevent you from feeling the cold. A high performance outer layer, preferably one that’s windproof, should keep you warm and toasty. Don’t forget your legs: they too will feel the benefit of thermal leggings or long johns beneath a pair of ski trousers.

What To Bring On Your Northern Lights Boat Tour

Happy feet

Two pairs of socks, ideally merino wool, inside some thick-soled boots such as ski boots or heavy duty walking boots, should keep your feet from being freezing cold. You might also consider thermal insoles, but check your boots will still fit! Choosing something with a good grip is also a consideration.

Remember to take care of your extremities

Lastly, keep your extremities cozy. Scientists have debunked the theory that we lose most of our body heat through our head, but it still makes a lot of sense to put something on it. Along with a suitable hat, pop on a scarf or snood to protect your neck and lower face from the elements. Padded gloves are a good idea, but if you plan to use a camera then they’re not very practical. You can buy gloves with conductive tips on each finger. These let you operate a touch screen, such as on your camera or mobile phone.

Recording the occasion

Most of us like to record those special moments when we travel and seeing the Northern Lights are definitely going to fall into that category, so take your camera or smartphone. Make sure you know its settings inside out and don’t underestimate the number of photos you’ll take – make sure you have plenty of memory available. Battery life is impacted by extreme cold. Bring spares and keep them in a warm pouch so that you can swap them over when required.

Follow these guidelines and you’ll be well prepared for your Northern Lights boat tour. Now all you need to do is cross your fingers and hope they appear!

The Northern Lights are an incredible natural phenomenon that has intrigued, amazed, and inspired mankind throughout recorded history. And yet, because they’re only visible in a very small part of the world, only a slim minority of people can claim themselves lucky enough to witness the greatest light show on Earth.

Iceland is one of the best places in the world to see the Northern Lights, so of course many people come visit us for specifically that reason! If you’re joining the hunt as well, there are definitely several things to keep in mind, but for this article I wanted to focus on how to read a Northern Lights and weather forecast to prepare yourself. Our experienced team does this every day when deciding whether conditions are right for our Northern Lights by Boat tours!

How to Read a Northern Lights Forecast

Predictably Unpredictable

An experienced aurora hunter will always read both the Northern Lights and weather forecasts when planning, so it’s definitely good to familiarize yourself with both of these. Of course, these forecasts are never 100% reliable, but they serve as excellent guidelines for planning purposes. The best advice is to err on the side of optimism! By far, the most important aspect of planning a Northern Lights hunt is the weather itself. In order to see the aurora, you must have skies that are at least partly clear. If the cloud cover is too widespread or too thick, then seeing the Northern Lights is unfortunately unlikely.

How to Read a Northern Lights Forecast

The Weather Forecast

The most popular website to check the weather forecast is the Icelandic Meteorological Office. There, the cloud cover is classified in 3 separate layers: low, middle, and high clouds. Low and middle clouds are the ones to worry about most, because those tend to be thicker and can obscure the night sky more easily. High clouds, meanwhile, can often be very thin, so even 100% coverage with high clouds may not completely rule out seeing the auroras. Look for areas that appear white on the map, as these are where it’s predicted to be clear at the time you choose. You can choose specific dates and times below the map, but because this forecast can change very quickly from day to day, I wouldn’t rely on it too much for more than 24 hours in advance.

The Aurora Borealis, or Northern Lights, is undoubtedly one of the most spectacular and beautiful of nature’s phenomena. In classic mythology, Aurora was the Roman goddess of dawn, while Boreal is a Greek and Latin word meaning North. The Southern Hemisphere’s equivalent of the Northern Lights is the Aurora Australis. Auroras can sometimes occur at lower latitudes, even as far south as the equator, though this is a very rare occurrence. If you’re planning your holiday to see the lights, you’re probably wondering about the best time to see the Northern Lights in Reykjavik, Iceland? In this article, we help you find the best time for you.

best time to see the Northern Lights

Northern Lights seen on a Northern Lights by Boat cruise from Reykjavik

The best time to see the Northern Lights is from September to mid-April

In the summertime, it’s not possible to view the auroras due to the long daylight hours in the Northern Hemisphere. The aurora’s colors correspond to different types of gases in the ionosphere. Oxygen molecules give off green or red light depending on how high they are in the ionosphere, whereas nitrogen molecules give off blue or violet light. The most common color observed is pale green.

best time to see the Northern Lights

Northern Lights By Boat – sailing away from the city lights


Usually, how long is the Northern Lights display?

Typically, a Northern Lights display lasts for a few minutes and occurs several times per night. Auroral activity is at its most intense during the hours before midnight and it just so happens to be that this is the time we sail out on our Northern Lights by Boat cruise from Reykjavik. Light pollution, particularly from city lights, can dramatically reduce visibility. So, for optimal viewing, enthusiasts should try and leave brightly lit areas. Even sailing traveling 10 or 15 minutes outside the city can significantly optimize you sighting chances and therefor your enjoyment of the Northern Lights.


To look skywards on a crisp, clear night and see these giant curtains of light weaving and swaying, gliding and flowing gracefully across the northern heavens is pure MAGIC!


best time to see the Northern Lights

Aurora Borealis display seen from sea

The Norwegian poet Knut Hamsun, in his poem Snow, aptly described the aurora as a “heavenly feast”.



Book your Northern Lights Adventure from Reykjavik now!

We look forward to seeing you on our Original Northern Lights by Boat Cruise from Reykjavik this winter. In case of no sightings of Northern Lights on your tour, you get a free ticket to try again so we highly recommend booking this activity on your first night as that will highly improve your chances of seeing Northern Lights! In case your tour gets canceled due to unfavorable weather forecast please contact our office as we have an optional backup plan waiting for you. You don´t pay anything extra for the backup plan and you get to keep your ticket to join the Northern Lights by Boat tour on another night! On the other hand, if you want to include the backup plan in your ticket and pay less then book the Northern Lights by Boat with a backup plan.


All aboard for an Adventure!
Special Tours Wildlife Adventures from Reykjavik

So, you’ve made your decision. You’re going to cross something major off your bucket list and go on a hunt for the Northern Lights. And best of all, you’re travelling to Iceland, the most beautiful country in the world! (Of course, I might be a bit biased.) My name is Jonathan Rempel, and I’m the Head Guide at Special Tours, the longest-running boat tour company in Reykjavík, Iceland. I’m now entering my 3rd winter of guiding Northern Lights by Boat tours here, and although I like to think I’ve seen it all, the fact is that these tours surprise and excite me in new ways all the time. I wanted to share some information and tips with you that might help you in your hunt.


When can I see the Northern Lights in Iceland?

First of all, in order to view the Northern Lights, the conditions must be right. You must have skies that are at least partially clear, as too many clouds can cover the Northern Lights up and make them impossible to view. It must also be dark enough to see them – and in Iceland, it doesn’t get dark at night in the summer! To be able to see the Northern Lights in Iceland you must visit sometime between late August and late April. When hunting for the auroras, you want to start by escaping any light pollution by leaving towns and cities behind. After that, the rest of the formula is just patience, and luck. The Northern Lights are a completely natural phenomenon, so nobody has any control over them. They are not guaranteed, as they can vary, just like the weather.


Things to know for your Northern Lights by Boat Adventure Things to know for your Northern Lights by Boat Adventure


Northern Lights tour options

There are so many ways to try and see the Northern Lights in Iceland. Countless companies offer bus tours, or you could rent a car and hunt for them yourself. And then there’s us – we take to the seas to hunt for the aurora. But why should you consider taking a boat to see them? Well, in a few words, it’s way more fun.

The fact of the matter is, the chance to see auroras from the sea is not higher than on land. In fact, the chances are usually very similar. But to see why being on a boat is better, imagine the following situation: You’re on a bus tour to see the Northern Lights. You board the bus in Reykjavik with 70 other people, and drive for 1-2 hours to leave the city. During that time, you’re stuck in your seat, and you can’t go outside until you reach the destination. Once you get there, finally you can stretch your legs, breathe deep, and hopefully enjoy the show… before having to be stuck in your seat for another 1-2 hours on the way back. And hopefully you dressed warm enough, as well.


Why go hunting for the Aurora Borealis by boat?

Being on a boat with us opens up so many possibilities. We depart from the Old Harbor in Reykjavik, just a 5-minute walk from the city center (but if you’re staying farther away, we offer an optional pickup and drop-off service to major hotels and guesthouses). All our passengers can borrow our wonderful thermal overalls for free, which can make it feel downright cozy when sitting or standing outside. On our way out, you get a chance to view the magnificent Reykjavik city lights and the Harpa concert hall from the sea, which is a great start and end to the tour. We have a cafeteria and a bar on board with a nice variety of snacks and drinks, and plenty of restrooms. You are always free to move around anywhere you wish, inside or outside, from the moment you step on board. And the best part – every tour comes with a fantastic and experienced guide to tell you all about the science and magic behind the Northern Lights! We aren’t the only company in Reykjavik offering Northern Lights by Boat, but we were the first company in Iceland to do so. That gives us a lot of experience, which we are happy to pass along to you. Plus, being on a boat is awesome! But again, I’m probably biased.


Things to know for your Northern Lights by Boat Adventure


What to bring with you on a Northern Lights by Boat tour?


Things to know for your Northern Lights by Boat Adventure


What kind of a camera to use to photograph the Northern Lights?

The best type of camera to capture the Northern Lights with is a DSLR or mirrorless-type camera – so think Nikon, Canon, Sony, or similar. All too often, I see people bringing small point-and-shoot cameras on these tours, only to be disappointed by the results. The problem is that cameras like these, and most smartphone cameras, have very small sensors that don’t support manual settings. If you really want to try anyway, you could try to set your camera to Fireworks mode, and hope for the best. There are several smartphone apps which could potentially be used to photograph Northern Lights, including Northern Lights Photo Taker, Nightcap, and others. But these depend mainly on your own phone, as they are not all created equal!


Camera settings to photograph the Northern Lights

Here I will go over the best settings for capturing auroras on a camera that can be set to manual mode. The best settings for Northern Lights photography on land will be quite a bit different than on a boat – mainly because the boat is moving! So here are the settings you should use:

  1. Attach a wide-angle lens. Leave those telephoto lenses behind – the best results come from lenses with a wide angle, so you can get the full scene or landscape with the auroras. Zoom all the way out, if your lens has a zoom capability.
  2. Set your camera to Manual mode. There should be a wheel or dial at the top of the camera, which should be rotated until it is set to M.
  3. Raise your light sensitivity, or ISO. Usually, this should be as high as it goes, but I would aim for 6400 at a bare minimum.
  4. Lower your aperture, or f-stop. This should usually be set to as low as it can possibly go.
  5. Change the shutter speed. Usually you will want a shutter speed of approximately 1 second. Any longer, and the photos may appear blurry due to the motion of the boat. Any shorter, and the auroras may not come out as bright as you would like.
  6. Set your focal distance to infinity (∞). Some lenses make this easy, but if you aren’t sure how to do this, the best way is to focus on something very far away, like a mountain or city lights in the distance.
  7. Set your lens to manual focus. Lenses cannot focus on the Northern Lights, as it simply does not work. So, once your focal distance is infinity, turn off all autofocus. This can often be done with a switch on the lens itself.

Just note that the optimal settings can vary between cameras, and between aurora conditions. I recommend consulting your camera’s user manual for instructions on how to change specific settings if you aren’t sure. During our boat tours, our experienced guides are always standing by to help you out as well, if you need it.


Things to know for your Northern Lights by Boat Adventure


How to read into the Northern Lights Forecast

If you’ve done some research into hunting for the Northern Lights, then you might have heard that aurora activity can be measured using a scale from 0 to 9, called the Kp-index. You may be crossing your fingers extra hard for higher numbers during your trip to Iceland. On most nights, this activity is around a 2, which sounds low when you first hear it. This scale does measure aurora activity, but it could also be described as a way to measure how far south auroras can be seen. The higher the number, the farther south one might view the Northern Lights. And because Iceland is relatively high in latitude – around 64 degrees North around Reykjavik – even very low numbers are enough for nice displays. But the thing is that we don’t pay much attention to those numbers, as we find they are not always a good indicator for how the auroras will appear. For example, I have personally seen stunning displays with swirling green and pink when the Kp-index was a 0 – and we have once gone out when the Kp-index was a 7, and we saw nothing. Your experience can certainly vary.

When our experienced team makes their decision whether to go out or not on a given night, they check several weather forecast websites, with the main one being the official Icelandic Meteorological Office – you can check it out yourself at We only ever decide to go out if the chances of seeing the auroras are good – something that we’re very proud of! Because the forecasts for cloud cover can change so quickly, we always make the decision the same day as the tour, and often it will be late in the day, so we can base our decision off the latest forecasts. We usually make our decision around 16:00 (4 pm) each day, so our passengers can plan their evenings with enough notice. If we do decide to cancel due to unfavorable cloud cover, you are always welcome to reschedule for another night.


Things to know for your Northern Lights by Boat Adventure


Free ticket to try again in case of no sightings!

Just remember that the Northern Lights aren’t always there. In a way, that makes them even more special – that they require patience, and hunting. But just in case you come on a tour with us and don’t get lucky with seeing the aurora, then you will receive a free ticket to try again, an offer that never expires. We therefore recommend coming on a tour as early in your vacation as you can – that way, you have more chances to see them. You can book your Northern Lights by Boat tour online, and if you have any further questions related to our tours, feel free to contact our ticket office by email at or just call +354-560 8800.

I wish you good luck, and happy hunting!

Jonathan Rempel
Instagram: @jon.rempel
Special Tours Head Guide