Only a few years ago Iceland was Europe’s best keep secret and contrary to its name, today it is one of its hottest destinations! Iceland is not, as some might imagine, completely covered in ice. It is a land of contrasts where enchanting light interplays with dramatic and wonderful landscapes, and mysterious qualities which have captivated my soul and lured me back to these shores time and time again. Each visit brings new and exciting experiences, and earlier this month I spent a week based at the Northern Light Inn, set amidst ancient lava fields, a short distance from the Blue Lagoon. This hotel is arguably one of the best in Iceland, with spacious rooms and comfortable beds, delicious food and a generously appointed Wellness Spa. It radiates warmth and friendliness “home from home” as you might expect from a family run establishment.
There are various things you take for granted about Iceland: Yes, there will be volcanoes and glaciers, the weather can prove challenging, and the scenery? Well, it will be truly amazing. Tourism is booming and people are visiting Iceland for a variety of different reasons; its’ beautiful landscapes and nature, its culture and heritage or merely out of curiosity, but mostly at this time of year it is the anticipation of seeing the northern lights; the Aurora Borealis.
Indeed, there is no better time to visit Iceland than in winter when the sun is low, the nights are chilled and the land is covered in a mono-colour of whiter shades of white! Here the earth’s crust is thin and new land guarantees some spectacular winter landscapes of steaming vents, boiling mud and cascading icy-waterfalls. Iceland is like no other place.
During my recent visit the landscape had a light dusting of snow and was bathed in a palette of soft pastel colours, the kind you only find in the far north; dove-grey, mellow-yellow and arctic-pink. I was lucky to experience the ‘Super-blue Moon’ and, although solar activity is presently at its minima, I watched dancing northern lights from outside the hotel. So, exactly when is the best time to see the northern lights? A question I am frequently asked. The aurora is present all the time and activity peaks in an eleven-year cycle and given we are presently at its lowest point only means its strength will increase during the next 5 years.
Between mid-September and late March, as the days grow colder and shorter, and the sun has slipped below the horizon, it may be possible to experience the enigmatic northern lights sweeping across the dark sky in a spectacular and breath-taking display. On cloudless nights, when stars are visible, each evening is filled with optimism and anticipation, you never know what it may bring. No two nights are ever the same and no two auroras ever alike.
Artists and photographers try to capture their beauty and splendour and struggle to do them justice. The images you often see of the northern lights are ephemeral moments of an event that can be quiet different seconds later. They can appear at any time from 7:00pm onwards and may simply start as an imperceptible glow of light, a faint green wand or an arc which becomes more apparent, changing form into a tornado-like spiral, twisting and swirling, fast gaining colour and intensity. Shapes and patterns can change by the moment, ribbons and drapes may dance a ballet of colour amongst the constellations; translucent veils through which shooting stars (meteors) can be seen chasing each other. And just when you think the show is over, another sudden burst of energy sends pastel greens, pinks and soft magentas cascading down from heaven as if to embrace the mountains in shimmering curtains of exquisite light. Senses and emotions often run out of control at the sheer beauty of what unfolds, reaching deep inside and touching your soul.
As with any natural phenomena of such magnitude, it does require an element of luck. Once you find dark, cloudless skies seeing the aurora shouldn’t be too difficult, although it can have its challenges at this latitude. Clear skies often mean cold, something to bear in mind when packing clothes for your trip; several thin, warm layers are best. Be prepared, the nights can be long and chilly, so approach the evening with a philosophical frame of mind while waiting for detectable signs of activity to appear. I guarantee you will be rewarded when night becomes ‘light’!
If you plan to visit Iceland do consider a two or three-night stay at the aptly named Northern Light Inn. As well as being convenient for the airport and the Blue Lagoon, it also provides a complimentary wake-up call, and endless supplies of hot chocolate, should the aurora start after mid-night.
Remember, the northern lights are a natural phenomenon and don’t appear on demand, so there can never be a cast-iron guarantee of seeing them. However, for anyone blessed with an encounter, the experience is incredible, an otherworldly vision, a super-natural phenomenon that will stay with you for a life-time.
I am posting images of landscapes bathed in exquisite light, taken during my stay earlier this month, since there are many beautiful images of the northern lights present in our portfolio. Be inspired, and enjoy!