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5 Things No One Ever Tells You About the Northern Lights

Jdombs-Travels-Northern-Lights-5My quest to see the Northern Lights began in September 2011. I had literally just left Tim in Iceland and the very next night the Northern Lights danced for a week straight. They were so bright and so active, they even kept him up at night. After Tim raving about how incredible they were, I just had to see for myself.
This sight sent us into a flurry of throwing on clothes and grabbing the camera and tripod

This sight sent us into a flurry of throwing on clothes and grabbing the camera and tripod

I got my first chance just three months later when I spent five nights in Rovaniemi, Finland on the Arctic Circle. And for five cloudy nights, I eventually went to bed after watching the sky until the wee hours of the morning. Then Tim and I traveled to Svalbard in March of 2012. At 78° North and just 600 miles from the North Pole, we were actually above the Aurora Belt. We spent four nights watching for the elusive Aurora. Finally, on our second night in Tromso (on the eve of my birthday) the Northern Lights finally made an appearance. But it was cloudy, they were a white-gray color, and they danced for less than an hour. I had seen them, but it wasn’t what I expected and I craved a more spectacular display.

Wanting to ring in the New Year in Reykjavik because of the fireworks display of epic proportions we had heard about, the trip gave us another excuse to go Aurora hunting. In the weeks leading up to our Iceland adventure and ever since, we’ve received tons of messages, comments, and emails from our readers and followers about trips to see the Northern Lights. I don’t want to be a Negative Nancy, but feel it’s my duty to tell you all these five things no one ever tells you about the Northern Lights:

The Northern Lights begin to dance

The Northern Lights begin to dance

1. Don’t go for the Northern Lights; go for the destination.

In talking to locals, including our new friend The Aurora Hunter, no one in Iceland had seen the Northern Lights in 3 weeks prior to our sighting. Storms had moved in clouding up the night skies and there just wasn’t much activity going on on the sun.

Had we visited Iceland, Finland, Norway or Svalbard only hoping to see the Northern Lights, we’d probably be really disappointed right about now. Instead, each destination gave us fantastic opportunities to be mushers for the day, go glacier hiking, and look for polar bears on a snowmobile expedition. Your adventure will be a memorable one when you have activities planned that you’re really excited for and seeing the Northern Lights is an added bonus if they do come out to dance.

Jdombs-Travels-Northern-Lights-32. The Northern Lights are unpredictable.

In order to see the Northern Lights, you need a dark, clear night. They are visible from late September to March anywhere from 6pm to 6am. There also needs to be solar flares on the sun or solar wind; the Aurora Borealis happens when particles from the sun enter Earth’s atmosphere and collide violently with gas atoms. There are Aurora forecasts and we even use the Aurora Forecast app for iPhone that will predict the aurora activity level. But the fact is, the Northern Lights are unpredictable. We’ve had clear nights when the Aurora forecast showed level 4 (high) activity and we didn’t see anything. The Aurora forecast said level 0 (no activity) on January 4, 2013 when we saw them.

Check the Aurora forecast.

Jdombs-Travels-Northern-Lights-43. The weather in the Arctic can change in the blink of an eye.

The weather in the Arctic is as notoriously unpredictable as the Northern Lights themselves. It’s not unusual to have sunshine, clouds, rain, sleet, hail, snow, and high winds all in the same day. Just because you wake up to crystal clear skies, that doesn’t mean those crystal clear skies will stick around until Northern Lights viewing time.

And the reverse is true. It was snowing heavily and there was 100% cloud cover when we went to bed on the night we did see the Northern Lights. Which leads me to my next tip…

Jdombs-Travels-Northern-Lights-64. You have to put effort into seeing the Northern Lights.

As I said before, it has to be dark to see the Northern Lights. That may mean you need to get out of the city to avoid light pollution. The Northern Lights are visible in cities like Reykjavik and Tromsø when they are at the strongest, but your best bet is to seek out spots in the Arctic countryside.

Northern Lights tours are great because the tour operators have been chasing the Northern Lights for years and can find the best spots for potential viewing even when there is low hanging cloud cover. Most tour operators will even offer for you to join a tour the next evening if you don’t see the Northern Lights. Viator.com hosted us on a Northern Lights Cruise with Special Tours and even though our cruise turned into a bus tour because of high winds and we didn’t see the Northern Lights, Special Tours graciously invited every single person on the tour to join them again any night within the next year.

We spent nine nights in Iceland and after New Year’s Eve, we spent the remainder of our nights staying on Icelandic farms where we could literally walk out our front door to check for Aurora sightings. And that’s exactly what we did; we set our alarm clocks for every hour between 11pm and 2am. As much as it sucks dragging yourself out of your toasty warm bed after you’ve just drifted off to sleep and shocking yourself awake with blasts of cold Arctic air, our diligence paid off one evening.

Just after 1am and after we had gone to bed with heavy snow falling and 100% cloud cover, the wind blew the clouds away and a very faint green glow appeared on the horizon. We quickly threw on warm clothes and headed outside just in time for the Aurora to become active. It was only visible to our naked eye for about an hour, but we watched the green wisp billow and dance in the sky in the howling wind until the very last second that it danced away.

Tip: Some hotels (such as Hotel Berg where we stayed in Keflavik) offer an Aurora wake-up call. Be sure to ask at reception as they often have Aurora hunters that will call the night staff to alert them to sightings.

Jdombs-Travels-Northern-Lights-75.The Aurora Borealis appears in a spectrum of colors. Including white-gray.

The unique colors of the Northern Lights are created by the Earth’s spectra of gases and the height in the atmosphere where the collision of particles from the sun and the Earth’s gases takes place. Our naked eye can most easily see the green-yellow part of the spectrum where the sun emits most of its light. Green is the most common color observed but the Northern Lights can also appear white-gray. And a cloudy night if you’ve never seen them before, you might not even be entirely sure of what you’re looking at.

Icelandic horses like watching the Aurora Borealis dance too

Icelandic horses like watching the Aurora Borealis dance too

Sometimes the Northern Lights are even present but not visible to the naked eye. We took a photo of some Icelandic horses nearby our cabin after we thought the Northern Lights had disappeared. We couldn’t see them, but our camera still could.

So there you have it. Five things no one ever tells you about the Northern Lights. I didn’t tell them to discourage you from seeing the Northern Lights; they are absolutely spectacular and a phenomenon that everyone should see at least once in their life. All of our days hunting the Aurora Borealis unsuccessfully won’t be stopping us from continuing the hunt anytime soon.

Thank you to Viator.com for hosting us on the Special Tours Northern Lights Cruise in Reykjavik. All opinions are entirely our own.

Jennifer Dombrowski

Jennifer Dombrowski is a location independent globe trotter who is based in Prata di Pordenone, Italy. She works as a social media and communications strategist and is an award-winning travel writer. She is also a travel correspondent on Traveling on the American Forces Radio Network. Jdomb's Travels was named one of the top travel blogs to watch by the Huffington Post and has been featured by top publications such as CNN, Buzzfeed , and The Telegraph. Her iPhoneograpy has also been featured on publications such as USA Today and Travel + Leisure. Google+

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  1. Lifecruiser Travel

    Spectacular photos and great advices indeed, We’ll keep them in mind, thank you. It’s incredible that we both have grown up in Sweden, been to both Norway, Finland and Iceland and yet not have seen the Northern Lights – but it has been on our wish list for long now. Maybe we ought to prioritize a hunt for it soon…

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    Jennifer Dombrowski Reply:

    Thank you! We haven’t been to Sweden yet but it is high on our bucket list to visit, in winter of course!

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  2. Ilkka Kauppinen

    Great post, eventhought title of it it should "..lights to tourist. "

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    Jdomb's Travels Reply:

    Touche! We had received so many questions and comments about seeing the Northern Lights that we just wanted to share our story that it isn't always easy to see them. Of course, the day after we left Iceland, the lights have danced for 5 nights straight. Isn't that always the way it goes?

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  3. Gina

    That last picture is so cool! Eerie even, like an alien spaceship is about to burst out of the sky. ;)

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    Jennifer Dombrowski Reply:

    Thanks, Gina! The horses posed so nicely for us to get that shot. :)

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  4. Lifecruiser Travel

    If you ever comes to Stockholm when you go to Sweden, let us know and we might be at home so we can meetup :-) – or else give tips or advice or something.

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    Jennifer Dombrowski Reply:

    We will most definitely do that! We love meeting up with fellow wanderlusters. ;)

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  5. Rachelle

    LOVE the photos and the advice. What camera settings did you use to get the star-y sky?

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    Tim Reply:

    Hi Rachelle,

    Most of these Northern Lights photos were a 25-30 second exposure. You want your fastest aperture (lowest number), these were at F/2.8. Also I bumped up the ISO to 1600 to bring in the lights more. Whether it be stars or Northern Lights the settings would be similar.

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  6. Thomas

    Wow, what a stunning set of photographs! I was very fortunate to see the Northern Lights … from above. I was flying from Denver to London at the end of September. It really was a spectacular site. But I still need to see them from the ground … will definitey heed your advice :)

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    Jennifer Dombrowski Reply:

    Seeing them from a plane would be amazing too, Thomas! Sounds like you were very lucky. I can understand why you want to see them from the ground; we just can’t get enough of them!

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  7. LatinAbroad

    what a great post! I saw them in Iceland in Dec 2009 and cried. So beautiful. Did you also hear them sing? I did!

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    Jdomb's Travels Reply:

    Thanks LatinAbroad! What do the lights sound like when they sing? It was quite windy that night, which thankfully had blown away all the cloud cover, so we didn't hear much but the howling wind.

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  8. nomadic translator @latinAbroad

    what a great post! I saw them in Iceland in Dec 2009 and cried. So beautiful. Did you also hear them sing? I did!

    - Maria Alexandra

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    Jennifer Dombrowski Reply:

    Hi Maria! How amazing! No, it was actually quite windy that night so not only were we completely bundled up with hats and our hoods on, the wind was howling. What do they sound like when they sing?

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  9. Christy

    These photos are gorgeous! I love the tip about staying at a place that has wake up service because I would be horrible about getting up every hour!

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    Jennifer Dombrowski Reply:

    Thanks Christy! I am horrible at getting up. That was the nice part about staying at the Icelandic farms. We could literally sleep with the curtains open to watch out the window and just stick our heads out the door to see if Northern Lights had come.

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  10. Laura Vaisman

    Wow! I really want to see this. Those are some good tips, that I had no idea about. But really cool. Beautiful pictures by the way!

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    Jdomb's Travels Reply:

    Thanks Laura! If the Northern Lights were easy to see, they probably wouldn't be as special.

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  11. Stuart

    Nature is mostly so unpredictable which I guess is what helps make spotting the aurora special; not everyone can get to see them. Good advice about enjoying the destination and treating an aurora sighting as a bonus, less disappointing that way! Sounds exhausting though all those late nights and waking up in the middle of the night.

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    Jennifer Dombrowski Reply:

    Hi Stuart! You are absolutely right! If the Northern Lights were easy to see, they probably wouldn’t be so special. It is tiring, but the sun doesn’t rise until around 11 – 11:30am in Iceland in winter, so you can sleep in!

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  12. Edna

    Cheers for the tips — we’re planning our honeymoon for Iceland and hope to try to catch the northern lights so will be keeping a bookmark on this page for closer to the date!

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    Jennifer Dombrowski Reply:

    Congratulations Edna! What a fantastic place to honeymoon! We’ve still got more posts to come from our recent trip to Iceland and we also have a bunch from our first first last September. Check out our Iceland category and feel free to send us a message if you need any suggestions!

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  13. The Aurora Photo Guide : Runólfur Hauksson

    :)

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    Jdomb's Travels Reply:

    We will just have to come back again! Thanks for sharing our post Ronnie!

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  14. The Travelbunny

    Great tips and what fabulous photos too. Maybe I'll be lucky enough to see the lights some day :)

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    Jdomb's Travels Reply:

    We hope you are The Travelbunny! They are truly a spectacular sight to see.

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  15. Gunnar Gunnarsson

    The truth about Aurora Borealis/Northern Lights. What to expect.

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    Jdomb's Travels Reply:

    Thanks for sharing, Gunnar!

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    Gunnar Gunnarsson Reply:

    No problem. There are so many misunderstandings about the Northern Lights. Like: just travel to Iceland and you will see the lights, and another one goes like this: You only see the lights if its freezing cold.

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    Jdomb's Travels Reply:

    That is precisely why we wrote this post. We received so many messages and comments implying that people think it is easy to see the Northern Lights. The truth is that it is not easy and actually requires effort. We don't want to discourage anyone from trying to see them, but we want people to be well informed about what they are in for!

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  16. Pointsandtravel

    Congrats on finally getting to see it! I was following you guys the whole way! Great post for future travelers to Iceland, thanks.

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    Jennifer Dombrowski Reply:

    Thanks, Cindy! We don’t want to discourage anyone from taking trip to see the Northern Lights, but we just wanted to set realistic expectations about them.

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  17. Andrea

    Wow you were SO lucky! These shots are amazing…I was hoping to get up to see them this year since we’re in Norway and all – but I’ve heard they can be elusive so like you recommend, we’re trying to find a good destination. Thinking this luxury place that also does all the excursions you mention…that way we won’t be too sad if we miss them. But people have reported them here in Stavanger as early as last autumn! So perhaps we’ll get lucky in our own backyard…

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    Jennifer Dombrowski Reply:

    That’s right, Andrea! You are in Norway. You should go to the north. I would recommend keeping a close eye spaceweather.com and when there is a lot of solar activity, jet on up to the north! There was an explosion on the sun Sunday and of course people have seen the Northern Lights every night this week.

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  18. Ali

    The fact that the Northern Lights are so unpredictable is the one thing I’m most worried about whenever we do get around to traveling to Iceland. You are absolutely right, go for the destination not for the lights. But I think Iceland is where I’d most like to see them, so I refuse to go outside of the months when you can see them. I love that some hotels do wake up calls for them, that’s awesome, and a great thing to keep in mind.

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    Jennifer Dombrowski Reply:

    Unfortunately, since you have to plan ahead it is the luck of the draw. Of course a big solar explosion happened Sunday and people have seen the Northern Lights every night this week. That happens, so if you have fun activities planned and don’t see them, you won’t be nearly as disappointed.

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  19. Ali

    Oh, and your photos are GORGEOUS!

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    Jennifer Dombrowski Reply:

    Thanks, Ali! The photo credit goes to Tim. He was snapping away while I fell in holes in the snow covered lava field.

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  20. Talon

    So was New Year’s in Iceland worth it? I’m considering it for 2014.

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    Tim Reply:

    Hi Talon! New Year’s Eve in Reykjavik was absolutely worth it! We sprung for attending the gala at the Perlan, which included a tour of Reykjavik’s traditional bonfires and then a 360 degree panorama of the fireworks from atop the Perlan. We’ve already talked about going again this year because it was so amazing! If we did, we’d skip the gala and just visit the various bonfires and then watch the fireworks from the Perlan’s parking lot like many Icelanders did.

    Check out our post on NYE and we’ve also got a short video on our YouTube channel.

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  21. jenny@atasteoftravel

    I’ve always wanted to see the Northern Lights so I know I’d be disappointed if I missed them. I’ll certainly now be seriously considering where I go to see them after you mentioning that it is best to go for the destination.

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    Jennifer Dombrowski Reply:

    Hi Jenny! Definitely go to a destination that you really want to see and then hope you do see the Northern Lights. And if you don’t, you just have a reason to go back! That’s how we look at it. Sure, we wish we saw them every night. But if they were easy to see, I suppose they wouldn’t be so special.

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  22. Yvonne

    WOW, amazing pictures! And great tips! Hope to see the Northern Lights one day!

    [Reply]

    Jennifer Dombrowski Reply:

    Thanks, Yvonne! The Northern Lights really are a sight to see. Hope you get to see them soon!

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  23. Ally

    Great tips. There quite pretty, it would be amazing to see them one day!

    [Reply]

    Jennifer Dombrowski Reply:

    Thanks, Ally! If you ever have the opportunity, I highly recommend you try to see them. Aside from the Northern Lights, there are so many great activities to do in destinations you can potentially see them!

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  24. Ed Graham

    Great post as always; those pictures are absolutely incredible.

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    Jennifer Dombrowski Reply:

    Thanks, Ed! Tim definitely gets all the photo credit for the pictures. We were just so thrilled to see the Northern Lights!

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  25. Amanda

    Amen on #1! I went to Iceland in March 2012 hoping to see the Lights, but was met with cloudy weather every single night. Luckily I had planned a ton of other activities (because, come on, Iceland is amazing!) and I wasn’t all that disappointed at not seeing them. If that had been the main goal of my trip though? I probably would have been devastated, and wouldn’t have enjoyed Iceland as much.

    I’m still on a mission to see them at some point this year though!

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    Jennifer Dombrowski Reply:

    Agreed, Amanda! Iceland is amazing. It’s too bad you had cloudy weather every night, but that’s just the way it goes sometime. I’m glad to hear you’re not giving up! We’re hooked and can’t wait until our next opportunity to see the Northern Lights.

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  26. Ellen

    Loved this post, Jennifer. Thanks for sharing your knowledge, experience and stunning photos. After following many pages about Finland and Scandinavia on my Gold Boat Journeys page (climb aboard the faceboat, there’s plenty of room), they’ve risen to the top of my travel wish list. I love the natural beauty and serene snowy landscapes, and since I’m a x-c skier, winter would be the time I choose to visit. Looking forward to following you on Facebook, Twitter and RSS. Happy sails from Gold Boat Journeys: Live. Write. Travel. Explore.

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    Jennifer Dombrowski Reply:

    Thanks, Ellen! Lapland would be a fantastic and picturesque place to cross country ski. Even better if you can ski under the Northern Lights!

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  27. Alessandro

    Excellent tips Jennifer! We have shared them on our Facebook page, too.

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    Jennifer Dombrowski Reply:

    Thanks for sharing our tips on the Lappone Facebook page, Alessandro! We’re so glad to hear that you found them helpful.

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  28. Travel Fashion Girl

    Wow! Nature really is divine. And the best part is you get to see it! Thank you for sharing it with us through your blog. It’s as if we were there too!

    [Reply]

    Jennifer Dombrowski Reply:

    We’re glad you enjoyed the post! Yes, nature is spectacular and we feel so blessed to have witnessed the phenomenon.

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  29. Wil

    I was to young to remember much about seeing the Northern Lights when I got to. I hope to see them again one day!

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    Jennifer Dombrowski Reply:

    I hope you do too, Will! Seeing the Northern Lights is spectacular.

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  30. Andrew

    As Ali mentioned, the lights are really high on her list. I am intrigued enough that Ali is willing to travel to a very cold place in winter to see them,. As I keep seeing more pictures, I do think I wioiuld like to see them. The wake up calls (and the job of Aurora Hunter) sound awesome.
    Pretty cool that they are brilliant enough to be photographable.

    [Reply]

    Tim Reply:

    It’s a misconception that it needs to be cold to see the Northern Lights. Tim saw them for the first time in early September in Iceland and the temperatures were still quite nice then. I think people just associate them with cold because of the places where you have to go to see them and because they are only visible between September and March. I hope you guys get to go and that you see them! They are truly spectacular to witness.

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  31. John Scherer

    I have seen the northern lights many times living in northern minnesota but only three times that were amazing, it was very cold outside but lights so bright and spectacular that you didn`t feel the cold just warmth.

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  32. Deb

    Great tips and shots! We still have yet to see the Northern Lights ourselves. Like you said, we’ve had opportunities, we’ve been in the right place at the right time of year but it just wasn’t the right time for us. I hope to see them one day soon myself. You’ve given me hope. It took you a few tries, so we’ll get there one day soon too…i hope :-)

    [Reply]

    Jennifer Dombrowski Reply:

    I have no doubt you will see the Northern Lights sometime on your travels, Deb! They’re really incredible and I’m hooked.

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  33. Marilynn

    I saw the Northern Lights for about 4 hours on my second trip to Iceland, which was last January. I guess it was a “bucket list” thing for me. They were SO beautiful, an irridescent green, looking like dancing ribbon candy in the sky.

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    Jennifer Dombrowski Reply:

    Wow, 4 hours Marilyn? Lucky you! They are mesmerizing to watch dance in the sky!

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  34. Andi of My Beautiful Adventures

    Such great tips! I was in Iceland, but missed the NL. Definitely want to go back for them.

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    Jennifer Dombrowski Reply:

    Thanks, Andi! Isn’t Iceland fantastic? We’re already dreaming of going back again.

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  35. Sofie

    Great tips on here!
    It must be frustrated if you don’t get to see him.
    Of course you also travel for the destination, but I’m guessing anyone going to Iceland and not seeing the Northern lights will be slightly disappointed:)

    [Reply]

    Jennifer Dombrowski Reply:

    It can be frustrating, Sophie! But on all my trips which I didn’t see the Northern Lights, I had so much fun and such awesome experiences that I couldn’t be too disappointed.

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  36. Suzy

    I had no idea there was such thing as an Aurora wake up call. How neat! It definitely seems like you must be patient to actually see the Northern Lights.

    [Reply]

    Jennifer Dombrowski Reply:

    We didn’t know about Aurora wake up calls either, but now we’re sure to ask! It definitely does take patience but once you see the Northern Lights, it is oh-so-worth the effort.

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  37. Lindsey

    Wow, wow, wow! Amazing photos!! The Northern Lights are such a magical thing, I’m hoping to be able to see them later this year :) If you don’t mind me asking, what camera setup did you use to capture the lights?

    [Reply]

    Jennifer Dombrowski Reply:

    To keep it pretty simple here are a few tips. 1. Use a tripod 2. Long shutter speed 15-30 seconds 3. Wide Open Aperture F2.8 or whatever your fastest setting is. 4. Bump your ISO up to around 1600. From there you just have to play around with it depending on how active or bright it is. Then just hope for clear skies and some solar activity.

    [Reply]

    Lindsey Reply:

    Thanks! Did you use a specific lens though that you preferred for photography lie this? I’m currently looking into investing in a really great lens and I’m interested in what others use and love.

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    Tim Davis Reply:

    If I had to do it again I would get a Tokina 11-16 f/2.8. I bought a used Tokina 12-24 f/4 but had to send it for repairs so bought a Tamron 17-50 f/2.8 for the Iceland trip. You want a fast and wide lens for Northern Lights. The 11-16 also makes a great lens for cities or landscape photography.

  38. Debbie Beardsley @ European Travelista

    Very cool! Something I’d love to see and will keep your tips in mind. Loved all your pictures

    [Reply]

    Jennifer Dombrowski Reply:

    Thanks, Debbie! The Northern Lights are very special. We’re off on one last trip this season with hopes they come out to dance. Cross your fingers for us over the next week!

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  39. Mikey

    Wow! The northern lights is on my bucket list. I just have to convince my wife that is not very found of cold weather to go with me. Great blog thanks for the great info.

    [Reply]

    Jennifer Dombrowski Reply:

    You might try one of those glass igloos in Finland to avoid the cold! Definitely something special when you do see them. :)

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  40. Elizabeth

    Thanks, great post – trying to plan a trip out there for spring 2014 with other half. This should help to clarify things a bit – especially about doing loads of beautiful things and then just hoping to catch a glimpse of AB if we’re *really* lucky :)

    [Reply]

    Jennifer Dombrowski Reply:

    Ooh, we’re jealous Elizabeth! Iceland is one of our very favorite countries and we going back again and again. Let us know if you need any other info for planning your trip. We have tons of posts about it!

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  41. Angela (@angelatravels11)

    I completely agree. I did not know what to expect when trying to find the aurora borealis in Iceland. We waited and were slightly disappointed at a faint show because pictures make the lights look WAY better. However, our best showing was just outside of Reykjavik even with light pollution. Be patient and bundle up. Look for a ribbon of colors forming (near the horizon in Iceland in March).

    Love your pictures!

    [Reply]

    Jennifer Dombrowski Reply:

    Thanks, Angela! I’m glad you got to see them. It does take patience and persistence to see them.

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  42. Peter Shaw - Long Term travel

    Wow, great images and some good points too. I have always wanted to see the Northern Lights but have never had the chance. Hoping to get up to Scandinavia in the next few years so I might see I I can get up there in winter. Pity they are so fickle! you can’t base a trip around actually seeing them, rather on ‘hoping’ to see them. Nice post!

    [Reply]

    Jennifer Dombrowski Reply:

    The good news is there’s plenty to do in Scandinavia in winter! No, you really can’t base a trip around seeing them unless you have the ability to hop on a plane within a few days after a solar storm and when clear weather is predicted. But they are amazing to see and we’d encourage anyone to try!

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  43. Ellen Lafleche-Christian

    That must have been truly stunning to watch!

    [Reply]

    Jennifer Dombrowski Reply:

    Yes, the Northern Lights are beautiful and so special to see. Hope you get to experience them yourself, Ellen!

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  44. Anita Hynd

    I am planning on going in November, is this a good time?

    [Reply]

    Jennifer Dombrowski Reply:

    How was your trip, Anita? Did you see the Northern Lights?

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  45. Anita Hynd

    Absolutely stunning!

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  46. Jennifer

    The Northern lights look amazing, but good tips – you shouldn’t go with the sole expectation to see the lights, but for the destination

    [Reply]

    Jennifer Dombrowski Reply:

    Absolutely, Jennifer. I think many people have the idea it’s like flipping a switch and you just see them. Some do get lucky, but mostly it is a lot of patience and effort to see the Northern Lights.

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  47. Jdomb's Travels

    Northern Lights can be visible from September – March. Hope you have good weather for your trip!

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  48. Jdomb's Travels

    Yes, beautiful when the colors are visible to the naked eye!

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  49. Jdomb's Travels

    That's awesome, John! Hopefully they'll be putting on a show for you this winter.

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  50. YJ @ thefancyvoyager

    Gorgeous photos! Agree that we should be going for the destination rather than the northern lights since its so unpredictable. I’m sure the country offers a lot more than just the northern lights!

    [Reply]

    Jennifer Dombrowski Reply:

    There is a lot to do, especially for outdoor and adventure lovers in the Scandinavian countries where you can see Northern Lights.

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  51. 2Musos

    Fantastic photography and tips Jennifer! My husband and I are a couple of Aussies in our 50′s and are planning a Northern lights trip in mid Feb 2014, but can’t decide between Iceland, Norway or Finland. We want to go husky sledding and see reindeer also, as well as experience other cultural and arctic experiences which will be polar opposites from our sunny lifestyle here. Having been to these places, where can you recommend? Have you been to the Lofoten Islands? Cheers, Rosey and Shaun

    [Reply]

    Jennifer Dombrowski Reply:

    Hi Rosey and Shaun! We’ve been to all 3 countries during Northern Lights season. In Norway, you’ll need to go further north than the Lofoten Islands though. Tromso is known for being the spot in Norway to see Northern Lights. It just all depends on getting lucky with clear weather and that the sun has been active. Norway, Finland or Sweden are definitely the spots that you can easily go dog sledding and interact with reindeer. Iceland has reindeer too, but they are 100% wild and only live in a small remote area of the east coast.

    [Reply]

    Chris Gulland Reply:

    Hello like 2Musos we are also from Aus and planning at trip in early 2015. we thought we would include a Huritigruten cruise to Kirkenes to give us an additional opportunuity to see the lights do you have an opinion on this?

    [Reply]

    Jennifer Dombrowski Reply:

    You’ll have a great trip Chris! We haven’t been on the Huritigruten yet, but we know it’s an awesome trip. Since the Northern Lights are moving, it really doesn’t matter if you photograph them from a boat or land.

    In Kirkenes, do the king crab safari! That’s been on our list for a while. :)

  52. Suzette Barnett

    This is very helpful for my mom who wants togo see the northern lights. I keep telling her not to have high expectations because I've read so many times that people travel to see them and see none… so your post is perfect for increasing our chances. Thanks.
    Suzette
    trysomethingfun.blogspot.com

    [Reply]

  53. Jay

    Great post!

    We used to occasionally see the Northern Lights growing up in Canada but I took them completely for granted. Now we’re living in Norway but on the Southern tip where it’s pretty rare to experience them.

    [Reply]

    Jennifer Reply:

    Thanks, Jay! How awesome that must have been to grow up under the Northern Lights!

    [Reply]

  54. Tracy Soan

    Great site, thanks :) I’d love some advice please. Ultimately I’m desperate to see the lights but completely understand your point that they can be elusive so go for the trip and experience the place. I’m looking at Reykjavik in Iceland and Tromso in Norway as a 4 day mini break. Which would you recommend please for me, hubby and 15 yr old daughter and which country has the greatest chance of sighting the aurora, as I can’t find anything about that either. All comments very much appreciated. Thanks so much!

    [Reply]

    Jennifer Reply:

    Hi Tracy! Unfortunately, because the weather can change so quickly this far north where you need to be to see the Northern Lights, you won’t find information about which country you have the best chance of seeing them in is. It’s a total crap shoot completely dependent on having both clear skies and activity on the sun.

    That said, we’ve had the best experiences with Northern Lights in Iceland, though we have seen them in Iceland, Norway, and Finland. You won’t be hard pressed to find a lot to do in either Tromso or Reykjavik. We’ve written about both destinations here on our website, so I’d peruse and make the decision on which destination has the most activities you want to do.

    [Reply]

  55. Charu

    Really beautiful and well done! I agree you need to go there for the destination and not for the lights!

    [Reply]

    Jennifer Dombrowski Reply:

    Thank you, Charu! The great thing about these destinations where it is possible to see the Northern Lights is that there are so many winter activities to do.

    [Reply]

  56. Jdomb's Travels

    We hope she does get to see the Northern Lights Suzette. But we also hope she heeds our advice so she's not disappointed. It's definitely worth the effort when you do see them thought!

    [Reply]

  57. Jeremy

    Great tips and photos! It’s my dream to see the Northern Lights one day. I think your first tip is the most important–don’t go with the expectation of seeing them, because you’ll probably walk away unhappy. Perspective and attitude is everything!

    [Reply]

    Jennifer Dombrowski Reply:

    Thanks! After talking to many people, we found people just don’t realize how much effort you have to put in to seeing the Northern Lights. I hope you do get to see them one day though!

    [Reply]

  58. Grace

    Hi there,

    I am heading to Tromso in Dec 2013 to try catch the Northern Lights, do you think it’d be a good time as I read that most are trying to catch the NL between Aug – Oct. I just hope I see it when I get there.

    Thanks for your advise
    G

    [Reply]

    Jennifer Dombrowski Reply:

    Hi Grace! The Northern Lights are visible from September – March, so you have the same chance of seeing them. Just keep your expectations realistic! There’s never any guarantee. There is plenty to do in and around Tromso though that make it a great destination to travel to in winter.

    [Reply]

  59. Priya Tulsyan

    We would like to travel in January…wich place do you recommend?

    [Reply]

  60. Anne @ Pretraveller

    Thanks for sharing your Northern Lights tips. I hadn’t realised how difficult they can be to see, so at least now I know if we ever travel to those areas that we should book into a hotel which will call us when/if they appear.

    [Reply]

    Jennifer Dombrowski Reply:

    The Northern Lights wake-up calls are a great way to have a restful sleep without worrying that you are missing something. Hope you have the chance to see the Northern Lights sometime Anne!

    [Reply]

  61. Emma

    Fabulous pictures I was lucky in Finland this year to see them many times but missed the biggest & best show that went on during my stay. Going back next year in hope of seeing them again, if not I’ve still visited a beautiful country!

    [Reply]

    Jennifer Dombrowski Reply:

    Glad to hear you got to experience the Northern Lights, Emma! And yes, Finland is a beautiful country to visit.

    [Reply]

  62. Ross

    Superb photos. I totally agree with your points and I think the first one is the most important. I only saw the northern lights on my 3rd attempt and made the mistake the first time (in Tromso) of only having that to do. It wasnt the best trip because we had nothing else planned. As you say if you make sure you go for the destination first then you will still have a good time.

    [Reply]

    Jennifer Dombrowski Reply:

    I’m really glad to hear that your first trip didn’t deter you from future ones, Ross! So long as you plan other fun things, you won’t go home disappointed.

    [Reply]

  63. YY

    Great article. We spent 6 nights in Nellim, Finland and boy, we got really luck to be rewarded with a 30-show of aurora “storm” at 3am in the morning just before we were about to pack our gear for the night. Would love to share photos and tips!

    [Reply]

    Jennifer Dombrowski Reply:

    Wow, that sounds amazing! Stop by our Facebook page and share some photos!

    [Reply]

  64. wanderingeducators

    we have northern lights in michigan – they are incredible! love your photos!

    [Reply]

    Jennifer Dombrowski Reply:

    Do you see them often in Michigan?

    [Reply]

  65. Melanie Murrish

    Excellent advice-my almost 7 year old has had a “thing” about the northern lights for as long as I can remember-as you can imagine, disappointment for a child can be devastating! ;)

    [Reply]

    Jennifer Dombrowski Reply:

    Maybe you’ve got a future Aurora hunter on your hands!

    [Reply]

  66. Aud

    One thing no one told me was that you need a bloody good camera and know how to set the proper settings!!
    i saw them really strongly but my camera could only capture bright green and a dark background. was really sad! =(

    [Reply]

    Jennifer Dombrowski Reply:

    We’ve also got a great article on tips for photographing the Northern Lights that you should check out!

    [Reply]

  67. Lance | Trips By Lance

    Just saw your Facebook message about everyone sharing this post today so I thought I’d have a read too! This really is awesome. I’m pinning it to save for when we eventually plan this trip.

    [Reply]

    Jennifer Dombrowski Reply:

    Thanks, Lance! Also check out our tips for photographing the Northern Lights!

    [Reply]

  68. Dawn

    Just been reading your tips and so glad i have….hoping to be taken to Iceland in March Aurora hunting as a 50th birthday treat and will now be buying us a new camera just in case we get lucky, thanks for all the great advice :)

    [Reply]

    Jennifer Dombrowski Reply:

    That will definitely be a fantastic birthday treat, Dawn! Stop by our Facebook page. We post alerts for the big solar storms and when you can expect great Northern Lights showings.

    You should be quite lucky. We have friends that have seen them 17 of 20 days already this month.

    [Reply]

  69. Chris

    Thanks for the feedback, At this stage Feb next year! Wahooo!

    [Reply]

  70. Chanel @ La Viajera Morena

    Great tips and advice. Wonderful photos! :D

    [Reply]

  71. scott

    I think the best advice you gave is to go for the destination-seeing the lights is a bonus. We went to Iceland a few weeks ago with exactly that attitude. We didn’t even expect to see the lights, or if we did I thought it might be faint. But on our first night they had what was called the best display in years! We saw green, red and even purple. The lights came out before it was even fully dark and lasted well past the time we went to bed. We got totally lucky. But the aurora reports have had almost zero sightings since we left 2 weeks ago.

    Here’s a link to my northern lights photos from that night:

    http://jackstraw22.smugmug.com/Other/Iceland/37489549_XXNKLR#!i=3118311713&k=xS4hDn3

    [Reply]

    Jennifer Dombrowski Reply:

    Wow, awesome photos Scott! We’re so glad that you did see the Northern Lights and what a display you had. No, there hasn’t been much activity lately so it looks like you were there at the right time. We’re headed back to Iceland again in September so we’re hoping our luck there continues.

    Can we share the link to your photos with our readers?

    [Reply]

    scott Reply:

    Sure, no problem! Great site, by the way.

    [Reply]

  72. Ron

    I hadn’t really thought about it but aurora hunting requires some planning. At least it did for me when I went to Alaska.

    1. Be sure to check out the weather forecast.

    2. Get away from all ambient light if possible. I could still see the glow of Fairbanks’ lights from over 80 miles outside of town.

    3. Ambient light from moonlight is a consideration, especially if you’re going to shoot photos of the aurora. If you’re traveling to a destination then you should check whether the moon in its various phases will or won’t make its appearance. You can do this online.

    4. When considering a destination to go to and see the aurora, pick a favorable time of the year, weather wise for the locale you’re going to. Some months may be more likely to have adverse conditions (snow, fog, etc.) that you want to avoid.

    5. Don’t take naps. If you’re out and about, you’re awake. Otherwise you could miss the show.

    6. IMHO you’re better off if you get out of the hotel if it’s located in a city instead of using their notification service. You could’ve missed the auroral display by the time you get out of town where you’re able to see it

    7. Follow Solarham to check out the solar conditions. Aurora Borealis Notifications on Facebook also puts out notifications on auroral sightings in Alaska. There are multiple web cams in different locales throughout the northern hemisphere that will show when the aurora make its appearance.

    8. Be sure to have the right clothing. Wear layers and well insulated boots.

    9. Seeing the aurora is a very special experience. While this site has absolutely lovely photos, many who have seen the aurora in person would tell you there’s no comparison and that you have to see it in person to truly appreciate it.

    [Reply]

  73. Mohammad Raihan Mazumder

    incredible! so much likes to northern lights. hope someday i’ll be there.

    [Reply]

  74. Kshama

    I am planning Iceland just to see Northern light from sept 3 to sept 9, 2014 and hoping to see them. I am also globe traveller, female, senior and enjoying travelling, mostly alone. Seen almost the whole world and now picking spots and see the countries not travelled yet. I will be taking tours so hoping they know where to go and what to see.Your blog helped me a lot and very good pics and advice. Was in Rovanimani and went to Inari to see midnight sun, great place…

    [Reply]

    Jennifer Reply:

    You’ll enjoy your trip Kshama. And we sure hope you’ll see the Northern Lights because we’ll be back in Iceland at the same time as you. So best of luck to both of us!

    [Reply]

  75. Iris

    Thanks for the tips! I’ve read that end of August and early September is a good time to try to go aurora hunting. I’ve also read on your site and elsewhere that the aurora season begins at the end of September (around the September 23 equinox). I’m planning to go to Reykjavik and Tromsø sometime between Sept 3-Sept 12 hoping to see the lights. I understand that the Northern Lights are unpredictable, but do you know if that is a good time to try to chance on the auroras? In early September is it more likely to see them in one city over another?

    [Reply]

    Jennifer Reply:

    No, the problem with late August and early September is that it is still light until around 10pm and is light again by 5am in Reykjavik (even less hours of darkness in Tromso during the period), so the window to possibly seem them is much shorter. But we certainly hope you see them as we’ll be back in Iceland at the same time as you and are hoping for a showing ourselves!

    [Reply]

  76. Jaryd

    Such a GREAT post! thank you so much for sharing, you rock!

    P.S I’m still going regardless of wind, hail, rain and sleet I will see this before I die :)

    [Reply]

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