The northern lights are a natural light display that occurs in the high latitude regions of our planet. Alaska is one of the best places to see the northern lights, especially in September and March when skies are dark and temperatures mild for comfortable viewing. Iceland is also a good place to view the display and offers some unique advantages.
One of several astronomical phenomena called “polar lights” (aurora polaris), northern lights, (Aurora Borealis) are caused by the collision of energetic charged particles with atoms in the high altitude atmosphere. Iceland is located directly under the main concentration of the northern lights annulus, the so-called Great Belt, an oval cosmic light that goes around earth off-axis.In Iceland, located midway between Europe and North America, and with direct flight routes from both continents, northern lights can be viewed from October through March in a number of ways.
Self-drive tours, winter Jeep expeditions and organized group excursions are popular and offered by a variety of tour operators.
But northern lights are a natural phenomenon and sightings can never be guaranteed, so having a backup plan when visiting is a good idea. Actually, for many travelers, the backup plan is their main focus and viewing the northern lights is icing on the cake.
The Golden Circle is a popular tourist route in south Iceland, looping from Reykjavík into central Iceland and back over about 300 kilometers.
Stops on the route, any one alone worth a visit, include Þingvellir national park, the Gullfoss waterfall, and the geothermally active valley of Haukadalur as well as the Kerið volcano crater/lake, Hveragerði greenhouse village, Skálholt church, and the Nesjavellir geothermal power plant.
Can’t make it to Alaska or Iceland? NorthernLightsIceland.com has a webcam set up and will broadcast the northern lights live when they happen. Follow them on Facebook and Twitter then watch for a post or tweet when their UStream feed is active.
In this time-lapse video we see a number of attractions in Iceland from Iceland Explorer Travel Guide that also has an iPhone app for exploring.
[Flickr photos by Gunnsi]