A Mystical Show in the Land of Fire and Ice

A Mystical Show in the Land of Fire and Ice photo

Iceland is a special place. In this land of roaring rivers, giant tumbling waterfalls, sparkling lakes, velvety green valleys, stark mountains, and deep fjords, fire exists alongside ice. And far above in the heavens a mystical show — the northern lights — debuts each September.

Icelanders get to live with this beauty year after year, but for those of us lucky enough to witness it, the spectacle of the Northern Lights is a sight to behold — and never forget. They have lived on this island in the north Atlantic for 1,100 years. For all that time, Icelanders have suffered and benefitted by what Mother Nature has chosen to bless them.

Considering Iceland's location, you might think it's much colder. Even though it offers milder winter temperatures — snow rarely stays long in the southern lowlands — its climate can be unpredictable, making Northern Lights viewing somewhat of an adventure, especially since the best time to view them is after 9 P.M. and before 2 A.M. on crisp, clear nights from September through April.

Viewing the Northern Lights has increasingly become a popular pastime here, especially this year, when solar storms, which cause the phenomenon, will be at their peak. Electrically charged particles of the solar wind become trapped in the earth's magnetic field and spiral back and forth along the magnetic lines of force that circle the magnetic pole.

The Northern Lights, usually yellow-green, can also be green or reddish-violet. They light up the sky in either a bow from east to west or a slightly more even belt of color. The ethereal formations can appear at any moment, filling the sky at incredible speed.

While it is possible to see them in Reykjavík, they're even clearer away from the city lights, so it's best to travel to a remote area with a tour company such as Eclipse Holidays. Many visitors await the show by enjoying a geothermal bath in an open-air hot tub at a cozy country hotel.

One of the best spots in Iceland to view the Northern Lights is the Snaefellsnes Peninsula. This narrow spit of land, protruding from Iceland's west coast has a dramatic landscape filled with lava fields and caves, glaciers, waterfalls and rugged coastline. Among the fishing villages along the coast is Budir, an isolated settlement with a snug hotel, making it an excellent vantage point from which to see the show.

Iceland is known for being a hub for Northern Lights activity, with various trips and tours taking place everyday during the winter and spring months. If you're on a budget, and who isn't these days, you can book a relatively low-cost Iceland Northern Lights tour that includes an evening excursion to look for them.

Be sure to bring super warm clothes. The temperature can reach -15 C. so it can be difficult to enjoy the show because of the cold. Also, have plenty of warm drinks on hand to keep your teeth from chattering, something which can definitely detract from the mystical experience.