I started to write this as a guide to families who were thinking of going on a Northern Lights Tour in Iceland while they were on vacation in Iceland in winter but then I realised that so many people we went on the Northern Lights Tour with were as blind to what was needed as were with two kids in tow! So it has ended up being top tips for Northern Lights Tours for everyone!
We were so lucky that we went on a guided tour with Gray Line Tours to see the Northern Lights. Not only was it easy for us to gain access to places we may not have known about we were on a bus. We didn’t have to self-drive Iceland looking for places out in the middle of nowhere or follow other tour buses in the car at night to find the best spots. Both of us were nervous about driving in Iceland in winter.
Northern Lights Tour Reykjavik offer the best options
We had 2 goes at trying to see the Northern Lights when in Iceland. Our first night on the Northern Lights Mystery Tour I was slightly unprepared. I took a bottle of water, an apple each for the girls and their travel blankets for them to snuggle up to as it was going to be a late night. On the second night, I was much more prepared but did not take any money with us. We had 2 totally different experiences with our Northern Lights Tour Reykjavik so I have put this together to try and help people be a little more prepared with or without kids because hindsight is a wonderful thing!
1: Pack a couple of snacks
First Night Tour: I only took an apple and 1 bottle of water with us on the trip as I thought with such a long tour we would probably stop somewhere very quickly halfway through for a toilet break and I could pick up something there. We didn’t stop and spent the majority of the time on and off the bus.
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Second Night Tour: We stopped a place that sold coffee and basic snacks but we had forgotten to take money as the night before there was no need for any. On that night I had packed just about enough to feed the whole bus.
2: Go to the toilet at the terminal
First Night Tour: We were warned when we arrived at the bus station in Reykjavik that there would be no toilets on our stops that night and that if we needed to go it would be a good idea to go then. Take the opportunity to go there if you even slightly need to.
Second Night Tour: On the second night when we stopped at the little kiosk, it did have a toilet but there were around 6 full-size buses there at the same time as us so it was very lucky that we had already gone at the terminal while waiting for our bus. One lady said it was a huge line to use it.
3: Take Money
First Night Tour: On our first night looking for the Northern Lights we had our wallet with us and there was no need for it. Before we left the terminal we were told to use the vending machine if we needed some snacky things for the girls and I wish I had have bought a little more than what I did. It is hungry work looking for Northern Lights in Iceland!
Second Night Tour: On the second night we left our money at home and this time we could have got a nice warm drink to warm up at one of the first stops. It is a Northern Lights Mystery Tour!
4: Make sure the kids will be comfortable if they need to sleep
First Night Tour: On the first night the girls got out of the bus a lot at the start of the Gray Line Tour. Towards the end, at about 11 pm they did get tired and wanted to snuggle up. I had a small blanket which was just not enough. Even though it was warm on the bus they both still wanted a blanket to snuggle up with it and they had a crazy amount of clothes that made it hard for them to get comfortable.
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Second Night Tour: On the second night I made sure that they both had a small blanket and we just took their big coats with them if they needed them. They hardly got off the bus the second night due to the weather and it was absolutely freezing. The coats served as a pillow for them and they were pretty comfy as we drove around. I think they were both asleep on the bus by about 10.30. Mark and I only got off the bus twice for that entire night so it was a very long night for us all.
5: Take enough to drink
First Night Tour: On the first night I had one bottle of water as I assumed that we would stop somewhere and got to the toilet or get a drink. It ran out pretty quickly and then it was an argument between the girls until they went to sleep, I think it did help though too as we didn’t have too much to drink and need the toilet a lot so it was a bit of an awkward situation to be in!
Second Night Tour: On the second night I had a bottle of water each and a bottle of coke for some caffeine for Mark and I. We hardly drank any of it as we didn’t get off the bus much like the previous time we had gone.
6: Make sure you dress well
First Night Tour: I know it sounds crazy but there were so many people out there not dressed well. It is absolutely freezing out there at night searching for Northern Lights in Iceland and it is darker than dark. We all had on thermals, gloves,thick socks, beanies, jumpers and snow coats and it went straight through the lot. Even though the kids had the same clothes on, they just could not be out there for a long time and would stay with us for a bit then jump back on the bus to warm up. Luckily the guides or the bus driver from Gray Lines was happy to stay on the bus with the girls or guide them to us while we tried to get pictures of the Northern Lights.
Second Night Tour: On the second night we took our little heat packs for our hands as we found the previous time it was really hard to get your hands working while you were shivering. Taking photo’s like that is really hard as you have to stay still if you do not have a tripod. These really helped us warm up quickly too after we got back on the bus
7: Have a tripod and know your camera
First Night Tour: On our first night we had trouble with the settings on our camera so our guide helped us out (she was a wiz on all sorts of cameras so if you are unsure ask your guide to help you out) but we did not have a tripod which made it really hard. I ended up making a sort of tripod from some rocks and a slab of wood I had found. It worked pretty well until someone sat right in front of me. The wind on the night also made it hard to stay still while trying to get the photo. Also, Mark’s phone ended up taking better pictures than our camera at one stage as it was easier to hold still or place on a stable object. It was also easier to walk around with as you saw plenty of people having to change positions with an entire load of camera gear.
Second Night Tour: On the second night we had the settings set and a small tripod for Mark’s phone and we did not take one picture.
8: Make sure you are easily recognisable in the dark without having a torch on your head
First Night Tour: This is something that some people just forgot or did not want to listen to. We were told on the bus numerous times that they are a great idea but you need total darkness for good shots. They also blinded me every time a person wearing one looked up to see who was coming. Walking around in a lava field in total darkness is hazardous at the best of times let alone when that happens. We were not easily able to find each other in the dark on the first night and that was not the best with the kids, so we had the kids out with us until they got cold and then one of us would take them back to the bus, then return checking on the other one. I wish we had have thought that through better before we left. This was not something we thought of when we planned our Northern Lights Tour with kids.
Second Night Tour: On the second night we had planned to use one of Mark’s beanies that had a high vis strip on it for one of the girls and make sure that Marley had a high vis section on her jacket showing so we could shine a light and see where they were. We did not get to test this out as they did not get off the bus.
Ideas to easily recognise your group in the dark on a Northern Lights Tour.
- There is a small glow in the dark bracelets that you can buy from a $2 shop that would be great. They don’t give off a lot of light but I have used them while camping and I think they would be fabulous for a Northern Lights Tour in Iceland
- You could put a small torch in the pocket of your child’s jacket. It will slightly shine through enough to identify them in the dark. They can also use it in an emergency if they get separated from you.
- I wished we had Marley’s little shoes that had lights that flashed on them with us. Maybe not great for adults but great on a Northern Lights Tour for kids!
9: If they have an electronic device they can take make sure you charge it (For kids)
First Night Tour: We drove on the bus for about half an hour before we got to our first stop. They were excited and were talking to the people around them so they did not spend much time on their devices until later. As the night rolled on and it got cold they could sit on the bus (The bus driver stayed with them and so did the guide sometimes) and play their device without worrying about the light affecting people’s photos.
Second Night Tour: On the second night due to the weather they spent a lot of time just sitting on the bus playing on their tablets before they went to sleep.
10: Share your pictures, if you want to
First Night Tour: We had a great guide on our Gray Lines Northern Lights Mystery Tour and a great busload of people on this night and at the end, there were a few older people on the tour who just could not get off the bus another time. There were a few of us that ended up sharing our pictures on the bus ride back to Reykjavik.
Second Night Tour: As I have said before we did not take any pictures on this night but we did have a couple on the bus we had planned to share pictures with if we did get any.
11: Be very, very careful and listen to your guide
First Night Tour: This would have to be one of our most important tips for Northern Lights Tours. On our first night our guide was brilliant. She had been doing it for a while so she told us some great pointer as to how to get the best pictures and she seemed to know all the stops so well. She told us where to stand and what to look out for. They are the first off the bus to make sure there are lights and to make sure there are no hazards to the people of the bus. LISTEN TO WHAT THEY SAY and take everything they say into consideration. We had no troubles with any of the people of our bus on our first night.
Second Night Tour: On the second night we got stuck at the restaurant for about an extra 45 minutes due to a lady falling over and needing an ambulance in a lava field. I don’t know what exactly happened but it was a great reminder of why we had to be very careful where we were walking.
You might like our article on ⇒ Travel Iceland Tips
12: Be Ready
First Night Tour: Weather conditions change so quickly in Iceland that one minute it is perfect and the next you just don’t know what is happening, so if you are about to stop be ready. There were a couple of times that we only had the lights for a few minutes before they went away. Our guide on the first night was always telling us to hurry to get off the bus…at the same time telling us to be very careful.
Second Night Tour: Our guide wasn’t sure that we would get a good night for nights about an hour and a half in. She prepared us all that we may not be getting off the bus at all but still told us to be quick if we did due to the conditions.
Added tip for families on Northern Lights Tours:
Our girls just could not get off the bus after about 9.30 as it was just so cold in Iceland in winter and the wind just ripped through all the layers of clothing we were wearing. They tried but only stayed off for about 10 minutes at a time before getting back on the bus to warm up. It was also hard on them as it took a long time to warm up after you got back on the bus which made it hard on us to get them to come out. In saying this we still think a Gray Line Northern Lights Mystery Tour is one of the top things to do with kids in Iceland and one of the best winter tours in Iceland!
Just a heads up! (extra tips for Northern Lights Tours)
I thought that our time with the Northern Lights in Iceland would be very different than what it was. I am not totally sure what I expected, to be honest, and the weather did not help us see the Northern Lights on the second night as much as Gray Line did their best. We felt going on a guided tour with Gray Lines was our best chance of seeing the Northern Lights in Iceland as driving in Iceland in winter was something that we were both worried about especially at night. I was stunned at a number of people that were out in the middle of nowhere with us and how many buses just kept rolling in.
My biggest issue was that everyone was out to get the picture and didn’t care if they stood right in front of you, even if you were away from the group. We were lucky that Mark was able to get away with his phone into some further away places than people with full photography equipment. So please just be so careful and try to respect other people while you are out in the middle of nowhere gazing into the sky.
Also, I am sure I have missed so many more things that would be helpful but these were just for our experiences on the two nights that we went on our Northern Lights Tour on our Iceland winter trip. Even though we did not get the best view of the Northern Lights I still believe that going with the Gray Lines Mystery Tour was the best way to see the Northern Lights in Iceland. I hope that everyone gets to see them at some stage in their life and I can say that it was brilliant to see them and I hope I get to chase some Northern Lights just one more time in my life. If you are planning a trip to Iceland in winter I think this is one of the best activities in Iceland for kids and for families!
Facts about Reykjavik
Reykjavik is the northernmost capital on the planet
Steam rising from the area’s hot springs gave Reykjavik its name, which literally translates to “Cove of Smokes
Of Iceland’s 332,750 residents, 64 percent, or 213,760, live in the Reykjavik region
In 2011, Reykjavik was the fifth city named a City of Literature by UNESCO
Reykjavik is believed to have been the first permanent settlement in Iceland
How to get to Iceland
Reykjavik is the capital city of Iceland. Keflavik International Airport is 50 kilometres from Reykjavik. 6.8 million people travelled through Keflavik airport in 2016,
The main carriers at Keflavík are Icelandair and WOW air
You can check the prices of international flights to Iceland with cheapOair. Domestic flights are operated out of Reykjavik city airport which is 2 km from the city
The Airport Express return service between KEF airport and both Reykjavik and Akureyri is operated by Gray Line Iceland. Book your transfer HERE
You can book an airport transfer with Suntransfers who we have personally used on many occasions.
You can reserve a rental car and have it waiting for you at Keflavik International Airport.
Getting around Iceland and Reykjavik
The city buses in Reykjavík are yellow. The Icelandic word for them is strætó, which is short for strætisvagn (streetcar). These buses are the only public transport in the city.
The Reykjavik Hop on hop off bus is another excellent option for seeing the sites of the city and surrounding area. Check the current prices HERE
The Reykjavik City Card entitles you to entry to some of Reykjavik’s major attractions and free public transport on the buses. More information is available here
Where to stay in Reykjavik
Reykjavik has accommodation options for every budget from Hostels, to apartments and hotels rooms.
Hostels in Reykjavik can start from as little as 25 Euro a night for a shared dorm room.
You can search Airbnb for there Iceland offerings. If you have never used Airbnb before get yourself $50 credit by signing and booking a stay right HERE
Hotels in Reykjavik generally start from around $209.00 a night for a double room 3star and increase incrementally as the luxury rating rises towards the 5-star average price of $271.00.
For more great Iceland content from Wyld Family Travel don’t miss these two articles. Click the image to read!