One of the best things to do in Iceland is taking a road trip in a campervan rental. You've got the freedom to roam while coming and going as you please. If you've decided to travel through Iceland on a budget, camping in Iceland is definitely your best bet. And if you're lucky enough to be here during Iceland Northern Lights season, then you're in for a special treat.
The months, usually september to March in Iceland, are when the Aurora Borealis is on full display. You'll see the night sky lit up with undulating waves of emerald, turquoise, and violet. You can probably see why the Northern Lights tour in Iceland tops most tourists’ lists of must-do activities. But did you know you don't have to hire a tour company or tour operator in Iceland to go on an Iceland Northern Lights excursion? It's entirely possible to do a DIY tour with your camper rental in Iceland.
The best vehicle for an Iceland Northern Lights hunt
First things first. You need to pick the right vehicle that gives you the highest chance of viewing Iceland’s Northern Lights. You’ll obviously want to pick a model that has panoramic or semi-panoramic windows. Once you see the lights off in the distance, you’ll want to follow them to their source and then pull over and rest. Having a panoramic view allows you to see as much of the Northern Lights as possible.
It's also a good idea to get a 4x4 camper rental in Iceland to make sure that you can drive as many places as possible while you are on the hunt for the Aurora Borealis. I say this because you never know where your expedition will take you. Of course, don’t go offroad driving as it is dangerous and destroys local flora which is quite fragile. But do get off the beaten path in a 4x4 camper rental in Iceland.
For this reason, I think the VW California 4x4 camper van and the Mercedes Marco Polo 4x4 are the best choices for your DIY Northern Lights excursion. They’ve got beautiful, wide-open windows on all sides so that you can view the Aurora Borealis from nearly 360º from inside your heated camper. While you must stay overnight at a campsite while camping in Iceland, you can definitely spend a few hours out in the darkness of the country. Once you see Iceland’s Northern Lights sparkling, find a safe, out-of-the-way spot to pull over and enjoy Mother Nature’s dazzling show in the nighttime sky. And with expandable roof tents, you can easily set up camp for the night once you return to your designated campsite.
Finding the right conditions for your DIY Iceland Northern Lights excursion
Now that you’ve got the right vehicle, let’s get into a guide for the Northern Lights. We need to look at the ideal conditions for the perfect Aurora Borealis hunt, too. You obviously need darkness, which is why you can’t see auroras in the summer. The Midnight Sun and near-constant daylight mean they are not visible. The Northern Lights season in Iceland typically runs from late September to late March. This is why one of the best things to do in Iceland, especially during winter, is to view the Aurora Borealis.
You also need to have clear skies (or at least somewhat clear). If it’s overcast, the auroras will be hidden by cloud cover. Luckily, the colder nights of winter mean that skies tend to be a bit clearer. Check out the weather forecast at the Icelandic Meteorological Office website to see the areas of the country with a prediction of little to no cloud cover. While you’re there, also check out their Iceland Northern Lights forecast. It shows how much aurora activity you can expect for the evening.
Lastly, try to get as far away from the cities as possible. As I mentioned before, darkness is key to spotting the Northern Lights on your DIY campervan excursion. You’ll want to cut down on light pollution from cities like Reykjavík and Akureyri. Look at your Iceland map to see if there are some highways in more remote areas away from the Ring Road.
I wouldn’t recommend driving on Iceland F-roads (they’ll likely be closed during the best months to see the Northern Lights in Iceland), but there are surely some zones you can explore that are not on the Ring Road. Think of areas like the Snaefellsnes peninsula or one of the roads along the Golden Circle route. Or imagine areas like the Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon that might be really beautiful and magical when lit up by the Northern Lights.
A Northern Lights hunt with your Iceland campervan
If you're planning or road trip to Iceland, staying at a Northern Lights hotel can be a dream come true. But let's be honest. Travel to Iceland isn't cheap, and this type of accommodation is extremely expensive. A viable alternative is to get a 4x4 camper rental in Iceland that allows you to explore and view the Northern Lights from the comfort of your own sleeping bag. And who wouldn't want to check a Northern Lights excursion in Iceland off their bucket list?