Many tourists travel to Iceland in the hopes of viewing the Northern Lights. However, it’s not always successful and the hunt can be long, tiring and not to mention VERY cold. Aurora Basecamp situated about 20 minutes outside Reykjavik has created a new Northern Lights viewing experience, one which I was a privy to during my trip to Iceland. The Aurora Basecamp was still a pretty new attraction at the time of my visit and I struggled to find reviews discussing this attraction. However, I was sold on the experience they were offering so I chanced it and booked to go. But now, having been, saw and conquered, I am here to report back and write a full review of my experience to hopefully provide others with enough information to decide if the Aurora Basecamp is to feature on their Iceland hit list.
Aurora Basecamp Cost
It costs roughly £35 to visit the Aurora Basecamp if you have your own transportation and approximately an additional £15 for pick-up. **Please note that all prices are accurate as of Winter 2020 and may be subject to change** The cost includes unlimited hot drinks and access to the Aurora Lounge, a tour around their expedition with a talk on the history behind the northern lights and the science of the aurora. Additionally, the guides show you what to look out for when searching for the northern lights (not as obvious as you may think), and their trained eyes keep a watch on the sky to notify guests of anything promising.
How Does Aurora Basecamp Compare To A Standard Northern Lights Tour?
On a standard Northern Lights tour you are picked up on a coach or mini bus and driven out of the city where there is less light pollution. Your guides will then hunt, usually with the aid of the aurora forecast and via communication with other guides for the Northern Lights for you. If there’s promise of a sighting, they will then let you out of the vehicle to view the night sky for yourselves. This process can be repeated several times for several hours to hopefully give you the best chance of seeing the lights. Tours often leave around 8-9pm and come back any time between 11am and 2am depending on sightings and guide preference.
I would say you certainly get colder on a standard Northern Lights hunt as you don’t have the cosy lounge to warm up in and their certainly isn’t as much ambience as is provided at Aurora Basecamp. I also like the addition of the exhibition because it adds to the experience, one which you do not get being sat on a bus for hours on end.
However, you do get a bit more light pollution at the Aurora Basecamp as it’s situated close to Reykjavik, in comparison to the Northern Lights tours which travel further out of the city and can head up North to increase the chance of better viewing.
Additionally something to note is that there is no aurora guarantee with this experience. Many Northern Lights tours offer a free re-booking if you are unsuccessful seeing the aurora. However, because this is more of an experience in addition to the northern lights, they do not offer a repeat visit if the lights aren’t seen.
What To Expect From The Aurora Basecamp Experience
As I opted for pick-up my experience started by getting myself to one of the dedicated pick up points around Reykjavik. When you book your ticket you have to select the bus stop you would like to be picked up from so check it’s vicinity to your accommodation. As with many of the tours in Iceland, you will be given a pick up time but note that this may vary by about half an hour. This was my first tour in Iceland and I did panic a little when the bus hadn’t yet shown up by quarter past eight that I’d been forgotten, had missed it or read the time wrong etc (I mean it is me after all, I’m not known for my luck!). But tour companies will often just give the time they expect to be at the first pick up point, so be ready for then, but don’t fret if they haven’t shown up at that time, you’re probably just at one of the later stops.
Once we were all picked up, our driver began the journey outside of Reykjavik and began telling us about the Aurora Basecamp and how the night would pan out. We arrived to see two huge black domes covered in snow and lit by flood lights. It looked like a smaller, darker version of the Eden Project. Honestly, the outside didn’t look like much but we were ushered through a door into the warmth of the inside.
The Aurora Lounge was a stark contrast from the outside. It was cosily lit with warm yellow fairy lights and a toasty log fire. Rustic wooden tables were arranged around the room topped by glowing lanterns and accompanied by benches hugged by sheepskin rugs. These tables faced a large viewing window revealing the tranquil night sky so you could look out at the stars and search for the aurora from the warmth and ambience of the lounge. In the centre was a large screen with projected northern lights images upon it and in front of this sat a refreshment station with bubbling hot chocolate and teas ready for the taking. We were all invited to get comfortable, take in the beautiful setting and warm ourselves with a drink before half the group were invited through to the second tent – The Dark Park.
The Dark Park is an aurora exhibition where one of the guides discusses with you the science behind the aurora, some tips on how to spot the northern lights and what conditions are best to have a chance of seeing them and a little about the old Scandinavian myths surrounding the origin of the Northern lights. They have some projections of he northern lights to view and also some technology unique to the establishment which mimics the creation of the northern lights in large glass tubes. It was a nice little addition to the rest of the Basecamp experience, though it was pretty cold being stood in one spot during the presentation as unlike the lounge, the Dark Park is not heated.
After the talk in the Dark Park you are free to head outside to scan the sky for the lights yourself or head back into the warmth of the lounge to enjoy more hot chocolate. I was lucky enough to witness the lights during my visit and it was a really special experience. Be prepared to be patient though, the Northern Lights appearance can be fleeting and can be of varying degrees of strength. It is also changing all the time, one minute you will see nothing and the next the aurora can light up the sky. I personally enjoyed the ability to wander about outside, stargaze and aurora hunt until I got too cold then pop in for a warm and a hot chocolate before heading back out again once I’d thawed.
If you have driven to the Aurora Basecamp you can stay as long as you wish until closing. If you selected the transportation option they give you two pick up times to take you back to Reykjavik, one earlier and one a little later. Pay attention to the times as it’s up to you to get yourself back to the minibus in time for departure. The driver then takes you back to the stop where you were originally picked up and you can make your own way back to your accommodation from there.
A big positive for me was the added experience the Aurora Basecamp brings to hunting for the Northern Lights. From start to finish it felt much more immersive than just going out on a bus and driving around in hopes of seeing something. I felt I learnt more with the addition of the dark park and the aurora lounge was a great unique extra.
The aurora lounge was probably my favourite part of the experience (well, aside from seeing the Northern Lights of course!). It was cosy, unique, incredibly instagramworthy (if you’re into that kind of thing) and it was great to have somewhere to pop in and warm up while hunting for the Aurora. I felt like I could stay out scouting the sky for much longer knowing I could regularly pop into the warm to re-set the chill factor of the wintery Icelandic nights.
The staff were really engaging, informative and fun. We had a really great laugh with the guides we were with and their passion and enthusiasm for what they had created at the Aurora Basecamp really shone through and was incredibly infectious.
It was really affordable and I think the Basecamp experience was great value for money. Now if you know anything about Iceland it’s that it’s definitely not cheap and tours can cost you a pretty penny if you plan to do a few. Relatively speaking, the Aurora Basecamp experience is one of the cheaper tours you can do in and around Reykjavik and certainly one you won’t regret spending money on.
All in all I really enjoyed the experience at Aurora Basecamp but there were a couple of negatives / point for improvement in my opinion. Firstly, the fact there is no repeat visit offered if you do not see the lights. However, the argument is that the Aurora Basecamp offers more of an experience regardless of seeing the lights or not, which I can’t really contest.I honestly think I would have still enjoyed the experience even if I hadn’t seen the lights. Another suggestion for improvement though not really a criticism would be to offer guests a photo with the lights if seen. It’s often something offered on other northern lights tours and a souvenir photo would have been a great addition to the experience.
The big negative for me was the transportation. I was staying at the Bus Hostel which was a central hub for most tour companies, airport shuttles etc. However, the Aurora Basecamp transport did not offer a pick up nearby and I had to take a 20 minute walk into the city centre to get picked up. The walk there at 7.30pm wasn’t so ominous but being dropped off at the end of the night at gone midnight to navigate a strange city on my own, was a little foreboding to say the least. Luckily, Reykjavik is one of the safest cities in the world and despite my trepidation, my walk home was without incident and I’m sure for most, it would be, but it was a little off-putting as a solo female traveller. Especially as you have to pay for the pick up I think they should offer pick up at your hostel as many tour companies do. However, I have to say, this was my only real negative.
In my opinion I would wholeheartedly recommend the Aurora Basecamp to anyone wanting a Northern Lights experience when visiting Iceland. You have a good shot at seeing the Northern Lights with the additional unique experiences of the dark park and the Aurora Lounge. I had lots of fun and I’m sure you will too!
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