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Iceland travel FAQ


Frequently Asked Questions about Traveling in Iceland

 

At IcelandGuest.com, our goal is to help make your stay in our country as rewarding and hassle-free as possible. Here you will find answers to some of the most commonly asked questions by first-time visitors to Iceland as well as some interesting factoids about our land of fire and ice. 


Useful statistics for Iceland

  • Population: 325,671 (Jan 2014)
  • Religion: 80% Lutheran
  • Total area: 103,000 km² / 39,756 sq. mi
  • Capital: Reykjavík (population 118,898)
  • Form of Government: Republic since June 17, 1944 (Independent since December 1, 1918)
  • Approximately 7,250 sq. km (2,799 sq. mi) of Iceland is covered by glaciers
  • Hvannadalshnjúkur is Iceland’s highest peak (2,110m / 6,923 ft)
  • Öskjuvatn near Víti is Iceland’s deepest lake (220m / 722 ft)
  • For almost three months in summer there is continuous daylight, a phenomenon known as the "midnight sun"
  • The mean annual temperature for Reykjavik is 5˚C, with the average in January temperature being - 0.2˚C and in July 12˚C

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Where is Iceland?
Iceland is  the westernmost country in Europe, located in the North Atlantic about 800 km (497 mi) northwest of Scotland and 970 km (602 mi) west of Norway. Its closest neighbor is Greenland, which at its closest point is 286 km (180 mi) to the east. Iceland's northern coast is just below the Arctic Circle. 

Iceland is strategically located for air travel from either side of the Atlantic: flight times are 2-3 hours from major gateways in Europe and 5-6 hours from the East Coast of North America. A growing number of international gateways are served from Keflavík Airport, many on a daily basis, with some up to 3-4 flights per day.

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The history of Iceland in few sentences?
The first people believed to have settled in Iceland were Irish monks who came in the 8th century A.D. They left, however, upon the arrival of pagan Norsemen, who arrived around 874 A.D. to seek freedom from Norway's oppressive king Harald Fairhair. 

In 930 A.D. the early Icelanders founded the Althing, their supreme general assembly--the oldest parliament in the world. The adoption of Christianity followed in the year 1000. In 1262, Iceland became subject to Norwegian control and in 1380 came under Danish control, along with Norway. After the granting of a constitution (1874) and with an improving economy, Iceland finally became a sovereign state under a common king with Denmark in 1918. The Republic of Iceland was formally declared on June 17, 1944.

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How is the weather in Iceland?
Iceland is not considered a warm place by any normal standards, but thankfully the Gulf Stream does have a moderating effect on the temperatures. Average temperatures in July are about 12 degrees centigrade in Reykjavik, and usually a bit warmer in the north and east of Iceland. 

And despite the icy name, it doesn't snow as much in Iceland as you may think, especially in Reykjavik where there is usually little snow to be seen, even in winter. However, there is more snow in the winter in the north and east of Iceland and the West Fjords.

The biggest factor in Icelandic weather is its unpredictability as you never know what is going to happen next, especially in remote wilderness areas like the interior highlands. A beautiful day can suddenly turn windy and rainy (or vice versa), and you might see every type of weather imaginable over  a couple of days--especially in late autumn and early spring--so be prepared for anything. 

For weather services in English, visit www.vedur.is/english

Average temperatures by month:

Month

°C

°F

January

-1.3

29.7

February

1.0

33.8

March

2.1

35.8

April

4.0

39.2

May

7.2

44.9

June

13.1

55.6

July

15.2

59.4

August

13.3

55.9

September

13.0

55.4

October

6.1

43.0

November

3.7

38.7

December

-0.8

30.6

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How many people live in Iceland?
The Icelandic population was 325,671 (Jan 2014), and there are roughly 4 times as many sheep in the country! Population density per square kilometer is 3.1, making it the least populated country in Europe (seventh least dense in the world). Most Icelanders are of Norwegian descent, with some mixture of Celtic ancestry from those who came from Ireland and the Scottish islands during the time of settlement.

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Tell me about Reykjavik, the capital of Iceland?

Reykjavik means "Smoky Bay" in Icelandic, as a result of the geothermal steam witnessed by the country's first settler, Ingolfur Arnarson. Today, a majority (about two-thirds) of the island's population lives in the greater Reykjavík area. The city population is 118,898 and the entire capital area contains about 202,341 inhabitants. First-time visitors to the city often remark on how the city centre is very compact and walkable and how the locals seem very laid-back.

Reykjavik is known for its colorful buildings, unique design boutiques, cosy cafes, beautiful seafront walkways and mountain views on nearly all sides. A sense of creativity is central to this city, ensuring that it remains at the cutting edge of art, fashion, culture and music. Overall, this vibrant capital city offers many charms, including about 180 licensed pubs and bars that give the nightlife a lively reputation!

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When is daylight in Iceland?
From mid-May to mid-August the sun only sets for only a few hours per day, and it is effectively light for the whole 24-hour period. This phenomenon is known as the "midnight sun" and it creates a sort of lingering twilight in the nighttime hours. In contrast, there are around 4-5 hours of effective daylight during mid-winter. But Iceland's inexpensive geothermal energy means that streets and buildings are well-lit during winter darkness.

DATE (2014)

SUNRISE

SUNSET

1 January

11:19 AM

3:44 PM

1 February

9:55 AM

5:16 PM

1 March

8:21 AM

6:459 PM

1 April

6:42 AM

8:23 PM

1 May

5:00 AM

9:52 PM

1 June

3:15 AM

11:39 PM

1 July

3.06 AM

11:56 PM

1 August

4:35 AM

10:31 PM

1 September

6:16 AM

8:36 PM

1 October

7:37 AM

6:56 PM

1 November

9:24 AM

4:57 PM

1 December

10:46 AM

3:47 PM

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When should I travel to Iceland?
Iceland is a great travel destination for all seasons! 

In summer (June to August), a great variety of tours and activities are offered, although we recommend booking summer holidays well in advance due to the limited availability of accommodations in the countryside. Thanks to the extra long daylight hours, travelers can enjoy activities like hiking or even golf late into the evening hours.

After mid-September there are fewer types of tours offered and some of the highland attractions are inaccessible due to the closure of mountain roads. But in return you get lighter traffic on the highway, fewer crowds at popular attractions (which are all mostly open through winter), the beauty of the autumn colors and the possibility of seeing the northern lights (best sightings are December to February).

Reykjavik is also becoming a popular destination for Christmas and New Year's breaks as Icelanders are well-known for their over-the-top celebrations and unique traditions.

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How can I get to Iceland?
Frequent flights are operated to Iceland from major gateways in Europe and North America, many on a daily basis. Flight times are 2-3 hours from major gateways in Western Europe and 5-6 hours from eastern North America. Most international flights arrive to Keflavík Airport, located 50 minutes away from Reykjavik.

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Where is Keflavik International Airport located?
The Leifur Eiríksson International Air Terminal in Keflavik (48 km from Reykjavik) is the gateway for most passenger flights and air-freight flights to and from Iceland. The airport is open 24 hours per day. All retail shops and services operated in the departure hall are located within the duty-free zone and are, therefore, duty- and tax-free. It takes roughly 50 minutes to travel by car or airport bus from the airport to Reykjavik.

For further information about the airport visit the website www.flugstod.is/english

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Are there any domestic flights in Iceland?
Air Iceland has regular flights from the Reykjavik Domestic Airport to several towns and villages around Iceland, as well as some flights to Greenland. The Reykjavik Airport is located very close to the city centre, about a 5 minute taxi ride from hotels and guesthouses downtown.

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Are there any bus services in Iceland?
Buses run all year round from the BSÍ bus terminal at the edge of the Reykjavik city centre. However, the bus service is less frequent in winter. Buses can be few and far between so make sure you plan your bus trip thoroughly beforehand. For more information about bus tours, please contact us to speak with a travel consultant. 

The Reykjavik also area has its own public city bus system; see more information about routes, fares and timetables at www.straeto.is

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How should I drive in Iceland? 
Driving is the most popular way of getting around for travellers in Iceland, and the roads are generally safe for attentive drivers. Cars are driven on the right side of the road in Iceland, and the biggest hazard are probably speeding in wet weather conditions or sheep that wander into traffic in rural areas.

Route 1 (the "Ring Road"), which runs around the island, is mostly paved except for a stretch of gravel between Lake Mývatn and Egilsstaðir in the north-eastern part of Iceland. Many smaller roads are also gravel surfaced, but in the summertime they should be fairly easy to drive if you make sure to slow down.

As there are many narrow roads in the countryside with "blind hills" and single-lane bridges, as well as several one-way streets and roundabouts in Reykjavik, we strongly urge you to get familiar with the road signs and traffic rules beforehand.

For in-depth information about roads in Iceland, visit the Icelandic Public Roads Administration website: www.vegagerdin.is

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When are stores open in Iceland?
Shopping hours are generally from 10:00 until 18:00 Monday to Friday. On Saturdays, most shops are open from 10:00 until 16:00. Opening hours of stores vary greatly between towns, especially in the countryside. 

Some grocery and convenience stores do have later opening hours, and some locations are open 24 hours:

  • Hagkaup grocery stores in the capital area (24-hr store in Skeifan area)
  • 10-11 convenience stores around the capital area
  • N1 petrol stations in the capital area and in major towns around the country

Opening hours for other businesses are generally from 09:00 to 17:00 and opening hours of banks and post offices are generally from 09:15 to 16:00.

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How are the general prices in Iceland? 

  • Tap water at bars, restaurants and cafés: FREE
  • Milk, 1 liter: 120 ISK
  • Coca-Cola ½ litre: 180 - 250 ISK
  • Hot dog: 200 - 350 ISK
  • A loaf of bread: 250 - 500 ISK
  • ½ liter glass of beer at a restaurant or bar: 900-1100 ISK
  • ½ liter can of beer at liquor store: 250 - 400 ISK
  • Latte or similar espresso drink at a cafe: 500 ISK 
  • Petrol, 1 liter: 255 ISK

Please note the prices above are estimates only; prices vary widely by location.

There is a 7% VAT (value added tax) on nearly all groceries, CDs, books, newspapers, magazines and restaurant and hotel services. For most other goods and services the VAT is 25.5%. Keep in mind that sales tax is always included in the sticker price.

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Are there any tax-free shops in Iceland?
A refund of local Value-Added Tax (VAT) is available to all visitors in Iceland. The refund will result in a reduction of up to 15% of the retail price, provided departure from Iceland is within 3 months after the date of purchase. The purchase amount must be no less than ISK 4000 (VAT included) per store. All goods (except woolens) need to be shown at customs before check-in. At Keflavik airport this applies only to tax-free forms whose refund value exceeds ISK 5000. 

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What kind of monetary unit does Iceland have?
The Icelandic monetary unit is the króna (plural krónur) and is usually abbreviated as ISK or kr.

Coins are in denominations of: 100, 50, 10, 5 and 1 kr.

Bank notes are in denominations of: 10000, 5000, 2000, 1000 and 500 kr.

CREDIT CARDS: Visa and MasterCard are accepted almost universally, and ATMs are generally not hard to find. Most people in Iceland pay for everything, even small items like chewing gum, with credit card. Note for US travellers: Iceland uses the chip-and-pin (EMV) system, which requires a 4-digit PIN for card purchases. If you only have the "swipe and sign" cards, you may wish to inquire about getting a chip-card from your bank or a major credit card issuer before travelling.

CURRENCY EXCHANGE: All major currencies can be exchanged at the airport, banks and currency exchanges in Iceland. Due to currency restrictions, it is extremely difficult to obtain ISK in a foreign country before arriving in Iceland. Likewise, it is a good idea to exchange any surplus ISK before leaving Iceland. 

Foreign currency exchange is available at Keflavik International Airport and all banks around the country. Exchange services outside regular banking hours are also available at Landsbankinn in Keflavík Airport during the hours of 05:30-8:30 and 13:00 - 17:00 (downstairs) or 05:30-17:00 (upstairs - departure hall) 

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What time zone is Iceland on?
Iceland is on Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) all year around, and does not observe Daylight Saving Time (DST). 

At 12:00 (noon) in Iceland the time around the world would be:

City

Summer

Winter

Chicago

06:00

07:00

Copenhagen

14:00

13:00

London

13:00

12:00

Los Angeles

04:00

05:00

New York

07:00

08:00

São Paulo

10:00

11:00

Sydney

22:00

23:00

Tokyo

21:00

20:00

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What is the telephone code to Iceland?
The code to Iceland from overseas is +354 plus a seven-digit number. There are no area codes in Iceland.

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What is the tipping policy in Iceland?
Service and VAT are invariably included in prices in Iceland and tipping is never required. However, if you are very pleased with the service, Icelanders are generally not offended if they are offered tips.

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Are there any post offices in Iceland?
There are post offices located in all major communities in Iceland. General hours are: Mon-Fri 09:00-18:00. Information on opening hours can bee found on Iceland Post website www.postur.is/

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What are Icelanders like?
Well educated, proficient in speaking English, sophisticated dressers, modern, reserved, friendly, creative, relaxed and generally helpful to tourists. Icelanders' ancestors were predominately Norwegian, although some came from the British Isles. 

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When are the public holidays in Iceland?

Holiday 2014 2015
New Year´s Day 1 Jan 1 Jan
Maundy Thursday 17 Apr
2 Apr
Good Friday 18 Apr
3 Apr
Easter Sunday 20 Apr
5 Apr
Easter Monday 21Apr
6 Apr
First Day of Summer 24 Apr
23 Apr
Labour Day 1 May 1 May
Ascension Day 29 May
14 May
Whit Sunday 8 Jun
24 May
Whit Monday 9 Jun
25 May
National Day 17 Jun 17 Jun
Bank Holiday Monday 4 Aug 3 Aug
Christmas Eve (from noon) 24 Dec 24 Dec
Christmas Day 25 Dec 25 Dec
Boxing Day 26 Dec 26 Dec
New Year´s Eve (from noon) 31 Dec 31 Dec

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What kind of language do Icelanders speak?
The country's written and spoken language is Icelandic, an Old Norse language that has changed little since Iceland's first settlers arrived over 1,000 years ago. It is one of the oldest living languages in Europe. However, most Icelanders also speak English.

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Do Icelanders speak English?
Yes, most Icelanders (especially those from their teenage years through their fifties) speak fluent English. English and Danish are mandatory subjects in primary school, and many Icelanders are proficient in other major European languages as well, especially other Scandinavian languages, so most travelers find that communication is not a major problem. 

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What kind of electrical outlet is used in Iceland?
Icelandic electrical standards are the same as other Northern European countries (50Hz, 240 volts) so North American electrical devices will require converters and/or adapters. The sockets are two-pin, so devices brought in from the UK will require adapters.

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What is there to see in Iceland besides nature?
Nature is obviously a big part of the Icelandic experience--but it is by no means the only part!  Reykjavík is one of the liveliest, safest and most modern cities in Europe, and its nightlife and cultural activities have earned the city world-wide recognition. Other towns, such as Akureyri, have their own unique culture as well.  

For those who want to see both city and nature, the wilderness is accessible with just a short drive from Reykjavik, and we offer a wide range of sightseeing day tours that your travel consultant can book for you.

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Can I plug in my modem?
Generally, yes.  It is always a good idea though--no matter where you travel--to ask your hotel's information desk it it is safe to plug a normal modem into your room's phone jack. By the way, Icelanders have the highest rate of computer use in the world.

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Where in Reykjavik can I access the internet?
Reykjavik is a very connected city! Most of the city's many cafés and coffee houses offer free Wi-fi for guests. Internet service is also available at the Tourist Information Centre on Aðalstræti, and at all branches of the City Library.

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What kind of mobile phone system is there in Iceland?

GSM: There are two main GSM operators in Iceland: Síminn and Vodafone. Together they cover most of Iceland including all towns and villages with over 200 inhabitants. Both companies sell SIM cards for pre-paid GSM/GPRS services. Pre-paid refill (top-up) cards are available at petrol stations around the country.

Please note: Iceland's mobile phone system operates on the 900/1800 MHz frequencies. Some phones from North America (and parts of South America) may not work on this system as they operate on the 850/1900 MHz frequencies. However, a quad-band phone (850/900 /1800 /1900 MHz) will work.

NMT: Iceland Telecom’s NMT long-range mobile service covers most of Iceland, including the interior highlands, and is suitable for those who plan to travel extensively in remote wilderness areas.

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What is the travel visa policy in Iceland?
Citizens of the Schengen area in Europe as well as citizens from USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Hong Kong and Singapore do not require visas. Tourist stays are permitted for up to three months, and can be extended if needed at local police stations.

If you do not live in one of these countries mentioned above, then we recommend contacting the Icelandic embassy or consulate in your country to check on requirements before entering Iceland. If there is no Icelandic embassy or consulate in your country, you may contact the Danish embassy or consulate. Otherwise you will need to contact the Icelandic Directorate of Immigration

Please note that Iceland Guest cannot obtain visas on behalf of customers or expedite visa processing.

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Do I need to bring my passport?
Yes. A passport or other travel document accepted by Icelandic authorities valid at least three months beyond intended stay is required for visitors to Iceland. For further information, visit the Icelandic Directorate of Immigration.

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Does Iceland have a military?
No, Iceland has no army. Instead, the country has an excellent coast guard and a search-and-rescue team (ICE-SAR) that have specially-trained volunteers on call 24/7 to assist with weather emergencies, natural disasters, etc. They also operate this helpful website for travellers www.safetravel.is

If you have an emergency during your stay, call 112. (police, fire, ambulance)

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Are there any pharmacies in Iceland?
Pharmacies are called apótek and they are generally open during weekdays 10 AM - 6 PM, Saturdays 10 AM - 4 PM and closed on Sundays or public holidays. Very few have extended hours. In Reykjavik, Lyfja on Lágmúli 5 (tel. 533-2300) near the Reykjavik Hilton Nordica is open until midnight.

Pain relievers, cold / flu / allergy medicines, eye drops, etc. are all sold over the counter. If you require a prescription medication, you will need to obtain a prescription from an Icelandic physician. Since pharmacies have limited locations and opening hours in the rural areas of Iceland, we recommend bringing any important medications with you from home.

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Can I get medical help in Iceland?
Iceland has a modern health care system with many general practitioners and specialist physicians in the Reykjavik area. There are also smaller medical centers or hospitals in all major towns in Iceland that offer urgent care for minor illnesses and injuries. Many clinics set aside a few hours in the afternoon for walk-in patients. For non-threatening illnesses or injuries, you can call 1770 to speak with a nurse or get the location of the nearest clinic.

For serious, life-threatening medical emergencies, please call 112.

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What is the health insurance policy in Iceland?
Citizens of Scandinavia should present their passport in case of medical emergency. Citizens of EEA countries must have the E-111 form, otherwise the patient will be charged in full. Citizens of other countries will be charged in full. For further information, including prices for doctor visits, please contact:

State Social Security Institute
Laugavegur 114
105 Reykjavík
Tel.: +354 560 4400
Opening hours: 09:00 - 15:30

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Can I get any news in English while I stay in Iceland?
A short news broadcast in English is made on the state radio station, FM 93.5 and FM 92.4, every morning Monday through Friday at 07:30 (June 1 -  Sept. 1). A telephone recording of the broadcast can be heard by dialing 515 3690.

Online, the Iceland Review offers Icelandic news in English, and the Reykjavik Grapevine is a free bi-weekly publication in English covering news and daily life as well as cultural and music events. It is available at many bookstores and cafes in the Reykjavik area as well as other locations around Iceland.

Larger bookstores, like Eymundsson or Mal og Menning in downtown Reykjavik, also carry a limited selection of newspapers from major international cities along with some foreign magazines.

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What kind of clothing should I bring with me?
You will need to bring clothing for all types of weather conditions, no matter the time of year. Icelandic weather can be unpredictable, even in summer, so it is good to be prepared and comfortable.

We recommend bringing:

  • a good windproof / waterproof jacket and trousers (insulated for winter travel)
  • fleece jacket or thick jumper/sweater
  • lightweight thermal layers (preferably woollen or synthetic as these fabrics are better at wicking moisture)
  • sturdy, comfortable walking or hiking shoes with good grip on the soles
  • Thick, comfy socks for hiking boots (preferably woollen, and thicker in winter)
  • Hats, gloves and scarves for all seasons
  • Swimsuit and a fast-drying towel (pools and hot tubs are open year-round!)
  • Sunglasses and sunscreen in summer
  • Eye shades may be helpful for sleeping in summer
  • A small backpack for hikes or day tours to store water, snacks, extra clothing, etc. 

If you forget something, there are several outdoor clothing stores in the Reykjavik area, especially along the main shopping street, Laugavegur. Downtown Reykjavik also has a number of second-hand stores like Red Cross, Salvation Army, etc. The variety store Tiger on Laugavegur is a good option for small, cheap items like umbrellas or sunglasses.

If you are doing one of our Trekking & Hiking, Off the Beaten Path or Horse Riding tours, your travel consultant can recommend more specific items of clothing or gear to bring. Feel free to ask!

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When is the best time to see the northern lights?
The best months to see the northern lights are October through April, with peak visibility from December through February. However, as it is a natural phenomenon, sightings cannot be guaranteed—even if your tour is operated. The northern lights, or aurora borealis, are the result of charged particles from solar flares colliding with the earth's atmosphere. They can only be viewed in the darkness of night when there are no clouds blocking your view to the sky. 

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