The correlation between dynamics and stability of icosahedral viruses was studied by steady-state and time-resolved fluorescence approaches. We compared the environment and dynamics of tryptophan side chains of empty capsids and ribonucleoprotein particles of two icosahedral viruses from the comovirus group: cowpea mosaic virus (CPMV) and bean pod mottle virus (BPMV). We found a great difference between tryptophan fluorescence emission spectra of the ribonucleoprotein particles and the empty capsids of BPMV. For CPMV, time-resolved fluorescence revealed differences in the tryptophan environments of the capsid protein. The excited-state lifetimes of tryptophan residues were significantly modified by the presence of RNA in the capsid. More than half of the emission of the tryptophans in the ribonucleoprotein particles of CPMV originates from a single exponential decay that can be explained by a similar, nonpolar environment in the local structure of most of the tryptophans, even though they are physically located in different regions of the x-ray structure. CPMV particles without RNA lost this discrete component of emission. Anisotropy decay measurements demonstrated that tryptophans rotate faster in empty particles when compared with the ribonucleoprotein particles. The increased structural breathing facilitates the denaturation of the empty particles. Our studies bring new insights into the intricate interactions between protein and RNA where part of the missing structural information on the nucleic acid molecule is compensated for by the dynamics.