5 Reasons You Need to See the Northern Lights in Reykjavik

Find Out Why Iceland’s Capital Is the Best City in the World for the Aurora Borealis

Emma Friedlander

|August 23, 2019

Emma is a writer & editor from the United States. She's currently living in Europe to learn and write about her favorite places full time.


Reykjavik is famous for its bustling culture, unique skyline, and natural scenery. But Reykjavik’s greatest wonder isn’t in the city — it’s in the skies above!


Each year from late August to early May, the skies above Iceland flash every color of the rainbow. 

Reykjavik is at the perfect latitude to see aurora borealis in its full glory. In no other city on Earth can you bask in the beauty of the Northern Lights and still stay close to the comforts of the capital.

Here’s why Reykjavik is the only capital city where you can see the Northern Lights – and why that makes it the best place on Earth to see them.

1. Reykjavik is the Northernmost Capital City in the World

Shower over Hallgrimskirkja Church

You’ve never been so close to the North Pole. At a latitude of 64.1466° N, Reykjavik is the farthest north capital city on Earth. No other capital city in the Northern Hemisphere is far north enough to see the Northern Lights. 

Other Scandinavian capitals, such as Oslo and Stockholm, are too far south. Reykjavik, however, lies squarely within the aurora zone. 

Plus -- even though Reykjavik is close to the Arctic Circle, temperatures are mild, even in winter. Ocean currents keep the average daily temperature above freezing even in the dead of winter. 

Throw on your winter coat and watch Reykjavik’s Northern Lights in comfort! 

2. Light Pollution isn’t a Problem

View from Tjörnin Pond

The aurora only comes out to play under certain conditions. The night sky must be very dark and the weather must be clear. 

In Reykjavik

So how can you see the aurora while surrounded by Reykjavik’s city lights? Reykjavik is small for a capital city and is one of the cleanest and greenest cities on earth, keeping light pollution at a minimum. You can still catch the Northern Lights even in downtown Reykjavik! 

So what’s the best place to see Northern Lights in Reykjavik? The easiest spot in the city to see the lights is Öskjuhlíð Hill that overlooks central Reykjavik. On top of the forested hill is the Perlan, a museum and architectural masterpiece. 

Visit during Perlan’s opening hours (9 a.m.-10 p.m. daily) and buy a ticket to the 360° observation deck, where you can watch the glowing sky in every direction. The sun sets very early in winter, giving you plenty of time to explore the museum and then watch nature’s light show. 

From Reykjavik

Head out into the open country to see the lights at their full brightness... From Reykjavik, you can be in unspoiled nature in just a few minutes’ drive. 

Grótta Nature Reserve is a couple of miles from downtown Reykjavik and is a great lookout spot for the lights. Aim for the Grótta Lighthouse in northwest Reykjavik. As you watch the Northern Lights dance above the Atlantic coastline, you’ll feel much farther away from the city than you really are.

3. Reykjavik is easier and cheaper to get to than any other Northern Lights destination

Fun fact: Green is the most common color of aurora

Airfare to Reykjavik is cheaper than ever. Jump on a flight and you’ll be in Northern Lights country before you know it! Although there are many other places in the world to see the Northern Lights, none are as easy to get to as Reykjavik. 

Other popular Northern Lights destinations like Northern Canada, Northern Scandinavia, and Southern Greenland are far away from international airports and require more time and money to reach. We don’t have anything against those places — they’re just nowhere near as accessible as Reykjavik! 

Fly into Keflavik International Airport, chase the aurora in Reykjavik, and be at your downtown Reykjavik hotel in a matter of hours.

4. Combine the Northern Lights with other adventures

Lights over City Houses

There’s more to do on your winter trip to Iceland than see the Northern Lights! Winter in Iceland is a magical time to explore the country. Before you head out on the evening’s Northern Lights hunt, you can spend the day climbing glaciers, riding snowmobiles, and seeing Iceland’s most beautiful sights.

Reykjavik is located close to Iceland’s best-known natural wonders. From the city, you can reach Gullfoss Waterfall, Thingvellir National Park, Geysir Geothermal Area, and Langjokull Glacier all in one day. Winter is the best time of year to visit these attractions without big crowds. Even after an activity-packed day, you’ll have plenty of time to grab dinner in Reykjavik before you head out on your Northern Lights chase.

Our guided tour of the Golden Circle and Northern Lights is the best way to pack the ultimate winter adventure into one day. Explore mighty glaciers on a thrilling snowmobile ride and end the day with a hunt for the Northern Lights near Reykjavik!

5. Aurora tours head out of Reykjavik every night

Skogafoss & Northern Lights

The strength and pattern of the aurora are different every night, so having a great guide really makes a difference. 

Your chance of spotting the Northern Lights in Iceland is much higher with the help of an expert guide. Our aurora guides know how to read the aurora forecast to find the best viewing locations, and take visitors to ideal spots normally off the radar. 

From September to April, Northern Lights tours leave Reykjavik every night and head into the Icelandic wilderness. 

You might see the lights above Iceland’s famous landmarks, such as Thingvellir Park or Kirkjufell Mountain. Far from any light pollution, these dark skies offer the best aurora views in the world. 

Our Northern Lights tours give aurora hunters the best bang for their buck. Guides take you on a four-hour chase through the wilds of Iceland. Take your trip a step further and upgrade to a Super Jeep tour on booking that takes you even deeper into the wilderness. 

The dark nights and secluded nature mean you’ll have your own private light show. The guides will help you take a photograph of the Northern Lights to last a lifetime!

Insider Tips!

Sharing is caring when it comes to the Aurora

What is the best time of year to see the Northern Lights in Iceland?

Reykjavik, Iceland’s Northern Lights are visible from late August to late April. However, the lights will be brighter and more active when nights are longer and darker. For the best chances of seeing the lights, we recommend visiting between late September and early April.

What time of day can you see the Northern Lights?

It depends on the time of year. The earlier the sun sets, the earlier the Northern Lights come out. 

In late September and early March, the sun sets at around 7 p.m. and rises at around 7 a.m. As you get closer to mid-winter, the night is longer and those hours are further apart. Generally, your best chances of seeing the aurora are between 9:30 p.m. to 1 a.m. 

Am I guaranteed to see the Northern Lights?

Unfortunately, you can never be 100% sure that you’ll see the Northern Lights. The lights are unpredictable and can be affected by weather and the sun cycle. Clouds can get in the way of the lights and make them difficult to see. 

Still, there are steps you can take to dramatically improve your chances. Visit as close to mid-winter as possible and be sure to join a guided Northern Lights tour.

 

Have a layover in Iceland? Spend it chasing the Northern Lights with our aurora tour from Reykjavik!