Your One True Guide to the Northern Lights in Iceland

Read up on everything aurora borealis to get lucky and see the Northern Lights while in Iceland

|November 6, 2020
Vita has hiked glaciers in Alaska, climbed fourteeners in Colorado and is all about sharing her stories and promoting responsible tourism. These days she is often wandering the streets of Vilnius with a film camera in her hand or reading.

Let’s face it, if you’re even remotely considering visiting Iceland, the Northern Lights are at the top of your bucket list. And how can it not be, when it is among the most fascinating natural phenomena a human can witness? Plus, Iceland is perfectly positioned in the Auroral Zone, meaning your chances are as high as ever!


However, few things this fascinating come easy. There are quite a few things you need to keep in mind if you want to increase your chances of catching the Northern Lights in Iceland. 

From exclusive and remote locations, to the best times and conditions, to explanations of what causes the Northern Lights, this guide will ensure you come to Iceland prepared for your Northern Lights hunt.  

Best Times for Northern Lights in Iceland

Season

While the most common answer you’ll find when researching the best times to see the aurora borealis in Iceland is winter, let’s not settle on the coldest months of the year just yet. It’s true, winters offer a high chance of admiring this magical sight because there is barely any daylight. However, the winters are also known for being cloudy and stormy, both of which are the worst enemies of successful Northern Lights hunts.  

Overall, the best times to visit Iceland to see the Northern Lights is October and late February. This is when the auroras tend to peak. Plus the climate conditions usually allow for unobstructed views. 

Happy Couple Watching Northern Lights Surprised Iceland

Time of the Day

The answer to this is rather straightforward – night. That being said, depending on when you’re visiting, night might mean different things. In fact, from late November to early February pretty much all you get is night.  

The crucial factor here is the darkness. 8 p.m. might not count as night time just yet, but if you’re in Iceland in November, it’s the perfect time for a Northern Lights hunt as the skies are pitch black. 

Northern Lights Watching Jeep Land Rover Iceland

Top Locations for Watching the Northern Lights in Iceland

If you know a thing or two about the Northern Lights, you’re probably aware that your chances of seeing them while surrounded by bright city lights are pretty much non-existent. Even though Reykjavik is a very green city with minimal light pollution, the evidence of city life in the sky still interferes with the Northern Lights show.  

However, if leaving Reykjavik is not an option, you might still get lucky! 

Places to See the Northern Lights in Reykjavik

  • Harpa Concert Hall – what do you do when you’re taking a casual evening walk around Reykjavik and all of a sudden the Northern Lights appear in the sky? Rush over to Harpa Concert Hall. It’s very close to downtown Reykjavik and is located on the coast, meaning the views will be perfect because you will be looking out on to the sea.  
Northern Lights At Harpa Concert Hall In Reykjavik Iceland
  • Perlan - this breathtaking glass dome sits on a hill and has a tiny forest nearby which won’t completely shield you from the city lights but will certainly create a nice and isolated atmosphere. 
Perlan Reykjavik Museum Aerial View Iceland
  • Parks - Reykjavik is a very green city! Choose one of the four biggest parks   Hljómskálagarður, Klambratún, Laugardalur, and Elliðaárdalur –  to enjoy a Northern Lights show in the heart of the city.  
Reykjavik Lake Park Sunny Summer View
  • Grotta Lighthouse - up for a hike? Grotta Lighthouse is around 6 km (3.7 mi) away from the city center, but it’s a popular spot for photographers and tourists alike. The walk along the coast is magnificent, and on a nice day taking a bike is definitely an option. Keep in mind that on a night when the aurora forecast shows high probability you will most likely share this experience with many other enthusiasts. 

What do you do if you want the best Northern Lights experience? Drive out of town! 

Grotta Lighthouse Reykjavik Northern Lights in Iceland

Places to See the Northern Lights Outside Reykjavik

Here are several options for top spots where you can watch the Northern Lights in Iceland away from the city lights. Some are tourist favorites right outside of the city, so you’ll surely have some company. Others require a longer drive but guarantee a private aurora show. 

  • Thingvellir National Park – this stunning attraction is part of the famous Golden Circle and an amazing spot to see the Northern Lights. Drive past the information center and you’ll find a nice hill that can be your base camp for the evening. 
Thingvellir National Park Northern Lights Woman Watching in Iceland
  • The Snæfellsnes Peninsula flat and close to the sea, the Snæfellsnes Peninsula is the perfect spot for those looking to witness the majestic Northern Lights away from city life and crowds of tourists.  
Kirkjufell Snaefellsnes Peninsula Northern Lights in Iceland
  • Seljavallalaug Pool up for a different kind of adventure? A 20-minute hike and you’re soaking in Iceland’s oldest hot water pool, which is hidden away in the mountains, while watching a Northern Lights show! 
Seljavallalaug Geothermal Swimming Pool
  • Westfjords watching the Northern Lights meander right above the cliffs is an experience like no other! Westfjords are barely inhabited so the sights are bound to be incredible, but make sure you stay safe while traveling. 
Westfjords Isafjordur Northern Lights in Iceland
  • Jokulsarlon and the Diamond Beach – incredible attractions in their own right, the glacier lagoon and the famous beach prove to be quite popular locations for Northern Lights hunts and there is good reason. Just imagine how jaw-dropping it would be to see the auroras right above chucks of ice scattered around the beach? 
Jokulsarlon Northern Lights Winter in Iceland

These are just a few spots. Iceland is full of isolated and fascinating places. Do some exploring during the day and find your own hidden gems to return to when the night sets in. 

Things to Note if You Go Aurora Hunting by Yourself

While it is fun and romantic, going further away from inhabited areas in Iceland to catch the brightest auroras has its dangers. Make sure you: 

  • Don’t park in the middle of the road. While the roads in Iceland aren’t too busy, there is always a chance you can cause an accident if you simply stop your car and hop out when auroras appear. 
  • Dress appropriately. Admiring the auroras means standing outside in the dead of winter for hours. While Iceland is one of the warmest countries where you can catch auroras, you still need to make sure you don’t freeze doing it. 
  • Be careful about where you travel. Sure, the Highlights are uninhabited and there is no light pollution but driving there during the winter is extremely dangerous and at points even forbidden. The same goes for many other remote regions of Iceland. Always check weather conditions and travel recommendations before you set out on a hunt.  
  • Bring some tea, a chair and a camera with a tripod. That’s if you want some extra comfort and memories in the form of pictures. 
Happy Family Northern Lights Tour Reykjavik Iceland

Join a Northern Lights Tour in Iceland

Are you overwhelmed by the idea of planning, looking at forecasts, renting a car and hoping for the best? 

You always have the option of joining a Northern Lights tour in Iceland. While it’s true that the guides can’t promise that Mother Nature will treat you to a show, you can rest assured you’re taking your best shot. 

You will be transported in a comfortable minibus or a private Super Jeep. well-trained guide will read the forecasts and will take you to a spot with the highest probability of a Northern Lights sighting. All you’ll need to do is it sit back, relax and enjoy the show! 

Browse these Northern Lights tours and leave all the planning to professional guides: 

Interesting Facts About the Northern Lights

  • The Northern Lights are basically collisions between different electrically charged particles. 
  • Auroras come in different shapes and sizes, from curves and arcs to shapeless glow. It is all determined by our planet’s magnetic field.  
  • While the Northern Lights mostly appear in pale green color, shades of purple, blue, red and yellow are also possible to witness. It’s all about what kind of molecules collide and how high up the collision occurs, so there really isn’t a way to determine what the show will look like in advance. 
  • The Northern Lights were first documented on the walls of a cave back in the Stone Age. 
  • From China to France, every nation has folklore and legends surrounding the Northern Lights. Most have to do with battles between different gods or upcoming changes.  
Northern Lights Iceland Happy Friends

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