BEST TIME TO SEE THE NORTHERN LIGHTS IN ICELAND
The highlight of Icelandic nature is a must-see if you visit Iceland in winter. It's one of the most beautiful phenomena in the world, and something you can't miss!
Are you looking for the best time to see the northern lights in Iceland?
You're in the right place!
I have compiled this guide for you that will help you find the best time to see the northern lights in Iceland, as well as the best places to see them!
So, keep reading as I take you on a norhtern lights hunt all around Iceland!
What you'll read about
- What are the northern lights?
- When is the best time to see the northern lights in Iceland?
- Where are the best places to see the northern lights in Iceland?
- Best way to see the northern lights in Iceland
- Can you see the northern lights in Reykjavik?
- What is a good northern lights tour in Iceland?
- What is the current northern lights forecast in Iceland?
- Tips from a local
NORTHERN LIGHTS IN ICELAND
Northern lights near Höfn, Iceland
The northern lights are a marvel of nature. Millions of travellers flock to Iceland every year to witness and photograph this incredible natural phenomenon, but not everyone knows where it comes from.
From the manifestation of Norse gods to a bad omen for women in labor, there have been several interpretations of the origin of the northern lights throughout the centuries. While it is fun to imagine that there is a fire fox blazing through the sky and leaving a trail of lights behind it, the actual origin of the aurora is much simpler.
The sun blasts our planet with solar winds. As the charged particles from the solar wind hit the Earth's magnetic shield, they collide with particles in the Earth's atmosphere. So, they create little bursts of light -or photons -that in turn generate the aurorae.
The stronger the solar wind, the stronger the northern lights! In fact, the sun tends to send strong solar winds our way every eleven years or so. At those times, the northern lights can be seen as far south as Cuba!
A red aurora
The most common color for the aurorae is green, but depending on the altitude where the particles collide, you might see some blue and even red! In fact, it is said that a couple of weeks before the French revolution, a red aurora was seen over England and was considered an omen of war.
The north's aurora borealis has an earthly sibling in the southern hemisphere, the aurora australis. It also has several alien counterparts, most notably in Jupiter and Saturn. Talk about a light show!
BEST TIME TO SEE THE NORTHERN LIGHTS IN ICELAND
What is the best time to come to Iceland and catch the northern lights?
Well, lucky for you, it's not just one time, but rather a long period!
Our planet is bombarded constantly by solar storms. That means that there is always, technically, northern lights. We just can't see them!
That is because in order to see them, you need darkness. Therefore, the northern lights period in Iceland spans from the end of August to the end of April, when there is sufficient darkness. Northern lights tours only operate during those months.
Unfortunately, you can never be sure that you will see the northern lights. Sometimes even us locals don't see them for weeks! However, if you want to maximize your chances, I suggest that you visit during the darkest months.
This sun graph shows the darkest and brightest months in Iceland
Apart from darkness, though, you also need clear skies! You can't see the aurora if there are clouds, after all. Therefore, I believe that the best months to see the northern lights in Iceland are October, November, February and March.
During those months, the weather tends to be nice enough to allow for clear skies, and there is plenty of darkness every day!
As far as the time of the day is concerned, I highly recommend going hunting as close to midnight as possible to have the best chances of seeing them.
BEST PLACES TO SEE THE NORTHERN LIGHTS IN ICELAND
As I mentioned earlier, the most important factor when it comes to hunting for the northern lights is darkness. The darker the area you are in, the better.
There are plenty of places you can visit in and around Reykjavik for a chance to see the aurora.
Öskjuhlíð is one of those places, right in Reykjavik. It's a forest area, and you will be surrounded by so much nature that you will forget you are in the capital!
A little further out from Reykjavik, you can find Grótta and Thingvellir. Both are excellent locations, with little light pollution. As a result, they are ideal to see the aurora if you can't travel too far from Reykjavik.
Northern lights over Thingvellir National Park
For those of you who can travel even further, there is a plethora of places in Iceland, all of which will help you in your northern lights quest. In the south, we have the town of Vík and the areas surrounding it, such as Reynisfjara and Dyrhólaey. For an unforgettable night, you can also go to Seljavallalaug, the world-famous natural hot pool! It's a great chance to spend your night soaking in natural geothermal water and gazing at the dancing aurora!
Apart from the south, there are also great spots north of Reykjavik to see the northern lights! You can try going to Kirkjufell, the mountain famous for its shape, which is rather close to Reykjavik. Otherwise, you can continue further north and visit Siglufjörður, Hvítserkur or Látrabjarg, all perfect spots due to the lack of light pollution.
Northern lights over Kirkjufell mountain in Iceland
For those of you who wants to venture off the beaten track, there is also the Arctic Henge, a stone structure in the north of Iceland, far from the main roads.
THE BEST WAY TO SEE NORTHERN LIGHTS IN ICELAND
In my opinion, there is no better way to go hunting for the aurorae than a tour. Tour guides have extensive knowledge on the northern lights, and they will tell you plenty of interesting information along the way. Furthermore, tour operators keep an eye on the northern lights forecast to ensure that the trip is not in vain, and most of them offer another trip for free if you don't get to see them.
Besides, it can be quite stressful to look for the northern lights on your own. You might find it difficult to navigate Icelandic roads, especially in winter weather conditions. Who doesn't get a little stressed when driving around a foreign country?
If you want to book a tour, check out ours!
NORTHERN LIGHTS IN REYKJAVIK
Northern lights in Reykjavik, Iceland. Image by author/@angiediam
So, what happens if you can't make it out of the capital? Are all your chances of seeing the northern lights lost?
Of course not! If you are lucky, you might see them in Reykjavik!
Sometimes I can even see them from my bedroom window! However, in order to maximize your chances of seeing them and ensuring that they are quite impressive (and not just a faint green light in the horizon), I suggest once more that you look for areas with little light pollution.
Unfortunately, a little bit of artificial light in unavoidable in Reykjavik, but at least it's not a metropolis!
Grótta, Vatnsmýri and Perlan (in Öskjuhlíð) are the top places near downtown Reykjavik to see the northern lights. All of them are quite dark at night, as there are no street lights or houses around.
You can visit all these places with the public transport! Visit their site to find out more about bus schedules and to plan your trip. Also, don't forget to download their app (iOS or Android) to purchase tickets!
If you can go a little further out, I suggest Mosfellsheiði, Rauðhólar or Hafravatn. As those places are just outside of Reykjavik, they are even better spots to encounter northern lights.
It is better to go there with a car, as Reykjavik's public transport is not the greatest outside of the central areas. So if you decide to visit those places, why not book a car with us?
BEST NORTHERN LIGHTS TOUR
So, you have decided to book a tour to see the northern lights. That's a great choice! I'm glad you took my advice.
You might be wondering what is the best tour to book. With a vast range of companies and tour operators out there, it's often difficult to make a choice.
I'm here to help you with that! In my opinion, our northern lights tour is the best of its kind in Iceland.
First of all, it's a small group tour, meaning that you will be sharing it with few other tourists. Therefore, not only will it be calmer and more relaxing than your average tour, but also it will give you the chance to hunt for the aurora faster, without wasting precious time waiting. The aurora can appear and disappear rapidly, so time is of the essence.
Apart from that, it's also the coziest tour in Iceland! You will get hot chocolate to keep you warm and energized, as well as treats and snacks! Trust me, once you are out there in the Icelandic cold, you will need them!
Our expert tour guide will also give you a little crash course on how to photograph the northern lights! You don't need any previous experience or fancy equipment, just the guidance of an expert!
Last but not least, you will go where most tour companies don't! Our tour is all about going off the beaten path, so that you won't be bothered by car headlights or any other sources of light!
Our tour will pick you up and drop you off in Reykjavik, so it's very convenient no matter where in the capital you are staying!
NORTHERN LIGHTS FORECAST
The northern lights forecast from the Icelandic Meteorological Office
Arguably, the most useful tool when you are looking for the northern lights is the northern lights forecast.
This tool is provided by the Icelandic Meteorological Office, and it gives you live updates on the status of the aurora and the clouds.
You can select the day and time you want to see the northern lights, and depending on the aurora scale and how clear the sky is, you can predict if it is worth it going on a northern lights hunt.
Don't be confused (like me)! The green on the map shows the clouds, not the aurora. Therefore, look for the white areas!
Currently, the Met Office predicts clear skies in most of the country, but a low chance of northern lights. That is because the sun is not as active as on some other days, and it is not sending a big solar storm our way.
If you visit during the northern lights period, make sure to keep an eye on the forecast! It will be your best friend in your hunt!
SOME TIPS FROM A LOCAL
I'm not a local local. I have lived in Iceland for a while, but I am not originally from here. That means that I get very excited every time I see the northern lights, and I always go see them when they are out!
As a result, I have plenty of experience with rushing from place to place just so I can see and photograph them. This experience has taught me a few valuable things that I will now pass on to you.
- Wear warm clothes! You will have to stay outside for quite a while, so bundling up in some good, warm layers is a must!
- Bring a DSLR and a tripod. Sometimes it is possible to photograph the northern lights on your phone, but the best pictures can only be taken by a camera on a tripod, as you will need long exposure.
- Stay patient. It might take a while for the northern lights to appear, so don't lose hope after only a short while.
- Bring snacks! This will help with the patience and keeping your energy up. Or join our tour and enjoy our snacks and hot chocolate!
- Consider the moonlight. If there is a full moon, it might make it more difficult for you to see the northern lights.
- Look towards the North. That is where northern lights usually appear, so if you don't see anything in front of you, maybe you just need to turn around!
- Don't be disappointed if they seem faint. It is very rare for the northern lights to look as they do in pictures to our naked eye. That is because the pictures that you have seen are long exposure, meaning that they have captured the lights over a period of time. Even if you can barely see them with your naked eye, the pictures you take can look incredible!
- Don't believe that you are running out of chances to see the northern lights. I have seen this a lot around the internet, and it is simply not true. Don't rush into a poorly-planned trip, but also don't be disheartened and change your future plans. The sun will continue to send solar storms towards the Earth. It is true that the sun's activity varies throughout periods of time, and that we are entering a calmer period, but I promise you the aurorae will always be there, looking as magnificent as ever!
SOME FINAL WORDS
The northern lights are one of Iceland's highlights. There is nothing quite like experiencing this incredible phenomenon! It is truly magical, and it is always hard to believe that such a thing exists in the world. Words can only describe a fraction of the awe you feel when you see the aurora with your own eyes. It's a good reminder of how beautiful, complex and marvelous our world is.
Seeing the northern lights will make you feel both small and inspired. Yes, it is so much bigger than us, both literally and in cosmic terms. However, you are there, you are witnessing the same thing that humans have witnessed for eons, the same thing that made them imagine gods and spirits and magic fire foxes
It's also pretty damn cool.
I wish you all the luck in the world with catching the northern lights. It is something that everyone who visits Iceland should experience at least once, and I really hope that my tips will help you see them and capture them!
Do you have any other tips your fellow travelers should know? Let us know in the comments! And don't forget to share with anyone who is coming to Iceland!