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WHERE TO SEE THE NORTHERN LIGHTS IN REYKJAVIK

Welcome to Iceland...

One of the best places in the world to see the magical Northern Lights!

You might have seen pictures of the beautiful northern lights lighting up the dark skies with breath-taking colours.

Their flowing streams of light, dancing below the stars are some of the most magical and romantic sites that one can see.

However, the Northern Lights remain quite unpredictable and occasionally hard to find, especially if you are not sure when and where to see them.

I am often asked where the best places to see the northern lights and how one can increase his/her chances of seeing them whilst in Reykjavik.

If you are wondering the same things, look no further, this guide will answer all your questions.

Egill Fannar
Egill Fannar
Last updated: July 02, 2020

NORTHERN LIGHTS QUICK TIPS:

  • Best time to see the Northern Lights in Iceland is during winter
  • September-March are high season (August and April can also be great).
  • Evening and night time when the sky is at its darkest.
  • Don’t go looking for them in the day time.
  • They will not appear if it is cloudy.
  • Follow the Northern Lights forecast radar
  • Book the best Northern Lights tour here

WHAT ARE THE NORTHERN LIGHTS?

Before we get into the When/How and Where to see the Northern Lights, let me try to explain what the northern lights actually are and what makes them so beautiful.

The commonly known Northern Lights are called the ‘Aurora Borealis’ and they are a phenomenon that only takes place in the Northern Pole of the Earth.

The lights are caused by the collision between electrically charged particles from the Sun and particles from our Atmosphere. They represent the beautiful meeting between Protons and Electrons from the Sun riding the ‘Solar Wind’, piercing through the Earth’s magnetic field and finally colliding with atmospheric gas particles.

The Northern Lights appear in various colours, most commonly pale Green, but have been occasionally seen in shades of red, blue, and purple depending on the atmospheric gases.

Now that we know more about what the northern lights are, it seems only fitting that I give you the When/How and Where.

WHEN AND HOW TO SEE THE LIGHTS WHEN IN REYKJAVIK?

Aurora borealis over Hapra concert music hall in downtown Reykjavik

When?

The Northern lights require darkness to be seen, therefore if you want to see them you must come in the winter, preferably from September to March. Northern Lights can also be spotted as early as late August and as late as April but remain rarer. Few studies have shown that September and March may be the best months to see them due to the winter and summer equinox.

Remember that unless it is dark, you will not be able to see the Northern Lights, so coming in the heart of Winter, when most of the days remain dark will increase your chances of seeing them. However, even in the shortest days of winter, Iceland still gets a few hours of daylight and therefore you are more likely to see them in the evening and night-time.

Another key tip is to make sure that the sky is clear. The northern lights phenomenon happens roughly 80 kilometres (50 miles) to as high as 640 kilometres (400 miles) above the earth’s surface and therefore at a much higher altitude than clouds. A clear, dark, and starry night sky is the perfect condition to witnessing the lights.

Research has found that Auroras are somewhat cyclical and happen more intensely every 11 years. The last cycle was in 2013 meaning that the next cycle may be in 2024. Fear not though, because as relentless and highly unpredictable Northern Lights are they can confidently be seen every year given the right conditions.

Northern lights over Hallgrimskirkja church in downtown Reykjavik

How?

The lights are difficult to track and predict more than 2 hours before they happen, however, there is a good northern light forecast radar which you can check out to see when they might appear next.

Here is a link to the best Northern Lights forecast in Iceland.

WHERE TO SEE THE NORTHERN LIGHTS WHEN IN REYKJAVIK?

aurora borealis in iceland

Reykjavik is often hailed as the ‘undisputed Northern Lights capital of the world’ because, given the right conditions, the northern lights can be seen from pretty much anywhere in Reykjavik.

However, ‘light pollution’ is the northern lights worst enemy, and although they may be seen sometimes above Laugavegur and the Hallgrimskirkja, they will not have the same glorious luminance as they would have in a darker area and in some instances will not be visible at all unless you are in a darker area away from light pollution.

The good news is that Reykjavik, although thriving, is also proud to be a proud home to many natural areas not subject to light pollution.

These areas are the best spots to witness the Northern Lights in Reykjavik:

The Grótta peninsula

Northern lights over the Grótta peninsula

This picturesque location on the Western tip of Reykjavik is a big favourite amongst locals and tourist as the coastline gives views out on the ocean with no risk of any street lights dimming the effect of the Northern Lights. This makes it an ideal location when the conditions are right as it is only a short drive away from the centre.

In addition to this, when the northern lights are out and the sea is calm, you may see them reflecting off the gentle waters for an even more magical effect.

The Perlan

Northern lights seen from Perlan in downtown Reykjavik

As you’re in Reykjavik, the Perlan is one of those buildings which you will not miss. Located on a hill south West of Reykjavik, the big glass dome-like structure, home to a museum and Restaurant is a great place to see the Northern lights over the city.

Around the Perlan are woodlands, popular for walkers and cyclists, and at night-time it remains somewhat hidden from the city lights below giving a great view of the sky and the skyline of Reykjavik.

Rauðhólar

Rauðhólar, Iceland

Its location in the East outside of Reykjavik, beyond the suburb of Norðlingaholt, is an ideal setting away from the street lights of Reykjavik. Once there you can immerse yourself in the odd wilderness of Iceland and given the right conditions it becomes an ideal place to observe the Northern Lights.

Surrounded by woodlands and lakes, this is a great location to experience nature and the northern lights as one.

Þingvellir National Park

Aurora borealis over Þingvellir National Park during winter in Iceland

Technically this location is not in Reykjavik but located only a short drive away from Reykjavik. Þingvellir National Park is a popular destination to witness the continental drift between the Eurasian and North American plates, its fantastic scenery, and historical relevance.

However, let it be known that thanks to its location, it is a fantastic place to find the darkest of skies and to witness the Northern Lights reflected on Iceland’s biggest lake.

ADVICE FROM THE EXPERT

Experiencing Auroras is not always guaranteed in Reykjavik and sometimes demands a little bit of skill and knowledge. I have personally witnessed the Northern Lights more often than I can count and I found that the best way to maximise the chances of you seeing the Northern Lights is to go on a guided tour.

Experts who know how to spot them, who can tell you more about them and who can truly make it a much more immersive and unforgettable experience. I am very thankful that we offer this sort of tour here at Wake Up Reykjavik, and it is the best one I have been to so far. I cannot recommend it enough to all of you.

Here you can find my most recommended Northern Lights tour from Reykjavik.

And there it is, a good definitive guide to increasing your chances of seeing the Northern Lights whilst you come to Reykjavik!

Alternatively, if you have no luck seeing the northern lights or you have come at the wrong season, there is an endless amount of other amazing things to see and do in Reykjavik, in the evening or during the day. Here are our three original Wake Up Reykjavik tours that all focus on offering a truly authentic, local experience in Reykjavik:

You should check out our guided tour in search of the Northern Lights here, you will not be disappointed!

As always, do let me know if you have any particular questions about this topic, I will be more than happy to help you out further! Let me know in the comments and share this with your travel buddies or partners, because there is nothing more romantic that witnessing the northern lights!