Northern Lights in Reykjavik:
When, How and Where?
What is the best month to see the Northern Lights in Iceland? Can you see Northern Lights in Reykjavik? When can you see the Northern lights in Iceland? And what are the best places in Reykjavik to see the Northern Lights?
As you may already know, Reykjavik is the Northernmost capital in the world, and this means that it is also one of the best and easiest places to go to in search of the almighty Northern Lights!
We have all 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, like a lot of beautiful things, nature does not ask for attention and the Northern Lights remain quite unpredictable and occasionally hard to find, especially if you are not sure when and where to see them.
In my many conversations with some of you coming to visit Iceland, it has become obvious that the Northern Lights are one of the sought-after attractions and rightfully so, they should be on everyone’s bucket list! I am often being asked where the best places to see the northern lights are 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.
Northern Lights in Reykjavik quick overview:
- 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
In this blog post about the Northern Lights & the best places to find the Northern Lights in Reykjavik – you will find the following information:
- What are the Northern Lights?
- When can you see the Northern Lights in Reykjavik?
- How to see the Northern Lights Reykjavik?
- Where are the best places to see the Northern Lights in Reykjavik?
- Northern Lights Pro-tip!
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.
Years ago, when the Vikings ruled Scandinavia, the Northern Lights were thought to be manifestations of their Gods, the last breaths of valiant soldiers and the reflections of the Valkyries’ armour as they led the Warriors to Odin.
All to say that, in their natural beauty, they also hold a much more profound beauty, one that will excite all science and spiritual enthusiasts out there.
Now that we know more about what the northern lights are, it seems only fitting that I give you the When/How and Where.
In being the northernmost capital, Reykjavik becomes the obvious destination for anyone in search of the Northern lights, as you get all the benefits of a thriving city with easy access from all over the world, the natural beauty of Iceland and of course, a prime location for witnessing the beautiful ‘Aurora Borealis’.
When and how to see the Lights when in Reykjavik?
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.
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?
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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:
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!
Your travel guide and friend,