Wanting to experience the beautiful Northern Lights in Iceland? We’ve rounded up everything you need to know about catching a glimpse of this natural phenomenon.
Seeing the beautiful Aurora Borealis (also known as ‘The Northern Lights’) is high up on the bucket list for many tourists around the world. The solar spectacle is best experienced on a clear and crisp night, which makes Iceland the best place to catch a glimpse.
As well as boasting beautiful scenery and an abundance of wintery adventures, Iceland remains the ideal spot to experience this cosmic majesty.
However, the Aurora Borealis is an unpredictable phenomenon. If you want to increase your chances of seeing them first hand, check out our guide below on how and where to see the Northern Lights.
What are the Northern Lights?
So what exactly are the strange lights that have captured the imaginations of humans for millennia? The phenomenon is caused by electrically charged particles from the sun hitting the Earth’s magnetic field.
This ‘solar wind’ is then funnelled down to the magnetic poles of the northern and southern hemispheres. Their intensity directly correlates with the suns activity and these particles accelerate. This leads to the mesmerising green streaks across the skies.
Although they are usually green, their colour can vary from white, green, pink and purple, depending on the elements being ionised.
When is the best time to see the Northern Lights in Iceland?
Winter is by far the best time to see the Northern Lights in Iceland, Europe, when the nights are at their longest and darkest. But any time between September and mid-April is a good time to book your visit here.
Some people will suggest that November to February are the best window of time to spot the lights, but that also corresponds with the country’s rainiest and cloudiest weather, so visibility may be impaired.
Where is the best place to see the Northern Lights in Iceland?
Unfortunately, there is no easy answer to this question. The ideal location for sightings varies throughout the year, but don’t worry – local guides are skilled at ‘hunting’ them and they’ll be able to advise you.
One thing that does improve your chances of catching the show is to venture beyond the cities. Due to lack of light pollution, it’s best to choose rural areas for your accommodation, with coastal areas increasing the odds even more of catching the Aurora Borealis from bed. The skies here will be much clearer and improve visibility.
Many choose to witness the breathtaking events in Western Iceland. In fishing villages like Akranes, Borganes, and the Snaefellsnes peninsula, you can find great settings to set up camp and watch. You might even be able to do some sustainable whale watching while you wait for the light show to begin.
If you aren’t venturing out of Reykjavik, the Grotta Lighthouse is a great spot. Another spot that may be dark enough is near the dome-shaped building Perlan (The Pearl), close to Oskjulid, or at Hljomskalagardur Park.
The east of Iceland is the least populous part of the country, so if you’re looking for an isolated spot to view them, this may be an option.
What else you should know
Most hotels in Iceland offer a special wake-up service, so that if the lights do happen to make an appearance, you won’t miss it. There are also tons of scheduled tours every winter which are facilitated by guides who are experts in the ‘hunt’ for the Northern Lights.
These include bus tours, super jeep experiences and even relaxing thermal pools. Ever wanted to catch the show from a glacier? There are a number of tour operators that offer that also.
You can also find specific ‘Northern Lights friendly’ accommodation that is specifically geared toward people who want to experience the spectacle.
The length of time you stay in any given place also increases your chances, so best to give yourself plenty of time. The lights tend to be particularly active for 2-3 nights, and then lower for 4-5 nights – so your chances will improve the longer you stay.
However you choose to catch the Northern Lights in Iceland, this will be an experience you’ll never forget. And remember, whether you’re on a self-guided or scheduled tour, make sure you pack warm clothes, snacks, drinks and a good pair of shoes. A camera and tripod would be a good option too, if you’re hoping to snap the event.