If you’re visiting Iceland, you cannot afford to miss the Aurora Borealis, otherwise known as the Northern Lights. This natural wonder belongs at the top of your bucket list! Situated on the fringes of the Arctic Circle, Iceland is one of the best places to watch the Northern Lights. The chances of seeing this natural phenomenon are greater in Iceland because of its geographical position, and Iceland’s small population means lower light pollution. On a clear night, when the lights of the Aurora Borealis are vibrant, you can even see them in Reykjavik! Keep reading to find out all the tips and tricks on how to see the Northern Lights in Iceland.
What Causes the Northern Lights?
Though it may seem mystifying, the secret to this unusual phenomenon is science. The sun’s atmosphere releases charged particles that collide with gas particles on earth. As they enter the earth’s magnetosphere they become agitated by the ‘solar wind’. The particles are then funneled down to the earth’s magnetic poles – the North and South Poles. Aurora Borealis means ‘northern dawn’ and Aurora Australis (the Southern Lights) means ‘southern dawn’ – both named after Aurora, the Roman goddess of dawn.
The particles create a large horse-shoe shape that fills the sky. The different gases found in the particles create different colors. The most common colors are yellowish-green and pink, but sometimes you can observe blue, violet, and even red. The dancing shapes of light created by the particles appear as clouds, streams, and spirals.
All across the Northern Hemisphere, the northern lights have been a source of mystery, mythology, and even superstition. In Finland, for example, it was held that the lights were caused by the firefox running so quickly across the snow, that his tail caused sparks to fly. Estonians believed the lights to be celestial horse-drawn carriages transporting guests to a wedding in heaven. Locally in Iceland, the Northern lights were associated with childbirth. Expectant mothers were warned not to look at the Aurora while giving birth, as it was commonly believed that this would lead to the baby being born cross-eyed!
When is the Best Time to See the Northern Lights?
In order to witness the Northern Lights in Iceland, we recommended you set your visit to September–March. This is when the nights are longest. However, visitors are lucky as sightings are for the most part possible year-round! Most nights, a light yellowish-green aurora is visible. But of course in the summer, when there is little darkness, these are hard to distinguish. The best nights to watch a dramatic light show are the darkest, preferably before the ascent of the new moon. If you’re planning to visit Iceland during one of the equinoxes, you’ll be in for a treat. During these two periods in the year, the Northern Lights are most vibrant. The lights are particularly colorful and frequent every 11 years – the next year will be in 2024!
Where is the Best Place to See the Northern Lights?
For the best possible chance of seeing the lights, travel out of Reykjavik to a place with no light pollution. Favorite locations include Thingvellir National Park and the Blue Lagoon. For those who enjoy being close to the sea, the Snaefellsnes peninsula is also a favorite spot. The Jökulsárión glacial lagoon is ideal for photographers. The colorful night sky is juxtaposed with the whiteness of the icebergs in the lagoon. Skógafoss is another iconic place to photograph the Northern Lights. This mighty waterfall lies close to the little town of Skógar. The waterfall is south facing, so you can take some fantastic photographs of the lights reflecting in the river.
Another possible vantage point to view the lights is on top of Reykjavik’s tall buildings, like the Hallgrímskirkja or Perlan. The Grotta Lighthouse, just outside town, is another popular location. For the ultimate viewing experience, you can opt to relax in a hot tub or a hot spring lagoon. Round out the experience with the perfect tours and packages that incorporate a Northern Lights viewing.
What’s the Forecast?
The Solar Ham website is a great source for reliable prediction to help you determine the Northern Lights forecast. The Aurora Forecast on the website gives a three-day geomagnetic forecast that is highly accurate. The forecast includes information on the likelihood of you seeing the lights in your location, presented on an easy-to-use indicator.
Planning a Northern Lights Adventure
The most obvious place to stay in Iceland for a Northern Lights adventure is Reykjavik, with its plethora of chic hotel options and incredible culinary scene. From there, it’s easy to get out into nature with our one-day or half-day tours that will take you to see the Northern lights and more. Those wanting a full-fledged tour package that includes a special Northern Lights viewing will love this Reykjavik, Iceland, and Northern Lights 5 Day Tour Package. Already have your trip to Iceland all planned out but forgot to schedule a Northern Lights viewing? The Northern Lights Small Group Tour from Reykjavik is the perfect solution. If you’re wondering where to stay outside the big city, we have the definitive list of places to stay across Iceland.
Want to keep exploring Iceland? Be sure to check out The Lava Tunnel & Whale Watching from Reykjavik Tour and the Golden Circle and Secret Lagoon Tour from Reykjavik.
By now you’re probably as convinced as we are that seeing the Northern Lights in Iceland is a once-in-a-lifetime experience that belongs on your travel bucket list. Although they’re visible from several places on Earth, we think Iceland’s unique combination of attributes makes it the ultimate spot to watch this natural wonder light up the night sky.