Your illuminating guide to the northern lights in Iceland
We live on an incredible planet, covered in natural wonders that we can see and explore.
Scandinavia is a place that’s brimming with organic beauty, from the dramatic fjords in Norway to the stunning icy peaks, fertile plains and seaside towns dotted across Sweden, Denmark, and beyond.
While it’s safe to say that you’ll find plenty of incredible things to look at in Scandinavia, one of the most attractive sights of all is the Aurora Borealis.
The northern lights in Iceland are some of the most beautiful natural phenomena on earth. Offering a magical, almost miraculous experience for those who see them, these lights transform the night sky with colour and motion.
Iceland is conveniently situated 65 degrees north on the southern rim of the Arctic Circle. Put plainly, the position of the country means that you can potentially see the northern lights in Iceland every evening.
What’s more, Iceland generally offers warmer viewing temperatures than many of the other destinations in Scandinavia.
Another thing that makes the Iceland northern lights so appealing is the fact that it’s very easy to find a dark, remote place for viewing. There are only 300,000 people in Iceland, scattered across an island that has maintained a lot of its natural beauty.
The Iceland northern lights: What you need to know
The northern lights in Iceland are a natural phenomenon, which means it’s pretty tricky to plan your entire trip around them. Ultimately, if you are wondering about the best time to see the northern lights in Iceland, or where you need to go on your trip, you’ll need to start with a few basic things.
You’re going to need luck, patience, and a selection of crucial conditions in place to make your expedition a success.
Here are the 3 things that you need at any time of year to see the Iceland northern lights:
Aurora activity: There needs to be solar activity in the sky for the Aurora Borealis to appear. This is a must-have. The Icelandic Met Office can offer a forecast for you on most days that will show you how likely it is for Aurora activity to take place. However, once again, the outlook is just a prediction — not a guarantee. Additionally, it’s only possible to know a few days in advance what the forecast is going to look like.
Darkness: The Aurora Borealis might be all about illumination, but you’re going to need darkness if you want to view them properly. That’s why the Iceland northern lights season takes place during winter when the nights are longer and darker. Additionally, it’s worth noting that the pollution from the artificial lights in cities can often bleed into the skies and make it more difficult for you to see the northern lights. That’s why it’s essential to get as far away from civilization as possible during your trip. Standing in the rugged natural landscape also makes the experience more natural and authentic.
Clear skies: Remember that clouds will block your visibility when it comes to viewing the northern lights, as they appear higher up in the earth’s atmosphere. Usually, the skies will remain clearer when the temperature drops below zero — which once again makes winter the best time to visit Iceland for the northern lights. Check the forecast to make sure that cloud coverage isn’t going to get in the way of your view.
There are also other factors that can affect your chances of seeing the northern lights in Iceland. For instance, the length of your stay in the region can be an essential factor.
Most of the time, the Aurora Borealis tends to be very active for a few nights, then it slows down for about four or five nights in ongoing cycles.
The longer you stay, the better your chances.
The best time to see the northern lights in Iceland
Generally, the best time to see the northern lights in Iceland is during an auroral storm.
These storms take place during the “solar maximum,” which is the period when the sun is at its most active point in an 11-year cycle. However, we’re not going to see another one of these storms until 2024 — so that might not help you much right now.
If you’re wondering when the best time to visit Iceland for the northern lights is in the following few years, then you’re better off paying attention to the months. In Iceland, the northern lights happen more often than you’d imagine.
Usually, peak viewing season takes place during the winter solstice, between the months of September and March.
This is when the nights are at their longest, and darkness can last for up to 19 hours at a time. However, it’s worth noting that you shouldn’t be booking your trip around a full moon, as this can drown out the show.
When it comes to deciding when to see the northern lights in Iceland, consider arriving about 5 days before a new moon.
It’s also worth looking into visiting Iceland during one of the equinoxes of the year when there’s an equal 12 hours of day and 12 hours of darkness. During this time, the magnetic field of solar energy from the sun faces south to the earth.
Sometimes, this can lead to brighter and stronger displays. This means that you could find that the equinox is the best time to visit Iceland for the northern lights.
Generally, the northern lights in Iceland are visible briefly during the months of August and May — but you won’t get much of a significant display.
It’s also essential to ensure that you’re checking the skies regularly between dusk and dawn because the aurora borealis can begin at virtually any time — not just the dead of night.
The best places to see the northern lights in Iceland
So, once you know when to see the northern lights in Iceland, the next step is figuring out where you should be planning your trip. If the skies are clear, and there’s a lot of solar activity going on, then you can pretty much see the Iceland Northern Lights anywhere.
The best Aurora spots tend to be away from the cities, however, where the streetlights and other sources of illumination can bleach the sky.
While you can see the show from most places, the best place in Iceland to see the northern lights will be somewhere that’s very remote and rugged. Some of the sites that we recommend include:
1. Reynisfjara beach
Located close to the southern town of Vik, Reynisfjara is best known for its black sand beach, ocean stacks, and basalt columns. It stands out as possibly the best place to see the northern lights in Iceland because it provides such dramatic views thanks to the fantastic backdrop.
There’s also a lot of great folklore in this area. For instance, legends say that the basalt stacks were once trolls that tried to guide ships to shore.
Jokulsarlon is an incredible glacial lagoon that needs to be on anyone’s Icelandic bucket-list, regardless of whether you’re interested in the northern lights or not. The unique landscape is a fantastic place to see at any time of year, but it’s also an incredible destination or the Aurora Borealis.
Located in the southeast, the ice boulders on the black sand beach also pick up the glow of the Iceland northern lights correctly, creating an otherworldly effect.
3. Thingvellir national park
Iceland is a pretty sparse country overall. If you’re basing your trip to the capital city of Reykjavik, you shouldn’t have too far to travel when you want to see the northern lights. Thingvellir national park is a wonderful place to attend if you want to check out the sky without going too far afield.
It’s often ideal for providing the clear night sky that’s so necessary for the Aurora.
One of the things that make the northern lights in Iceland so compelling is that there are so many destinations to view the sky that make you feel as though you’re on another planet. At Seljavallalaug, visitors can view the incredible Aurora Borealis while relaxing in one of the famous hot springs of Iceland.
When you’re floating in the middle of nowhere, and the cosmic light show begins, it can feel as though you’re flying through the night sky.
Another fantastic destination to make our list for the best place to see the northern lights in Iceland, Kirkjufell is a mountain framed by lush greenery and waterfalls. The environment is already picture-perfect without the Aurora, which is why it’s one of the most photographed mountains in Iceland.
However, it’s worth considering this destination as your place to hunt the northern lights too. You’re sure to fall in love with the dazzling background as the lights illuminate the skies above you.
Finally, Grotta is located just a short distance away from downtown in Reykjavik — making it the ideal choice for people who want to stay close to the city. Despite being relatively close to civilization, this destination is great for viewing the Aura, as it’s located right at the tip of the Seltjarnarnes Peninsula.
If you’re an avid bird watcher — it’s worth going back to the Grotta during the day too.
Facts about the northern lights in Iceland
The northern lights in Iceland is a stunning demonstration of the world’s magnetic field interacting with the charged particles of energy that come from our sun. It’s a scientific marvel, but also a beautiful thing for anyone to witness — no matter where you are in the world.
Here are a few facts about the northern lights in Iceland to get you excited for your trip.
Different ions can create different colours: Aurora displays happen when energy streams from the solar surface into the magnetic field of the earth. The charged particles move in spirals across magnetic field lines, hitting the atmosphere and throwing out colourful sparks. Because the air is largely made up of nitrogen atoms, most of the colour that you’ll see will be green. However, different atoms can create orange, red, and blue lights too.
The northern lights in Iceland are visible from space: It’s much easier to sign up with a tour company on land if you want to see the Iceland northern lights than to book a space tour. However, if you had access to your own rocket ship, you’d be able to see the same spectacular views from above the Earth’s orbit too. Astronauts must see genuinely incredible things when they’re looking down on the earth from above us.
The solar maximum makes the northern lights in Iceland stronger: The solar maximum happens when there’s the greatest amount of solar activity in the skies. This is the best time to see the northern lights in Iceland. However, there are also an increasing number of solar events taking place in the solar minimum too.
You can still see the northern lights in Summer: Although it’s best to plan your trip to Iceland in the winter if you want to see the Aurora, the lights do appear in summer too. During the summer months in Iceland, the sun never quite sets at the equinox, but circles the sky and touches the horizon instead. The brightness of the midnight sun obscures the northern lights during this time. However, you can see the lights faintly when the midnight sun isn’t active.
You can track the northern lights in Iceland: If you’re planning a trip to Iceland specifically because you want to see the Aurora, there are apps and tools to help. For instance, the SolarHam website offers three-day forecasts for aurora hunters, while the Forecast app shows you where the auroral circle is over the earth.
Speaking of planning a trip specifically for the Iceland northern lights, remember that there are plenty of tour groups that are explicitly designed to help you get the most out of your aurora hunt.
Depending on what you want to do when you’re in Iceland, you can sign up for a tour that shows you some of the most stunning locations in the Icelandic cities, while giving you the chance to gaze up at the skies for a few hours each night too.
Iceland northern lights season & FAQ
The northern lights in Iceland are easily some of the most beautiful and spectacular natural exhibitions in the world. Surprisingly, you can see this phenomenon in various locations across the globe — including from the UK on clearer nights when solar activity is strong.
The Iceland northern lights season is very similar to the season for Norway, which runs between October and March when the nights are longer, and the skies are much darker. However, it’s worth noting that it’s not just the Borealis that makes Iceland such an incredible destination for a winter holiday.
If you’re looking for an incredible place to explore that’s unlike anywhere else on earth, then Iceland is sure to live up to your expectations.
During your visit, you’ll have the opportunity to snowmobile across amazing glaciers, visit some of Iceland’s famous steaming geysers, or even check out the geothermal blue lagoon.
Iceland northern lights season also comes packed with tours that combine things like horse riding and exploring lava fields with nights of gazing up at the sky.
Still got questions about the northern lights in Iceland? Check out the FAQ below.
Q: When is the best month to see the northern lights in Iceland?
A: Iceland has the benefit of being located at a very high latitude, which means that there’s an excellent opportunity to see the northern lights during the winter months, from late August to mid-April. The darker the night skies are, the better your chances will be. The aurora is often at its most active during March and September — which is also the time of the equinoxes in Iceland.
Q: Where is the best place to see the northern lights in Iceland?
A: You can view the northern lights from virtually anywhere in Iceland. However, the best place to see the northern lights in Iceland is from outside of the cities and towns, in a remote location where there is no light pollution. Make sure that you check out our list of great places above to find the one that appeals most to you.
Q: Can you see the northern lights in Reykjavik?
A: You can see the lights in the capital of Iceland if the skies are clear and solar activity is high. However, you’re better off travelling just outside of the capital to some of the nearby more remote locations to have a better view of the lights.
Q: Where can you see the northern lights around the world?
A: There are a lot of places that you can view the northern lights from in the world today. You can even see them from the UK on good days. However, you’re better off heading to the North where you’ll get better views from Iceland, Norway, and other Scandi countries. Russia, Sweden, and Greenland are also good choices. Remember that you can also check out the southern lights too in some parts of the world.
Q: Where do you go to see the northern lights in Iceland?
A: Where you go to see the northern lights in Iceland is totally up to you. There are dozens of tours available to choose from if you want to get out into the more rugged and natural parts of the country. On the other hand, you can always view the lights from the capital city too.
Q: What’s the best time of day to see the northern lights?
A: The best time of day to see the lights will depend on the Iceland northern lights season. You’ll need the skies to be completely dark, which means that daylight hours are no good. Make sure you avoid the Midnight sun in Iceland. When darkness falls, the best hours are usually between about 9:30pm and 1am depending on the day. It’s difficult to know for certain when the Aurora will appear, so make sure you keep your eye on the sky.
Q: How do the northern lights work?
A: While questions like “where do you go to see the northern lights” are common, many people still don’t understand how this natural phenomenon works. Essentially, the northern lights appear because charged particles from the sun are hitting the magnetic fields of the earth. This releases energy which creates glowing patterns across the night sky. The bursts in solar activity are very versatile and create a wide variety of colours depending on the kind of particles in the atmosphere.