Iceland is a scarcely populated arctic island, with many wild, unpolluted places to see the Northern lights. Even though the lights of Reykjavik can't hide them, then they may be even brighter outside the city limits.
When can I look for the Northern lights in Iceland ?
I guess you could say we Icelanders are a bit privileged when it comes to the Northern lights, since we see so much of them and have them visible more than 8 months a year: From late August to the end of April. Any of those months is as likely as the next one to see some aurora activity, it just depends on your luck with the weather.
Actually the Northern lights are active all year long but we can only see them in darkness, when the skies are clear. In summertime Iceland is bright almost all the time, so that is the period when you can not see the Northern lights in Iceland.
You don't have to drive far from Reykjavík city to see them, and if you don’t feel like leaving Reykjavik, you can sometimes see them from downtown, just not quite as bright.
Take a look at the Northern lights forecast every night. Look for the white spots, which mean clear skies. Aurora activity is listed at the top right of their website.
You can see the Northern lights in Iceland as early as August, as soon as the night skies get dark enough and weather conditions are favourable. It helps if it's cool and crisp outside, and a small moon helps make them easier to spot.
You can see them as late as April, and from any corner of Iceland, anytime between dusk and dawn, and seeing the Northern lights concurrently with a sunrise or sunset is one of the most spectacular sights you'll ever see in your life.
(Have you read what are the Northern lights?)
Seeing as the Northern Lights are pretty unpredictable far in advance, the longer you stay in Iceland, the likelier it is that you will see them. If you're coming for a couple of days to Iceland, then you're limiting your chances of a clear sky and an active aurora. Coming for a week would increase your chances of seeing them, and then you might want to go on this 7 day Northern Light Holiday, where you can drive along the south coast of Iceland and admire the country's beauty in the daytime, and search the skies for auroras in the nighttime. If you prefer not to drive yourself, then this 5 day winter package is a good option, taking in beautiful sights, fun activity and Northern Lights gazing each night.
Where to find the Northern lights in Iceland
When you're flying in or out of Keflavik International Airport, be sure to look out the window if it's dark outside, because you can sometimes see the Northern lights right from the plane.
Once you land, you take the road to Reykjavik through an empty, moon-like landscape, and this 45 min drive is a perfect place to spot your first Northern lights.
Since the nights are longer in the North of the country and in the Westfjords, it's fun to hunt for the Northern lights there. Sitting on a rocking dock somewhere in an old harbour is also cosy, and Borgarnes has one you can drive your car onto and sit and wait inside while little fishing boats float beside you - a good trick if it's cold or stormy outside.
Going hiking or camping in the highlands can offer other picture perfect places to see the Northern lights. You're far away from any city lights and the silence of being so far away from civilisation makes it a more intimate experience.
The geothermal area of Landmannalaugar is a popular Northern lights destination, but you'll have to plan it carefully since it's not open all year round and needs 4x4 vehicles to access in the winter.
One of the most magical places to take in an Aurora show is on a sandy beach somewhere, like the south coast near Vík, with lapping waves creating the perfect background music for a Northern lights display.
Ofcourse, the most popular place to see the Northern lights is at Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon, in southeast Iceland.
Where to see the Northern lights in Reykjavik
If you have a car, drive 15 minutes out to the President's residence, Bessastadir, in a town called Álftanes. Here you can watch the Northern lights from across a bay, as they dance above the cityscape of Reykjavik while reflecting in the sea.
If you're carless and staying in Reykjavik, simply take a short walk to the Sun Voyager statue, by the seaside, a few hundred metres from Harpa music hall.
If you want less city lights, make the 30 minute walk to Seltjarnarnes where an uninhabited, dark, narrow peninsula juts out into the sea and provides the perfect serenity of quietude and warmth, since there's a foot bath you can dip your cold toes into. The Pearl is also a good spot to see them.
Northern lights tours and holidays
Northern lights holidays to Iceland have become increasingly popular. Most tour operators now offer a wide selection of tours to see the Aurora.
If the weather does not allow for Northern lights sightings on the night of your booked tour, operators will offer you a refund for tour cancellations or even another tour instead.
If you're visiting Iceland for the Northern lights we recommend that you stay here for a few days to make it likelier that you catch them. Check out some great value Northern lights tours. Most of them operate from Reykjavík, although there are also tours from Akureyri, Lake Mývatn and to Vatnajökull glacier from Höfn in the south east.
The tours are as many as they are varied, you can go on a Northern Lights cruise on a boat, ride in a personal super jeep or you can go on a budget tour in a bus. Some might include another activity, such as caving, admiring the auroras whilst bathing in a hot spring or enjoying a feast of food alongside the lights. Or perhaps just a cup of hot chocolate.
The guides will check the weather forecast diligently and find the best places to hunt for the lights. If the skies are cloudy and there's not a good forecast at the start of each tour, then the tour is cancelled and you can go on it a different night. It's therefore best to book a Northern Lights tour at the start of your trip and keep your eyes open every night - don't leave it until your last night as the weather might not co-operate!
Happy Northern lights hunting!