When and Where to See Northern Lights in Iceland?

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The best time and season to see Northern Lights in Iceland is from late September to the beginning of April. One of the most popular destinations in Iceland to witness the Northern Lights is undoubtedly its capital city, Reykjavik. This city is believed to be the first official colony on Iceland back from when it was first settled, just before the turn of the first millennium.

Reykjavik hasn’t looked back, and has continued to grow and be a beacon of numerous breathtaking tourist sights and rich national culture. Reykjavik boasts a great opportunity to witness the northern lights.

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Optimal Conditions for the Northern Lights to Appear

Northern Lights in Akureyri
Northern lights as seen in the Northern Iceland

Aside from the best time of year to visit Iceland for a great Northern Light experience, weather conditions also need to be considered. The skies have to be clear and unclouded. The view sharpens as one gets further away from light pollution in the city; similar to viewing a regular starry sky. Iceland has plenty of rural space so this is not difficult to accomplish. Warmer nights typically catalyze cloudier horizons; so important factors when planning a trip to see the Aurora Borealis is to search the weather forecast for readings of clear skies, lower temperatures, and then get to location away from light pollution.

The duration of the Northern Lights display varies. Some nights they appear for hours at a time, and other nights they are only visible for a handful of minutes.

To summarize, when traveling to Iceland to see the Northern Lights, one can increase their chance to catch them with the following methods:

  • Ensure you visit Iceland between the months of September and April
  • Check the weather forecast for clear skies and lower temperatures
  • Get a reat-time alert to notify you when northern lights appear in your area
  • Stay in a destination that has easy access to skies away from heavy urban lighting
  • Increase the length of the trip in case the Northern Lights do not appear for a few days

Best Destinations in Iceland for a Great Northern Lights Experience

Northern lights in Akureyri, North Iceland
A traveler enjoying the amazing Northern Lights show in Akureyri

Aside from Reykjavik, there are obviously several great spots and destinations on Iceland which are optimal for a great Northern Lights Experience:

  • If you’re up in Northern Iceland, Akureyri is the best choice for hunting the Northern Lights. A major benefit of Akureyri for viewing the Northern Lights is that there are many opportunities to get away from the city lights into a natural setting, such as the hiking trails or water ferries. Also, one can camp out on the surrounding mountains and get a higher altitude view for better chances of the clear, dark skies necessary for the Northern Lights to appear. There are beautiful mountain ranges enclosing the city which can be toured during a visit. Many hiking paths line the surrounding area, and there has been a recent growth in the popularity of whale watching as well, if one is in the mood for a water activity. A few companies run ferry trips which travel through the surrounding waters. The round-trips run a few hours each and many amenities are provided, such as a spare change of clothes in the event of rain or storm!
  • Landmannalaugar in south Iceland, known for its natural geothermal baths, is another great destination for watching the Northern Lights, especially if you’re hiking the Laugavegur trekking trail.
  • Going to a sandy beach near Vik is another optimal spot – far away from the hustle and bustle of the cities of Iceland – surrounded by mother nature.
  • Alternatively, hire a 4×4, bring some food, warm clothes and sleeping bags, and you’ll be able to drive to a host of remote locations on Iceland and stay for the night, giving a good chance of seeing the Northern Lights, provided it’s a clear night, between April and September, and rather cold.

Final Thoughts for a Successful Northern Lights Trip to Iceland

Snæfellsnes Peninsula Iceland
Northern lights seen above the Snæfellsnes Peninsula

Keeping in mind these considerations, just about anyone can plan a successful Northern Lights trip. It is truly an unforgettable experience. Travelers are advised to plan ahead to ensure conditions are best suited for the Northern Lights. The country gets quite cold in the Winter when they appear, especially at night, so be sure to pack warm clothes!

The area of Iceland is small enough to easily navigate the best scenes in the whole country during your trip! Another compelling reason to travel here! Whether you are coming for a taste of the unique island culture, the many geographical landmarks present, the breathtaking view of the Northern Lights, or better yet a combination of all the above, Iceland is one of the best destinations for your next vacation! Make sure you bring your camera because trips to Iceland promises an array experiences showing mother nature in her best display!

Published by Erik Jensen, updated on May 9, 2021

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