Planning a successful trip to Iceland for the aurora begins with choosing the right time of year. In this article, we breakdown Iceland Northern Lights month-by-month, and explain what the best month to see northern lights Iceland is.
Iceland is well-renowned as a prime aurora-chasing destination, with many tours and accommodation designed around aurora hunters seeking a glimpse of these spectacular lights. However, despite the inspiring photos and travel marketing hype, it is not as simple as wandering over to the icy land, stepping outside your hotel, and seeing them blaring in the sky whenever you like. There are many factors that come into play which allow you to see the northern lights, and the most important one is choosing the right time of year.
If you plan on visiting Iceland to view the northern lights, it is important to make sure that you plan ahead of time. Every year, countless people make their way up to Iceland in order to hunt for the elusive auroras, which can make it very difficult to find available accommodations if you are searching at the last minute. In this guide, we explain the best month to see Northern Lights Iceland, to ensure you plan and book your trip for the right time and give you the best chance of seeing them. We also explain other factors that affect aurora visibility, so you can plan your trip accordingly.
So, read through this guide as well as our other Iceland Northern Lights articles here, and start planning for a wonderful aurora vacation.
Factors Affecting Iceland Northern Lights Visibility
There are many factors that affect the visibility of the aurora borealis in Iceland. These include the location, the Earth’s magnetic activity, solar activity, weather conditions, light pollution, both the season and time of day, as well as the solar cycle.
The closer to the poles you are, the easier it is to view the elusive lights. In the northern hemisphere, the best locations to see the aurora borealis are Alaska, Scandinavia, northern Canada, and of course Iceland. The chances of catching a glimpse of the northern lights increase as you get closer to the magnetic poles.
The magnetic activity also plays a very important role in the visibility of the auroras. The lights themselves are actually caused by an interaction of the sun’s solar radiation with the Earth’s magnetic field. When magnetic activity surrounding the planet increases, it helps to enhance the visibility as well as the intensity of the northern lights. The best time for viewing the auroras is when geomagnetic storms are at their highest.
Naturally, solar activity is crucial to the creation of auroras. The more active the sun is, the greater the visibility of the northern lights. During solar cycle peaks, large amounts of radiation are ejected from the surface of the sun into space. As this solar radiation passes around the Earth’s magnetic field, it results in an ionization of the upper atmosphere. This ionization is what creates the northern lights.
While the actual weather conditions play very little role in the creation of the auroras, they are crucial to ensuring that the elusive lights are visible. It takes very little cloud cover or precipitation to completely obstruct the view of the northern lights. This is why most aurora hunters prefer seeking out the elusive lights during the winter months. The skies are darker and clearer during the winter months than at any other time of year.
The closer you are to a major city, the greater the chances that light pollution can interfere with your ability to see the northern lights. If you have ever taken a trip to another part of the country, then chances are you could easily spot where a major city is on the horizon, by the halo of light that envelops it at nighttime. This is light pollution, and it can greatly diminish your ability to view the elusive lights.
Season and Time of Day
The auroras are technically visible year-round. Astronauts in outer space can view the elusive lights regardless of the time of day or season. But on earth, it is best to hunt for the northern lights during the time of year when the night is the longest. The longer the night, the darker the skies, and the easier it will be to view the auroras.
The level of solar activity peaks every 11 years. This is known as the solar cycle. And while it is possible to view the northern lights during the winter when the solar cycle is at its weakest, the odds of capturing a glimpse of the elusive lights increases during the peak of the solar cycle. During the last major solar cycle, the solar activity was so great, that the auroras could be seen as far south as France and Kentucky. For further explanation of the best years to see the aurora and the solar cycles read our article here.
BEST MONTH TO SEE NORTHERN LIGHTS Iceland
When it comes to viewing the aurora borealis in Iceland, the best time of year is between September and April. While there is no guarantee that you will actually view the auroras when visiting Iceland during these months, the odds of catching a glimpse of them increases substantially.
The best months to view Northern Lights in Iceland is September to April.
Of that period, many seasoned aurora hunters choose to do their northern lights hunting in September and October, or February and March. These months are close to the equinoxes which some people have said anecdotally is best for aurora activity. More importantly, these months side-step the snow storms of Winter, which bring in cloud cover that can obstruct views of the aurora. Not to mention, it is more pleasant being outside when it’s not so cold that your hair freezes and breaks off.
Iceland Northern Lights Month-by-Month Planner
It is possible to capture a glimpse of the elusive lights in Iceland over the course of an 8-month period. Starting in September, the days begin to shorten and the nights become longer. This continues on until the peak of winter when the night lasts for nearly 24 hours each day. As the seasons segue from winter into spring, the chances of capturing a glimpse of the auroras decreases with each passing day.
|Iceland Northern Lights Month-by-Month Viewing Potential
|Early September: OK
Late September: EXCELLENT
• Mild days/nights.
• Mild days/nights.
• Cloud increasing towards end of month.
• High chance of snow cloud cover.
• Very dark.
• High chance of snow cloud cover.
• Extremely cold.
• Clear skies towards mid-end of month.
• Starting to warm up.
• Clear skies.
|Early March: EXCELLENT
• Mild days/nights.
Late March: GOOD
|Early April: OK
Late April: AVOID
Considerations for Iceland Northern Lights in September:
September is one of the first months of the year that the northern lights can be routinely viewed in Iceland. It is best to visit the country towards the end of September when the weather is still hospitable, but the longer nights provide ample opportunity to hunt for the lights. For sightseeing, the countryside is beautiful as the trees express their red and orange autumn colors, and the days are still mild enough to walk around outside comfortably.
Iceland in October Northern Lights Considerations:
By October, as the nights continue to get longer, the weather conditions change and tend to become a little more difficult to predict. While the temperature is still bearable during the daytime, the night brings the first major snowstorms of the year. As a result, it’s important to pay close attention to local forecasts before making your way out into the Icelandic countryside to hunt for the lights.
Considerations for iceland northern lights november:
The nights continue to get longer throughout November, and the air gets increasingly colder. During this time of year, the snowstorms tend to even out, making it easier to predict the best time to head out into the countryside to view the auroras. Make sure to avoid a full moon, as the moon can create excessive amounts of light pollution.
Considerations for iceland Northern Lights in December:
December provides some of the longest nights of the year. It is also one of the coldest times of year to visit Iceland. While it may be one of the best times of year to visit the country and view the auroras, keep in mind that it is also the most popular time of year for tourism. During December, most of the lodgings will be fully booked.
Considerations for January Northern Lights in Iceland:
During the month of January, the skies are clearer than any other time of year. The nights are at their longest, and the temperatures at their coldest, but the odds of catching a glimpse of the elusive auroras increases substantially. Due to the frigid conditions, the chances of finding vacancies increases as well.
Considerations for February Northern Lights in Iceland:
As the year segues from January into February, the nights begin to shorten and the days grow longer. Nevertheless, the nights are still long enough to ensure plenty of opportunities to view the elusive lights. The skies are generally clear throughout the month, which enhances the visibility of the lights as a dance through the heavens.
Considerations for Iceland northern lights in march
By March, the first thaws of the year begin to warm the Icelandic countryside making it more bearable for aurora hunters. While the nights are still long enough to view the lights, the odds of capturing sight of them decreases with each day. Early March is one of the most popular times of year for seeking the northern lights throughout Europe. However, the snow melt will make the ground wet and boggy for outside hiking, so be prepared and take a good pair of boots.
iceland northern lights in april Considerations:
During the earliest parts of April, it is still possible to view the northern lights in Iceland. However, as the month progresses, it will be increasingly difficult to view them. By mid-April, the chances of capturing a glimpse of the elusive lights fade into oblivion.
May, June, July, August – AVOID THESE MONTHS
Iceland Northern Lights in May-August Considerations:
While this time of year is popular for vacationers as it coincides with summer break, when it comes to aurora-hunting it is very important that you avoid these months. The days are simply too long and bright, and the short nights do not have the deep darkness that is needed to reveal the northern lights.
Common Question: Can you see the northern lights in Iceland in July?
No, for one main reason, there is too much sunlight. In the northern regions of the world close to the Arctic Circle, the daylight hours are extremely long, reaching almost 24 hours in some parts. For successful northern lights watching, you need total darkness, to allow the aurora to shine against the dark sky. While the aurora borealis is always there, you can only see it when it is dark. Think of northern lights viewing like star-gazing – the stars are always there, but you can’t see them during the daytime because it is too light. The same principle applies to the aurora borealis. It is simply not dark enough to see northern lights in Iceland in July. You will not be able to see northern lights in Iceland in during the entire period of May, June, July for this reason.
Day Activities to Enjoy While Waiting for the Northern Lights in Iceland
While there are some who visit Iceland purely to view the northern lights, many other visitors to the country want to experience all that the country has to offer. This is why most lodgings offer a wake-up service when the lights appear, and provide an endless list of activities to keep you busy throughout the day. Here are some of the best daytime activities to keep you busy while waiting for the northern lights to appear.
Of course, nothing beats getting up close and personal with whales. May to September are the best months for catching whales crossing through the Icelandic waters, so if you’re visiting Iceland northern lights in September make sure to include whale watching in your itinerary, too. There are countless whale-watching opportunities throughout Iceland. Some of the best destinations to find a whale-watching expedition are Reykjavik, Akureyri, and Husovik. You will have the opportunity to view orcas, humpbacks, as well as minke whales.
Golden Circle Tour
One of the most popular attractions in Iceland is the Golden Circle. This is a route that takes visitors to 3 of the most popular destinations in the country. Visitors who take a tour of the Golden Circle will be able to visit the Geysir geothermal area, Thingvellir National Park, as well as the Gullfoss Waterfall.
For those feeling a little more adventurous, there are plenty of guided tours that will take you hiking out on a glacier. They provide you with all of the proper equipment that you need and an experienced guide will take you out to explore the awe-inspiring landscapes that stretch on for miles.
Ice Cave Explorations
Naturally, if there are glaciers in Iceland, then there are also ice caves to explore. Take advantage of a magical expedition through the many beautiful, blue, ice caves in the country. Experienced guides will take you on an amazing expedition through the frigid blue caves.
For those looking for a little bit of an adrenaline rush, snowmobiling is always an excellent way to see the Icelandic countryside. Strap on a cold winter suit, and head out onto a glacier on the back of a high-powered snowmobile as it cuts through the Icelandic countryside at break-neck speeds.
Hot Springs and Geothermal Spas
Not only is Iceland known for its stunning snow-covered vistas, but it is also well known for its geothermal activity. Due to the high level of geothermal activity in Iceland, hot springs are found at many different sites. The most popular hot springs in the country can be found at the Blue Lagoon.
During the peak of the winter months, when the Icelandic countryside is covered with fresh layers of powdery snow, the best way to view the magnificent vistas is by snowshoeing through the countryside. There are countless trails and experienced guides will take you on an amazing adventure through the wintry scenery. Since snow is of course essential for this activity, the best months for it are the most snow-covered ones, from December to February/March.
But, if you’d really like to view Iceland the way it was meant to be seen, then you have to take a dog sled. There is nothing more thrilling than being pulled across the snow-covered landscape by a team of friendly yet energetic huskies. The time of year to enjoy dog sledding is of course in winter, from November to March, since snow is essential for this activity. But beware, from personal experience, being pulled in a sled at high speed in January is terrifyingly cold, to the point of fearing I had frostbite on my toes – despite that, it was truly a memorable experience.
Final Tips for Iceland Northern Lights Month & Time
By now, you should have a pretty good idea of Iceland northern lights month and time of year options for your aurora vacation. To summarize quickly, the best month to see northern lights Iceland is September to April. To fine-tune that time period, you may like to consider September-October or February-March for your trip. While December and January are very dark and renowned for northern lights, those months are often plagued by snow clouds and it is bitterly cold to spend time outside waiting for the aurora to appear.
Since you’re planning in advance, I also suggest you read about the best years to see the aurora based on solar activity, since we are coming up to a solar peak. Choosing a year with high solar activity will maximize your chances for seeing the northern lights, and it pays to spend a few minutes learning about this aspect of it.
For more resources, be sure to check out our Northern Lights Iceland category page on this website, which is packed full of articles about seeing the aurora in Iceland, to help you plan your vacation.
Happy aurora chasing!
Further Reading and Sources:
- Visit Iceland https://www.visiticeland.com/article/northern-lights-in-iceland
- Thingvellir National Park https://www.thingvellir.is/en/
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