Planning an aurora adventure to Iceland? In this article, we discuss the best places in Iceland where to see Northern Lights, and aurora-hunting tips for each destination.
When it comes to viewing the northern lights, Iceland provides a simply unparalleled experience. The entire country is strategically located well within the auroral oval, and even inside the capital city of Reykjavík, you can view the elusive lights during the peak of the solar cycle.
As well as being a prime aurora-viewing destination, Iceland offers many other majestic natural wonders to embrace. You can spend your days hiking on glaciers and visiting natural thermal pools, then spend your nights staring up at the heavens waiting for the ghostly lights to dance across the night skies. For nature-lovers seeking an awe-inspiring experience, Iceland is unsurpassed.
While Iceland is positioned very well for seeing aurora borealis, as with any country, some towns and localities are better than others for reasons including light pollution and geography. In this article, we share the best places in Iceland where to see Northern Lights, so you can get the best out of your trip.
Factors Affecting Northern Lights Visibility in Iceland
There are a number of different factors that affect the visibility of the northern lights in Iceland. These factors include things like solar activity, geomagnetic activity, weather conditions, and seasonal darkness. When narrowing down the best places to see Northern Lights Iceland, make sure you consider all other factors as well, such as time of year.
Geomagnetic activity is measured by a number known as the KP index. The higher the KP index, the greater the chance that the auroras will be visible. The stronger the geomagnetic force of the upper atmosphere, the greater the chances of viewing the elusive lights. You can monitor the KP Index using one of the apps or websites listed in our article here. The forecasts are generally only 3 days in advance, so this is something you’d do while already in the country, as opposed to plan a vacation date around it.
The appearance of the auroras is a result of solar activity and its interaction with the earth’s magnetosphere. During coronal mass ejections and other forms of solar storms, radiation is emitted from the sun and carried on the solar winds as they wrap around the planet. This causes an ionization of the upper atmosphere that creates the ghostly lights, in a manner similar to that of a fluorescent light bulb.
Fortunately for us, this solar activity occurs in predictable cycles, every 11 years to be precise. If you are flexible with your travel years, then you might like to try planning your vacation on years that are predicted to have high solar activity as discussed our article here, as that will give you the best opportunity for seeing the lights.
While the weather does not improve the chances of the elusive lights appearing, bad weather can make it much more difficult to view them when they are visible. Clear skies are one of the most important factors when it comes to viewing the northern lights, and the notorious Icelandic weather is known to change without warning.
It is therefore important that you visit Iceland during specific times when the weather conditions are perfect. For tips on choosing the right time of year to travel for the most favorable weather conditions, check out our article on when to see aurora borealis in Iceland.
Believe it or not, the aurora borealis is active year-round. However, due to the length of the daytime during the summer months, it is virtually impossible to see the ghostly lights dance through the night skies.
This is why it is always best to visit Iceland from September to April when the skies are darker for extended periods of time. The longer the night, the greater the odds of capturing a glimpse of the elusive lights. For help with choosing the best time of year to travel for the most favorable seasonal conditions, check out our article on when to see aurora borealis in Iceland.
Now we come to one of the major factors for choosing the best locations in Iceland where to see Northern Lights. Light pollution.
One of the benefits of visiting Iceland to view the elusive lights is the fact that it is a sparsely populated nation. Even in the center of the capital city of Reykjavík, it is possible to view the elusive lights during the peak of the solar cycle.
However, for the best viewing experience, it is important to get as far away from any populated area, in order to reduce the amount of light pollution. This means, get off the beaten track and head into the countryside. Whether that means renting a cabin far away from civilization for a few days, or join an organized Northern Lights tour into the country is up to you.
With regard to light pollution, also pay attention to the moon cycle, as a full moon can cast enough light into the sky to dull or even hide the aurora borealis.
During the peak of the solar cycle, it is possible to view the auroras as far south as Tennessee or London. However, geographical location plays a significant role in the visibility of the ghostly lights. The further north you are, the greater the chances of viewing the lights even during low KP events. Due to Iceland’s location well within the auroral oval, it is the perfect destination for anyone who is looking to increase the odds of seeing the auroras.
While Iceland as a whole is very well situated to see the aurora borealis, when choosing a specific spot in Iceland where to see Northern Lights, be mindful of the terrain. Iceland is known for not having tall trees which makes aerial viewing quite good, but nonetheless you may like to stay away from forested areas or valleys flanked by tall ridges and mountains, so that you have a wider view of the sky.
Best Places to See Northern Lights in Iceland
Due to its location well within the auroral oval, Iceland is an amazing place to view the northern lights. You will find that there are a number of excellent destinations within the country for viewing the lights during the cold winter months.
ICELAND Best Place to See Northern Lights
It is difficult to narrow down one perfect best place to see Northern Lights Iceland, since the entire country is so well situated for seeing the aurora that they are visible pretty much anywhere you go. The main hurdle to seeing the aurora will be light pollution.
Therefore, in our opinion the best places to see Northern Lights Iceland are the more isolated regions, away from densely populated centres with city lights.
Iceland Best Place to See Northern Lights:
- South Coast
- Snæfellsnes Peninsula
- Þingvellir National Park (Thingvellir National Park)
This is just our best pick, but make sure to check out all of the following excellent destinations to see which one best suits you and your vacation preferences. Even from the cities you can usually take a tour or drive out beyond the city limits to chase the aurora.
ICELAND Where to See Northern Lights
Reykjavík is the capital of Iceland and is also the nation’s largest city. Not only does the city provide you with all of the urban amenities you would come to expect from a capital city, but also serves as an excellent base camp for viewing the northern lights. Despite its location as an urban destination, during the peak of the solar cycle, it is still possible to view the elusive lights from the heart of the city center. Many Northern Lights tours operate from Reykjavik, taking travelers out to more remote areas where the lights are not impeded by light pollution; we share several of these tours in our article on aurora borealis tours from Reykjavik Iceland, so head there for more info.
Timing is everything, and when it comes to viewing the auroras in Reykjavík, visit the capital city in either September or March. During this time of year, the skies are generally clear, and the auroras are active.
Winter conditions in Reykjavik range from -1°C to -10°C (30°F to 14°F).
Reykjavík is not a remote destination, as it is the largest city in Iceland.
Due to the fact that Reykjavík is the capital of Iceland, it is readily accessible year-round. The main international airport, Keflavik, is a mere 40 km from the city center. During the summer months, it is also possible to reach the city by ferry.
As the center of urban life in Iceland, Reykjavík has a number of excellent museums and galleries to keep you busy throughout the day. You can also take day trips to the nearby Blue Lagoon as well as the Golden Circle.
Visit Reykjavik: https://www.visitreykjavik.is/
South Coast (Vík í Mýrdal or Kirkjubæjarklaustur)
When it comes to one of the most stunning landscapes in Iceland where to see northern lights, look no further than the South Coast. The South Coast is known for its black sand beaches, countless glaciers, and picturesque cliffs. These provide some of the most unique backdrops imaginable for viewing and photographing the northern lights.
While the northern lights can be viewed from the South Coast throughout the entire winter, the best time to visit the region is during October and February. During these months, the skies are generally clear, which increases the chances of viewing the elusive lights.
Winters along the South Coast range from -1°C to -7°C (30°F to 19°F).
The South Coast is a remote location which has only a few small towns. When visiting the South Coast, you can spend your days wandering the streets of Kirkjubæjarklaustur and Vík í Mýrdal.
Due to its remote location, it can take anywhere from 2.5 to 4 hours to reach the South Coast from Reykjavík.
Explore the winter wonderland of the South Coast as you visit the Seljalandsfoss and Skógafoss waterfalls. Take the time to go hiking on an ancient glacier, snowmobile across wide-open fields, or take a walk on the black sand beaches, which can only be found along the South Coast.
Visit Vik: https://www.visitvik.is/
The Snæfellsnes Peninsula is one of the most diverse regions of Iceland. You will find a wide variety of different land features spread out throughout the peninsula. There are majestic coastal cliffs, fire-breathing volcanic peaks, breathtaking fjords, and wide-open fields. The region offers an amazing experience for those wishing to view the auroras or capture them on film.
Although you can visit the Peninsula at any point during the Icelandic winter, December and March are considered to be the best time of year to visit the region due to the increased chances of clear skies.
Winters on the Snæfellsnes Peninsula range from -1°C to -6°C (30°F to 21°F).
The entire peninsula is considered to be relatively remote and is home to only a few towns dotting the countryside.
You can reach the Snæfellsnes Peninsula by car from Reykjavík in around 2.5 to 3.5 hours depending on the time of year and weather conditions.
When hunting for the elusive lights, you can spend your daytime visiting the Snæfellsjökull National Park or taking a guided hike up Kirkjufell Mountain. For a more romantic experience, take a stroll along the pristine black pebble beaches.
Snjafjallasetur tourism: https://www.snjafjallasetur.is/
Akureyri (North Iceland)
Right behind Reykjavík in size, Akureyri is the second most populous city in Iceland. Despite its size, the city provides ample opportunities for viewing the elusive lights due to the extremely low light pollution throughout the urban center.
Due to the length of the nights, and reduced cloud coverage, the best time to visit Akureyri for viewing the auroras, is in January and February.
Winters in Akureyri range from -6°C to -1°C (21°F to 30°F).
Compared to the capital city of Reykjavík, Akureyri is considered by many to be a fairly remote location.
To get to Akureyri, you can either take a 40-minute flight out of Reykjavík, or drive the 4 to 5-hour distance across Iceland.
There are countless things to keep you busy during the daytime in Akureyri. Not only can you spend your days exploring the quaint streets, but there are a number of museums and other cultural centers spread out throughout the city. You can also spend your afternoon relaxing in a geothermal pond, or go skiing at the nearby resorts.
Visit Akureyri: https://www.visitakureyri.is/
The Westfjords are a remote yet popular destination for those seeking the best places to see Northern Lights Iceland. Far away from any major city, there is very little light pollution throughout the region, ensuring the best possible viewing experience.
Due to its remote location and chances for clearer skies, it is best to visit the Westfjords and February or March.
Winters in the Westfjords range from -3°C to -8°C (27°F to 18°F).
Considered to be one of the most remote regions in all of Iceland, there are no urban areas within the Westfjords.
In order to get to the Westfjords, you will need to spend anywhere from 6 to 8 hours driving from the capital city of Reykjavík. However, you may also fly into Ísafjörður in order to shorten the drive.
When visiting the Westfjords to view the elusive lights, there are countless activities to keep you busy while the sun is out. You can take a tour through the breathtaking fjords, visit the bird cliffs or even take a guided tour into the countryside. At the end of the day, sit back and relax in a natural hot spring as you stare up at the night skies.
Þingvellir National Park
Identified as a UNESCO world heritage site, the Þingvellir National Park provides one of the most unique settings for viewing the auroras. The park is covered with frozen lakes and outcrops that reach the skies and creates the perfect scenery for some amazing northern lights photography.
To get the most out of your viewing experience when you visit the Þingvellir National Park, make your way to the region between January and February.
Winters in the Þingvellir National Park range from -1°C to -8°C (30°F to 18°F).
Due to its close proximity to the capital city of Reykjavík, the Þingvellir National Park is the perfect destination for day trips.
Although quite remote, you can reach the Þingvellir National Park in about 45 minutes from Reykjavík.
When you are not visiting the national Park in order to view the elusive lights, you can check out the oldest parliament in the world or spend your days hiking through the scenic valley that separates the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates. After you have seen the many splendid wonders of the Þingvellir National Park, then finish your day off with a guided tour of the Golden Circle.
Final Tips for Iceland Where to See Northern Lights
We hope this article has helped you narrow down which destinations to include in your Iceland aurora adventure. By choosing Iceland, you have already chosen an excellent location for aurora-hunting, and as long as you choose the right time of year to visit and spend a substantial amount of time in the country, you will have an excellent opportunity for spotting the northern lights.
Here are a few final tips for choosing in Iceland where to see northern lights from:
- TIME OF YEAR. More important than location, make sure you visit Iceland in the right SEASON. That is, from Late Autumn to Early Spring. You will not see them in Summer due to the midnight sun phenomenon. Read our article on choosing the best time of year to visit Iceland for aurora borealis for more tips.
- AVOID LIGHT POLLUTION. While you can take tours from the major towns and cities, within dense urban areas the northern lights will be more difficult to spot due to artificial light pollution.
- ALLOW MINIMUM 3 NIGHTS. Preferably you should allow even more time, around 5-7 days. The aurora will not be visible every night, for various reasons including cloudy weather. By allowing enough time in the area, you can give yourself more opportunities to see them.
- CHECK AN AURORA FORECAST. When you are in the country, closely monitor an aurora forecast via an app or website, to find the best nights and time of night to go out aurora spotting. Recommendations for excellent aurora borealis forecast apps and websites are in our article here.
Otherwise, enjoy your time and make sure to also take in many of the other incredible experiences Iceland has to offer during the day time.
Happy aurora hunting!
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