Can you see the northern lights in September and October? When is the best time of year to see the Northern Lights? What makes the shoulder months so special? Where is the best place to see the Northern Lights in September and October? Should I join an organised tour? What else is there to do in September and October?
These Northern Lights questions are asked a lot. We thought we’d help the shoulder month traveler figure out how best to plan their trip. Many of these tips also apply to late March and early April.
Northern Lights hunting can be tricky to spot at any time of year. The shorter nighttime hours during the shoulder months can make it harder. However the weather is often better in the shoulder periods, giving more clear nights, which is crucial. And these better weather periods and longer days allow more exciting day time activities to be added in. Some dedicated Northern Lights tour companies will wait until later in the night before departing Reykjavik. After all, you are unlikely to see Northern Lights until it’s completely dark. This makes planning the following day’s adventures as a traveler a little harder if you’re out until late at night searching the sky. So we’ve compiled a short list of tips to help you get the best of your trip to Iceland in the shoulder months.
Why should I visit Iceland in September or October?
Firstly, let me caveat this post by saying that there are lots of reasons other than the Northern Lights to come to Iceland in September and October. Hiking on glaciers, sneaking behind waterfalls and watching the autumn round up of sheep are just some of the benefits.
Another benefit of September and October travel is the fewer visitors than the main summer months. So for anyone who has read that Iceland is suddenly overcrowded perhaps these months are for you. Hotels and other accommodation options become cheaper as they change to winter pricing and often are giving out great deals! In some cases you can spend as little as half the summer price in these shoulder months.
If you are lucky, the weather can remain quite warm and pleasant in these months before the winter cold snap. It rarely drops below freezing point until November. You may encounter a little more wind and rain than July and August but then you also may encounter the Aurora Borealis at night too. Worth the extra layers in our opinion. Walking on glaciers and other outdoor adventures are less impacted by the weather, compared to winter months. We as a company actually glacier hike all year round but the hiking in September and October are particularly fantastic. The blue ice starts to emerge from the crunchy summer crust, making your pictures even more incredible.
Daylight hours are still long enough to maximise your daytime adventures. Even at the end of October it’s likely you will catch the perfect sunset as you leave the Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon for the day rather than being engulfed in darkness.
Lastly, according to Aurora Forecast you are twice as likely to see the Northern Lights closer to the Equinox than you are to the Solstice meaning September and October are excellent months for spotting them.
So perhaps you will get lucky and see the perfect Northern Lights show while visiting. If you aren’t lucky then at least you’ll still have a fantastic time at this time of year.
The best place to see the northern lights in Iceland
This answer surprisingly does change quite a lot at this time of year. What options do you have after a day tour? After being dropped off from the Snaefellsnes Peninsula, for instance, with a favorable forecast you can see the northern lights in Reykjavik. Simply walking towards the harbour or away from direct light it is possible to see the Northern Lights in Reykjavik. In September and early October most Northern Lights tour companies will not pick you up until 9/9:30 pm to commence the tour. This means that you have plenty of time to return from your day tour and prepare for a night out looking for northern lights. Although this can obviously affect your plans the next day with the late start.
We advise our guest to spend the night out of Reykjavík in locations that are away from the city lights, increasing your chances of seeing the northern lights on a clear winter, starry sky. Our overnight tours are perfect for this!
Pick the right accommodation
Location is everything when it comes to finding the northern lights. The idea that you have to travel north for the best view is a fallacy. However, staying away from street lights and well lit areas isn’t. Make sure when booking your hotel that you check if they have optimal viewing spots like at Lilja Guest House in the South East on a secluded farm. We often sleep here on our two day trip along the south coast.
Avoid hotels close to a mountain range. You want the entire sky to be visible to enhance your chances even more. Hotel Ranga for example is in an open field with only the stars to distract you. You can even arrange for a wake up call if the lights appear overnight. This is one of our favourite hotels to stop at when running extended private trips.
If you are keen to join Hidden Iceland’s small group trips but still want to chance to spot the northern lights? Then staying out of the city overnight in the small town of Hveragerði is a perfect option. This town is only 40 minutes from Reykjavík and allows us to drop and pick up here for certain tours. We would recommend doing our popular South Coast: Fire and Ice tour first, sleep overnight in Hveragerði, then be picked up by us the following day to join the Golden Circle: Platinum Tour. The wonderful Hotel Frost and Fire is the perfect place to stay. Located just on the edge of town, the onsite hot pools are the perfect spot from which to search the skies.
Join an organised tour that includes other activities
Our view at Hidden Iceland is that the Northern Lights can be hit or miss. One night you will see a magical dancing curtain of green across the sky. Another night you may see a pale white streak. Another the sky will be blanketed by clouds. This means there’s a high chance you could be left disappointed. We don’t like that.
So why not combine your northern light hunting with other activities. Our two day tour takes you to some of the most magical spots along the South coast. On the first day we stop by the Reynisfjara Black Sand beach, Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon and thunderous waterfalls other places before getting to a secluded country hotel.
After dinner you are free to pop in and out of your room to check on the aurora activity. Fingers crossed you get to see something that night. If not then the warmth and comfort of your room is only a few steps away. On day 2 we start off nice and easy with another trip to the Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon after breakfast before heading on an extended glacier hike at the newly designated UNESCO protected Vatnajökull National Park.
If by the end of this adventurous two days you didn’t get to see the northern lights then you would have still had an unforgettable time anyway. This trip can be made to be a private trip and combined with other day trips to extend it into 3 days or more.
Bring the right camera and understand how to use it
The ‘right’ camera actually covers quite a lot of options. On a high activity night most modern DSLR cameras should do the trick if you know how to use it. Even the newest smartphones has the capacity to capture the green colours with the right settings and a steady hand. Although a DSLR camera will always produce better photos. A Tripod is essential to ensure you get the clearest photos when shooting with long shutter speeds.
The camera often helps to spot the northern lights when the activity is very low. The northern lights is one of the few things that can look better on your camera than the naked eye. The sensors on modern cameras are much more sensitive to light than our eyes.
Many of our guides are experienced photographers so can play around with your camera to set it up correctly. Though if you want a detailed ‘how to’ then this blog post by Aurora Forecast is excellent. This website is also great for accurate short term forecasting.
Either way, Iceland in these shoulder months has plenty of things to see and do. If the weather holds up you can enjoy beautiful sunsets, empty landscapes, warmer temperatures, adventures across the country and of course hunting for the Northern Lights. Theres plenty more to see than just the Northern Lights in September and October.
Hidden Iceland specialise in personalised small group trips or bespoke private tour options. Come and find the best of Iceland.
Hi, I am Ryan Connolly; Co-Founder and Marketing Manager of Hidden Iceland.
I’ve guided in multiple countries around the world and stepped foot on all 7 continents. My passion for the outdoors, science, nature, glaciers and volcanoes has led me to study and write about many aspects of my adopted home, Iceland. I have been interviewed by Forbes, Conde Nast Traveller and Travel Pulse on various subjects such as over tourism, climate change and sustainable tourism.