Iceland is incredibly privileged when it comes to Northern Lights. They are visible from September through May and whether you’re in the city or off in the countryside, they always manage to inspire. In the end though, how well you see them comes down to solar activity, cloud cover and a little bit of luck. If you follow some of these tips below you’ll improve your chances of witnessing this amazing spectacle.
WHAT ARE THE NORTHERN LIGHTS?
Let’s just keep this one short: The Northern Lights are what you see from collision of solar particles entering the earth’s magnetic field high in the atmosphere. These charged particles are able to enter the atmosphere where the magnetic field is weakest, up near the south and north poles. And Iceland being so far north means we are perfectly situated to see this wonder of nature!
WHAT IS THE BEST WAY TO SEE THEM?
TIP 1 — WINTER FUN
With the sole purpose of your Iceland trip being Northern Light spotting, visit during winter. During summer our days are bright and long. So long in fact that the sun does not set for days on end in mid-summer. Great for growing crops and wildlife, yet not so great for Northern Lights spotting. They are visible from September through to May with December and January being the darkest months, which gives you the best chance to spot them. This means that most longer day tours from November onwards will give you ample chances to see them while doing other activities.
TIP 2 — CITY LIGHTS
Escape the city and head into the wilderness. Unnatural lights, especially in cities, will dilute or completely obscure even a fairly strong show. Luckily Iceland’s population is fairly contained around the greater Reykjavík area so you won’t need to travel long distances, somtimes only a few minutes by car.
TIP 3 — AURORA STRENGTH
If you are self driving, check the Aurora forecast for strength with it’s scale of 0-9. For zero or one you might as well keep inside in the warmth but a strength as low as two or three can be an incredible sight on clear nights.
Visit the Iceland Meteorological Office website for the aurora forecast here. The map will show the cloud coverage as well as the aurora activity forecast. If theres is a lot of green on the map then thats cloud, and cloud isn’t your friend in this situation. You need clear skies and the higher the activity rating number the better.
TIP 4 — LOCATION
Location is everything. Avoiding all light and clouds is one thing, but often the brightest and most active parts of the sky are hidden behind mountains, buildings or trees. As ominous as it may feel, safely pulling off the open road and stopping may just be your best chance. Failing that, a perfect option is to find a tour that goes out of the city and includes an overnight stay.
WHERE IS THE BEST PLACE TO SEE THE NORTHERN LIGHTS?
Possibly the best place in the Reykjavík vicinity and a personal favourite of mine. It’s within city yet very poorly lit, which is perfect. It’s facing the ocean making the experience even more majestic.
The closest place to down-town Reykjavík, well within walking distance. I’m sure you’ve spotted Perlan, the big glass dome on top, yep that’s the one, the area surrounding it can be great for viewing.
HEIÐMÖRK NATURE RESERVE
If you have a car then head out east out of the city to Heiðmörk Nature Reserve. It is a stunning area by the city border, away from any lights giving you prime conditions for Northern Lights viewing.
Hi I’m Dagný Björg, a twenty-something Reykjavík-dweller, mother, designer and freelance journalist who loves getting lost in nature, coffee and easy Sunday mornings.