Hidden Iceland’s Top 5 Places To See The Northern Lights list focuses solely on when and where you should be when out hunting for the northern lights. Not the likelihood of seeing them. But rather, the best spots to enjoy yourself in Iceland and still get great chances of seeing them along the way. After all, the northern lights are as dramatic as they are elusive. So finding them shouldn’t be your singular fixation.
Some nights you’ll be treated to a bright multi-coloured dancing curtain. Other nights, blanket cloud cover. So picking the perfect place to spot them is very important to avoid disappointment. If you see the northern lights, amazing! If not, that’s ok too.
Hidden Iceland have therefore devised our top 5 places to see the northern lights in Iceland so that each night (and day) is filled with incredible moments. And, if the skies clear and the heavens light up then you can be sure you’ll be in the right place to experience the Aurora in all its glory.
NOTE: The northern lights can be seen as early as mid August all the way through to mid April so don’t give up hope if you are reading this at the tail end of winter.
TOP 5 PLACES TO SEE THE NORTHERN LIGHTS:
Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon (and the Vatnajökull National Park)
Snæfellsnes Peninsula (and West Iceland attractions)
Golden Circle (with hot pools, great food and close to Reykjavik)
South Coast Sights (ample stops while you drive)
Reykjavik & Surrounding Areas (yes, you read that right)
1. JÖKULSÁRLÓN GLACIER LAGOON
The Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon and diamond beach are two of the most talked about spots in Iceland. Witnessing building-sized blue icebergs floating in the lagoon just a few feet from the shore is ample reason for discussion.
But, due to the relative distance from Reykjavik many tourists don’t make it out this far in the darker months of the year. This area is a treasure trove of spectacular sights and activities but is also a great place to find a secluded hotel or guest house for the night. Glacier hikes, ice cave exploration and scenic walks are bucket list essentials. And with no unnatural light on the nearby converted farms to get in the way you can often just walk straight out of your hotel room to begin your northern lights search.
If you are sleeping at a hotel near to the glacier lagoon itself then it might be worth taking a short drive down to the waters edge to get a glimpse of the icebergs glistening under the starry sky (and hopefully the Aurora too).
Hidden Iceland travel to this area as part of a scheduled two day small group tour all winter. On day 1 we focus on the sights, stopping at the impressive Seljalandsfoss and Skógafoss waterfalls, walking along the black sand beaches of Reynisfjara and peering over the edge of the 330ft gorge, Fjaðrágljufur. We get to our accommodation in the dark. This allows us to spend the evening hunting for the northern lights in the surrounding area of the hotel.
If you weren’t lucky with the Aurora that night don’t worry because the following day will be well worth the journey as we spend time watching icebergs float past us at Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon and wash up onto the sands at Diamond beach. In the coldest months of the year (November to March) we explore beautiful blue ice caves. In the warmer months we will go on an adventure on top of the glaciers instead.
To join this small group two day tour you can check out our ice cave version (November to March) or our glacier hike version for the rest of the year.
2. SNÆFELLSNES PENINSULA
There’s a reason Jules Verne based his 1864 book, Journey to the Centre of the Earth, in this area. When first stepping foot in Snæfellsnes his protagonist exclaimed, ‘I’m dreaming with my eyes open.’ It’s perhaps a little cheesy for us but with the deep scarred fjords, towering mountains, distant glaciers and broken sea cliffs it’s hard not to get a little cheesy at times. The ideal place to gain unobstructed views of the sky.
Snæfellsnes is ideally situated just 2 hours north of Reykjavik. In summer, you can squeeze all the most popular sights into 1 day quite easily. But in the darker and icier months it can prove difficult. So why not spend the night? Darkness is a mainstay in this less explored region of Iceland. The northern lights are found here often.
The Kirkjufell mountain (featured in Game Of Thrones) is situated in the north side of the peninsula. Hidden Iceland often sleep overnight in the nearby picturesque fishing village of Stykkishólmur. If you are lucky with timing the northern lights might appear before reaching your remote accommodation for the night. Once you settle into your hotel there’s plenty of open empty space to explore under the stars.
Snæfellsnes is also one of the few places in winter to spot whales in Iceland. It’s also not far from the quaint Husafell area further inland that boasts Iceland’s second largest glacier, Langjökull. You can even can try your hand at snowmobiling upon request.
Hidden Iceland run this bespoke tour as a private Snæfellsnes 2 day tour while sleeping overnight in a remote hotel at the base of Snæfellsjökull volcano or in the fishing village of Stykkishólmur.
3. GOLDEN CIRCLE WITH NORTHERN LIGHTS
It’s no secret that the Golden Circle is a popular spot in Iceland. And for good reason. With its thunderous waterfalls, regularly erupting geysers and cracked ground in the tectonic rift zone of Thingvellir it’s impossible to skip this part of the country. The majority of tourists will travel here during the day, often at the exact same time causing a bit of a bottleneck effect. This further accentuates the belief that Iceland is overcrowded.
However, if you opt to leave Reykjavik a little later in the day, with the intention of staying until after dark, you can often find yourself enjoying the views with a few less people. Make sure you pop into the Friðheimar Tomato Farm for a late lunch and end your sightseeing section of the day at the Secret Lagoon hot pool. Just imagine if the northern lights come out while you’re bathing in the hot pool. You never know.
Once you’ve dried off there are a few unique restaurants in the area to help you fuel up for a night time hunt. You can pop your head out of the window between courses just in case the lights have made a surprise appearance.
Hopefully you’ll see the northern lights as you explore this quiet area. But, the great thing about this trip is you don’t need to find accommodation outside of Reykjavik to keep your chances high. In fact, you’re never much more than an hour from Reykjavik all day so you can return to your hotel fairly quickly when tiredness sets in.
Hidden Iceland run the Golden Circle: Platinum tour with Northern Lights add on upon request as a private tour. If the forecast isn’t favourable that night we still enjoy the day as normal but simply come home early and refund you the extra cost of the add-on. If the forecast is great then we go hunting.
4. SOUTH COAST SIGHTS
The south coast of Iceland is the route to so many places worthy of seeing in Iceland. The Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon, diamond beach, Seljalandsfoss waterfall, Reynisfjara Black Sand beach and so many more. Hidden Iceland run a 1 day tour, South Coast: Fire and Ice, in this area that travels half way along the coast and includes a short glacier hike. In the absolute darkest days of the winter we can simply stop at a safe passing place as we drive back towards Reykjavik at the end of an adventurous day, if the northern lights appear.
But, in the shoulder months closer to the equinox (September/ October & February March) it’s often not quite dark enough on the return. So, we recommend sticking around overnight outside of Reykjavik and combining another tour the next day.
After all, the local farm grown food in these forgotten hotels and guest houses often rival anything you will find in Reykjavik anyway. It would be a shame to lose a night of northern lights hunting just because of logistics.
If you have enjoyed your scheduled small group tour on the South Coast: Fire and Ice tour you can combine it with our more relaxing Golden Circle: Platinum tour the next day. Speak to us first before booking accommodation. Secluded spots like Frost & Fire Hotel are ideally placed along the return route of your first tour, and the departing route of your second tour.
Or, if you are keen to take a private tour and extend it to 3 days of exploring the south coast and Golden Circle, we like to venture even further away from street lights at the converted farm of Hotel VOS. There are plenty of luxury options too in the south coast to choose from too. The Essential South Coast 3 day tour covers the entire south coast of Iceland, an ice cave or glacier hike and all the popular spots of the Golden Circle in just 3 action packed days.
5.REYKJAVÍK & SURROUNDING AREAS
No, this is not a typo. The big city lights of Reykjavík sound like exactly the wrong place to see the northern lights. But you can’t exactly spend your entire time in the wilderness, especially on arrival day and the night before departure day. Sometimes Reykjavik is your only option.
So what can be done on these days? Should I join a bus tour that takes me out of the city I hear you ask? Absolutely not. Seriously, no. Getting out of the city for a few hours is a great idea, but not on a bus. They often go to the same place as all the other bus tour companies and end up creating their own little city of headlights anyway.
Instead, spend a little more time researching the small group tours. They offer a lot more flexibility and insight than the bus tours. Hidden Iceland don’t run stand-alone northern lights tours unless it’s coupled with activities, but we’ve heard great things from our customers when joining Happy World and other small operators. The key is small groups, or even private.
If you are up early the next day and want to stick to Reykjavik even here it is still possible to see the northern lights (trust me). Our CEO even wrote a useful blog post on what to do when you are trapped in Reykjavik. The key point here is, get to a part of the city with no lights in your foreground and facing north. There’s lots of these spots but the easiest to access is the harbour area. Luckily this skirts the most prominent streets in the city. So why not have a fantastic dinner and go for a stroll. Worst case scenario you get great views as you walk home.
So that’s it. Plenty of great spots to travel to without diminishing your chances of seeing the incredible northern lights. Get in touch with us if you want to try some of these places out with a Hidden Iceland guide: firstname.lastname@example.org
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 Iceland. I have been interviewed in Forbes, Conde Nast Traveller and Travel Pulse on various subjects.