The Northern Lights are an unforgettable sight, whether they show themselves as a hazy green tinge or a dancing ribbon of vibrant purple. Seeing the phenomenon in Iceland is relatively easy, thanks to the island’s remote location, low light pollution, and dark winter nights.
However, it is still down to luck as the aurora depends on solar wind activity and other variables. Here are a few tips that can help boost your chances of viewing the lights.
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Time of Year
The best time to see the Northern Lights in Iceland is during the winter months of November through March. When driving in Iceland this time, the skies are at their darkest during these months, making it easier to spot the capricious lights.
While you can also glimpse the lights during summer and fall, there are better times for viewing the phenomenon. From mid-April through late August, the sky stays bright thanks to the Midnight Sun. As a result, the Northern Lights cannot be seen during these months.
It would help if you had a few critical things in place to see the Northern Lights. First, you need darkness. Without it, you won’t be able to see the aurora borealis, which are caused by electrons that travel from the sun and get funneled down to Earth’s magnetic fields near the North and South poles. Here, they mix with gases in the atmosphere and create a mesmerizing display of green, red, and blue hues.
If you want to maximize your chances of spotting the Northern Lights, staying away from urban areas and planning a more extended trip to Iceland is essential. While many hotels offer a Northern Lights wake-up service, the best way to guarantee an opportunity to see this unique natural phenomenon is by planning a tour that allows you to venture further afield. Luckily, Iceland has no shortage of wild spots offering zero light pollution for the perfect sky view.
The most common answer to this question is winter – and while we offer northern lights tours throughout the season, it is the darkest time of year when you have the best chances. The key is a combination of factors, including a low moon (a full moon can significantly impact visibility) and dark skies.
Iceland is small enough to be easily reached on a road trip and offers plenty of places free from light pollution, making them ideal for viewing the Northern Lights. This is especially true in larger cities such as Reykjavik, where you can often see the lights while enjoying a drink at a bar or restaurant.
If you want to maximize your chance of seeing the Northern Lights, getting outside the city limits and away from any major roads is a good idea. There are many spots in the countryside surrounding Reykjavik where you can find a quiet place to enjoy the show, from Thingvellir National Park and its stunning ponds to Threngsli Stream and Seljavallalaug Pool. The lighthouse at Akranes is another favored spot where the northern lights can be seen streaking across the sea as you stand silently under the stars.
The Northern Lights can be fickle, surprising even the most experienced hunters with their intensity and appearance. You’ll need to see the phenomenon at its most beautiful in a few essential conditions. The most obvious one is darkness. This may seem like a no-brainer, but Iceland’s long nights make this astronomical wonder all the more magical.
Another critical factor is clear skies. It’s always good to check the northern lights forecast before your trip, but a clear night with a low moon will give you the best chance of seeing the display. The moon’s brightness can also affect the aurora’s brightness, so it’s best to avoid visiting places with heavy light pollution, such as cities and towns.
Strong displays of the Northern Lights are caused when electrons from the sun reach the Earth’s magnetic fields and collide with gases in our atmosphere. These collisions create different colors depending on the type of gas and the altitude of the interaction. For example, oxygen produces the common green seen in most displays, while hydrogen can produce red and purple hues.
Many natural locations in Iceland are free from light pollution, such as the rocky cliffs of Latrabjarg or the Asbyrgi Canyon. The Snaefellsnes Peninsula is another prime spot, offering a stunning backdrop of volcanoes, glaciers, the ragged Kirkjufell Mountain, and black sand beaches.
The northern lights are a fickle beast and can appear anywhere in Iceland. However, there are three key factors to be aware of before you look for them: Darkness (the sky must be completely dark), Clear skies, and Aurora Activity.
If you want to maximize your chances of seeing the Northern Lights, staying outside Reykjavik and on a remote part of the Ring Road where there is less light pollution is best. Many tours, such as Gray Line’s Northern Lights Tour and Reykjavik Excursions, will drive you into the countryside to maximize your viewing chances.
You also want to keep an eye on the KP index, a measure of geomagnetic activity that indicates when the Northern Lights are most likely to appear. The higher the index, the stronger the lights and the more color they will display. It is also helpful if the moon is incomplete, as it can interfere with your view.
Many people think that the Northern Lights only look green in pictures, but they can be a variety of colors, including red and purple. They can also vary in intensity from barely visible to a spectacular curtain of green, blue, and yellow lights that dance across the sky. If you are lucky to witness a show, you will never forget it!