Our simple guide to the Northern Lights
When is the best time to see the Northern Lights in Iceland? Where is the best place to hunt for the auroras in Iceland, and where is the best place to see them in Reykjavík? We will be doing our best to answer these questions for our guests here on this page.
What are the Northern Lights or Aurora Borealis?
The Northern Lights are the visual result of solar particles entering the earth’s magnetic field, and ionising. Intensity depends on the activity of the sun, and the acceleration speed of these particles. Northern lights are (usually but not always) green lights that can be seen from places in the far north such as Iceland, Scandinavia, Alaska and northern parts of Canada. If the lights are strong it looks like the lights are moving around the sky, dancing if you will, and it’s a pretty spectacular sight. Before science could explain what these dancing lights were, Chinese and Japanese culture it’s believed that a child conceived under the Northern Lights will be blessed with good fortune so if you don’t like looking at them you could always go back to your hotel for some hanky panky and hope for an heir.
What are the optimal conditions for hunting the Northern Lights in Iceland?
To witness the aurora borealis in Iceland you need patience, luck, and you the following conditions to be met:
The lights can be visible between September to April
The night must be as dark as possible (a fuller moon, for example, will dim the aurora)
There should be as little unnatural light as possible
It is impossible to know more than a few days in advance what the forecast will be. The aurora forecast is measured on a scale of 0-9, anything above a 2 usually being promising. Everything above 5 is very good and if you get above 7 or 8 it is something that happens very rarely.
What is the best way to hunt got the Northern Lights in Iceland?
The most popular way to hunt for the aurora borealis is by taking a guided tour which takes you into nature close to Reykjavík. These tours run regularly from September till April whenever the lights are expected and if they are cancelled or unsuccessful, you will get another opportunity to see them for free. The advantages of such a tour are manyfold. You will be under the care of an expert on the Northern Lights and told where here to find them, and how to photograph them; you will be mobile enough to move to where the forecast is strongest and cloud cover is at its minimal, and you won’t need to worry about driving yourself in Iceland’s winter conditions.
Go see the lights!
Hunting the Northern Lights from Reykjavík (walking or public bus)
It is best to be in the darkest possible place and wait until your eyes have adjusted. Reykjavík, for example, is quite a spread out city with many parks, thus there are a fair few places to do this.
Perhaps the best spot is by Grótta lighthouse, on the Seltjarnarnes Peninsula in the westernmost point of Reykjavík. There is very little light-pollution along this stretch, meaning that, on clear nights with a good forecast, you have a great shot at spotting them. There is also a little geothermal tub, which you can warm your feet up in while waiting for them to show. Keep in mind that you will not be the only person there if the forecast is good.
Other less popular places are Öskjuhlíð or large city parks like Klambratún or Laugardalur park.
Hunting the Northern Lights by Driving Yourself in Iceland
Before driving out of Reykjavík into the countryside in the middle of the winter please check the road conditions and the weather forecast. The weather here can change incredibly fast.
Though providing you with privacy and freedom, this option does have its disadvantages. Firstly, you will miss out on the knowledge of an experienced guide. The guide who not only knows the Northern Lights well but also the most secluded places to watch them. Secondly, driving in Iceland in winter can be quite stressful. Considering most travellers are seeking to unwind on holiday, can be somewhat undesirable.
You can almost drive any direction but three popular destinations would be Þingvellir National Park, Krýsuvík and Snæfellsnes. Please remember to find appropriate parking spots to park the car, don’t do it on the road.
Hunting the Northern Lights by Boat in Iceland
These tours are very convenient and take you straight from the harbour downtown. It does not take long to be far enough out at sea to start looking to the skies in hope. You can also hopefully see some whales in the same trip – here