How to find the Aurora Borealis in Reykjavík
The biggest winter attraction in Iceland is searching for the Aurora Borealis (northern lights). The natural phenomenon is caused by solar winds, which blow electronic particles into molecules of atmospheric gases. That chaos creates bright lights that mesmerize viewers.
What is the Aurora Borealis?
The northern lights are caused by particles from the sun and only happen around the Earth’s Magnetic Poles. Iceland is so far north, making it an ideal place to see auroras. The interaction creates the otherworldly light effect known as the Aurora Borealis. It’s possible to see the northern lights when there’s a combination of solar activity, cold weather and no cloud cover.
Best Time of Year to See Northern Lights in Iceland
The best time to see northern lights is from September to March, especially in the deepest part of winter. While not common, it’s possible to see northern lights in late August if the conditions are right—and if you’re up in the wee hours of the night.
Best Time of Day to See Northern Lights in Iceland
It should go without saying that the skies have to be dark in order to see the northern lights. That’s why you can’t see them well during the summer when the days are so long. Below is a list of average sunrise and sunset throughout the year in Iceland.
January 1: 3:45 pm – 11:19 am
February 5: 5:30 pm – 9:55 am
March 5: 6:59 pm – 8:21am
April 1: 8:23 pm – 6:42 am
May 5: 10:12 pm – 4:39 am
June 5: 11:39 pm – 3:15 am
June 21: 12:05 am – 2:54 am
July 1: 11:55 pm – 3:07 am
August 5: 10:14 pm – 4:50 am
September 5: 8:36 pm – 6:16 am
October 1: 6:57 pm – 7:37 am
November 5: 4:58 pm – 9:24 am
December 3: 3:44 pm – 10:51 am
December 21: 3:30 pm – 11:22 am
How to See Northern Lights in Reykjavík
To improve your chances of seeing auroras, you need to be away from primary artificial light sources. This is pretty easy to achieve since most of Iceland is open and sparsely populated. Tour guides know where to go where there is no cloud cover, giving travelers the best chance of seeing auroras.
Advantages of Taking a Tour to See Northern Lights
The easiest way to see the northern lights is by getting a guided northern lights tour from Reykjavik. Your professional guide will pick you up and take you to the best places to see northern lights based on that night’s forecast. Tour guides closely monitor the aurora forecast and know where to drive.
Northern Lights Tours
Companies like Gray Line offer different tours to hunt for the northern lights. Whether you want to combine a search with a day tour or take a private tour, some Gray Line options are below.
Classic Northern Lights Tour
A classic 4-hour northern lights hunt, this tour features a knowledgeable, professional guide that collects you in Reykjavík and transports you outside of the city center, away from the bright city lights. This is a convenient way of seeing the northern lights, leaving the driving and location to the professionals.
Northern Lights & Golden Circle Tour
A delightful all-day tour whisks you away to the iconic Golden Circle sites of Þingvellir National Park, Gullfoss, and Geysir. Travelers get to cap off their perfect day of sightseeing with a northern lights hunt in the evening. It’s an idyllic winter day in Iceland!
Northern Lights Cruise
A truly unique way to view auroras is by sea. Gray Line offers a dazzling northern lights cruise where you can view the northern lights against a backdrop of the Reykjavík skyline and the dark blue hues of Faxaflói Bay.
Dressing for a Northern Lights Hunt
It’s important to remember that hunting the northern lights can be a waiting game. Expect to spend a long period of time outside, not moving, looking up at the sky. Since you will be standing around doing very little activity while you wait, it is essential to choose the proper clothing.
Iceland can be a wet and windy country, so a windproof and waterproof outer layer is a must. Underneath, you should be warmly insulated with a wool sweater or thick fleece. Also, bring along a hat, gloves, and scarf. Lastly, waterproof boots and warm socks are vital as the ground could have snow.
Photographing the Northern Lights
Photographing the northern lights can be challenging for those who are not professional photographers. Some northern lights tours offer help from the tour guide to set up your camera correctly, and you will also get the chance to be photographed with auroras in the background if you do not have a camera.
Can you see the northern lights from Reykjavík?
Reykjavik is unique as it’s the only capital city besides Nuuk, Greenland, where you can see the northern lights from the city. Some of the most popular viewing spots within Reykjavík is Öskjuhlíð Hill, where Perlan is located. Another spot is a few kilometers west of the city center at the Grótta Lighthouse on the Seltjarnarnes Peninsula. It’s common for Icelanders and tourists to gather at Grótta when the aurora forecast is favorable.
Meanwhile, tour guides drive further outside of Reykjavík city center, where there is no light pollution and clear skies give way to impressive northern lights displays.
What is the best month to see the northern lights in Reykjavík?
Any winter month is a good time to see the northern lights, but it really comes down to luck. In order for the lights to be visible, the skies must be clear and dark. As you get closer to midwinter, the nights stretch on longer, and the aurora is easier to see. The conditions have to be right.
It’s possible to see the northern lights from late August to early April, but it’s best to visit between September and March. The night skies will be much darker, improving your chances. If you want an excellent shot at a sighting, visit as close to midwinter as possible. November and February are great times to increase your odds while avoiding the dead of winter.
Are you refunded if you don’t see northern lights on a tour?
For Gray Line, tours are non-refundable, but if you don’t experience the northern lights, you can rebook another northern lights tour for free. If the aurora forecast isn’t favorable, tours will not depart, and a decision is made each day at 17:00. While there is no guarantee is seeing the natural phenomenon, tour guides do everything they can, taking you to the best places to see the lights dance and flicker in the sky.
Is a northern lights tour worth it?
The northern lights attract tourists from around the world to get a glimpse of the dazzling lights, a bucket-list activity for many. Tours give you the best shot at seeing the Aurora Borealis as tour guides closely monitor the aurora forecast and drive to the best locations with the least amount of light pollution and cloud cover.