The ultimate guide to Northern Lights in Reykjavík

Elcia Villa from Dallas Texas asked me on Facebook the other day to write a post about what is the best way to see the Northern Lights in Reykjavík. Why I didn’t think about writing this post myself is a mystery to me so I am more than happy to oblige. I must admit that I don’t know an awful lot about the scientific side of things when it comes to the Aurora Borealis and I hope you can forgive me for that.

Image: Lýður Guðmundsson – used with permission

What are the Northern Lights or Aurora Borealis?

First of all, if you have never heard about the Northern Lights before, you can start by checking out what Wikipedia has to say about them. Basically they 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. Because of their nature it looks like the lights are moving around the sky, dancing if you will,  and it’s a pretty spectacular sight. In Chinese and Japanese culture it’s believed that a child conceived under the Northern Lights will be blessed with good fortunes 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.


When to see the Northern Lights in Iceland?

The official Aurora season in Iceland is from October till March but like with so many other things that have to do with Icelandic nature it’s not something you can say with any certainty. For example, the first Northern Lights of the season in Reykjavík this year were seen around the middle of August. The ideal conditions to see them are when it’s cold and dark outside and the Aurora activity is high. The cold per se is not an factor but the sky has to be clear which it usually is on very cold nights.


Where to see the Northern Lights and how

Now that you know a little bit about the Aurora Borealis you probably also want to know how to see them. There are three things to consider before you do anything else.

Aurora Activity

The more aurora activity the more likely it is that you will see them. My scientific handicap prevents me from telling you why it’s more active some days than others but thankfully the Geophysical Institute of the University of Alaska Fairbanks offers a nifty Aurora forecast on their website that tells you how high or low the Aurora activity is for any given day. The higher the number on the scale, the likelier it is that the Northern Lights will be visible – if the conditions are right.


It has to be dark outside so Aurora spotting is a night time activity. It’s also a fall, winter or early spring activity since  during the summer months it’s pretty much bright all the time.

Clear skies

Unfortunately Reykjavík is usually pretty cloudy which is a bummer if you are on a hunt for those mystic green lights. Clear skies and sub-zero temperatures usually go hand in hand so if the weather outside is cold and still there’s a good chance for an OK visibility.


You can spot the Northern Lights…

…by walking

If you find yourself in Reykjavík with all three magical boxes checked, you should probably put on your hat and mittens and go out for a walk. Keep your eyes at the skies but make sure you don’t walk into any lamp posts or get hit by a car. If the Aurora is strong enough you might be able to see it right away but trying to avoid the light pollution is always a good idea. Head for Grótta light house, Miklatún or Hljómskálagarður parks, Öskjuhlíð (that hill where The Pearl is) or anywhere else where it looks a bit darker than the rest of the city.

…by car

If you are traveling in a group or you are already best buds with all the people at your hostel, you might want to think about renting a car for the night and get out of the city. You don’t have to go far and any direction is good. Many go to Þingvellir National Park but any pitch black place will do. Make sure you dress well or you might be in danger of loosing your toes or fingers in the cold. Not literally but you know what I mean. Check out my buddy James and his Affordable Car Rental for the best prices in town.

…on a tour

If you are more of a organized tours and travelling in a big group kind of person most of the tour operators in Reykjavík offer Northern Lights tours in some shape or form. I know of one Super Jeep company that offers a somewhat strange but delicious combination of Northern Lights and Lobster and my friends at Special Tours offer Northern Lights tours at sea. For a more traditional take on the Northern Lights tour try Iceland Excursions or Reykjavík Excursions.

Finally, it’s probably worth mentioning that right now and for the next few years the aurora activity in Iceland is unusually high so if the Northern Lights is your thing – you should probably hurry on over.

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29 thoughts on “The ultimate guide to Northern Lights in Reykjavík

  1. Joshua


    I’m heading to Iceland for two weeks starting 9/9. I can’t wait for my chance to see this extraordinary sight. By the way, how should I prepare my clothes for my trip in September? Will it be cold that I need a jacket?

  2. Jay Haynes

    And if you’re going to want to photograph them, you’re going to need: A camera that can work in manual mode, a tripod, remote timer, fastest lens you can get your hands on (f/2.8 or faster preferred, but any will work). Get the camera on the tripod, set the ISO to the highest your camera can handle without significant noise (this is typically around ISO 1600), open your lens up to it’s widest aperture and start exposures off at around 5 seconds and and up until you find the sweet spot. Typically you don’t really want to go longer than 15 or 20 seconds as the motion in the aurora will blur in the photograph.

    Also, if you get a night flight to Iceland, get a north facing window and chances are you’ll see the aurora pretty well from 36 000 feet.

  3. Ian

    Hi Auður,
    Very good information on the Aurora which I’m dearly hoping to catch when I visit 11th-14th Nov 2013. I’m not certain what sort of weather to expect… can you tell me what it’s likely to be then? Should I expect rain or more hopefully is it going to be colder and more likely to be snow I experience? I’d also like some advice on what sort of clothing I should bring with me to keep me nice & warm so I can make the most of both the Northern lights & the proposed Golden Circle tour. I also intend visiting the Blue lagoon as it’s something I’ve marvelled at in photos for as long as I can remember. Any advice you can give me woud be very gratefully received including any other sights in & around Reykjavik I should try to squeeze in. All the very best and thanks in advance Ian

  4. Amir

    Thanks for sharing this info. I got all what I was looking for. We are coming to Iceland in January 2015. Hopefully we will have chance to witness the Light :) Greetings from Croatia!

      • Amir

        HI! We visited Iceland in January and we were lucky to see Aurora. It was close to Hofn, south-east of Iceland. Glacier in the back and clear skies. Perfect! We had just one rainy day during our stay. Tip to all asking for rental services – we used It is a place where you can rent a private car from local people. We were very satisfied with the car and the price. Thanks again for all the info.

        • NaniZali

          Hi Amir,
          That is real great experiance. How many days do you stay there that you could manage to catch the view? I have read other blog mentioned that minimum stay of 7 days… phew.. that is very long vacation day for us as we plan to visit other euro country also..
          If it is really 7 days.. could you pls share your itenerary which can suitable to our limited budget.. :)

          • Laurie Quilici


            We were in Iceland for six nights in February. On the first night, we were exhausted, having traveled from California. Our tour was scheduled for that night, to see the lights. I’m glad we went because weather was very cold and stormy for most of our stay. But we LOVED the people, the country, the expeditions we did do, and found all the tour vendors were very flexible. If we wanted to change, no problem, and no extra expense. We are looking forward to going to Iceland in the summer. We went for the lights, and were so pleasantly surprised to enjoy the culture. Any time of year would be great. Happy Trail!

          • Amir

            Hi NaniZali,
            we had really intensive tempo. If remember right, we arrived January 16 in the morning (Friday). Our rental 4×4 was waiting at the bus station. The same day we did Golden Circle and went east to Nypugardar (near Hofn). It was almost 500 km in a day. Although it was two dexperienced 4×4 drivers, it was a bit crazy thing to do on frozen Iceland roads in January. Recommend to make one stop somewhere in between. Sunday we were in Nypugarday exploring the glacier and surrounding. Monday we headed back to Reykjavik. On our way stopped at the Glacier Lagoon (we visited it previous day as well) and black volcanic beach near Vik and few waterfalls along the way. Monday exploring Reykjavik. Tuesday morning on a way to the airport we had few hours at the Blue Lagoon. So if you have early arrival and late departure, you can get two extra days in fact. We spent just 4 nights and seen a lot. The plan was simple – one day intensive driving with short stops along the way, following day just realaxing and exploring the location. But everything has to be planned in advance to be able to cover such great distances in a such short period and not to miss a sightseeing along the way. We had an alternative plan depending on the weather. We’ve booked accomodation in North if South would not have clear sky forecas. We decided which direction a day before arriving to Iceland (book those which have cost free cancelation). So our options were – 1. Fist stay in Reykyavik, then either East (1A) or North (1B) and 2. First trip to East (2A) or North (2B) then Reykjavik. Our main factor was clear skyes North or East to be able to see Aurora. Weather forecast said the best option is 2A and that was great. It would not be wise to have road trip the last part of the stay because you can miss the flight if covering 500 km on icy roads… Hope this will help a bit.

          • Amir

            Concerning the cost – it was four of us and when splitted the cost, it was really budget. Car rentals are cheaper in the winter. 4×4 is a must for icy roads away from Reykjavik. In my previous comment there is a link to community of private car renters. We rented diesel 4×4 for 3 days for 150 euro or soo. It was an older Nissan, but still great car. It was diesel and moderate consumption. the car was the cheapest thing we had. Food and drinks are more expensive. If you have good breakefast and make a sandwich or two, just dinner is to be covered. Not many shops or inhabited places when you go away from Reykjavik. Restock your supplies when possible. There is a short youtube movie of our trip here and my girlfriend published some photos here Enjoy Iceland! Its beautiful!

  5. Cory

    Hey there,

    I was just reading this blog and was hoping someone could tell me the best place to rent a 4×4 camper suv that’s not to pricy, I’m planning to do a trip to Iceland next year and would be planning on going for 14 days, what’s the best choices in your opinion!?


  6. Rodriguez

    Hi :) Thanks for sharing this info. Me and my boyfriend are going to Iceland this year and we hope we could see northern lights. Do you think we are likelier to see northern lights in the end of February or mid-March? What kind of weather you use to get in end Feb and mid March, is there a big difference? We thought of avoiding bad weather of Feb and going on March hopping to get a better weather. However we are afraid of getting too much light as days are getting bigger in March. Also We are trying to avoid full moon so that sky would be darker. Is it more expensive in March? Do you have any comments on this? Thanks for your help!

  7. Laurie Quilici

    We are so excited to visit your city, and country next week. Thank you for your tips and ideas. I know the weather is not too great next week, hope to see the aurora, but if not, we are looking forward to experiencing a different culture. We are from San Jose, CA.

      • Laurie Quilici

        My daughter sent me your link to your web site. We signed up for a walking tour next Thursday morning, looking forward to meeting you. Lindsey said you post pics on instagram, she will be looking for us:)

        Thanks for all the good advice, and information we received.


  8. May


    Thanks for your info. I’d like to know if end Jan/ early Feb 2016 is a good period to experience the Aurora?


    • Auður Post author

      It all depends on the weather and the activity level – it can be a great time but it can also be a terrible time. This year we’ve had a lot of bad weather but the year before that the weather was much better.

  9. Heather

    I’m planning a trip to Iceland with my daughter this fall. Do you think the end of September is a good time to go? I could also go in the middle of October or beginning of December, but I heard that December is very cloudy.


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