Updated: Mar 1
Iceland’s close positioning to the Arctic Circle makes it an ideal destination for aurora hunters. Long, dark nights and an extensive road network give visitors a good chance of seeing this incredible natural phenomenon. The best time to go is from October to March, but a sprinkle of luck may be needed to score high levels of solar activity and clear skies.
If you rent a campervan, you’ll not only have the freedom to go wherever you please but also have somewhere warm to hang out if the aurora is a little tardy. Point your campervan in the direction of these spots, the best places to watch the Northern Lights in Iceland, and once you’ve parked up, keep a close eye on the sky.
Reykjavik isn’t always included in lists of ideal Northern Lights spots due to light pollution, but if solar activity is sufficiently strong you still might have a good chance. Below are the top two places for aurora glimpsing in the Reykjavik area. Remember that it’s well worth keeping an eye on the forecast just in case.
If you find yourself in downtown Reykjavik, park up and take a stroll along Sæbraut. This waterfront route provides an uninterrupted view north over Faxaflói Bay. Sólfar, better known to travelers as the Sun Voyager, is a distraction while you wait. Jón Gunnar Árnason’s understated design is the perfect accompaniment to the Northern Lights when they do arrive.
Grótta lighthouse is a short drive from the Icelandic capital, but putting that distance between you and Reykjavík pays dividends. Being away from the bright lights of the city automatically puts you at an advantage of seeing the Northern Lights. If the lighthouse itself is a bit crowded, head down to the nearby beach which tends to be a little quieter.
Some say that West Iceland is one of the best places to see the Northern Lights in Iceland. In under an hour, you can swap the bright city lights for somewhere that feels dark and remote – the countryside is ideal for watching this gorgeous natural phenomenon. Try these:
Google “Northern Lights in Iceland” and you won’t have to scroll far before a picture appears of Kirkjufell on the Snæfellsnes peninsula. The combination of this iconic mountain and its waterfall makes this one of the most photogenic spots in the country for aurora hunters. Park up and see for yourself – just be prepared to share the view.
Instead of following the Ring Road as you exit the Hvalfjörður tunnel, turn left and take route 51 around the peninsula to the northern coast of the Akranes peninsula.
Find a layby along this empty road and you’ll have a clear view of an ink-black sky. Farms like Arkarlækur provide a focal point for photographers, while the old lighthouse in Akranes is an easy-to-find landmark.
South Iceland’s an obvious destination for a campervan road trip, whether you head off on a quick journey or tackle the Ring Road in its entirety. Though this part of Iceland is often busier, the convenience of it more than compensates for its crowded nature. Find out the two best choices for Northern Lights’ chasers in South Iceland below.
Few places rival Jökulsárlón for sheer spectacle, and nothing beats the sight of this iconic landmark under the Northern Lights. The whiteness of the glacier and the icebergs which calve from it into the lagoon are the perfect accompaniment to the dazzlingly colorful show above.
There’s plenty of parking and room for a crowd along the edge of the lake, yet another bonus of this popular location.
Vík í Mýrdal
Located within easy driving distance of Reykjavik on the south coast, Vik is known for its black sand beaches and offshore sea stacks. These make for fitting places to wait for the aurora’s grand entrance. Reynisfjara beach, with its cave flanked basalt columns is a common choice, but pay attention to the look of the sea as it’s also known for its dangerous sneaker waves.
Remote East Iceland is often bypassed by those in a hurry to reach Lake Mývatn and the attractions of the Diamond Circle further north. That’s a pity, as its quiet, sparsely populated fjords and lakes make for excellent Northern Lights viewing. We suggest:
To reach Seyðisfjörður you’ll need to make a short detour from the Ring Road, but this easterly port is easily accessible by a tarmacked road. You can watch the Northern Lights from the pass just outside town – the elevated location provides a stunning view down into the fjord as well.
You might also catch a glimpse of the aurora from the water’s edge downtown, particularly if solar activity is high.
Urriðavatn is best known as the location of the Vök geothermal baths. These floating infinity pools are located on the edge of the lake and are the largest in East Iceland. Easily reached from Egilsstaðir, Urriðavatn is sufficiently dark and free of light pollution.
As the Vök geothermal baths open late in the evening, you can take a relaxing dip as you wait for the aurora to show up.
If you’ve driven up to the north of the country, there’s no shortage of places to hang out while you wait for the Northern Lights. Head to the edge of towns such as Siglufjörður or Húsavík and you’ll hit the jackpot if the skies are clear and solar activity’s high. Further out, you might also have success at the two locations listed below.
Part of the Diamond Circle, this horseshoe-shaped canyon is a breathtaking sight in its own right, but if the aurora’s overhead, it’s even more memorable. Magical and mysterious, it’s often referred to as the ‘Capital of the Elves’, home to the Huldufólk. The story goes: the god Odin’s eight-legged horse, Sleipnir, stamped a hoof into the ground, creating the unusual landscape.
It’s quite a trek to reach Arctic Henge, a journey of three hours from Akureyri in the far northeast of Iceland. However, once you arrive at Raufarhöfn, you’ll be glad you drove the extra miles to reach this monument. By day, it’s a giant sundial, but after sunset, under the purple and green ribbons of the aurora, you’ll lose all track of time.
The Westfjords are still well off the beaten track despite improvements to the road network in recent years. Despite its size, barely more than 7,000 people live in its isolated settlements. It’s also one of the darkest regions of Icelandas a result – exceptional for aurora viewing. Our picks for Northern Lights spotting are:
The largest town in the Westfjords is a good base if you’re hoping to see the Northern Lights in Iceland. A well-paved road leads out of town in the direction of neighbouring Súðavík, with plenty of uninterrupted views of the sky and barely any light pollution.
The beached Garðar BA 64 is an interesting enough shipwreck by day, but if you strike it lucky and catch the Aurora Borealis above, the sight’s magnificent nature is elevated even further. This steel vessel was built over 100 years ago in Norway, but its derelict structure has been left stranded near the fishing village of Patreksfjördur since the early 1980s.
Chasing the Northern Lights in Iceland
Remember, the best place to stay in Iceland for Northern Lights viewing will vary according to atmospheric conditions. This means that what might have been the perfect location yesterday could be swathed in cloud tonight. So, rent a campervan, maintain a flexible itinerary and attitude and keep your fingers crossed.
Additionally, remember to find a suitable parking spot before nightfall so that you don’t waste valuable time driving around looking for a safe place. Keep a close eye on the aurora forecast and be receptive to local advice. If you do, it will be a moment you’ll remember for many years to come.