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What Are the Iceland Northern Lights?

Updated: Sep 1, 2023

First, you may be wondering what exactly this astonishing light show is. The Northern Lights are captivating astronomical phenomena, also known as the Aurora Borealis. These pretty lights are caused by charged particles from the Sun interacting with the Earth’s magnetic field at the planet’s poles.

When a large amount of charged particles from the Sun reach the Earth, they collide with gases in the atmosphere. These particles are then deflected towards the poles, causing the colorful, flashing lights we see, known as Northern Lights to most.

The closest part of the aurora to the Earth is usually only around 130 kilometers away. However, these lights can extend several thousand kilometers above our planet. If we could see the Northern Lights from space, they would look like a giant comet tail trailing from the Earth!

 Iceland northern lights

Where Can I See the Aurora Borealis in Iceland?

Iceland’s location is just a few degrees south of the Arctic Circle. That's close enough to the North Pole, making this unique island the perfect place to watch the Northern Lights.

At a latitude of 64 degrees, Iceland is situated in the Aurora belt. The belt, which includes the places on Earth where Auroras are visible, lies above a northern latitude of 60 degrees. For those in the Southern Hemisphere, below the latitude of 60 degrees.

You can see the Northern Lights anywhere in Iceland, but it’ll be easier and more beautiful in certain places. Particularly, in areas with fewer clouds and light pollution. For these reasons, mountainous areas are brilliant locations for an Iceland Auroras hunt.

Here’s a selection of the best locations to see the Iceland Northern Lights across the country:

  • Westfjords – With longer darkness hours and typically less cloud cover than the rest of the country, Iceland’s Westfjords are one of our top picks for an Aurora Lights Iceland viewing location. This remote setting is home to several small fishing villages, which can be ideal bases from which to spot the Northern Lights. Our pick? Isafjordur!

  • North Iceland – The long nights and sparse clouds in North Iceland also make this a brilliant viewing location. Although you may be able to see the Northern Lights in Akureyri, as the second-largest city in Iceland, the light pollution here can obscure your view of the Iceland Auroras. We recommend venturing to one of the nearby towns and villages instead for a clearer view.

  • Vik – For a viewing location in South Iceland, the village of Vik is one to consider. This southernmost village in Iceland has several picturesque locations from which you can see the Northern Lights. A black sand beach or a hilltop near the Myrdal Church is a great option.

  • Jokulsarlon Lagoon – This southeastern glacial lagoon offers amazing panoramic views. The lagoon is widely regarded as one of the best places to see the Northern Lights in Iceland. View the dancing lights among the serene setting of floating icebergs and the Vatnajökull glacier at Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon.

When Can I See the Aurora Borealis in Iceland?

Famously unpredictable, seeing the Northern Lights is unfortunately not a guarantee on your trip to Iceland. However, if all the important factors align in your favor, you’ll be in for a once-in-a-lifetime light show!

The best time for spotting the Aurora Borealis in Iceland is during the winter months, between September and March. This is when the skies are darker for longer, giving you a greater chance of spotting these stunning lights for yourself.

While the Northern Lights are said to be most active on and around the autumn equinox in September and the spring equinox in March, dark skies are still needed to see the light show. This is why the depths of winter are the best times to see the Northern Lights in Iceland.

Clear, dark skies are needed to see the Aurora Lights in Iceland, so you’ll need a fairly cloudless night. If it’s stormy or particularly cloudy, this isn’t the night to begin your Iceland Northern Lights hunt.

It’s also worth noting that summer sees almost 24 hours of daylight in Iceland, so this is definitely not the time to spot the Northern Lights! Plan your activities for winter and itinerary to boost your chances of experiencing the Iceland Auroras.

Aurora Forecast in Iceland

While it can sometimes be tricky to catch the Aurora, tracking the Iceland Northern Lights can help you achieve your dream of seeing this spectacular dancing light display.

You can check this handy Iceland Auroras forecast tool from the Icelandic Met Office. You’ll be able to see a map of cloud cover across the country. It will show how the clouds will move through the night – perfect for planning the best time and location to spot the Northern Lights.

The forecast gives a number from 0 to 9, indicating how likely it is that the Northern Lights will be visible in Iceland that night. We recommend that a rating above 3 usually indicates that it’s worth embarking on your Iceland Northern Lights hunt.

Iceland auroras

Top Tips to Spot the Northern Lights in Iceland

  • Research beforehand – Make sure you research the best location and time to see the Northern Lights before you set out. Choose your place and time strategically to give yourself the best chance of seeing this colorful spectacle for yourself. The Aurora lights Iceland forecast mentioned above can help with this, as well as our list of top Iceland Northern Lights locations.

  • Visit in winter – Seeing the Northern Lights requires dark skies, so the winter months are prime Aurora spotting time. The winter solstice on December 21st sees the longest night. So, visiting Iceland around this time will give you a bigger opportunity to spot this Iceland natural wonder for yourself.

  • Venture out of the city – As we know by now, the darker the skies, the better. Head away from the light pollution in the cities to boost your chances of capturing the Iceland Northern Lights show on your camera.

  • Be patient – It may take several tries before you spot the sometimes elusive Northern Lights. If you don’t spot them on the first night, don’t give up! Check the forecast again and give it another go. It’ll be worth it, we promise.

  • Bring water and snacks – If you’re going to drive a little to see the Northern Lights, you might spend awhile stargazing and enjoying the night sky before seeing the wonderful light show. Water and snacks can keep you going while you wait.

Driving to See the Northern Lights in Iceland

Looking for the ultimate flexibility to follow your Iceland Northern Lights hunt?

Traveling by car, campervan, or motorhome rental will give it to you. Driving the famous and easy-to-follow Iceland Ring Road will take you to many of the best places to see the Northern Lights. And that includes those mentioned above.

You’ll be able to reach many of these optimal Northern Lights viewing locations simply by following the Ring Road (Route 1). Others will, instead, require short drives off the Ring Road to reach your destination.

Make sure to check the road conditions in Iceland before you set off on your Iceland Northern Lights hunt. The harsh weather in winter can indeed cause some tricky conditions to navigate. Feel prepared by planning ahead for your trip.

When driving a campervan in Iceland during winter, the main advice we can offer is to take it slowly. Be careful at corners and be aware of the strong winds when opening your doors. If you're not feeling sure about a winter drive, you can alternatively join a northern lights tour and enjoy this magnificent spectacle with other visitors.

Aurora lights Iceland

Light Up Your Life With a Trip to See the Iceland Northern Lights!

If you’re feeling inspired to spot the Iceland Northern Lights yourself, the most important factors to consider are the place and time of your visit. By visiting Iceland in winter, you’re giving yourself the best chance to see these spectacular lights. Plan some nighttime trips to fairly remote settings around the island on clear nights. Now you’ve got yourself a brilliant formula for experiencing the Iceland Northern Lights!

Ready to start your Aurora Borealis Iceland hunt? Simply reserve your campervan in Iceland to begin your adventure. As well as watching the incredible Northern Lights, you can also explore glacier caves, hike in Iceland’s stunning natural parks, see volcanoes and spot some puffins on your trip to the magical country of Iceland. Sound good? Let’s get packing!



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