Travel bucket list idea:
See the Northern Lights in Iceland
Iceland, being in the so-called ‘Aurora Belt’, is one of the world’s top places to see the Aurora Borealis, the multi-coloured meteorological phenomenon more commonly known as the Northern Lights.
These shimmering, shifting, ethereal displays of light are caused by charged ions striking the earth’s upper atmosphere. They can be many different colours: commonly green, but sometimes pink, blue, red or yellow. Seeing them dancing over Iceland’s volcanic topography is a once-in-a-lifetime experience and a bucket list must-see that’s up there with the best.
There’s no specific best place to see them – they can appear anywhere where there are dark, clear skies and low levels of light pollution. You can even see them around Reykjavik, although the further you travel from the towns, the more intense the light show is likely to be.
For guaranteed sightings, it’s worth taking an organised tour with a professional aurora-hunting company, as they have access to detailed aurora forecasts, know the best spots and sometimes offer a second trip if you don’t manage to see the lights.
With a bit of luck, though, you may see the aurora as an unexpected bonus while you’re off on another Icelandic adventure – perhaps while exploring remote areas like Snaefellsnes Peninsula, the Westfjords or cruising on the Jokulsarlon lagoon. Hotel Ranga has a special in-house observatory. See the links in our recommendations below.
Make the most of Iceland’s dramatic coastline – lunar landscapes, spouting geysers and jauntily coloured fishing villages, tiny against the vast landscapes and ancient glaciers.
Adult price: £Varies
Best for ages 13+
Duration: Min 7 days
A unique glacial lagoon where you’ll cruise among icebergs and marvel at astonishing icy scenery.
Adult price: £35
Best for ages 6+
Duration: 1 night
A wild western peninsula offering fabulous hiking, coastal drives, beaches and glacier walks, easily accessible in a day’s drive from Reykjavik.
Best for ages 8+
Duration: 1 night
A quirky, ranch-style hotel that’s your best base for exploring SW Iceland. The in-house restaurant is excellent, as is the stargazing and Northern Lights viewing.
Getting there & doing it
The good news is that seeing the Northern Lights isn’t all down to chance these days. The atmospheric conditions that create the lights are closely monitored, such that impending displays can be accurately predicted by monitoring stations.
Many hotels and tour operators use these forecasts to offer their guests a handy alert service, so you can be gazing skyward for that first ethereal streak. Many hotels even offer aurora ‘wake-up calls’. You can also sign up for your own alerts (Europe only) with the free Aurora Service.
When to do it
Theoretically, the Northern Lights are visible at any time of year, but due to the endless days of summer in the far north, the skies simply don’t get dark enough to see them.
That makes winter prime aurora spotting season, especially the period between November to February, when Iceland’s skies are at their darkest, and the aurora activity is usually at its peak.
For the best chance of seeing them, you also need clear skies (clouds are an inconvenient hazard for aurora spotters, and unfortunately there’s no solution but to wait them out). You also need low or zero light pollution, so it’s always better to get as far away from any urban centres as you can.
Even so, the Northern Lights are notoriously fickle; they can appear anytime, anywhere. But if you’re in the right area at the right time of year, your chances of seeing them are excellent – as long as you’re prepared to be patient.
If you haven’t already, see our round-up of the best places and ways to see the Northern Lights that also explains in more detail why they happen, and thus when you’re most likely to see them.
Who to go with: organised tours
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From volcanoes and glaciers to black beaches, geothermal pools and the Northern Lights, Iceland is one of the world’s wildest, weirdest destinations. A paradise for adventurous travellers.
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