Do you have “See the Northern Lights” on your bucket list? If so you are going to want to add a winter trip to Iceland to your future plans so you can make this dream come true! This beautiful natural occurrence is only visible in certain parts of the World and here in Iceland, we are lucky enough to be one of the best places to see them. The only thing for you to figure out is when to book your trip to maximize your chances of seeing the dancing lights. To help you make that decision, keep on reading to learn the best time of year to see the Northern Lights in Iceland, ways to see the Northern Lights, and helpful apps and tools to assist on your search. We have all the answers to your questions to help you maximize your chances of spotting them!
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The Ultimate Northern Light Guide
In this article:
- What are the Northern Lights
- 11-year solar cycle
- Everything you need to know about the Northern Lights in 2023
- Solar storms
- What is the best month to see the Northern Lights?
- What is the best time of day to see the Northern Lights?
- Ways to see the Northern Lights in Iceland
- The best place to see the Northern Lights in Iceland
- Helpful apps & tools to hunt the Northern Lights
- The best Northern Lights tours in Iceland
Northern lights dancing over Kirkjufell Mountain
What are the Northern Lights?
First off let’s do a quick science lesson on what exactly causes the Northern Lights. The Northern Lights occur because of an interaction between the solar wind, which is the stream of charged particles emanating from the sun, and the Earth's magnetic field. The lights we see in the night sky are actually caused by activity on the surface of the sun. Solar storms give out huge clouds of electrically charged particles. These particles then travel to Earth's hemisphere and appear in a clear sky as swirling rivers of greenish-blue light. This occurs around the Polar Regions where magnetic fields cover. Meaning, not everywhere is lucky enough to see the Northern Lights, in fact, they typically can only be seen between 60-75 degrees of latitude which covers northern parts of Canada, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Alaska, Russia, and ALL of Iceland.
There is nothing more magical than being bundled up and watching the mystical streaks of color dance their way across the dark winter sky!
Imagine standing under the green-lit sky, marveling at the display of lights.
11-year solar cycle
For those looking to get into even more details about the Northern Lights let’s talk about the 11-year cycle solar cycle. In the longer term, auroral displays are correlated with an 11-year cycle in sunspot activity and other perturbations of the sun; the more restless the sun, the more aurorae. For example, in the years 2006-2007, we saw a minimum in solar activity, and in 2013 there was a solar maximum. We are now in the middle period of activity according to the 11-year cycle building up to the next maximum happening in the year 2025 where it can be expected to have an increase in Northern Lights displays for another two or three years after that.
It is important to note that even when we are in a solar minimum period that does not mean that there are no Aurora displays. The Northern Lights don’t just go dormant for a few years at a time. Instead, it just means that there may be fewer, further apart, and not as strong, Northern Light activity. In Iceland, though we still witness some spectacular Northern Lights displays regardless of where we are in the solar cycle, and there is research that suggests that some of the most powerful Aurora displays have occurred during a solar minimum period. So take this information as you will, isn’t science fascinating?!
Everything you need to know about the Northern Lights in 2023
Now that you have had a brief science lesson in the 11-year solar cycle follow let’s talk about how this affects the 2023 outlook for northern lights. Knowing that solar maximum is in 2025 this means 2023 is predicted to be a very good year for seeing the beautiful auroas! March and September are notorious for being the best months to see the Northern Lights, thanks in large part to mild weather keeping the night skies clear. When you add in the approaching solar maximum you can only imagine the magic the skies may be creating during this time! In short, 2023 is looking to be a year full of more nights of Northern Lights activity that include bigger displays of the magical dancing lights.
A lighthouse under wonderful streaks of green and purple
In addition to these more or less regular variations in the frequency of the aurora, there are also less predictable, erratic displays resulting from solar storms. Some of these, particularly near solar-activity maximum, can lead to visible Northern Lights remarkably far south if you're in an area with clear, transparent night skies. In places that typically can see the Northern Lights, such as Iceland, a solar storm causes the lights to be very intense with vivid colors dancing across the sky. If you are lucky enough to witness the Northern Lights during a solar storm you will be in for quite the show and likely will get to see additional colors such as purple and red mixed in with the greenish-yellow lights.
What is the best month to see the Northern lights?
Choosing the best month is like choosing our favorite waterfall in Iceland, it is impossible to give just one answer! However, we will provide some information on the Northern Light season so you can make the decision on the best month for your trip to Iceland.
First off, the most important step needed for the Northern Lights to be visible is darkness. This may seem like a given, and not provide you with much insight because everywhere has nighttime, and nighttime equals darkness. Except in Iceland where that actually isn’t always the case. During the months of mid-April to late August, the nighttime skies actually stay quite bright thanks to the Midnight Sun, which means that even if the Northern Lights are out and active they would not be visible in the bright nighttime skies.
With all that in mind, we can now narrow down the months to late August to mid-April for the official Northern Light season. Now let’s break it down even further to help maximize your chances of seeing the Northern Lights.
From late September to late March the sun sets by 6 pm meaning you can get an earlier start on your Northern Light search. An annual trend we see in Iceland is that the Northern Lights are at their peak in September and March which we can thank the equinox in these months for. Looking at the other months in the Northern Light season, November through February are the darkest months in Iceland with just a few hours of daylight per day meaning they offer the longest evenings which can increase your chance of seeing the Northern Lights. However, one caveat we will add, during these months we can get some winter storms which cause heavy cloud coverage. Since clear skies are needed to see the Northern Lights a dark evening with heavy cloud coverage would not be ideal.
As you can see, there is really no one best answer to this question, it is all about taking into account the pros and cons of each month and making the best decision for your travel plans. Being a naturally occurring phenomenon, the appearance of the Northern Lights is notoriously difficult to predict any further in advance than about two hours before it happens. So much is dependent on solar activity and, whilst we can estimate the number of sunspots that might occur on the sun, we can’t accurately predict either when they will occur or how frequently.
No matter what month you chose to visit Iceland, joining a Northern Light tour can help maximize your chances of viewing the Aurora as the guides are trained to watch the forecast closely and find the best viewing spots for that particular evening.
What is the best time of day to see the Northern Lights?
Now that you understand the science behind the Northern Lights you are well aware that first and foremost, to see the Northern Lights, the skies must be dark. This immediately rules out daylight hours and, contrary to popular opinion, it is not pitch black in Iceland for the entire winter. Despite the sun not appearing above the horizon, even on the shortest day, 21 December, Iceland still gets three to four hours of beautiful gray/blue light which renders the Northern Lights invisible to the naked eye.
Once darkness falls, the Aurora can be visible at any time of day, but even with a dark sky, it seems the Northern Lights like to wait to come out until between 9.30 pm to 1 am with a peak in activity happening between 11pm-1am when the sky is the darkest.
Bonus tip! Not so much a night owl but don’t want to miss your chance at seeing the Northern Lights? A lot of hotels offer a complimentary Northern Light “wake up service” so you can get some rest and they will call you to let you know if the lights are out dancing in the sky.
Clear, crisp sky away from light pollution
Ways to see the Northern Lights in Iceland
People tend to picture seeingthe Northern Lights as they step outside the door of their accommodation. Or maybe you imagine it happens while out for an evening stroll in Reykjavik. You may have even been told you can only see the Northern Lights by taking a bus tour to a lava field outside of the city. While these are all actually ways you can see the Northern LIghts in Iceland there is actually an even broader variety of options!
You can spot the Northern Lights…
If the conditions above are in your favour, the Northern Lights may appear in the sky above you. And you may not have to walk very far to enjoy a magnificent display of colourful lights! Put on your warmest jacket, hat and mittens and go for a walk. Enjoy the silence of the crisp Icelandic winter night and be amazed by the Aurora. Depending on where you are walking you may need to head away from bright city lights. But as always, practice safety first and be aware of your surroundings, you don’t want to miss a moment of the Northern Light’s magic by getting lost.
If you are doing a self-drive tour and have a rental car, you can drive in almost any direction in the search for the perfect spot. You just never know when you will be out driving and the Northern Lights will appear so keep a look out as you enjoy your road trip. Just remember to drive carefully in the dark and snowy winter nights, and be sure to pull off in a designated parking area well away from the side of the road.
…on a guided tour
If you like organized tours and want to be in the safe hands of a local guide, you can book a scheduled Northern Lights tour through a number of tour operators. The guides are skilled in ‘hunting’ for the Northern Lights and knowing the best locations to spot them based on each night’s Aurora and weather forecast. Northern Lights tours are scheduled almost daily during winter. You can take a bus tour, super jeep experience, a boat ride, float in geothermal pools or even view them from the top of a glacier. You are bound to find at least one tour that appeals to you. There are many advantages to booking a scheduled Northern Lights tour. Guided tours have the advantage of being led by experts who closely follow the forecasts and have knowledge about road conditions and terrain. Another benefit is you won’t have to worry about driving yourself in the dark and snowy winter night. Of course, those tours will also take you to landscapes and location you may otherwise not experience. An added bonus of one of these tours, if you do not have any luck on seeing the Northern Light’s most tours will include taking you out forthe coming nights until you do get your magical Northern Light sighting.
… on a boat
This might not be an option you have thought of before, but what a memorable experience it would be! A Northern Lights hunt at sea is an amazing experience and you will find a few operators offering these amazing tours. Great scenery and absolutely unique experience.
…in the countryside
Stay at an Icelandic countryside accommodation for a few days to maximise your chances of seeing the Northern Lights away from the city lights. Enjoy the warm atmosphere of an Icelandic farm, get to know the locals, explore nearby natural attractions by day and hunt for the Northern Lights by night.
Auroras dancing over Skógafoss Waterfall
Where is the Best Place to See the Northern Lights in Iceland
- Can you see the Northern Lights from Reykjavík?
- Can you see the Northern Lights from the Blue Lagoon?
Northern Lights trips are organized around the country all winter long. There are for example numerous tour operators offering these late-night sightseeing excursions from Reykjavík, of which we recommend theNorthern Lights Mystery Tourand. The ideal location for sightings varies and the local guides are skilled in ‘hunting’ the lights, finding locations where conditions are best for seeing them each night.
In most cases, chances of catching the Northern Lights are immediately improved outside populated areas, away from city lights. That being said, the Aurora can often be seen dancing over the capital and other towns. Most hotels around the country offer a special Northern Lights wake-up service, so if lights happen to appear, they will let you know. A longer stay in one location will also improve your chances of spotting this magical natural phenomenon.
Helpful apps & tools to hunt the Northern Lights
Now that you have all the tips to keep yourself safe, let's add a few more into the mix to help increase your chances of seeing the Northern Lights in Iceland.
- Before you head outside, check the Aurora forecast online here to see which area will have the best chance of spotting the Northern Lights - pay attention to the cloud cover!
- Request a wake-up call at your accommodation. Many accommodations offer a Northern Lights wake-up call so be sure to request one before you go to sleep so you won’t have to worry about missing the show.
- Join this Facebook group where locals post when the Northern Lights are active in their area. It is a great way to get a heads up by the locals who are always on the watch for them.
- Download the Hello Aurora app and be able to check the forecast wherever you are.
- Northern lights almost always start from the north direction, so when keeping a lookout for them to appear look north!
The further you travel from cities and towns, the bigger the chances of spotting the Northern Lights
The best Northern Lights tours in Iceland
Looking for a self-drive itinerary for hunting the Northern Lights in Iceland? Or a fun and unique activity or day tour with an expert guide?
Look no further!
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View our bestseller Northern Lights 8 day Self-Drive Tour!
Northern Lights day tours and experiences
Interested in learning even more about the fascinating Northern Lights? We recommend you take a look at our article about How, Where, and When to See the Northern Lights in Iceland, and make sure you are prepared for your Northern Light adventure with this post all about how to view the Aurora safely. And if you are convinced already, then hop on our Northern Lights Mystery Tour and Northern Lights Super Jeep Hunt!
- local tips
- northern lights
- winter favourites
About the author
I am a born and bred Icelander and the matriarch of an above-average sized family. I have a true passion for travel and love to discover new destinations and cultures. I want to introduce you to the real Iceland, the beauty, the history, and the things that will make you fall deeply in love with my homeland.
Will 2023 be a good year for the northern lights in Iceland? ›
February 2023 is the final month of the winter and offers great chance at capturing the northern lights. March 2023 is likely to be the BEST month of the season as with history has shown, it has the easiest weather. Anybody wanting to maximize their chances at seeing the lights, March is their go-to month.Is 2023 a good time to see Northern Lights? ›
A single year can produce drastic changes in solar activity, but 2023 could see something very special. Every solar cycle is different, but solar cycle 25 is proving to be very positive for great aurora displays compared to solar cycle 24. Zafra has observed for himself an uptick in auroral activity.What month is best for northern lights in Iceland? ›
The best month to see the northern lights in Iceland is December, as it's the month when the nights are longest and darkest. As a result, you have the opportunity to see the aurora borealis from the hours of 15:30 in the afternoon to 11:30 in the morning.What time are you most likely to see the northern lights in Iceland? ›
Northern lights often appear during the darkest part of the night, so most sightings happen between 11 PM and 2 AM. You can spend the night stargazing, on the lookout for this otherworldly display.What is the best month to go to Iceland 2023? ›
Overall, we've found 2 times of year that are the best time to visit Iceland: May to mid-June and mid-June to September. Visit during May to mid-June if you want warmer temperatures, moderate crowds, and slightly lower airfare and accommodations prices.How far in advance can Northern Lights be predicted? ›
It is difficult to predict the Northern Lights over the long term. Coronal mass ejections, which cause most of the solar storms and, therefore, stronger Auroras, are forecast 15 days in advance, but their strength and shape can vary once they get closer to Earth.How to see aurora borealis 2023? ›
- Tromso, Norway. Based in the heart of the aurora zone in the Norwegian Arctic, the city is widely regarded as one of the world's best places to see the Northern Lights. ...
- Swedish Lapland. ...
- Reykjavik, Iceland. ...
- Rovaniemi, Finnish Lapland. ...
- Ilulissat, Greenland. ...
- Svalbard, Norway.
As a naturally occurring phenomenon, the appearance of the Northern Lights is notoriously difficult to predict any further in advance than about two hours before it happens.What months are the Northern Lights most active? ›
The winter season in the Arctic lasts from late September to late March/ early April. During this time, the Arctic sky is dark enough for the Northern Lights to be visible in the right conditions. The aurora is at its most active around the equinoxes in March and September.How can I increase my chances of seeing the northern lights in Iceland? ›
- Darkness. To view the most intense and vibrant displays, the sky should be as dark as possible, away from the light pollution of populated areas. ...
- Clear skies. ...
- High aurora activity.
Is it guaranteed to see northern lights in Iceland? ›
There are no guarantees that you will see the Northern Lights during your stay, but in most cases, sightings are greatly improved outside populated areas, especially away from the light pollution of the capital. A number of hotels in the countryside offer a special Northern Lights wake-up service.Do northern lights happen every night? ›
There is no official season since the northern lights are almost always present, day and night. Caused by charged particles from the sun hitting atoms in Earth's atmosphere and releasing photons, it's a process that happens constantly.What time is best to watch northern lights? ›
November through to February offer the darkest skies and longer evenings for maximum sky-gazing. The strongest lights tend to appear between 9pm and 2am, though the best sightings often occur between 11pm and midnight.Where is the best chance to see northern lights in Iceland? ›
The best place to see the northern lights in Iceland is the Jokulsarlon glacier lagoon, which lies by the Vatnajokull glacier. You can drive to the lagoon along the Ring Road from Vik or find one of the black sand beaches of South Iceland to enjoy the view of the lights dancing across the sky.What is the best way to see the northern lights? ›
The best way to see the northern lights is to head north. Most of the molecular activity that causes the northern lights happens near the Earth's magnetic poles. For that reason, the Arctic region is an ideal location for hunting the aurora. In fact, some of the best light shows happen near or above the Arctic Circle.How many days in Iceland is enough? ›
A minimum of 1 week in Iceland is ideal, but visiting for up to 2 or even 3 weeks will allow you to see more of this beautiful country in the same trip. Staying for less than 7 days in Iceland is still doable, but there's no doubt you'll want to come back again to see and do more.What month is the cheapest to go Iceland? ›
The cheapest time to visit Iceland
There are far fewer tourists and crowds from January through May, which means flights, car rentals, and accommodation are at their cheapest.
Book your accommodation at least 4-6 months in advance. 6 months in advance is recommended during high season (May through September), and at least 4 months in advance during the low season (October through April).Can you see Northern Lights in Reykjavik? ›
Yes, it's possible to see the Northern Lights in Reykjavik! In fact, Reykjavik is the only capital city besides Nuuk, Greenland where you can see the Northern Lights.Where are you most likely to see the Northern Lights? ›
The best places to see the aurora borealis are the Nordic countries of Iceland, Norway, Sweden and Finland, which lie within or near the Arctic Circle. You could also look for them in Russia, Alaska, and Canada's northwest territories. Why are the Nordic destinations ideal for northern lights viewing?
What not to do at the northern lights? ›
The biggest faux pas you can commit while viewing the Northern Lights is to wave, sing or whistle at them. Alerted to your presence, the spirits of the lights will come down and take you away.Do you need a clear night for the northern lights? ›
Which weather conditions are best to view the northern lights? The best conditions to view the lights are when the sky is dark and clear of any clouds. Cloud cover ultimately blocks the view of the light.What is the cheapest way to see the Northern Lights in Iceland? ›
Book a tour
The cheapest way is to book a northern lights hunt*, a tour in which you will likely be driven around in a group as the guide tries to find a good vantage spot free of other spotters.
However, while all of Iceland is in prime northern lights territory, things aren't the same in Norway. You'll need to travel to the north of the country for a similar likelihood of a display.Are the northern lights better in Alaska or Iceland? ›
If you're wondering if Iceland or Alaska is better for viewing the Northern Lights. The answer is that both offer incredible opportunities. The ideal position for viewing the Aurora Borealis is north of 65 degrees latitude. It will need to be a cloudless night and preferably away from city lights.What month is good for Iceland? ›
Best Time to Visit Iceland for Ideal Weather
The summer months — July and August — are Iceland's warmest, and have long been the most popular time to visit. And June, with its 24 hours of daylight, sees just about as many tourists as the peak of summer.
Listeners have described them as a faint rustling, clapping or popping. An observer in the 1930s said the northern lights made “a noise as if two planks had met flat ways — not a sharp crack but a dull sound, loud enough for anyone to hear.”How often do the Northern Lights happen in Iceland? ›
It is one of the best places in the world to see the Auroras. Iceland is perfectly positioned in the Auroral Zone and offers the chance to see the Northern Lights 7 to 8 months per year!Is 2024 a good year to see the Northern Lights? ›
During the winter of 2020, the Northern Lights viewing was typical for a solar minimum year. But from 2020 onwards, there will be a slow ramp-up in solar activity, and auroras should increase in frequency, peaking in 2024/2025 with the Solar Maximum.When can you see the Northern Lights in Iceland 2024? ›
Like Tromso, the best months to see the Aurora Borealis are between September to April.
What is the best time of year to see the Northern Lights in Iceland 2024? ›
Since it does need to be dark in order to see the Northern Lights in the sky, late August/September through the very beginning of April is the best time to go to a destination located in the aurora zone for a chance to see them.Where can I see the Northern Lights in 2024? ›
That's why the Nordic region is the best place to see the northern lights. Iceland, Norway, Sweden, Finland and Svalbard all lie within or near the Arctic Circle. In fact, Iceland and the northern regions of Norway, Sweden and Finland are located within the “aurora zone”.What months are the northern lights most active? ›
The winter season in the Arctic lasts from late September to late March/ early April. During this time, the Arctic sky is dark enough for the Northern Lights to be visible in the right conditions. The aurora is at its most active around the equinoxes in March and September.What time are northern lights strongest? ›
November through to February offer the darkest skies and longer evenings for maximum sky-gazing. The strongest lights tend to appear between 9pm and 2am, though the best sightings often occur between 11pm and midnight.How long to wait for northern lights? ›
The Northern Lights most commonly appear between 17:00 and 02:00. They don't usually exhibit for long – they may only show for a few minutes, then glide away before returning.Are you guaranteed to see the northern lights in Iceland? ›
There are no guarantees that you will see the Northern Lights during your stay, but in most cases, sightings are greatly improved outside populated areas, especially away from the light pollution of the capital. A number of hotels in the countryside offer a special Northern Lights wake-up service.Are Northern Lights tours worth it? ›
They're definitely worth the time, expense, and cold to see them at least once in a lifetime. And if you want to see the aurora Norway is the place to go! That said, I know there can be a bit of confusion surrounding the northern lights and how to set off in search of them.How long should I stay in Iceland to see the Northern Lights? ›
If you want the greatest odds of spotting they Aurora we recommend that you spend at least seven nights in the country. This is because the Auroras tend to be quite active for two to three nights in a row and then activity drops for four to five nights in ongoing cycles.Where is the best chance to see Northern Lights in Iceland? ›
The best place to see the northern lights in Iceland is the Jokulsarlon glacier lagoon, which lies by the Vatnajokull glacier. You can drive to the lagoon along the Ring Road from Vik or find one of the black sand beaches of South Iceland to enjoy the view of the lights dancing across the sky.How many days do you need in Iceland? ›
A minimum of 1 week in Iceland is ideal, but visiting for up to 2 or even 3 weeks will allow you to see more of this beautiful country in the same trip. Staying for less than 7 days in Iceland is still doable, but there's no doubt you'll want to come back again to see and do more.
Where are the Northern Lights in 2023? ›
The best places to see the Northern Lights in 2023 are scattered on the most extreme latitudes of our planet: Iceland, Canada, Alaska, Norway, Finland…