The northern lights are something everybody should experience during their lifetime. Watching those dancing lights sparkle across the dark winter sky leaves a memory that will last a lifetime. Growing up in Iceland I have seen the northern lights countless times but it doesn't matter how often I see them they always amaze me. Iceland's location is perfect to see the northern lights and probably one of the few places you can actually see them anywhere in the whole country. But what are the northern lights? What is the best time to see the northern lights in Iceland? Where can you see the northern lights? Where is the best place to see the northern lights in Reykjavík? In this blog I will try to answer the most common questions we get about the northern lights in Iceland.
What are the northern lights?
Without getting to technical the northern lights or aurora borealis is a natural light display seen in high latitude regions. Auroras are produced when the magnetosphere is sufficiently disturbed by the solar wind that the trajectories of charged particles in both solar wind and magnetospheric plasma, mainly in the form of electrons and protons, precipitate them into the upper atmosphere, where the energy is lost.
You probably read this in still have no clue what those strange lights are, but for the ultra geeks out there you can read all about the northern lights on wikipedia.
Basically, the northern lights are a natural light show that will blow your mind! Nothing more to say :)
Where can you see the northern lights?
The northern lights usually circle the globe on the earth's North Magnetic Pole, which is not at the same location as the North Geographic Pole, but rather is slightly offset in the direction of northern Canada. The highest possibility of seeing the northern lights is therefore in most of Alaska, northern parts of Canada, the southern half of Greenland, all of Iceland, northern Norway, Sweden and Finland and the western half of the Russian north.
When can you see the northern lights?
Darkness is required and since there is almost no darkness in the places mentioned above from around mid April until mid August it's not possible to see the northern lights though they are technically there. That means that the northern light season is from mid August to mid April but your best odds are from late September to late march. For example in Iceland the darkest day of the year is December 21st.
What is the best place to see the northern lights in Iceland?
The best thing about coming to Iceland to see the northern lights is that it really does not matter where you are, you can see them anywhere! If you are in Iceland on a layover or just stopping for a few days in Reykjavík here are some good places close to the city where the northern lights are usually visible if they are active. My starting point is always Hallgrímskirkja since most of you will know where it is :)
Seltjarnarnes (Grótta Island Light house)
This is by far your best option if you are on a hurry! It will only take you about 10 minutes to drive there and if you are in the mood you can even walk and experience the city at the same time.
A beautiful reserve close to the city and a popular hiking place. Here you have the total darkness you need and if you do not see any northern lights, who cares, this is such an amazing place.
A really popular place to look at the winter sky. Many photographers I know go here to photograph stars and the northern lights so this has to be one of the best spots. Drive carefully since the roads near the lake are quite narrow and it can be hard to spot people in the darkness.
Finally, it's a must to bookmark this page. It's an aurora forecast provided by the Icelandic Met office. It shows you how active the northern lights in Iceland will be on the scale of 0-9 on a given day and also provides a forecast of cloud cover. You are looking for both good activity and few clouds :) Hopefully you'll be in luck!