The Aurora Borealis or Northern Lights is one of many reasons Iceland sees so many visitors year on year. When you see the Northern Lights for the first time, the sky lights up in vibrant bright colours, and you feel spiritual and amazed at the same time. There is nothing quite like it on earth.
With this in mind, let’s discover the Northern Lights in more detail and determine the best time to go to Iceland to see it.
Iceland’s Northern Lights
The best place to see the Aurora Borealis is in the arctic circle. It is possible to see the phenomena further south and as thrilling as this is, it doesn’t compare to see the light show closer up. Iceland forms part of the arctic circle and as such offers the perfect place to witness the event.
The phenomena appear at the poles. In the north, it appears above the 60° latitude mark. In the south, it appears below the 60° latitude mark. The southern lights are called the Aurora Australis. Iceland’s latitude of 60° north makes it arguably the best place in the world to see the Aurora Borealis.
What are the Northern Lights?
The Northern Lights are a spectacular light show comprised of solar particles hitting the earth’s magnetic field. When this happens, they ironise, forming vibrant colours. Mostly they appear green but other colours such as purple, pink, blue, and orange may appear depending on the element that is ironised.
Given its random nature of the event, you can’t guarantee to see this in action. On a clear night is your best chance to see this wonderful visual feast.
This Best Time to See the Northern Lights
If you want to witness this event, the best time to come is between September to April. In other words, come when it is winter in Iceland. The following factors should be present for the best Aurora Borealis experience:
- The night needs to be dark, ideally with no moonlight.
- You need to avoid light pollution, so try and avoid being in a city for example.
- Cloud cover should be minimal or non-existent.
Although you cannot predict the next time, the lights will appear, it is worth checking the aurora forecast and cloud cover forecast. They give a score from 0-9 on the likelihood of the lights appearing with anything 2+ being a good score.
Car Rental and the Northern Lights in Iceland
There are three ways to see the phenomena, and that is to take a Northern Lights tour, a boat tour, or rent a car and go chasing the forecasts to find it. The latter is more fun as it gives you a driving adventure too!
There are plenty of good firms that provide car rental in Iceland, and they can supply the right vehicle for the time of year and where you are planning to go. If you go down this route, choose firms that have earned the best reviews as their vehicles will not let you down.
Best Places to See the Northern Lights
The Northern Lights are best seen in the north of the country where you are closer to the north pole. With this in mind, head to the Wetfjords. You will not only be closer to the north pole, but this region receives 22 hours of darkness per day in winter compared to 20 hours in other parts of the country.
The north and east tend to have slightly clearer weather than the south of the country, which increases visibility.
Christmas in Iceland
Increasingly, with its Lapland feel and closeness to the north pole, more and more visitors spend Christmas in Iceland. The greater Christmas feel, and the magic of the land combine with an increased chance of seeing the Northern Lights.
If you don’t want to visit in the winter and prefer a warmer climate come in either September or April. You can camp at one of the campsites and the nights are still long enough for you to catch the Aurora Borealis. Campsites tend to be in rural areas where there is fewer light pollution.
Avoid Urban Areas if you Can
Cities and towns are not the best places if hunting the Northern Lights. There is simply too much light pollution, and although you may see it if it occurs, the effect will be lessened. This is compounded as you cannot move around easily to get a better view. Sometimes, cloud cover blocks the view, and in open spaces, you can move to a better position to see the lights.
Even if you don’t see the Northern Lights, you will still see a lot of the country which is beautiful, fearsome, and spectacular. You will want to return to Iceland again and again, maybe coming back to spend Christmas in Iceland, and then later in the summer.
If you don’t catch it on your first visit, you may well catch it on your second. Good luck!