Where to see the northern lights in Iceland

Wednesday, 06 July 2016

Will Gray

Discover the secrets to the best places to see the northern lights in Iceland with this Q&A guide to the electrifying – but sometimes elusive – aurora borealis.

iceland reykjanes peninsula northern lights


Is Iceland one of the best places to see the northern lights?

Absolutely. Iceland lies within the so-called Auroral Oval where northern lights activity is at its most intense. You can see spectacular displays of the northern lights in Iceland – as long as you choose where to stay carefully.

I was thinking of spending a couple of nights in Reykjavik...

For all its appeal (culture, nightlife, trendy bars etc), Reykjavik isn't actually the best place to base yourself for a northern lights holiday. The biggest problem is light pollution. Surrounded by bright city lights, your eyes can’t adjust to the night sky. Even with the northern lights in full flow, you might only see a weak glow, or nothing at all.

But couldn't I just nip out of my Reykjavik hotel and find somewhere with a better view?

Reykjavik is a city. As well as light pollution it is the most densely populated corner of the island and consequently there are many more buildings that can partly block views of the night sky. To get anywhere with a half-decent view of the northern lights will require you getting on a bus and driving some distance – by which time the ever-fickle aurora borealis may have stopped performing. It’s also worth remembering that in a city hotel there will inevitably be lots of other people. Do you really want to experience something as magical and humbling as the northern lights with a large crowd of people?

Good point. But if not the capital, where should I stay for a northern lights holiday?

In the countryside! There are some wonderful hotels and lodges tucked away in Iceland’s rural areas, far from any light pollution, where the night skies are incredible and you only have to step outside to enjoy dazzling displays of the northern lights. Reception will even give you a wake-up call when the aurora is active!


But we're talking about Iceland in winter - how accessible is the countryside?

Southwest Iceland actually enjoys a relatively mild winter thanks to the Gulf Stream. Even when it does snow, the roads in Iceland are excellent and well maintained. These self-drive northern lights holidays in Iceland range from three to five nights and include digital travel guides with your personalised itinerary preloaded onto an iPad. If you’re worried about driving yourself, though, check out these escorted northern lights holidays in Iceland.

Apart from amazing northern lights viewing, what else is there to do in the Icelandic countryside?

That’s one of the other big advantages of staying in a countryside hotel rather than a city one. Out in the countryside you’ve got Iceland’s head-spinning scenery right on your doorstep. You can experience other natural wonders, including some of Iceland’s most beautiful waterfalls. On our 4-night Volcanoes & Northern Lights holiday you can combine aurora watching with volcano viewing, while our Orcas & Aurora based in the Snaefellsnes Peninsula gives you the chance to spot the lights by night and witness large pods of orcas by day!

Northern Lights over Kirkjufell

Where can I stay on a northern lights holiday in Iceland away from city light pollution?

A ranch-style hotel about two hours drive from Reykjavik, Hotel Ranga is not only far from any light pollution, but it also enjoys uninterrupted big-sky views. The staff keep a close eye on aurora forecasts and you can request a wake-up call to ensure you miss none of the action. The hotel is also unique in Iceland in having an observatory with sliding roof and computerised telescopes to add even more wow-factor to night-sky viewing. And that’s not all: imagine basking in an outdoor hot tub under the dancing northern lights, or enjoying a gourmet meal in anticipation of a night of aurora watching... By day, you can visit the nearby waterfall of Seljalandsfoss or explore the iconic sights of Iceland’s Golden Circle. Hotel Grimsborgir is another excellent choice for a rural property perfectly located for northern lights viewing away from city light pollution – as is Hotel Glymur with its outstanding villas each with private hot tub.

Will these holidays cost more than a city break?

You could potentially spend less by booking a budget city break, but all of these countryside properties offer excellent value for money considering their high standards of comfort, excellent food and superb locations in stunning scenery far from light pollution. You will also find that their staff are passionate about the northern lights – and knowledgeable too. They’ll not only help you have the best possible chance of seeing the aurora borealis, but they will also be able to tell you lots about the phenomenon, how best to photograph the northern lights etc. When it comes to planning an aurora escape, it's all about location, location, location...

Start Planning Your Trip

Browse our collection of Iceland northern lights holidays, or for help and advice on planning your trip contact our team of Travel Specialists, who will be happy to share their first-hand experience and offer recommendations.

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