Complete Guide to the Northern Lights In Iceland

A Closer Look at The Northern Lights In Iceland

Northern Lights In Iceland over the Church

[gdlr_core_dropcap type=”circle” color=”#ffffff” background=”#212121″]T[/gdlr_core_dropcap]he Northern lights in Iceland can be a great sight for you and your family to see. Reykjavík has many attractions, and one of the main ones is the Northern lights. While this is something that can be seen at any point where you’re in the Northern hemisphere, when in Iceland you get an especially appropriate view. Many people that are already on the Northern hemisphere travel to Iceland just to see this aurora in its best form, and to take pictures of it and film it. Here are some helpful things about the Northern lights to get you started on an unforgettable journey.

What Are The Northern Lights?

The Northern lights are various colors in the sky caused by scientific anomalies. The displays and formations that you see in the sky are beautiful because it is a mashup of several environmental laws clashing. The Northern lights are known as an aurora, and an aurora is known as a polar light. They are one in the same and one of the prettiest natural lights in the sky that you can see in a high latitude region. Because of where Iceland is, it has one of the better views that you can get with an aurora.

Now things are going to get real heavy from this point, so here it is in layman’s terms! When the magnetosphere is disturbed by the particles in solar wind, the particles from both sides charge up until they eventually lose their energy, causing the ionization to display a varied lightshow based on the results of the exposure. In super layman’s terms energy is charged in the atmosphere, reaches a certain height and dissipates into light waves in the sky. The reason you can see it better on the Northern hemisphere is based strongly on the latitude.

Is It Family Friendly?

The Northern lights are the most family friendly attraction you will ever come across. The cost is low, and it is great for all ages. It’s a spectacle that doesn’t require expensive equipment to see, and it can be a really good and romantic experience for a couple. There are a lot of family vacation spots that will have its dangers, even with the appropriate security. How great is it to get a free light show with no dangers at all for your children? No security risks, no loss of money-just a nice time out with the family to point up at the sky and enjoy the show.

For couples it is an even better experience! When going out to a romantic dinner with your mate, the price can skyrocket depending on where you go. This isn’t a consideration when you plan for a romantic date out in Iceland with the Northern lights. It is a zero cost night out that you can share with your loved one, and is an experience that is worth sharing for years to come. The amount of preparation needed to put it together is low, and the money you save can be put towards presenting a once in a lifetime gift.

What Should You Bring?

Optional equipment will be covered later on, so here we can stick to regular supplies to bring if you are out with a group. The first thing to pack, and the one thing most people forget is a blanket! Having a place to sit while you watch the Northern lights is a lot more comfortable than standing. Get a thick, comfortable blanket to lay along the ground that is comfortable for the amount of people you plan to bring. It also doesn’t hurt to bring a backup blanket in case it’s cold and you want to wrap up while looking up at the Northern lights.

If you camp a lot, the kids might enjoy a sleeping bag more than the blanket. In fact for the avid campers, bringing out a tent with the sleeping bags would be a novel idea. A lot of families make a night out of it with a campfire, marshmallows and even some good meat. By bringing everything together in one convenient go you’ll get the most out of the Northern lights. A camping adventure that pours itself into the night will really hammer home your entire time in Iceland. Just don’t forget to bring the marshmallows!

When Is The Best Time To See It?

Being such a big draw when it comes to Iceland tours, it can easily be missed if you don’t plan properly. There are plenty of things that can prevent you from enjoying it fully, with variables that are thrown into the mix that you would have never thought of. Even if you factor in length of stay, location, weather and season, the Northern Lights can still be a bit of a pain for the newbie. This will become more apparent when you get to Iceland and get caught up in the many wondrous things to do. Time will fly, and before you know it all of the plans you had to see the Northern Lights have gone up in smoke!

When looking to maximize its effect, complete darkness is going to be your number one factor. As it is a light show, watching it without the proper darkness can really dilute the effect. The proper darkness will give you the full range of colors and lights without making you feel you’re wasting your time. Something that most people don’t consider with the Northern Lights is the length of time they plan to stay on their trip. The activity of the Northern Lights goes off and on, and while active for about 2-3 nights, it can also be inactive for 4-5 nights. The cycles are ongoing, so you if you set it up for the day you’re going to leave Iceland you may end up disappointed. Setting it up to watch 2-3 days will give you the best option, and if you’re lucky you may get to view it multiple times!

Of course the weather will play a role in all of this, so make sure to be up to date with the forecast. Just like the Southern region in America, Iceland has unpredictable weather that can often be bipolar no matter the season. With the added benefit of darkness, you still need the skies to be clear in order to see the Northern Lights. This most likely means that it’ll be a colder night, giving tourists just below freezing weather the best shot at a clear sky. Warmer nights will be the worst to watch the Northern Lights, and will usually mean precipitation and a lot of clouds in the skies. Just by using common sense, you’ll see that you can’t get a clear view of the sky if there is something blocking it like clouds.

Where Is The Best Place To See It?


Now this is where you will run across differing viewpoints on the scenario, especially in Iceland as a tourist. There is the option to see it while on your own walking, driving, or even in a guided tour. With so many of those options, everyone will claim that their spot is the best spot to see the best of the Northern Lights. It’ll be up to you to make a determination about the best spot, and here is some information on the subject to help you out.

Is this your first time coming to Iceland? If you end up coming through by plane on the night trip, then look out of your window and you may get a nice surprise. A good portion of people that have flown into Iceland for the first time have seen the Northern Lights before they even touched down at the airport. Keflavik International Airport has a lot of surprises for first time tourists, but this is one of the surprises that just adds to an already great welcome. Tourists that see the Northern Lights from their plane are one of the lucky few who do, and have a story to tell when they get back home.

Northern Lights Iceland in winter

For those that miss it while they are in the air, then there is still a chance to catch it on the road to Reykjavik. The landscape is long and lush, and at a good 45 minutes, will give you time to see the Northern Lights and get some perspective. A lot of times this can be better than seeing it later in your trip with a guided tour since you’re still taking in being in Iceland for the first time. With all of the emotions running through, it functions as an awesome welcome gift before your tour even starts. To many that have caught the lights on their road to town, there is a since of awe as it is a lot like a rainbow after a thunderstorm. Some say the lights even function as an invisible guide, getting rid of the jet lag and keeping them in tune while they are on the road.

Once you’re in town, there are a couple of options once you get settled. Take for instance the first word in Northern Lights, and upon thinking about it, the best places to go will always be north of the country. Even Westfjords is a good place to start if you want to track down some places to look at the Northern Lights. There is the choice of the harbor, which is comfortable and will have some other tourists and locales gathered. It can create a nice family atmosphere for those that want to see the show, and the boats in the water are nice for the background. Borgarnes is a particularly good place for tourists to drive their car onto in the dock area. This is good if the weather is bad and you want to stay inside of your car while viewing the Northern Lights. And you’ll be able to do all that without missing out on any of the magic.

Tourists that want a more up close and personal look at the Northern lights can often be seen in groups hiking and camping for the best place. The highlands gets you away from artificial light and the often noisy city, leaving only nature, you, and the Northern Lights. It can be a bit jarring at first if you’ve never gone hiking before to do it in a different country by yourself. This is the main reason why tourists hike in groups when they want to see the Northern lights.

travel to Northern Lights In Iceland

When considering Landmannalaugar, 4×4 vehicles are required so can be rented for tourists that want access to the location. Planning is needed for this particular location, but it is bound to be one of the most wide open areas you can watch the Northern Lights. Landmannalaugar will also have the fewest people to bother you if you’re looking for a more personal experience rather than a group one. Be prepped in advance and reserve your 4×4 so that there aren’t any late surprises when you’re ready to head out. As a bonus, there is more than one place to rent 4×4’s from if that does happen.

For really lush scenery while looking at the Northern Lights, the south coast near Vik provides a very good night for all attending. This location is more about atmosphere than the actual light show, since with all of the locations mentioned, it has the weakest view. But you just can’t beat the gentle waves and absolutely gorgeous scenery of the location where it takes place. Think of this option as a combination of all the great things about Iceland. Expect for this area to be a bit more populated than the other areas for reasons other than the Northern Lights. It won’t be overcrowded, but there will definitely be a good amount of people there enjoying the show.

The most popular place that locals and tourists prefer is at Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon. This will be the most populated area, and can be found in southeast Iceland. Much like the south coast near Vik, it isn’t the best for visual appreciation of the Northern lights, but it is the best when it comes to a combination of ambience and general comfort. You won’t find a more comfortable spot for tourists to see the Northern Lights than here, and it also works as a backup plan if other areas are too crowded. The amount of options available in this area is also higher, bringing you closer to places where you need to make a quick purchase.

Finding it While Driving

Northern Lights In Iceland over the mountainTourists that want to do a drive by on their own of the Northern lights will have to plan accordingly. This means planning ahead and setting up your own personal itinerary so that you don’t go off course or forget anything. This option is great as it can be just you and your family, and all without a need for a guide to show you around. This lets tourists explore at their own leisure, possibly finding a secret spot away from all the other general areas to watch the Northern Lights.

Seeing any of the Aurora’s in Iceland while driving on your own follows the same rules of darkness, with the weather usually being cold, and having a clear sky. When these requirements are met you will get the best experience, and you will also have a chance even if you aren’t in the best conditions. Just getting that glimpse when the cloud part for a moment will give you a very nice look into what everyone is so excited about.

When creating your itinerary, make it as detailed as possible for your own benefit. Also have a digital copy in your phone and a paper copy in your wallet. This way if either one gets lost, you’ll have a backup. And if you lose either your wallet or your phone you’ll have bigger problems anyway!

A beautiful aurora display over the ice beach near Jokulsarlon, Iceland

The International airport in Keflavik can be pretty busy once you get off of your flight, so it is a generally a bad idea to try to rent a car after you land rather than before. There are several ways to rent a car while setting up your itinerary, with the best leading you to online retailers. Renting a car from them and getting a price set in stone will make the landing portion easier and keep you from any unexpected surprises. You also want to plan by reading over whatever agreement they give you in paper, in case it is different from the one they emailed you.

Some tourists will come with their own travel booklet, either downloaded from the internet or an actual booklet. These will come in handy since most of them have a map to reference, and as most parties will be relying on GPS to get around, it becomes a vital portion of the trip. If you don’t already have a travel guide, you can easily pick one up by going to the official Iceland website. And if you’re a poor sap that has already landed at the airport in Iceland, pick one up at any of the stores in area before leaving. You’re covered either way, and the booklets will be free regardless. And a note about the GPS- it is often a good idea to spring a little more money for a car that has it built in rather than relying on a phone. Considering you’ll most likely be using a specialized sim card while in Iceland (unless you’re a businessman) then it wouldn’t be economical to use the GPS on a throwaway phone. However, if that is your only option, then it is better than nothing.

With all of this in tow, along with snacks and drinks, you have everything necessary to do a self-drive and watch the Northern Lights while in your car. It’s incredibly easy, and once you get the itinerary out of the way then the worst of it will be over with. Some other tips to consider-get a car with a moon roof! That little bit of difference can make things a lot more fun for you while traveling, and a lot of places don’t even charge extra for it.

Finding it While Walking

walking to see Northern Lights In IcelandIceland tours offer either a walking tour, a driving tour, or a mixture of both. This section covers what to expect on a walking tour of the Northern Lights. Tourists that have a full schedule planned and want to squeeze in one last bit of fun can plan a guided walking tour of the Northern Lights. This will put you in a group with other hikers and can be fun, educational, and a lot more full featured than a driving tour.

Since the Northern Lights are treated as an attraction with these types of tours, there are several levels to consider. Low, medium and high when it comes to price, and all with different things to offer.

Starting at the lowest tier, this is simply a guided walking tour to a specific spot in Iceland to see the Northern Lights. You bring everything you need, from food and hiking equipment and join the rest of the group as they scout out the area. The good things about these tours is that they are respectful of space, meaning they won’t lead you into a crowded area where you can’t enjoy the show. The guide is very eager to explain Icelandic history and will put you in the best position to enjoy it.

The medium tier can be a bit complicated, since it hovers from mid-price to high price depending on which package you select. For the purposes of this article, let’s combine the medium and the high price tier together as a whole. When dealing with the medium/high priced tier, you will get an entire vacation package that can be for a day or a couple of days. The Northern Lights experience is just part of the full package but still comes with a lot of perks.

Some of those perks include hotel stay, a glacier ice hiking tour, non-stop flights on Icelandair, a themed Northern Lights hunt, glacier gear, safety equipment, lunch, dinner and dessert and more. The walking packages can be as inclusive or as exclusive as you need them, so make sure to do your research into all of the companies in the area that do business concerning the Northern Lights.

Finding it while on a Driving Tour

travel to Northern Lights In IcelandThere are plenty of luxury driving tours and even boat tours dedicated to the Northern Lights. Things can get a bit confusing with all of the options mentioned, but it is best to concentrate on the ones that interest you the most. Here are some of the ways this type of tour can be beneficial when you want to see the Northern Lights while in Iceland. An option to look out for with any of these type of tours is an option to see the lights for free a second time if you don’t see them the first time. That is an important guarantee since anything is possible when it comes to the Northern Lights.

The minibus tours are the most popular in this category, and they are also the cheapest. Because so many people can fit on one bus, you can also get a group discount rate depending on the business. If that isn’t enough to get excited, then consider that minibus tours for the Northern Lights also have optional walking or hiking segments. During the colder season this can really be fun, as you’ll get to glacier hike popular tourist spots in Iceland.

Benefits of the minibus are astounding, as they will even pick you up from your current hotel. This will help people who don’t know the area well and just want to get out and back in after a couple of hours. A good company will have someone that checks the forecast and knows ahead of time if the Northern Lights will even be showing. By checking for optimal conditions, they keep you from wasting your time going out with the group only to see nothing. Try to stick with businesses that have locals hired rather than out of town businesses, as the local shop will know the area and conditions better.

The 4×4 Super Jeep Tours are one of the more unappreciated Northern Lights expeditions. This is great if you want a little more personal space, with Northern Light hunting bringing you to places in the 4×4 that are inaccessible to vehicles like a car or minibus. It is an exclusive tour is handled by an expert guide, and usually free pickup as long as it is a capital area. Most of the tours of this type are really good about giving a free trip if the Northern Lights aren’t sighted, and it is hard to find a 4×4 tour that doesn’t offer this. Make note of the seasons they offer the tour, just in case it would be optimal to use another method. There is also the option to have a private tour with just your family as long as it is a group of 4 or 5. Sometimes children will get discounted, but that rate varies depending on the business.

Last on the list for driving tours are Northern Light cruises! Yes, that’s actually a real thing. It is the prettiest option out of all, as you’ll be in the open water looking up at the beautiful sky. A guided boat cruise will usually take place in Faxaflói Bay, and won’t be disturbed by the city lights. This is important if you want the best viewpoint of the Northern Lights without any other light distracting from it. You’ll be with a group and enjoy drinks and snacks, getting in-depth history about Iceland from the expert in charge. It is a very quiet, comforting and blissful Northern Lights tour that can’t be replicated by any other option. What really sets it apart is the gentle breeze in the air, the smell of the water and the way the boat moves.

Northern Lights cruise tours will give you the best overall experience, and the price isn’t too bad when you consider the hours of enjoyment you’ll get out of it. Combining this with one of the more expensive tours will give you a trip you’ll never forget.

How Many Tours Are There For The Northern Lights?

There really is no good way to count the official tours, since more than half of the tours for the Northern Lights are mixed in with other tours. This means they are part of a package deal and will be on a specific day of your package, and most of the times there is a clause that states only if it is available. So while the Northern Lights might be part of a full travel package, they are under no obligation to provide this part of the experience to you if weather is not permitting.

This is why it is important to always check with the company to find out what type of Northern Lights tour you’re getting. If your primary focus is to get the best Northern Lights experience available, then aligning yourself with a package that doesn’t consider it a big deal is a mistake. Make it a point to look for companies that prioritize this portion of their tour, and try to stick to tours that are Northern Lights exclusive. Not only will these tours have better extras geared towards the tour itself, but they will also have more guarantees in place if the Northern Lights don’t show. It can be disappointing to be ready to see the lights only to go out for a few ours and not see anything. A dedicated Northern Lights company will ride you out for free the next day if that happens, giving you a free night out to enjoy as you wish.

The fewest amount of tours are going to be dedicated to the 4×4 tours and the cruises. They are great for a personalized experience while out, and will keep you from having to deal with the sometimes overkill of a minibus and strangers. Tourists that have their mind set on either of these options should book before arriving in Iceland, as they may not be available otherwise.

The short bit of it is to choose your Northern Lights tours carefully, and vary them based on your need to see the spectacle. There is no point in booking a promise that is not going to be kept!

Should You Avoid Winter?

Northern Lights Iceland in winterThis can be scary for out of towners that are not familiar with Iceland’s weather and think it will be dangerous. Plenty of tourists and locales watch the Northern Lights during winter, which is why when you’re doing a guided tour they will tell you to dress warm. Winter is actually one of the preferred seasons for seeing the lights, so expect to see a lot of your friends while out!

Winter in Iceland is like winter anywhere else, and as long as you are taking proper precautions you will be fine. If you’re on your own without a guide, always keep a blanket and a change of clothes in your rented car. Think of it as an emergency backup, along with a pack of water. On any guided tour they will let you know how to dress, whether it is warmly, dressing down, or dressing for hiking. The guides are really good about getting their customers set up for the night so that they aren’t uncomfortable when trying to enjoy themselves. Some cruises even go the extra mile and offer complimentary blankets or extras while you’re on the boat. No one wants to be out drifting in the water and shivering when they’re supposed to be enjoying themselves!

Wrapping Up

Icelandic northern lights in autumn time

This about sums up the most important things to expect when wanting to see the Northern Lights, and as long as you use common sense then you’ll get the show of a lifetime. There are plenty of companies that want to help you out to see the Northern Lights, and if you feel you’re up to it, you can always go at it alone.

When walking, always bring proper equipment and clothes. A good thing to bring is a water bottle and a blanket to lay on. Having a blanket to lay on is a lot more comfortable than standing and gawking up at the sky. Kids might enjoy sleeping bags as they look up at the Northern Lights, so if you have one already packed then this would be the perfect time to bring it out.

When doing a self-drive, your itinerary is going to be the most important thing to you. Have a copy on your phone and a paper copy in your wallet, the two safest places you can keep it. This isn’t going to be a regular itinerary, and will also include extra information like things to bring, places to avoid, spots that are the best and other things important to getting the most out of the Northern Lights. Getting a car with a GPS built into it is important for this trip, and the entire trip. If a GPS enabled car with a moon roof is available, take it! They won’t last long and can be considered unicorns at this point by most tourists.

Understand the different types of guided tours and what they offer. There is walking, cruise, minibus and package tours. They all have their pros and cons, so you need to match it up with your own list to find out which one is best. Choosing the wrong guided tour can lead to a fantastic overall trip but disappointing Northern Lights trip. It is a balance that you have to find, and if the Northern Lights is your priority, then you need to find a company with the same ideals.

Pay attention to specials, deals, discounts and other ways to save money on your Northern Lights trip. Companies usually offer a free trip for you if the Northern Lights don’t come out when you book it. Having the ability to go out on another trip while getting a free ride the first time round should be your first checkbox when looking for a company. There are also multiple discounts concerning kids, seniors, groups and students depending on which company you decide to go with. Using a combination of these discounts can yield great savings that you can spend elsewhere on your trip.

The Northern Lights is as family friendly as the Golden Circle Tour, and can provide some lasting memories! Choosing to hike with your family or go on a Northern Light hunt is a great way to spend your time in Iceland. Tourists that are familiar with hiking will find this a family event that is too good to pass up, and if you plan on camping, there is even a chance to see the Northern Lights multiple nights in a row.

There is no perfect time to see the Northern Lights, but generally you want it to be dark as possible, cold, and with no clouds in the sky. With nothing blocking the sky, you’ll see it easily like everyone around you. No binoculars or special equipment is needed, and it’s fairly easy to snap pictures and send it to your friends. Warm clothes, water and patience is about all you need to enjoy this event, and it is something you’ll see often during your tour in Iceland.


The fun thing about the Northern Lights in Iceland is that there are multiple ways to enjoy it. It is a cost effective way to enjoy one of the most beautiful natural phenomena’s on the planet. A family friendly event, large groups of people are usually in awe when they see it for the first time. Don’t rely on the pictures that are posted on the internet to show you how awesome it looks. Seeing it in person is an entirely different experience!