A voyage to the far North holds a unique allure. For many travelers, witnessing the dance of the Reykjavik Northern Lights is a lifelong dream. This celestial ballet of light paints the Icelandic night sky in an array of colors, offering an awe-inspiring experience that lingers in your memory.
As we journey into the heart of 2024, the city of Reykjavik beckons with promises of this remarkable spectacle. In this guide, we’ll venture deep into the nuances of this natural wonder and detail the optimal locations and strategies for viewing the northern lights in Reykjavik.
What Are The Northern Lights?
The Northern Lights, also known as Aurora Borealis, represent one of nature’s most mesmerizing displays. Born from a complex interaction between solar winds and Earth’s magnetic field, they captivate onlookers with their ethereal dance across the night sky. The particles that constitute these solar winds, upon colliding with atmospheric gases, trigger a spectacular explosion of light, manifesting in bright, shifting hues of green, purple, pink, and sometimes red.
In the context of Iceland, the northern lights have an almost mythical status, intertwining with the country’s folklore and history. It’s a country where ancient sagas speak of these lights as the dancing spirits of the departed, or as mythical celestial bridges.
Today, these poetic interpretations contribute to the allure of Iceland’s landscapes, enhancing the charm of a northern lights sighting. In the following sections, we will guide you on your journey to encounter this celestial spectacle amidst the natural splendor of Reykjavik.
When to See Northern Lights in Reykjavik
The quest to see the Reykjavik Northern Lights is a seasonal adventure. While this natural spectacle occurs throughout the year, the long hours of darkness in winter amplify its visibility. Let’s delve into the varying prospects across the four seasons:
- Winter (December to February): With nearly 20 hours of darkness and crisp clear skies, winter is the prime season to experience the northern lights in Reykjavik. However, brace for chilly weather conditions during these months.
- Spring (March to May): The receding winter offers an extended period of darkness in early spring, making it a favorable time for aurora sightings. As the season progresses, the increasing daylight hours may reduce your chances.
- Summer (June to August): With the midnight sun dominating these months, spotting the northern lights can be a challenge. These months are typically not recommended for aurora hunting.
- Autumn (September to November): As darkness returns after the bright summer months, autumn offers increasing chances to witness the aurora borealis, particularly towards late autumn when the night sky deepens.
Ideal weather conditions for viewing the Reykjavik Northern Lights include clear, cloudless skies, minimal light pollution, and solar activity. Websites like the Icelandic Met Office provide up-to-date aurora forecasts and can be an invaluable tool in planning your northern lights expedition.
Note: Remember that the northern lights are a natural phenomenon and sightings cannot be guaranteed. Patience is key when aurora hunting, as the lights may appear unexpectedly and their display varies in intensity and duration.
How to See the Northern Lights
Seeing the Reykjavik Northern Lights requires a bit of planning, a touch of science, and a sprinkle of luck. Here are some steps to help increase your chances:
- Plan Your Trip: Aim for the winter months when nights are longest, typically between December and February. Keep your schedule flexible to account for possible changes in weather conditions.
- Check the Forecast: Use resources like the Icelandic Met Office for accurate aurora and cloud cover forecasts. These predictions can help guide your hunting efforts.
- Escape the City Lights: While it’s possible to see the aurora from Reykjavik, getting away from the city lights will enhance your viewing experience. Look for darker areas on the outskirts of the city, or consider joining a guided tour.
- Stay Up Late: The northern lights are most commonly seen between 9 pm and 2 am. Be prepared for some late nights or early mornings.
- Dress Warmly: Icelandic winters are cold, so layer up with thermals, hats, gloves, and insulated boots. Warm clothes will make your aurora hunting experience more comfortable.
- Bring a Camera: The northern lights can make for stunning photography. A camera with manual settings will provide the best results. Don’t forget a tripod for stability in capturing those long exposure shots.
Remember, seeing the northern lights is never guaranteed. However, following these tips can significantly increase your chances of witnessing this natural spectacle.
Best Viewing Locations in Reykjavik
Reykjavik is a compact city, but it still offers a number of fantastic spots where you can view the northern lights with minimal light pollution. Let’s explore some of the top locations in the city:
Grótta Island Lighthouse
Located at the tip of the Seltjarnarnes Peninsula, the Grótta Island Lighthouse is one of the most popular places in Reykjavik to view the northern lights. The location offers a wide, unobstructed view of the sky, making it an ideal spot for aurora hunting. However, be aware that the area becomes an island during high tide, so check the tide times before you go.
Perlan, or “The Pearl,” is a unique landmark in Reykjavik. It sits on a hill, offering panoramic views of the city and the surrounding landscapes. The observation deck provides an elevated platform that’s perfect for viewing the aurora borealis. You can also explore the onsite museum or grab a bite at the restaurant while waiting for the lights to show.
Öskjuhlíð Hill is a peaceful, forested area close to Perlan. The trees shield the area from city lights, and the open spaces provide ample opportunity to view the sky. While you’re there, consider visiting the Reykjavik landmark, Hallgrímskirkja, which offers a fantastic viewpoint from its tower.
Thingvellir National Park
Although it’s a 40-minute drive from Reykjavik, Thingvellir National Park is worth the trip for the northern lights. It is part of the Golden Circle, which we have covered extensively.
As a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the park prohibits artificial lights, making it a great spot to view the aurora. In addition, you can admire the breathtaking landscape and geological features while waiting for the lights.
Located in the heart of Reykjavik, Laugardalur Park provides a dark spot in the city suitable for northern lights viewing. The park’s large open spaces and minimal light pollution make it an easily accessible location for aurora enthusiasts.
Remember, no matter where you decide to stake out for the evening, be sure to dress warmly, bring a thermos of hot chocolate or coffee, and pack your patience. The northern lights are worth the wait!
Northern Lights Tours in Reykjavik
If you’d rather leave the planning and driving to someone else, there are plenty of northern lights tours available in Reykjavik. These tours often include experienced guides who know the best spots for viewing and can provide insightful information about the aurora borealis. Here are a few options you might consider:
Bus tours are the most common type of northern lights tours. They typically pick up from central locations in Reykjavik and transport you out into the countryside, away from the city’s light pollution. Guides will monitor the aurora forecast and cloud cover to choose the best location each night. Examples include tours from Reykjavik Excursions and Gray Line Iceland.
For a different perspective, consider a boat tour from Reykjavik’s old harbor. Boat tours take you out into Faxaflói Bay, away from the city’s lights. This provides a unique backdrop for your northern lights experience, with the city’s silhouette on one side and open ocean on the other. Special Tours and Reykjavik Sailors offer such tours.
Super Jeep Tours
For a more adventurous northern lights experience, consider a Super Jeep tour. These tours use specially modified vehicles capable of reaching remote locations normal buses can’t access.
With fewer people around, these tours can offer a more intimate and secluded aurora viewing experience. Companies like Arctic Adventures and Mountain Taxi offer Super Jeep tours.
If you’re keen to capture the perfect shot of the aurora, consider joining a photography tour. These tours are led by experienced photographers who know how to set up your camera and find the best compositions. Companies like Arctic Shots and Extreme Iceland offer these specialized tours.
Each type of tour offers its own unique benefits, so choose the one that suits your preferences and budget. Remember, most tours offer free retries if the northern lights don’t show up on your first attempt. Happy aurora hunting!
What to Pack for Northern Lights Viewing
When you’re preparing for a northern lights hunt, it’s important to remember that you’ll be outside for an extended period, often in freezing temperatures. Keeping warm is key, as the more comfortable you are, the longer you’ll be able to enjoy this incredible phenomenon. Here are some packing essentials:
Layering is essential when dressing for cold Icelandic weather. Start with thermal underwear, add a warm middle layer such as a wool sweater, and top it off with a water- and wind-proof outer layer. Don’t forget your winter accessories like a warm hat, gloves, and a scarf to protect your extremities from the cold.
Footwear is key to keeping warm, especially if you’ll be standing in snow. Pack waterproof and insulated boots to keep your feet dry and warm. Thermal socks can also be a game-changer.
Camera and Tripod
If you want to capture photos of the northern lights, don’t forget your camera. A DSLR or mirrorless camera that allows you to adjust settings like ISO, aperture, and shutter speed is ideal. A sturdy tripod is also essential to keep your camera steady during long exposures.
The cold can drain your camera batteries quickly. Pack extras to ensure you don’t miss out on capturing the perfect shot.
Thermos with a Hot Drink
Standing outside for hours can be chilly work. Packing a thermos filled with a hot drink like tea or hot chocolate can provide a bit of extra warmth and comfort.
Consider bringing some snacks. Watching the aurora can sometimes be a waiting game, and a small snack might be just what you need. Remember, it’s better to over-prepare and stay warm and comfortable during your aurora viewing experience. Happy viewing!
Photographing the Northern Lights in Reykjavik
Capturing the elusive beauty of the northern lights can be a thrilling experience, but it can also be a challenging one. This isn’t your usual point-and-shoot scenario. To ensure you get the best possible images of this ethereal display, here are some tips and techniques to follow:
To begin, you’ll need a camera that allows for manual settings. A DSLR or mirrorless camera is typically best. You’ll need to adjust settings like ISO, aperture, and shutter speed.
- ISO: Start with an ISO setting around 1600. This setting controls your camera’s sensitivity to light, and a higher ISO will allow you to capture more light in a darker setting. However, higher ISOs can also result in grainy images, so you’ll want to adjust this based on the brightness of the aurora and test to find the right balance.
- Aperture: Set your lens to its widest aperture (smallest f-number) to allow the most light into your camera.
- Shutter Speed: Start with a shutter speed of around 15-20 seconds. You’ll need a long exposure to capture the aurora, but if the exposure is too long, the stars may appear as streaks due to the earth’s rotation.
Remember, these settings are starting points. You’ll need to adjust based on the brightness and speed of the aurora, as well as other light conditions.
- Use a Tripod: Due to the long exposure times, a sturdy tripod is essential to keep your camera steady and prevent blurry images.
- Use a Wide-Angle Lens: A wide-angle lens is ideal for aurora photography, as it allows you to capture a larger portion of the sky.
- Focus; Set your lens to manual focus and adjust it to infinity. Sometimes, the infinity symbol on your lens might not give the sharpest focus, so it’s best to take a few test shots and adjust as necessary.
- Composition: Consider the composition of your photo. Including interesting elements like silhouettes of people, trees, or buildings can add depth and scale to your image.
Experiment and Be Patient
Finally, remember to be patient and keep experimenting. The aurora is constantly changing, and so will your photos. Try different settings and compositions, and most importantly, don’t forget to take some time to put the camera down and enjoy the show with your own eyes.
Photographing the northern lights is as much an art as it is a science. Don’t be discouraged if your first few shots aren’t perfect. With a bit of practice and a lot of patience, you’ll be able to capture this incredible natural phenomenon and take home some truly unforgettable images.
Accommodations in Reykjavik with Northern Lights View
Note: We have covered some of the best hotels in Reykjavik here.
Watching the northern lights from the comfort of your accommodation is a special experience, and Reykjavik offers a selection of properties where this is possible. Here are some of the top picks:
ION City Hotel
The ION City Hotel is more than just a place to stay; it’s an immersion into Icelandic culture. Situated in the heart of Reykjavik, it serves as an urban hub for travelers. The hotel combines the city’s vibrant energy with a contemporary design, offering an intimate connection to the Icelandic capital. The hotel’s defining feature, however, is its upscale rooftop bar and lounge.
This modern area offers guests an unrivaled view of the city skyline, and on clear nights, it’s the perfect vantage point for spotting the mesmerizing northern lights. With the cool Reykjavik air and a warm drink in hand, aurora seekers will find this setting a memorable part of their Icelandic journey.
Hotel Borg embodies a richness of history while providing an opulent experience for its guests. This central Reykjavik hotel exudes a timeless elegance with its 1930s Art Deco style, transporting guests to a bygone era while offering modern amenities.
Its location makes it a prime spot for northern lights viewing. Many rooms offer sweeping views across the old town towards the ocean, setting the stage for a possible aurora sighting. With the lights of the city below and the northern lights above, Hotel Borg offers an enchanting stay amidst Reykjavik’s charm.
Nestled just outside the city’s bustling center, Grímur Hotel is an oasis for those looking to escape the city’s light pollution. This modern, cozy hotel offers more than just comfortable rooms. It boasts a rooftop hot tub, inviting guests to unwind under the vast Icelandic sky.
Imagine sinking into warm water while gazing up at the stars, patiently awaiting the aurora’s dance. With its comfortable amenities and advantageous location, Grímur Hotel stands as an idyllic base for your northern lights adventure.
Tower Suites Reykjavik
Tower Suites Reykjavik offers an unparalleled lodging experience. Located on the 20th floor of a skyscraper, each of its eight suites features floor-to-ceiling windows, providing a 360-degree view of Reykjavik’s diverse landscape.
From cityscape to mountain range, and sea to sky, every natural beauty is on display. On clear nights, these vast windows can become your personal viewport for the northern lights, creating an unforgettable sight as the aurora reflects on the city’s glass and steel structures.
For those willing to venture further afield, Hotel Rangá offers a quintessential Icelandic countryside experience. Situated about an hour’s drive from Reykjavik, this hotel immerses its guests in an environment of minimal light pollution and serene landscapes.
One of its standout features is its own astronomical observatory, equipped with high-quality telescopes, perfect for star and aurora gazing. The hotel offers a unique service for aurora seekers – a wake-up call from the staff when the northern lights forecast looks promising. This ensures guests won’t miss a moment of the captivating light show, even if it happens in the early morning hours. It’s the perfect choice for those seeking solitude with the northern lights.
Remember, while these accommodations offer a chance to see the northern lights, they are dependent on the right conditions. Having clear, dark skies and solar activity is key to witnessing this magical display. Keep your expectations in check, but also keep your fingers crossed – you might just get lucky!
Frequently Asked Questions
What months are best for seeing the northern lights in Reykjavik?
The northern lights, or aurora borealis, are a seasonal spectacle, predominantly visible in Reykjavik from September through April. However, the depth of winter—specifically December through February—often provides the optimal conditions.
During these months, the nights are longest, giving you extended hours of darkness to spot this natural light display. Additionally, winter weather phenomena, such as crisp, clear nights, can amplify the vibrancy of the lights, making your viewing experience even more breathtaking.
Can you see the northern lights from downtown Reykjavik?
The city center of Reykjavik, with its urban vibrance, does come with a level of light pollution, which can dampen the visibility of the northern lights. That’s not to say sightings are impossible; on particularly active and clear nights, the aurora can still make a stunning appearance.
However, for the best viewing conditions, consider venturing outside the city’s heart to darker locations, such as city outskirts or parks, where the lack of artificial lights will allow the natural spectacle to shine in all its glory.
Is it guaranteed I will see northern lights in my visit?
As much as we would love to guarantee this incredible sight, the appearance of the northern lights is an unpredictable fusion of science and luck. Dependent on a combination of factors, including solar activity and clear, dark skies, the lights can be elusive.
A keen eye on the aurora forecast can be beneficial, and a flexible travel itinerary may allow you to optimize your chances of a sighting. Remember, the wait makes the experience even more rewarding when the skies finally dance with colors.
Do I need to book a tour to see the northern lights, or can I see them on my own?
The beauty of the northern lights is that they’re freely visible to all—no ticket required. While organized tours can offer the advantage of expert knowledge, guided narration, and often transportation to secluded viewing spots, they’re by no means a necessity.
With some research and preparation, independent adventurers can certainly head out alone. The key is to know the best locations and times, dress warmly, and exercise patience.
What should I wear when trying to view northern lights?
When it comes to Icelandic weather, the rule of thumb is to expect the unexpected. Especially during the prime northern lights viewing months, the weather can be quite cold, and nighttime excursions will require warm clothing.
We recommend dressing in multiple layers to insulate and protect against the chill. Essentials include thermal underwear, a warm outer layer, gloves, a hat, and thick socks. Additionally, insulated, waterproof boots are invaluable, as they provide both warmth and the necessary grip for icy surfaces. Remember, you might be standing or sitting outside for a considerable time, so comfort is crucial.
Our Final Thoughts on Reykjavik Northern Lights
Searching for the elusive yet magical spectacle of the northern lights in Reykjavik can be a thrilling adventure. The city offers several prime spots for aurora viewing, a range of tour options, and even accommodations where you might catch a glimpse of the lights from your window.
While seeing the lights is dependent on a variety of factors and is never guaranteed, the experience of simply being under the vast, starry Icelandic sky is remarkable in itself. So, wrap up warm, stay patient, and get ready to capture some memories that will last a lifetime.