Best Time to See the Northern Lights in Iceland: The Complete Guide
What is the best time to see the Northern Lights in Iceland? Is it possible to turn them on and off? Are the Northern Lights visible during the summer? What is the best way to see the Northern Lights?
Northern Lights are one of Iceland’s trademarks. Renowned for the beautiful phenomenon in the sky, Iceland is a magical place, especially during the Northern Lights season. Additionally, these bright, colourful dancing lights can be found all over the island!
Best Time to See the Northern Lights in Iceland
Northern Lights are visible in Iceland for about eights months a year, from the early September to late April. However, the sheer fact that it is possible to see Northern Lights in this eight-month period doesn’t mean that they’re always visible. If only it was that easy!
If we focus only on the statistics, there are four months where the Northern Lights are most active. Two in the fall and two in the spring.
- September & October
- March & April
These four months, then, are statistically the best time to see the Northern Lights in Iceland!
Keep in mind that although the activity of the Northern Lights is skyrocketing, the conditions for actually seeing them might not be optimal!
Optimal Conditions for Northern Lights in Iceland
There are three factors that determine whether and where the Northern Lights can be spotted.
- Clear skies
- Aurora activity
Grab your notepad and get ready to note down how Northern Lights can be the cherry on top of your perfect winter holiday!
The first thing you need to ensure you’ll be able to see Northern Lights is darkness. Hence, winter is always considered the best time to see the Northern Lights in Iceland.
Contradictory to common belief, the Northern Lights are always active, even though they’re not visible to the naked eye. During the summer, they are obscured by the brightness of the sun! Therefore, Northern Lights are dancing over Iceland all year round, although only visible in the darkness following winter!
In the winter, Icelander’s relate a lot to Batman’s villain Bane in regards to darkness. Do you think you’ve experienced darkness? You merely adopted the dark. We were born in it, molded by it!
Northern Lights are like Bane, they prefer darkness to shine!
Therefore, visiting Iceland in the summer will grant you almost endless sunlight but no (visible) Northern Lights. Visiting Iceland in the winter will grant you the chance of seeing the Northern Lights but hardly any sunlight!
Second of all, the sky needs to be clear in order to see Northern Lights. There’s a simple rule to follow, if you can’t see the stars you will not be able to spot Northern Lights. As the clouds are usually less than 10 km above the ground and the Northern Lights roughly 100 km higher up, the chances are not in your favour if they are blocking the view.
Therefore, it’s not only darkness you’re seeking. Darkness is only one out of three factors. Although it might be pitch dark and high aurora activity, the clouds could be blocking the Northern Lights! Damn you, clouds!
When it’s raining or snowing, the sky is not clear. Unfortunately, rain and snow are common during the winter in Iceland! Therefore, a day or two probably won’t be enough for Northern Lights hunting. Unless you’re extremely lucky!
Most suggest spending a week in order to maximise the chances of seeing Northern Lights in Iceland. These elusive yet breathtaking lights are that difficult to control. But I mean, if it was easy everybody would be doing it! It’s all part of the experience!
What are the chances of at least one night of clear sky in a week in Iceland? The short answer is quite decent!
Lastly — and most importantly — the actual aurora activity!
Thankfully, it is possible to rely on the Icelandic Met Office. It provides all the information you need to know whether it’s worth going out hunting for the Northern Lights or not. It’s only possible to predict few days at a time so unfortunately you can’t plan your visit accordingly! Again, it’s all down to luck! And patience I guess. But mostly luck!
Contrary to our Scandinavian neighbours, Northern Lights are found everywhere in Iceland. As a rule of thumb, however, the norther you are the better! The Northern Light Belt, which circles around, can contract itself. When that happens, the strongest lights are found in North Iceland. When you’re only around for a few days, couple hundred kilometers might make a difference!
Best Way to See the Northern Lights: From a Traditional Icelandic Oak Boat!
North Sailing offers a Northern Lights Exploration Sailing on board a traditional Icelandic oak boat. It’s a great way to increase your chances of seeing the Northern Lights as you’re far away from any light pollution. As long as there are clear skies and aurora activity, you should be all good since it’s pitch dark in the bay.
During the sailing, our experienced crew will tell you stories about the northern lights, give you more information about the area and serve you refreshments.
Although we recommend dressing warmly, warm overalls are provided to all of our passengers. Remember to bring your hat and gloves and camera and spare batteries, and we should ready to go northern lights hunting!