1) What are the Northern Lights?
The Northern Lights, known as Aurora Borealis, are a natural light phenomenon displayed in the Earth’s sky. They are the result of electrically charged particles from the sun colliding with gaseous particles in the Earth’s atmosphere. They appear as dancing light in the sky and their colour may vary. They are usually green but can also occasionally be purple, pink, orange, red or blue in more rarely cases. Their colours indeed depend on the elements being ionised.
The auroras only appear at the poles due to the nature of Earth’s magnetic field. Usually above 60° Latitude in the North and below 60° Latitude in the South. The Northern Lights are known as “Aurora borealis” in the North and “Aurora Australis” in the South. Iceland approximately located at the Latitude 64° North is in a very good location to admire the beauty of the dancing lights.
2) When can I see the Northern Lights?
The best time of the year to see the Northern Lights in Iceland is from the end of August to beginning of April when the nights are dark enough so they can be seen in the sky. Before or after that, even though there might be aurora activity in the sky, the brightness of the sun at night will not allow you to see the colourful lights. But don’t worry, the Icelandic midnight sun is incredible too!
To conclude, you can only see Northern Lights, in the winter time. However, it does not mean that they put on the show every night for 8 months straight. For Northern Lights to be seen, you’ll have more luck if the following conditions are reunited:
Of course, that’s a must. Without enough solar activity, the lights won’t appear. You can check the aurora activity on www.vedur.is like every Icelander does to see how likely it is to see the show at night. The higher the number on the scale is, the more activity there is so the greatest are your chances of seeing Northern Lights. You have to check this forecast every day even several times a day because the predictions change very quickly. We for example check the forecast until 30 min before going for Northern Lights’ hunt to have the most accurate forecast. Also, it is unfortunately impossible to know more than a few days in advance what the forecast will be.
The sky has to be clear for you to see the Northern Lights because clouds will block any visibility. But, if temperatures go below zero degree Celsius, the skies are usually clearer. You can check the cloud forecast on that same website (www.vedur.is) that shows aurora forecast to check whether or not the night will be cloudy in your region. That allows you to make or adapt your plans accordingly and optimize your chances of seeing Northern Lights.
As you know, you can only hunt for Northern Lights during the winter time and that is because you need darkness to be able to see the colours in the sky. Also, you should avoid light pollution meaning that the further you get away from the city lights, the better are your chances of seeing them. We highly recommend to leave the city for a more authentic and unique experience of Northern Lights show.
*Add on:The Northern Lights tend to be active for 2/3 nights in a row then low for 4/5 nights, in ongoing circles. So, the longer your stay is the greatest are your chances of seeing Northern Lights.
3) What are the best places to see Northern Lights?
There are a bunch of places that are very good to hunt the Northern Lights in Iceland even though it does not guarantee that you will see them for sure. As previously said, it depends on the forecast, activity and darkness. It’s first and for most a matter of luck, patience and adventure. There are few of the best places known for beautiful Northern Lights on a good active night: Þingvellir National Park, Vík, Skógafoss, Skaftafell National Park, Jökulsarlón, Látrabjarg, Kirkjufell (Grundarfjörður), Mývatn, etc.
4) Can I see the Northern Lights in Reykjavík?
You can also see the Northern Lights in Reykjavík on a very good night when the lights are quite active. If that is the case, for a better sight, we recommend you to go to Grótta Lighthouse in the Seltjarnarness Peninsula. The light pollution there is cleared and there is even a little geothermal tub where you can bath your feet while waiting for Lady Aurora to start the show. Another great place for Northern Lights hunt in Reykjavík would be Öskjuhlíð. Surrounded by a forest, a divine restaurant and the cultural center Perlan, it is a great area away from the light pollution of the city and it has shown great results of Northern Lights’ hunt.
5) What’s the best way to see Northern Lights?
There are many ways possible to enjoy a Northern Lights experience.
For more information about Northern Lights, you can check the Aurora Museum in Reykjavik for educational videos and signs about this mysterious but yet unique phenomenon of nature. Or visit auroraforcast.is
(Aurora Reykjavík: Grandagarður 2, 101 Reykjavík)