The Northern Lights are one of the biggest draws of visiting Iceland in winter. In all honesty, Iceland is also one of the biggest gambles when selecting a Northern Lights holiday because of the island nation’s notoriously unpredictable weather. While there are statistically better chances to see the Aurora other places, Iceland is worth the gamble. The jaw-dropping gorgeous landscapes and variety of things to do for adventure seekers like us undoubtedly make it our favorite country on the planet. So roll the dice, because when the Northern Lights do come out to dance there’s just not a prettier place on Earth to watch the show from. That’s why we put together this complete guide to Northern Lights in Iceland to help you plan your Northern Lights adventure:
Top 3 Places to See the Northern Lights in Iceland
Myvatn: Dramatic Landscapes
The North of Iceland experiences colder temperatures than the South Coast, due to the Gulf Stream. That means that the weather is more stable and predictable in the North than the South. That also means that the North is an excellent place for Northern Lights viewing.
You want to avoid staying in Akureyri since it is the second largest urban area in Iceland just behind Reykjavik, and the capital of the North. Myvatn, however, is the perfect small village with plenty to do and keep you busy between hunting for the Northern Lights.
South Coast: Waterfalls and Glacier Lagoons
While the South Coast experiences the most unpredictable weather of anywhere in Iceland, Icelanders always joke to just wait 15 minutes for something different. You can experience high wind, sunshine, rain and even snow all in the same day. The clouds tend to be fast moving, making Northern Lights viewing more challenging.
But when the Northern Lights do come out to dance, there’s hardly a more spectacular place to see them on the planet. Glacier lagoons with floating icebergs illuminated in green under a curtain of the Aurora Borealis and an eerie plane crash with green billowing up like flames from a camp fire make for some of the most wow-inducing shots of this natural phenomenon.
The Westfjords are the least populated and also the least visited part of Iceland. While winter tours are available, winter tourism is not a busy time in this part of Iceland due to the complete unpredictability of the winter weather in the Westfjords. High winds can delay flights for days at a time, so the best way to reach the Westfjords is with 4×4 vehicle and plenty of time allotted for travel. Just avoid planning travel to or from the Westfjords in winter on Saturdays; that’s the only day of the week that the snow plows do not clear the roads and Route 61 is the only road in or out of the Northern Westfjords.
All that said, the Westfjords offer some of the most dramatic landscapes and best Northern Lights viewing on the island. The small population means there is almost no light pollution and the Northern Lights are easily spotted just by stepping out the door of your guest house. We recommend planning a Westfjords Northern Lights trip to in September or early October to avoid the potential winter weather delays.
Best Hotels To See the Northern Lights Right Out Your Door
Hotel Ranga: Hella, South Coast
Hotel Ranga is easily accessible set just off of Iceland’s Route 1, which circles the entire island nation. But located 8 kilometers outside Hella, the luxury hotel is far away from any light pollution. It’s situated on a salmon river and just a few minutes drive from Seljalandsfoss, Iceland’s famous waterfall that you can walk behind.
Aside from the fantastic location, Hotel Ranga is one of the top spots to observe the Northern Lights in all of Iceland. It’s not so much the location, since the only predictable thing about weather on the South Coast is that it is unpredictable. However, Hotel Ranga employs a night watchman who’s sole job function is to keep lookout for the Aurora. You can check off your room number at the front desk nightly for a Northern Lights wake-up call. They’ll even find you if you’re in the dining room or relaxing around the hotel, as the staff did when we were still at dinner and the Northern Lights came out to dance.
Vogafos Guesthouse: Myvatn, North Iceland
Like Hotel Ranga, Vogafjós Guesthouse‘s location makes it a perfect location for Northern Lights viewing. Set on a farm in a lava field, the individual cabins are far removed from the light pollution of, well, anything. The farm is also a short drive from the pseudocraters of Lake Myvatn, fields of Icelandic horses and natural hot springs, all of which make for gorgeous backdrops to your Northern Lights photos.
Vogafos Guesthouse doesn’t offer a Northern Lights wake-up call, but it’s easy enough to set your alarm regularly and just poke your head outside your door to check for the Aurora. We saw one of the best Northern Lights displays we’ve seen right outside our door at Vogafos.
Hotel Berg: Reykjanes Peninsula
Hotel Berg is located just outside of Keflavik and sits on a hill above the tiny harbor. The proximity to attractions like the Blue Lagoon, many lighthouses and the lesser visited Reykjanes Peninsula make it an excellent base for exploring. And it’s still close enough to enjoy all that Reykjavik has to offer.
Hotel Berg works with a local photographer and Aurora hunter to offer Northern Lights wake-up calls. He phones the hotel when he spots the Northern Lights. We recommend making the short drive to the Hólmsbergsviti lighthouse for a great foreground to your photo.
Heydalur Guesthouse: Westfjords
The Heydalur Guesthouse is so off-the-beaten-path in the Westfjords that Google maps will tell you the address is inaccessible. You need a 4×4 since you do have to drive on a very rough dirt road, but the remote location is worth the effort to get there.
You can book a camping spot for either your tent or camper van or a room in the guesthouse. Either way, all you have to do is pop your head outside and look out for the Northern Lights. With absolutely no light pollution from anywhere, it’s just you, bands of green and about a million stars. You can also wander over to the farm’s natural hot pot for a soak under the Aurora.
Our Top Tips for Seeing the Northern Lights in Iceland
We’ve written about this pretty extensively, but our top tips for seeing the Northern Lights can basically summed up into putting the effort in to seeing them. There’s no guarantee and there’s certainly no specific time. You just have to take your chances.
- Book a Northern Lights tour, especially if you’re basing yourself in Reykjavik or Akureyri. A tour is an easy way to get out of the city and local guides know spots where the skies typically have clear patches. Most importantly, tour guides know exactly what to look for. The Northern Lights don’t always appear like they do in photos since the camera’s sensor is capable of seeing a broader color spectrum than our naked eyes are and you very well may not even know you’re looking at the Northern Lights.
- Even if you book a tour, the Northern Lights don’t always cooperate during the tour. To increase your chances, book a hotel in a more remote location. And better yet, book one that offers a Northern Lights wake-up call like the ones I mentioned above.
- Just because the Northern Lights are a no-show before your bedtime, don’t give up. Set your alarm to wake-up and check for the Aurora every 30 minutes. You might need a vacation to recuperate from your Iceland vacation, but witnessing one of the greatest natural shows on earth is worth losing a little sleep.
- Spend at least 5 nights in Iceland. There’s plenty to see and do to fill a 5-day itinerary in this beautiful Nordic nation.