Although it would be great to easily pinpoint a how to see them, there are a lot of variables to consider for seeing them: season, weather, length of stay, location and luck. Of course, there are lots of fantastic things to do in Iceland and it’s always best to think of seeing the northern lights as an added bonus. So e.g. plan your trip with unique experience like The Aurora Bubble. You will come back happy even if you did not see any northern lights dance. Hopefully this article will answer all your questions about the best time to see the northern lights in Iceland!
What Are The Northern Lights?
First, a little bit of background on them. The northern lights are the result of electrically charged particles from the sun colliding with gaseous particles in the Earth’s atmosphere, causing displays of bright, colourful dancing lights. They are visible in the magnetic polar regions of the northern and southern hemispheres (they are known as Aurora australis in the south) and they can range in colour from white, green, pink and purple.
According to the Northern Lights Centre in Canada, scientific studies have found that the northern and southern Auroras often occur at the same time as mirror images. This of course means that the Auroras are often happening, even if they aren’t visible to us down on the ground. In the northern hemisphere, the lights are best seen from Iceland, Greenland, northern Norway, Siberia, the Canadian territories and Alaska. Thanks to the latitude of the North American continent in relation to the magnetic pole, the lights have been seen as far south as New Orleans! This is a rare and remarkable thing, though.
In Iceland, seeing the northern lights is most certainly annual and regular, although still rather unpredictable.
The Best Time To See The Northern Lights In Iceland
Guaranteed darkness is the first important factor. The best season to see the northern lights in Iceland is from September to mid-April – these are the months where there are full dark nights. Some sources will recommend November to February, as they are the darkest months with the longest possible window to see the lights, however these sources often fail to take into account that these months can have the worst weather with lots of rain and snow. It is also not unheard of to see the lights as early as mid-August, once the final traces of the midnight sun summer are gone.
Second most important factor is the length of time you choose to stay in Iceland. To get the best odds of seeing the lights, it is recommended you stay a minimum of seven nights in the country. The northern lights usually tend to be very active for two to three nights, then low for four to five nights, in ongoing cycles. Naturally, not everyone can take long trips here and Iceland is a renowned stopover destination, but if the northern lights are on your bucket list we highly recommend you make sure you can take a good long trip here. Given that the factors for viewing them have to all be aligned, the longer time you spend in the country, the higher your chances are of seeing them.
Next important factor is the weather. Since Iceland is a small north Atlantic island, it is subject to fierce and rapidly changing weather. The old cliché “if you don’t like the weather, wait five minutes” could not be truer of this country. In order to see the northern lights, the skies need to be very clear. This often coincides with some of our coldest nights, since clear dark weather in Iceland usually means temperatures below freezing. On warmer nights, there is usually precipitation or at least quite a bit of cloud coverage.