Iceland is a dream location for explorers in the world. The country attracts eyes because of a horde of reasons. Whether it is unique birds or whales, Iceland’s charm knows no boundaries when it comes to wildlife and sealife. Narrow canyons and vast green lands on Icelandic mainlands stand together. Stunning formations not just lend a thrilling touch but also add to Iceland’s grand aura. Filled with these charming natural gems, Iceland also consists of a miracle-like phenomenon known as the Northern Lights. These exceptionally beautiful lights appear only in selected places on the planet. While locals of the country hold these lights as divine, tourists from foreign lands come here to experience these lights.
Northern Lights in Reykjavik- A Scientific Phenomenon
Northern lights or Aurora Borealis, visible in Iceland, are a natural but scientific phenomenon. Globetrotters come to experience this phenomenon which is spread across rather than one particular spot. When solar particles enter the earth’s magnetic field and ionize high in the atmosphere, they form a kind of prism effect. This is visible in the form of Northern Lights. The entire process depends on solar activity and the acceleration speed of these particles. Prominently neon green, these dancing lights in the sky can occasionally appear in various colors such as purple, red, pink, orange, and blue. Their colors depend upon the ionization of elements. The collision of the gases with the light particles and the altitude of the collision decides the color of the Aurora. Each particular gas brings a different color to the surface. Oxygen, for instance, produces a greenish hue or a red light that only occurs when the collision occurs 150 miles above the surface.
Iceland is an arctic area where solar activities cannot be predicted. Some days when the sun is not so active, there is less or no chance to catch upon northern lights. Even if you go out on a dark and clear night, in the absence of solar activity there won’t be any Aurora Borealis. These bright natural lights only appear at the two opposite poles – North and South pole, due to the high magnetic force of these two areas.
Places around Reykjavik Where You Can Spot Northern Lights
The northern lights capture the heart at just one look. It is a molding experience to look at them and immerse them amidst the dark ambiance. With all the excitement, it is also essential to plan where you can spot these lights. Aurora Borealis cannot be seen in too much light which is called ‘Light Pollution’. Therefor it can be hard to see the northern lights in downtown Reykjavik where the light pollution is high. Tourists mostly prefer to go to the outskirts of the city Reykjavik, where the light is appropriate, to enjoy the Aurora Borealis.
In some areas, due to lack of solar activity, you cannot spot the Northern Lights. So if you are planning a tour especially to experience the Northern Lights, you need a list of particular places to catch them around Reykjavik.
If you have your own rental car, it is ideal to go to these locations when the northern lights are visible from Reykjavik. If you do not have your own car, we highly recommend that you book a norther lights tour with a northern lights expert that will take you to the best northern lights spot in the country each night.
- Lake Hvaleyrarvatn: Lake Hvaleyrarvatn is located within a few meters of Hafnarfjordur. You do not have to drive past Hafnarfjordur to spot the northern lights. A car park is built to the west of the lake for the ease of the tourists. You can follow the walking trail from the car park to the south shore. The charm of this place doubles as the lights are reflected in the lake and produce a beautiful effect.
- Grótta Lighthouse: Grótta lighthouse is considered one of the most convenient places to locate northern lights. Grótta lighthouse is in the close vicinity of Seltjarnarnes, which is at a distance of five minutes’ drive from downtown Reykjavik. There is minimal light pollution here, so the chances to watch the lights become better. This becomes quite a picturesque location as the lighthouse lends a magnificent effect to your photographs. The lighthouse is always crowded with the tourists as it is a hot spot to see the lights. So if you are planning to go here, ensure that you reach way before time to book a comfortable spot.
- Lake Kleifarvatn: Lake Kleifarvatn flows in the south of the Icelandic capital. It will take you about a thirty-minute drive to reach here. The largest lake on the Reykjanes peninsula, Kleifarvatn is brimming with quiet locales and tranquility. Bird watchers, hikers, and joggers make it their hub by the day, and at night, explorers take over the lake to see northern lights. You can access it by following the route 42 south after Hafnarfjordur.
- The Lava Tunnel in Þrengslin: Þrengslin is a road between Reykjavik and Þorlákshöfn. It is considered an ideal place to see the Northern Lights as you can reach here easily. Situated at about 35 minutes’ drive from the capital, there are almost no buildings or infrastructure that can contribute to light pollution In Þrengslin. It is a beautiful place where you can indulge in multiple things as you can take a tour of the lava tunnel, Raufarhólshellir, in the day. By the night, you can set up camp to see the northern lights. From the parking at the Lava Tunnel, you can easily reach the cave Raufarhólshellir. Moving west from Þrengslin, you can reach Garður or Kleifarvatn. If clouds hinder your view of the sky, you can drive towards Þingvellir national park which is in the north-east of Þrengslin. You will have to plan a longer tour here as there are many worth watching places in the surroundings. For further ease, there are evening tours available in winters for the Lava Tunnel. Tours are beneficial as you can cover a long itinerary in less time.
- Þingvellir National Park: Under an hour’s drive from Reykjavik, Þingvellir National Park is an exquisite location. It is a great place to see the Northern Lights and to get absorbed in the floral wealth. The interesting thing about this park is that it is one of the places where the two continental tectonic plates meet. This is why you get to experience the phenomenon simultaneously in North America and Europe.
Multiple Ways to Reach the Spots
There are many options that you can consider to reach the various places that are host to Northern Lights. Some people consider personal tours via their own vehicle while others like to get a guided tour with a northern lights expert. Every option has several advantages and some shortfalls, you just have to decide which option suits you best. Here are some points that can lead to clarity.
Renting a car
- There can be multiple reasons to rent a car. If your budget is limited and you are still left with many places to uncover, renting a car is a feasible option. Planned tours are often extravagant when it comes to costs. Although to rent a car you will have to be updated with other necessary information such as weather forecast, if a spot is closed on a particular day and which spot can offer the best view of the northern lights.
- You need to have a valid driver’s license to rent a car in Iceland. When you are with a group of close friends, it is recommended that you rent a car. It offers independence and you can travel with the least interference from outsiders. You just need impeccable navigational skills and fine driving skills. Two-wheel drive is a great option for most roads in Iceland while the four-wheel drive are suitable options for the gravel roads of Iceland. Choosing a vehicle according to the strength of your group and luggage is advisable.
Booking a Guided Tour
- Minibus tours are extremely popular to see Northern Lights. To hunt for the Aurora Borealis, planned tours are a suitable option. You travel with like-minded people who all gather to explore the beauty of the northern lights. The tours run mostly from September to April, when the phenomena of Aurora Borealis is expected. The best part is if the tours are canceled or unsuccessful, you will usually get another chance to see them without any extra cost.
- Professional tour guides accompany you on these trips. They ensure that you visit all the great spots in the surrounding areas. You also do not have to engage in navigational hassles. You are saved from driving hassles in Iceland’s winter condition too. So if you have a long list of places that you want to cover without any extra tension, guided tours are best.
- There are experts on these tours who guide you where to find and photograph the Northern Lights. They know technicalities like where can you find minimal light and the best view to northern lights.
Northern Lights on a Boat Tour
A great way to enjoy the incredible phenomenon of the Northern Lights is by watching them while on a boat tour. You can make arrangements for a boat tour from both ports – Akureyri and Reykjavik. The marvelous beauty of these tours is that they take you away from any light pollution towards the sea. Heading straight out into Eyjafjordur Fjord or Faxafloi Bay, these tours begin from their respective towns’ downtown harbors. They offer a fantastic opportunity to see Aurora Borealis amidst the calm of the ocean.
The lights look even more charming when you sight them from near a water body. The reflection of the northern lights in water is an experience worth capturing. Beautiful landscapes under the blanket of the stars, out in the ocean is an instance that you can savor for life. As an added perk, you can also take this boat tour as a whale watching experience. Both Faxafloi and Eyjafjordur are hosts to white-beaked dolphins and harbor porpoises.
Ready with the Backpack- Things to Pack
Keeping essentials is mandatory when you plan a trip to sight Northern Lights. Here are some points to consider.
- Sturdy Shoes: A pair of shoes with excellent grip is necessary. You might have to cover long distances, not just to experience but to hike in general. Moss-covered surfaces and slopes are frequently found in Iceland, especially around water bodies. Good shoes can help you overcome all these problems.
- Warm Clothes: Spotting the Aurora Borealis means you will have to spend a lot of time out in the open, it is ideal to wear and pack double-layered clothing when going on the northern lights hunt. Ensure that you layer up properly because Iceland’s winters can be harsh.
- Power Banks and Spare Batteries: Always keep extra fully-charged batteries handy. This eliminates all chances of a dead camera as you would want to click so many pictures in Iceland. Keeping a power bank is a smart option as smartphones can run out of battery anytime.
- Map: Considered by many an outdated option, a map can be really helpful. It shows every location clearly and boldly. A map can be a savior if your phone runs out of battery and you cannot see a location in it.
- A Torch: Tours to see northern lights are conducted during the nights. Although places are aptly crowded, keeping a small torch is an ideal option. It will also help you save the battery of your phone as you would not have to switch on the flashlight.
- A Tripod: If you want to capture the northern lights on a photo it is necessary to bring a tripod of any kind.