Looking to see the Northern Lights in Reykjavik? Follow Becky Wicks on an Aurora hunt around the Icelandic capital.
We have just one week to see the Northern Lights in Iceland, and we’re on a mission. From boozy cruises and virtual reality rides to following a local’s advice and heading for a hidden lighthouse, we try it all in the hope we’ll see the Northern Lights without even leaving Reykjavik.
Starting our hunt for the Northern Lights on foot
The elderly man at the cash register in the souvenir shop ignores the Viking-horned mug I’m trying to buy, and turns to us with sparkling eyes. “Do you know the secret to seeing the Northern Lights in Reykjavik?” he asks.
He produces a map and leans in closer. “You have to wait till after 11 p.m, but before 2 a.m. Start at the harbor and follow the coast towards the Grótta lighthouse. You’ll go through a quiet residential area, with hardly any street lamps…”
He pauses, probably seeing the look on my face. A quiet residential area with minimal lighting after midnight? Do I have ‘murder me’ written on my bobble hat?
“This is Reykjavik,” he smiles. “It’s the safest city in the world. Trust me. After you see the Northern Lights, come back and show me the photos!”
With a clear night on the cards, my friend and I wait for 11 p.m and set out into the blackness.
We dance along with them like weirdos on the sidewalk as they dip and swirl and disappear, only to reappear again somewhere else in different shapes and colors. We capture them as best we can on our iPhones (not too bad, actually, see above!), and the next day, back in the souvenir shop, the wise old man sells me the Viking-horned mug and a Northern Lights keyring. He knows what he’s doing.
There are other ways to see the Northern Lights in Reykjavik without traipsing off on a freezing coastal walk in the midnight hours! During a whole week in Iceland, we try all of them.
The best time to see the Northern Lights in Reykjavik
Just like our industrious friend in the souvenir shop says, you can see the Northern Lights in Reykjavik on a clear night, in a darkened area, usually between the hours of 11 p.m – 2 a.m – you might get lucky a little earlier or later, but Icelanders swear by these times.
Just walk out towards the lighthouse at Grótta, a nature reserve on the tip of the Seltjarnarnes Peninsula. Hugged by black sands and a craggy coastline, it’s an impressive place to watch the lights above the churning Atlantic ocean.
Remember, Iceland is located at a high latitude, so it’s eternally light from mid-April until mid-August. You won’t see the Northern Lights during this time.
For your best chance, aim to be there from late August to mid-April. But for maximum chances, go from September to late March, when it’s dark after 6 p.m.
Check the Aurora Forecast to improve your chances
For your best chances at seeing the Northern Lights anywhere in Iceland, check out the Aurora Forecast from the Icelandic Met Office. The map of Iceland shows the forecast of cloud cover. Green areas mean skies are cloudy and white areas forecast clear skies. Just move the slider underneath the cloud cover map, or click directly on a day or time.
Set Sail on a Northern Lights Cruise
There’s no doubt that one of the best ways to see the Northern Lights in the city is from the water, away from the glare. With tickets to the Northern Lights Cruise, we board a big boat from Reykjavik harbor at 9 p.m, and set off into the night.
There’s booze on board at the bar, (some of the cheapest wine we find in Reykjavik, no less) and the inside is snug and warm. This is good, because out on the deck it’s freezing!
The guide up there gives a running commentary, including fun facts like “Reykjavik is the only capital city besides Nuuk, Greenland, where you can see the Northern Lights.” Sadly though, the lights don’t come out to play for us. There’s way too much cloud cover.
If this happens to you, don’t panic. The best thing about the Northern Lights Cruise is, if you don’t see the lights on the night you booked, you can book again for free on another night.
TOP TIP: Book tickets to the Northern Lights Cruise early in your trip so you leave enough time if you need to go again.
Strap in and ride the FlyOver Iceland
I’m going to be honest, this is not my first choice of attraction. Initially, it sounds too much like a theme park ride for me to get excited, but by the time we exit the building we’re blown away by what we’ve just seen!
You enter the FlyOver Iceland experience with your group and watch a cute movie narrated by a bearded man in his log cabin, by the fire.
After a little more Icelandic folklore, courtesy of a witch, you’re strapped into the FlyOver. It’s like a rollercoaster, whereby your legs are left dangling over the edge of a ride in front of a huge cinema screen. I won’t ruin what happens from here, but there are parts when you can literally feel the weather.
My friend was quite concerned for her impending hair-frizz before she forgot where she was. We were completely immersed in what felt like an open, adventurous helicopter flight across the entire awe-inspiring country of Iceland.
From windswept glaciers and flower-strewn meadows to gushing geysers, erupting volcanoes, black-sand beaches and yes, the Northern Lights, FlyOver Iceland is just… wow.
TOP TIP: Get your tickets to the FlyOver Iceland in advance, to avoid the queues before the show!
Head to the Planetarium at Perlan Museum
Áróra – the Northern Lights Show is another impressive piece of cinema that gives an actual personality to the natural phenomena known as Aurora Borealis. We flash our tickets to the Perlan Museum, which consists of six tanks with a 26-meter-high glass dome/planetarium in the middle, and settle into the auditorium.
If not for the plush seats and indoor heating in here, we wouldn’t believe we’re not looking at the actual sky.
This immersive show takes us on a gorgeous audio and visual journey into the heart of Iceland without leaving our chairs, which makes it one of the best (and warmest) ways to see the northern lights in Reykjavik.
It’s beyond relaxing too, listening to lady Áróra. It’s probably better not to sit down in here if you’re sleepy, you might not see the end.
Fun fact – five of Perlan’s six tanks contain heated water for the city of Reykjavik, and it’s all heated by geothermal energy. The sixth tank is now the Perlan Museum, home to some high-tech, hands-on exhibitions designed to take you on a journey through Iceland’s mesmerizing landscapes and natural phenomena.
Want to know the best thing about Perlan Museum? Hint: It’s not above ground, it’s beneath it. Get your tickets to Perlan Museum before you go to get in faster!
Visit the Aurora Reykjavik Northern Lights Centre
Founded by a group of friends with a burning passion for capturing the Northern Lights in Iceland and beyond, the Aurora Reykjavik Northern Lights Centre turns out to be one of our favorite places in the whole city.
We lounge on comfy floor mats and watch a loop of auroral displays, captured all over the country, projected onto a seven-meter-wide screen in 4K quality.
Every single shot at the Aurora Reykjavik Northern Lights Centre has been taken by the team. Watching the show is like joining them on a mission.
This is also the place to come if you’re looking for specifics on the Aurora Borealis, presented by the experts; what are they, abd where do they come from? How do we know when they might appear? There’s some useful information on how to photograph the Northern Lights in Reykjavik and other top spots in Iceland, too.
Probably the best bit however, is buying postcards and stamps and mailing them home from the arctic mailbox in their gift shop (My mum got hers just 2.5 weeks later!).
Want to know more about the exciting life of a Northern Lights hunter? Grab your tickets to Aurora Reykjavik in advance.
If you want to up your chances of seeing the Northern Lights in Reykjavik, take a walk to the lighthouse from the city. Set off on a late-night Northern Lights cruise. Head to the Aurora Reykjavik Northern Lights Centre for some of the best photos taken by professionals. Or see them virtual reality-style at Perlan Museum and FlyOver Iceland.
Are you planning a trip to Iceland? Check out our other Iceland blog posts and plan your trips and tours ahead!