Iceland is one of those magical places in the world that you often see in magazines, TV shows and movies. It is nature’s canvas in which the elements paint otherworldly landscapes such as pristine fjords, therapeutic thermal pools, fierce geysers and immaculate glaciers. While summer allows travelers to enjoy the great outdoors, the icy winter season draws visitors to the country to witness the Northern Lights. The dancing lights illuminate the skies in a spectacular show that’s like no other. If you’re up for a once-in-a-lifetime travel experience, watching the Northern Lights in Iceland is something you should not miss.
About the Northern Lights
Also known as Aurora Borealis, the Northern Lights is Iceland’s major draw during the cold months. The phenomena occurs annually when gas in the Earth’s atmosphere clash with charged particles from the sun. The beautiful result is a medley of ethereal colors like pink, green, purple and white dancing in the sky.
Iceland’s latitudinal position gives a splendid view of the Northern Lights. The special astronomic event can also be seen in Greenland, Siberia, Norway, Canada and Alaska. When you’re in Iceland, several encounters of the Northern Lights can be expected right in the capital Reykjavik or in the city’s outskirts.
Don’t get excited yet! The yearly appearance of the Northern Lights is a sure thing, but catching a glimpse of it requires sharpening one’s aurora-hunting skills.
When to See the Northern Lights
Iceland’s night sky promises a full view of the Aurora Borealis beginning in September all the way through mid-April. Within this period, spectators are guaranteed dark skies with less distractions like snow and rain that can surely dampen the mood of your Northern Lights viewing.
Oftentimes it can be frustrating to catch entirety of the Aurora in one night. It has been known to put up a show for a couple of nights, and then disappear for a few days, only to return the following week. When planning to visit Iceland for this yearly event, give yourself ample time to gain more chances of seeing the Northern Lights.
The weather forecast in Iceland can help you catch the elusive Aurora during your trip. Look out for areas where there is a strong possibility of clear night skies. Check weather updates and the online forecast for the Northern Lights regularly so you won’t fall prey to the fierce weather conditions in Iceland that tend to change rapidly.
Best Places for Catching the Aurora
Around Reykjavik, there are places that are perfect for spotting these festive lights. The capital’s scenic waterfront is the first place you can check out for Aurora viewing. You can wait in the area on which the famous Sun Voyager sculpture also stands and revel in the beautiful seaside location.
Another awesome spot for viewing is in the magnificent Perlan building. The architectural landmark has a viewing platform that ideally captures the Northern Lights when the sun begins to set.
A more quiet and serene location is the township of Seltjarnarnes, a half an hour’s walk from Reykjavik. Locals and visitors love to take a stroll along the coastal walking paths, take a dip in the geothermal pool or play golf on the seaside golf course. Watching the Northern Lights from Seltjarnarnes promises less of the city lights that prevail in the capital.
Other travelers prefer to do their viewing in the countryside through a self-drive tour. So if you’re looking for more adventures on your trip to Iceland, rent a car and keep that map handy. The best places offering views of the Northern Lights include the Westfjords, Landmannalaugar and the very popular Jokulsarlon glacier lagoon in southeast Iceland.
Where to Dine in Reykjavik
For most travelers, Reykjavik is the base for journeys in and around Iceland. The capital will give you a fine array of dining options to let you try both traditional and modern Icelandic cuisines.
• DILL Restaurant. The pioneer force behind modern Nordic cuisine, this restaurant showcases the local food culture at its finest. The menu changes frequently to highlight seasonal ingredients.
• Icelandic Fish and Chips. True to Iceland’s healthy food choices, the owners use better alternatives like rapeseed oil for frying and spelt for batter. Fish selections are based on the fresh catch of the day.
• Kaloportid Flea Market. Get a taste of traditional local foods sold in the food market like birch cheese, horse sausage and pastries. It’s definitely for the adventurous traveler.
• Grillmarkadurinn. Creative dishes served in an Art Nouveau venue. Choose from various fish, game and meat grilled specialties while relaxing in the artfully designed space.
More Things to See and Do In Iceland
Expect the unexpected is a phrase that can be attributed to Iceland. Aside from gazing up at the Northern Lights, there are yet more adventures to try in this wonderful country.
1. Meet the Great Geysir and watch it spurt steam and boiling water up in the air, if you’re lucky. Iceland’s most popular hot spring has had fewer eruptions over the past decades. Not to worry though. Strokkur is just nearby for some spellbinding geyser action every 10 or so minutes.
2. What’s a trip to Iceland without seeing ice? Take a tour of Vatnajokull, the biggest glacier mass in the continent. Watch ice caps crash into the waters and discover perilous deep cracks in the surface of the glacier.
3. Lace up your hiking shoes for a highland trek in Landmannalaugar. There are enormous lava fields, lush valleys and picturesque mountains for a colorful feast for the eyes.
4. See the rugged beauty of Iceland’s coastline in the West Fjords, located in the northwestern tip of Iceland. Get to experience the rural life among locals living in the small villages.
5. Take a dip in the Blue Lagoon for a perfect geothermal spa experience. Found in southwestern Iceland, the spa is set in lava field that’s less than an hour from Reykjavik. Beauty treatments, sauna rooms and restaurants are included in the facilities.