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Where to Stay in Iceland to See Northern Lights

    Updated: 29th January 2024

    Iceland offers a variety of accommodation options that cater to Northern Lights enthusiasts. Staying in a hotel positioned far from light pollution can provide you with the comfort and convenience of enjoying the auroras, often right outside your window. Whether you’re looking for a luxury experience or a cosy cabin retreat, there are places to suit your taste and budget that enhance your chances of catching the Northern Lights in all their glory. Opting for a stay between September and April increases the likelihood of a successful sighting, as these months offer longer nights and darker skies.

    View of Northern Lights from hotel
    Credit: Giuseppe Milo

    Best Times to Visit Iceland for Northern Lights

    When you’re planning your trip to witness the Northern Lights in Iceland, your timing is crucial. The aurora borealis is visible when the night sky is dark enough to reveal its vivid colours.

    Peak Seasons:

    • Winter Months: Traditionally, from September to March, you’re most likely to catch the celestial display. The darkness and clearer skies provide ideal conditions.
    • Equinoxes: Both the Autumn and Spring Equinoxes are known for higher solar activity, making these times particularly favourable.

    Here’s a simple guide to help you plan:

    MonthChances of Seeing Northern LightsConsideration
    September-NovemberHighDarkening skies with milder weather.
    December-FebruaryVery HighLongest nights but colder temperatures.
    MarchHighIncreasing daylight but still good chances.

    Night Time Duration:

    • In September, the nights begin to grow longer, offering more opportunities.
    • The winter solstice in December means very long nights, but also colder weather and potential storms.
    • Going into March, daylight hours start to increase again, but there’s still enough darkness early in the month to spot the lights.

    To increase your chances, make sure you:

    • Check the weather: Clear skies are essential.
    • Move away from city lights: Light pollution can hinder your experience.
    • Stay flexible: Weather in Iceland can be unpredictable.

    Remember, the aurora is a natural phenomenon, and no sighting can ever be guaranteed, but choosing the right time increases your odds greatly.

    Regions of Iceland for Northern Lights Viewing

    When planning your journey to witness the Northern Lights in Iceland, choosing the right region can greatly enhance your experience. Each area offers unique landscapes and opportunities to see this natural wonder.

    Westfjords

    In the Westfjords, you’re far from the city lights, which makes for darker skies and a better display. This region is less travelled, ensuring a more serene viewing experience.

    North Iceland

    North Iceland is home to many ideal spots for Aurora sightings, such as around Lake Mývatn. This region benefits from clear skies, especially during the winter months.

    East Iceland

    Heading over to East Iceland, areas around the town of Egilsstaðir offer great chances to see the Northern Lights, with fewer tourists and unspoiled nature.

    South Iceland

    Lastly, South Iceland features many hotels that cater to Aurora watchers. Hotel Rangá is a popular choice due to its location and Aurora-welcoming amenities.

    Types of Accommodations for Northern Lights Chasers

    When planning your adventure to witness the Northern Lights in Iceland, choosing the right accommodation is crucial. You’ll want a place far from city lights with clear night skies.

    Hotels

    Hotels offer the comfort and convenience of on-site amenities and services. The Hotel Rangá, located in a remote area in the south of Iceland, is a popular choice for viewing the Aurora Borealis. Facilities often include hot tubs or spas where you can relax and await the lights.

    Guesthouses

    Guesthouses in Iceland provide a homely atmosphere with the added benefit of local knowledge shared by your hosts. They are often smaller and more intimate, allowing for a cosy experience while hunting for the Northern Lights.

    Cabins and Cottages

    Renting a cabin or cottage gives you the privacy and seclusion that many seek when chasing natural phenomena like the Aurora. These are typically situated in quieter rural areas and can offer unobstructed views of the night sky.

    Camping and Campervans

    For the more adventurous, camping or hiring a campervan lets you follow the forecast and find the best spots for viewing the lights. Campsites in Iceland are equipped to cater to campers throughout the year, although you should always be prepared for cold conditions.

    Tips for Choosing the Perfect Location

    When you’re planning to witness the Northern Lights in Iceland, selecting the right location plays a pivotal role. It’s about finding the perfect balance between darkness, clear skies, and accessibility to enhance your chances of seeing the Aurora Borealis.

    Proximity to Dark Skies

    You’ll want to stay close to areas known for their dark skies, as natural darkness is essential for the best Northern lights viewing. Consider locations such as Hotel Rangá, which is praised for its excellent viewing opportunities. It’s also worth looking at places around the Westfjords, like Latrabjarg, which offers dual attractions of the lights and a natural seabird habitat.

    Avoidance of Light Pollution

    To maximise the clarity of the Northern Lights, it’s crucial to avoid light pollution. This means staying away from urban centres where artificial lighting could diminish the visibility of the aurora. Opt for accommodations like Hotel Husafell, situated away from city lights, providing a much darker environment to enjoy the spectacle.

    Accessibility During Winter

    Consider the accessibility of your accommodation during winter months. The Northern lights are most active from September to April, but Icelandic winters can be harsh, making some locations difficult to reach. Look for hotels or guesthouses that have good winter access and offer guided tours, so you don’t have to navigate challenging winter roads on your own.

    Aurora Borealis Tours and Packages

    Exploring the ethereal Northern Lights in Iceland can be a lifetime experience. Here, you’ll find a variety of tours and packages designed to enhance your chances of witnessing this natural marvel.

    Guided Tours

    Guided tours offer the benefit of local expertise to navigate Iceland’s dark, winter nights in pursuit of the Aurora Borealis. Many of these excursions will pick you up directly from your hotel and transport you to remote locations with minimal light pollution, maximising your viewing potential. For instance, choosing an organised Northern Lights tour can provide you with comfortable transportation and insightful commentary from experienced guides.

    Self-Drive Itineraries

    If you prefer the freedom to explore at your own pace, self-drive itineraries are an excellent choice. With a self-drive tour, you can venture to off-the-beaten-path locations renowned for Northern Lights sightings, like the secluded Hotel Husafell mentioned in Capture the Atlas. Ensure your vehicle is well-equipped for winter conditions, and keep an eye on the aurora forecast to increase your chances of a successful hunt.

    Photography Workshops

    For those keen to capture the magic of the lights on camera, photography workshops that focus on the aurora are available. These workshops are tailored to photographers of all skill levels, offering guidance on how to set up the perfect shot under the guidance of professional photographers. Iceland’s stunning landscapes provide a perfect backdrop, and the expertise provided can help you come away with stunning images of the Aurora Borealis.

    Northern Lights Forecasting and Alerts

    When you’re visiting Iceland, the Northern Lights can be a spectacular sight, but catching them requires a bit of planning. To increase your chances, check out the Official Live Aurora Forecast. You’ll be guided on when the aurora activity is high and the skies are sufficiently dark and clear for a potential sighting.

    It’s essential to consider the weather forecast; you need clear skies to see the lights. Bookmark sites like the Icelandic Meteorological Office for real-time cloud coverage maps, as clouds can impede your view of the aurora.

    Subscribing to alerts from services that provide aurora forecasts is also a good idea; this way, you’re promptly notified when conditions are right. Some hotels and tour companies offer Northern Lights wake-up calls or alerts so that you won’t miss out if they appear.

    Consider these quick tips while planning:

    • Darkness: The lights are only visible in the dark, so winter months, from September to April, are your best bet.
    • Clear skies: Constantly monitor cloud coverage.
    • Aurora activity: Look for a high aurora forecast.
    • Alerts: Sign up for notifications from reliable services.

    By staying informed on the forecast and signing up for alerts, you’re better positioned to experience the magical Northern Lights during your stay in Iceland.

    What to Pack for Your Northern Lights Trip

    When heading to Iceland to witness the mesmerising Northern Lights, packing appropriately is key. Your luggage should include clothing and gear to handle the chilly Icelandic weather.

    • Thermal Base Layer: Start with a thermal base layer, which will be crucial in retaining body heat. Opt for materials like merino wool or synthetic fibres rather than cotton, as they remain warm even when damp.
    • Insulation Layer: Over your base, add an insulation layer – typically fleece or a lightweight down jacket – that can be easily adjusted as conditions change.
    • Waterproof Outer Layer: A waterproof and windproof jacket and trousers are absolutely essential. They’ll protect you from Iceland’s unpredictable weather and help you stay dry.
    • Accessories: Don’t forget a warm hat, gloves, and a scarf. These accessories should be both insulated and waterproof if possible.
    • Footwear: Waterproof hiking boots with a good grip will help keep your feet warm and dry, especially if you venture into snowy terrain.
    • Camera Gear: If capturing the Northern Lights is on your to-do list, bring a camera with a good low-light capability and a tripod.
    Essentials for Comfort and Convenience
    Daypack
    Power Bank
    Headlamp

    Remember, layering is the most efficient way to manage body temperature and remain comfortable during your Northern Lights adventure.

    Sustainable Travel and Respect for Nature

    When visiting Iceland, embracing sustainable travel practices is crucial to preserving the country’s pristine wilderness. Your actions have a powerful impact on the natural environment, especially when seeking to witness the majestic Northern Lights.

    Before You Go:

    • Choose eco-friendly accommodations committed to green practices. For example, many hotels offer wake-up calls for the Northern Lights, ensuring you don’t miss the spectacle while also conserving energy during your stay.
    • Pack reusable items like water bottles and shopping bags to minimise waste.

    During Your Stay:

    • Respect wildlife and natural habitats by staying on marked trails and paths.
    • Use public transportation, carpool, or rent electric vehicles to reduce your carbon footprint.
    • Support local communities by opting for tours and experiences led by locals who value the preservation of their environment.

    Considerations:

    • Be mindful of light pollution. Diminish lights at night to reduce the impact on the environment and improve your Northern Lights viewing experience.
    • Take photographs without leaving a trace. Avoid going off-path for that ‘perfect shot’.

    By prioritising these sustainable practices, you contribute to preserving Iceland’s natural beauty for future generations to delight in. Remember, your journey to see the Northern Lights can be as meaningful to the earth as it is to you.

    Check out our guides on alternative hotel options around Iceland!

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