Posted by: neilh10 | November 28, 2011

Seeing the Northern Lights in Iceland

Over the past few weeks I have been recieving a large number of enquiries from people hoping to travel to Iceland this winter, to see the northern lights.

Flateyri, the town in the Westfjords where I rent out my apartment, is as good as anywhere in Iceland to spot the lights. There is close to zero light pollution, and it is much further north than Reykjavik. The location is convenient for a northern lights hunt as it lies within 30 minutes driving distance of five different fjords with different weather systems, so if one fjord is covered in cloud, you could just drive to the next one. I can only speak from my own experience, but I’ve seen the northern lights on every trip I’ve made in wintertime, as have all my winter guests so far. I’m hoping my luck continues in to 2012!

(some guests of mine, just outside Flateyri in October 2010. Not about to win any national geographic awards)

Talking to my guests I have compiled a list of top tips for seeing the northern lights. This applies to my apartment in Flateyri, but the advice is also relevant for anyone going on holiday to Iceland in wintertime and hoping to catch a display of the northern lights.

1) The first tip is quite unusual but I think it is important that it is made. Lots of people go to Iceland with the sole intention of seeing the northern lights, but then end up disappointed if it doesn’t happen for them. The thing to remember is that Iceland is an awesome country with a lot of other things to do than just seeing the northern lights. For instance the Westfjords has great skiing and kayaking. Isafjordur (20 mins from Flateyri) has a range of restaurants, bars and cultural activities. And all of this is totally unspoiled by mass tourism, and would be well worth visiting even if the northern lights didn’t exist. So, my tip is to plan lots of other activities on your trip, other than hunting for the northern lights.

2) My second tip is to get a car if you can. To see the northern lights you need to move away from artificial light, if you are on foot you will be restricted to just one area. Having a car means that you can drive around and cover more ground. It also means that you can stay warm and stay out for longer.

3) My third tip is be persistent. Many Icelanders see the Northern lights so often that they are only really attracted to very dramatic displays. They also tend to go to work and sleep for much of the night. But this isn’t true for you as you have more time on your hands on holiday. Personally the times I have seen the lights are between 10pm and 2am – I don’t know if this is scientifically proven but for me at least that has always been the time the lights are the most active.

4) Know what you are looking for. The northern lights in reality are often rather different to what people were expecting. The first point is that they are not as green as you think, but mysteriously they tend to end up green whenever you take a picture of them. Feint displays of the northern lights are often indistinguishable from cloud. At the other end of the scale, the lights can be frightening – like the multicoloured beams of an alien spaceship. Given this, it is a good idea to read up on the lights before you go, so you know what it is you are actually looking for. You could start by looking at the web pages of the University of Alaska, that deal with this subject.



  1. Hi, I’ve just found your blog. I’d love to have a holiday home in Iceland! : )

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