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Best Time To Visit Iceland for the Northern Lights

3 min read

Iceland is an island country in the Atlantic Ocean that lies in between the continents of North America and Europe. Geographically, it's next door to a much larger neighbor, Greenland. Iceland and Greenland, which is considered an autonomous country within the Kingdom of Denmark, share some common history in terms of how they were discovered and developed.

Viewing the Northern Lights while sailing the Arctic Ocean is possible on polar voyages that include Iceland and Greenland.

Viewing the Northern Lights while sailing the Arctic Ocean is possible on polar voyages that include
Iceland and Greenland. Photo: Nicky Souness

Iceland was first discovered by the Vikings under the vision of famed Viking explorer Erik the Red. This led to a settlement in Iceland that was largely made up of people with Nordic and Celtic ancestry. The Vikings were also responsible for the initial creation of the capital city of Reykjavík which, at the time, was little more than a small settlement. Today, the capital city is a beacon of Viking culture, a cosmopolitan travel destination with a booming future.

Geographically, Iceland, apart from its proximity to neighboring Greenland, is approximately 800 kilometers due west from Scotland. Despite the vast distance from mainland Europe, Iceland remains tied to its European heritage, treating voyaging explorers to a more ecological and adventurous experience throughout the land. In this article, we look at what the best time is to visit Iceland for Northern Lights.

Best time to visit Iceland for the Northern Lights

The Northern Lights, known scientifically as Aurora Borealis, are a rare yet beautiful sight to behold when powerful rays from the sun arrive on Earth, but the Earth's magnetic shield diverts those rays towards the North and South poles. The northern experience triggers Aurora Borealis as particles that emanate from the rays appear as a palette of astonishing bright colors over the Earth's atmosphere. This is the experience of the Northern Lights.

Remote areas within or near the Arctic Circle are the best locations to witness the Northern Nights, places unobstructed by human-made lighting. Iceland is one of the locations best positioned to provide an unobstructed view of the phenomenon. However, timing is critical to appreciate the experience in its entirety.

According to the Guide to Iceland, the best time to see the Aurora borealis in Iceland is between September and April. This is the time of year when the nights are longest, providing ample opportunities to witness the Northern Lights. Late evening and overnight hours are also the best times to witness the colored rays in the sky.

Where is the best place to see the Northern Lights in Iceland?

The further north you travel on a polar voyage, the greater your chances of seeing the magical Northern Lights.

The further north you travel on a polar voyage, the greater your chances of seeing the
magical Northern Lights. Photo: Acacia Johnson

Since the Northern Lights are sometimes unpredictable and are more visible in certain locations, it's best to have several options when planning to see the phenomenon. For that reason, one of your best opportunities is to book a multi-destination voyage such as Three Arctic Islands: Iceland, Greenland, and Spitsbergen.

This 15-day journey includes visits to all three remote northern islands. Seasoned travelers recommend you head up to the deck of the ship at night especially along the coast of East Greenland. Much of Greenland's eastern coastline is uninhabited and large parts of the region are included within a preserved national park. This means there are very few electric lights that will obstruct the natural presentation of the Aurora Borealis. The farther away from cities and human settlements with manufactured light, the higher your chances of witnessing the Northern Lights during an Arctic voyage.

What is the best way to see the Northern Lights in Iceland?

The best way to see the Northern Lights is while you're aboard your vessel where no large landforms or buildings can obstruct your view. Out on the sea, you have very few electric lights to reduce the chances of seeing the Northern Lights.

However, there are other reasons to travel to Iceland. As one of the nations on the cusp of the Arctic Circle, Iceland is a dream destination for polar adventurers eager to enjoy a land rich in ice sheets, gorgeous green fields, free-flowing fjords, towering cliffs, volcanoes, and, of course, natural hot springs for which Iceland is famous.

Iceland is also one of the best places in the world to undertake whale watching as pods of whales love to congregate off the shores of the island nation. The best time of year for whale watching is late September into October, which just so happens to coincide with Quark Expeditions' expeditions into this part of the world.

Are there cruises to Iceland?

For an Icelandic cruise with the best opportunity for a view of the Northern Lights, you'll want to consider the Under the Northern Lights: Exploring Iceland and East Greenland itinerary. This 14-day journey begins in the Icelandic capital of Reykjavik and takes you as far north as Ella Island off the coast of Greenland. It's in this region where you'll have the best opportunities to witness the Northern Lights, should the skies remain clear.

Along the way, you'll also get to experience some of Iceland's hidden gems, including the enticing Westfjords. And if you're keen to cross the Arctic Circle, Grimley Island is the only part of Iceland that's above the Arctic Circle. This is one of the prime destinations for people who appreciate nature, waterfalls, glaciers, wildlife, birds, and Viking history.

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