Friendly disclaimer! We want to be as accurate as possible, but given these challenging times, we urge you to recheck that the venues are open when you decide to visit.
Auroras, also known as the northern lights (aurora borealis), or the southern lights (aurora australis), are such a magical and out-of-the-world phenomenon. The many myths attached to them, therefore, come as no surprise. Inuits saw in them the dancing spirits of their ancestors. And while the Nordics believed they were fire bridges to the sky used by the Gods, the Sámis explained them as sparks in the sky caused by fleeing fire foxes.
So what are they really? Simply put, they are a multi-hued and moving display of light in the night skies, occurring mainly in the high-latitude Arctic and Antarctic regions.
Reykjavík, the capital of the Arctic nation of Iceland with its long dark winter nights (between September and April), is an ideal destination to start an adventure tracing the celestial Northern Lights. So here are Unravelog’s recommendations and tips on where you can catch these other-worldly phenomena in and around Reykjavik.
When time and budget are of concern or setting out on extended/guided tours to the interiors of the country is not feasible you may still pick out spots within Reykjavík.
Grótta Nature Reserve
Situated at the end of the Seltjarnarne peninsula in the northwest Reykjavík, Grótta is a nature reserve and a tied-island, well known for its lighthouse. Besides biking, bird-watching, and seal-spotting on its black sands, it is a great place to wait and watch out for the Northern lights on clear nights – there is minimal light pollution here. Be aware of the tides as the island’s link to the mainland is submerged during high tide.
This is a hilly woodland close to Reykjavík’s central landmark, the Perlan Museum and Restaurant. At just 200m above sea level, it is full of walking paths through the forest and hiking trails that extend from Perlan at the top and Nautholsvik thermal beach at the bottom, traversing through places like the Fossvogsdalur and Elliðaárdalur Valleys, and the Elliðavatn Lake. The dense forests offer a dark canopy against the night sky and offer great spots to observe the northern lights from any of its clearings.
The Laugardalur Park is known as the people’s park of Reykjavík for the numerous facilities it offers – biking paths, thermal pools open until the night, botanical gardens, camping grounds, ice-rinks, and a zoo (open year-round). The lack of light pollution makes it ideal for eyeing the Northern Lights from the comfort of its thermal pools.
Unravelog tip: Consider getting a Reykjavík City Card for unlimited access to all of the city’s pools.
Getting there: From the city centre, there are buses available to the park and Bus no. 14 drops one directly at Laugardalslaug pool.
More info: The main Laugardalslaug pool is open from 6:30 am and 8 am on weekdays and until 10 pm every day and children from the age of 6 are allowed in.
Another way to savour the view of the Northern lights is from a boat in the midst of the North Atlantic Ocean, while also enjoying the city lights and mountain views from afar. There are many boat tours that set off from the old Reykjavík Harbour and typically last for two and a half hours. Trips, dependent on how calm and safe the seas are on any given night, require pre-booking.
This is yet again a quick way to get out of the city and embark on an expert chase of the lights, without incurring high costs. They are for a minimum of three hours and offer pick services from most Reykjavík hotels and bus stops. Trips are dependent on the weather and the probability of sighting the lights on any day. Some tours include The Aurora Centre museum en route. Cancellations are refunded and notified in advance.
If staying for a few days in Reykjavík, there are plenty of places worth a half-day or a day trip, with enough distance from the din of the city:
This is a beautiful stream found along the famous Route 1 of Iceland connecting its southern towns with the capital. As it is located away from any town or settlement, it is relatively lesser-known and free from light pollution. It is around 30 minutes from Reykjavík; one can reach it by driving down in a rental car or as part of a longer guided tour. This is a volcanic region covered by seasonal moss and snow.
Þingvellir National Park
This UNESCO world heritage site is significant for the country, as the site where its parliament was established in 830 AD and continued to assemble until 1798. The Silfra drift or the meeting point of the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates is also located here. There are many open ravines formed by the tectonic movement of the land and the ravine at Silfra is one of the best diving spots in the world, filled with crystal-clear water from the Langjökull glacier.
Besides this, the Almannagjá gorge here has earned fame as a filming site for a few episodes of the popular Game of Thrones series. Last but not least, it offers the most expansive skies for an unfiltered view of the Northern Lights and we even recommend camping out here for a night.
This tiny village of around 20 people, located approximately 155 kilometres from Reykjavík, has become a popular tourist stop on the ring road. It is flanked by the most beautiful Icelandic waterfalls of Skógafoss and a folk museum. Hike up to the top of the waterfalls and witness the rainbow formed by its misty surroundings. Wait until nightfall to witness the Northern lights jumping across its jagged landscape.
If the Northern Lights have left you enthralled with the natural wonders of Reykjavik and you are interested to explore the city further, you must check out our detailed itinerary that will help you to unravel Reykjavik in 3 days.