If you’re planning to be in Iceland any time from late August to early April, then one of the things you’ve got on your itinerary is bound to be the Northern Lights. They’re present in the atmosphere year-round, of course, but in summer there’s too much light to be able to see them. When seeking out potential spots from which to view the Aurora Borealis, you’ll need a place that’s unsullied by light pollution (which is why most people prefer to view the Northern Lights from outside Reykjavik) and somewhere with unimpeded views to the north.
So, assuming you’re lucky enough to have a favourable aurora forecast and a weather report that promises clear skies, where should you go? Here are some suggestions for the best places to see the Northern Lights near Reykjavik.
One of the most convenient places to wait for the Northern Lights is out by Grótta lighthouse in Seltjarnarnes, which is just five minutes from downtown Reykjavik by car. The lighthouse itself adds interest to any pictures you might take and it’s easy to find. However, though the skies are dark, it’s so close to the city that you’ll have to share the experience with plenty of locals and tourists.
Situated further from Reykjavik, on the face of it Kirkjufell, or Church Mountain, seems a great choice. The distinctive shape of this Snæfellsnes peninsula landmark is easy to focus on if you’re trying to capture an image with your camera, which makes it worth the two-hour journey for anyone serious about their photography. Unfortunately, it’s also utterly Insta-worthy and so likely to be crowded on a night which promises a strong showing.
Reykjanes offers the visitor a couple of good options. One of these is Lake Kleifarvatn, about a thirty-minute drive south of the capital. It’s the largest lake on the Reykjanes peninsula and you access it following route 42 south after Hafnarfjordur. By day, the lake attracts bird watchers, hikers and joggers. As you’ll use the same lakeshore trail, it’s worth scoping out the place before the sun sets to choose a suitable spot.
You don’t actually need to drive past Hafnarfjordur to see the Northern Lights, as the smaller Lake Hvaleyrarvatn is very close by. There’s a little car park to the west of the lake from which a walking trail follows the south shore. If you’re lucky, the Aurora Borealis will appear and be reflected in the water beneath.
Reykjanes comes up trumps again with the village of Garður. Its two lighthouses perch on the end of a peninsula about an hour’s drive from the bright lights of Reykjavik. The shorter one dates from 1897 and the newer, taller one from 1944. From either, you’ll have a fantastic view of the Northern Lights.
Under an hour from Reykjavik, the seat of the original Icelandic parliament is hardly off the beaten track but nevertheless it’s a great place to see the Northern Lights. You get to watch the phenomenon simultaneously in North America and Europe, because it’s one of the places where the two continental tectonic plates meet.
Finally, an ideal place to see the Northern Lights is in Þrengslin, a road between Reykjavik and Þorlákshöfn – about 35 minutes drive from the capital. In Þrengslin, there are almost no buildings or infrastructure that can contribute to light pollution. The best parking is at The Lava Tunnel (cave Raufarhólshellir) located in Þrengslin and from there you can easily move west towards Garður or Kleifarvatn to the north-east towards Þingvellir national park – should clouds hinder your view to the sky. It is worth mentioning that The Lava Tunnel offers evening tours in the winter so it is an ideal combination to take an hour evening tour into the mighty cave Raufarhólshellir and then step out to search for the Northern lights, right at the Lava Tunnel´s parking lot. Good hunting!