The best time to see the northern lights in Iceland

Best months to catch the lights

Timing a trip to Iceland means weighing several factors: there are the usual seasons to contend with, but also some major fluctuations in daylight hours along with, of course, the seasonal aurora cycle. The weather is most pleasant during the summer months, but the stupendously long days mean your chances of seeing the northern lights are almost non-existent.

All in all, getting your timing right is essential -- especially if you’re hoping to catch a good light show.

The winter months (October to April) bring snow, rain, sleet, windy and icy conditions, dark skies, sub-zero temperatures--with an average around 0°C (32°F) -- and less than four hours of daylight.

Spring (May) means frequent rain, showers, wind, some ice and temperatures averaging around 5 °C (40 °F).

Summer (June to August) is by far the most hospitable weather-wise with temperatures averaging around 12 °C (53 °F) and low humidity. But remember you’ll have less than four hours of darkness at night, so opportunities to catch the northern lights are slim!

During the autumn (around September) you can expect rain, wind, light snow and some ice on the roads.

The northern lights are sometimes visible during the spring months, but the best times are autumn (September) and winter (October - April). During the autumn and winter months, the night skies are at their darkest, increasing your chances of catching a light show.

The aurora is strongest from mid-March to mid-April at the end of the cycle.

How to maximise your chances of seeing the northern lights

Aurora watchers, experts who specialise in tracking the northern lights, suggest that to maximise your chances of spotting the elusive northern lights you should follow these top tips:

  • Arrange at least a 7-day visit to Iceland, because cloudy weather could stay for 3-4 days.
  • December is by far the darkest month, with an average of four hours of daylight.
  • Take as many photos of the night skies as possible with an SLR camera, because the sky can appear white to the human eye, but cameras will pick up the colours of the lights.
  • Use a tour company that gives you multiple chances of seeing the lights. These companies usually offer to take you out every night for free if the lights don’t appear on the first trip.
  • Follow the aurora forecast closely.

Iceland’s aurora forecast is produced by the Icelandic Meteorological Office (MET) and displays a live forecast of the cloud coverage across Iceland.

White on the forecast means that there are no clouds and dark green means that the clouds are very strong.

There is also an aurora number between 0 and 9 which symbolises the strength of the aurora over Iceland, with 0 meaning there is no chance to see the lights, and 9 meaning that the lights are strong and visible. The aurora forecast is also available as a regularly updated recorded message by calling +354 902 0600.

Northern lights FAQs

How to plan a successful trip

Will I need a tour guide?

Iceland is a pretty easy place to visit independently. That said there are a few benefits to organising at least part of your trip with a guide. The logistical advantages make a huge difference -- instead of worrying about getting from A to B you can just sit back and enjoy the trip. A tour will also enable you to get off-the-beaten path in more remote areas where 4X4 vehicles are essential.

A tour also means having an expert guide on hand, with in-depth knowledge of the Aurora Borealis, the latest forecasts and access to specialist software to track the movement of the northern lights. You can see the lights by yourself, but if you only have a few days in the country, you’ll probably want to maximise your chances with an expert.

Will light pollution cause any issues?

Light pollution can get in the way in Reykjavik and sometimes in Akureyri, but virtually everywhere else it won’t be a problem.

Will I need a high-resolution or DSLR camera to photograph the northern lights?

A professional camera isn’t necessary, but to capture decent photos you’ll need a tripod and a camera that allows you to control the shutter speed and to override the flash.

If your camera offers the settings, you should choose a high ISO (at least 800) and a nice, long exposure -- at least 15 seconds. If in doubt, bring plenty of memory cards so you can shoot at will and play around with the settings!

How do I get to/around Iceland?

International flights arrive at Keflavik International Airport, about 50km southwest of Reykjavik. This is Iceland’s only international airport. It serves more than 30 airlines and receives flights from Europe and North America. Flying times are roughly three hours from London and five hours from New York. In recent years, Iceland has become a major stopover destination for trans-Atlantic flights.

Once in Iceland, domestic flights leave from Reykjavik Airport (located in central Reykjavik). This is the main base for flights to the rest of the island, serving three airlines with daily flights to Akureyri (north Iceland), Egilsstaðir (east Iceland), Ísafjörður (Westfjords), Höfn (southeast Iceland) and Vestmannaeyjar.

Icelanders rely heavily on their road system because there is no train network. The Ring Road, or Route 1, is the main circular road connecting most of Iceland’s main settlements. The total length of the two-lane road is 1,332km and it connects popular attractions to the capital, including Selfoss (south Iceland), Egilsstaðir (east Iceland), Akureyri (north Iceland), and Borgarnes (west Iceland).

Is Iceland family-friendly?

Iceland is renowned for being a family-friendly and welcoming country. Many hotels and hostels have family rooms, and many tour organisers and travel companies are certified by Barnaverndarstofa (the Government Agency for Child Protection). There are plenty of attractions for children, particularly those related to huldufólk, the elf-like ‘hidden people’ that play a central role in Icelandic folklore.

Practically speaking, the climate and access conditions to some of Iceland’s natural attractions make them less suitable for babies and very young children.

If in doubt, it is advisable to ask your tour operator for further guidance.

What are some local food & drink highlights?

Iceland boasts a varied selection of local food and drink specialities, many of which cannot be found anywhere else. Here are some of the local food and drink highlights well worth sampling when in Iceland:

Skyr:Iceland’s local yoghurt is thick, sweet, sour, and goes well with both sweet and savoury dishes--and is just as tasty when eaten on its own. Skyr, which is technically a soft cheese, is sold in many different flavours, including blueberry and strawberry, but it is only authentic Skyr if it is produced in Iceland.

Hákarl: It’s not for everyone. You need to be particularly adventurous to try rotten shark, but it is a local speciality that is sold in shops that only sell this most Icelandic of foods. It smells horrible, its taste is unique, and its texture is chewy, but it’s definitely local.

Rúgbrauð: This is a local rye bread that can be baked by being placed in a wooden cask that is buried in the ground next to a hot spring. Icelanders serve the dark brown bread with butter or smoked lamb.

Brennivin:A local unsweetened schnapps that is usually bottled at 40% ABV strength and is served in bars across the country. The strong vodka-like drink is usually served in a shot glass.

Bland: A mix of Appelsin (orange soda) and malt (dark and sweet malt) is popular at Christmas time, and it is non-alcoholic.

Where to see the Northern Lights in Reykjavik

Stunning scenery beyond the Northern Lights

Reykjavik, the capital of Iceland, may be a small city by international standards, but it has a lot going for it.

Like any European capital, the city is packed with great restaurants, lively bars and a good range of hotels for all budgets. The city hosts a number of annual festivals, several excellent museums and a great music and cultural scene. Reykjavik’s architectural style of brightly coloured buildings, with traditional corrugated iron-clad houses alongside ultra-modernist blocks make it a curious and explorable city.


But perhaps even more importantly, virtually every northern lights tour starts and ends in the city. Most visitors assume Reykjavik will be a stopping-off point to explore the rest of the island and see the lights, but with stunning scenery right on the city’s doorstep you can find some excellent viewing spots just a short drive from your hotel.

Most people come to Iceland hoping to see the northern lights, and there are many spots near Reykjavik from where it’s possible to catch a great light show, if the conditions are right.

Grótta lighthouse, to the northwest of the city, is where the skies are darkest and where the sea meets land, creating a unique atmosphere. If the northern lights are visible here, you might see some spectacular reflections in the water. The area is also free to access. The lighthouse is a 10-minute taxi ride from Reykjavik City Hall.

Öskjuhlíð Hill is the closest viewing site to central Reykjavik, close to Perlan on a hill behind Hallgrimskirkja. Here, the lights reflect and dance on the snow on the surrounding mountains and can be wonderful to see. Take bus number 18 from Hlemmur Bus Terminal to Perlan (a single fare costs ISK 440 each way).

At a glance

As the hub for your holiday, Reykjavik has a lot going for it. Being compact but with many hotels and attractions, it’s easy and convenient to get around. And unlike some of the country’s other viewing locations, there’s no need for off-road vehicles to catch a light show!

Reykjavik is where you’ll find experienced northern lights tour companies, and there is also a specialised observer base for the lights. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the Icelandic Meteorological Office is one of the world’s leading authorities on aurora forecasting. Experienced forecasters use satellite images to provide a live picture of where to find the northern lights across Iceland on their website.

The city is close to Iceland’s only international airport and there are domestic flights to other destinations across the island.

There are drawbacks to light spotting in Reykjavik of course. As a small but buzzing city, there is some light pollution, which can make it less than ideal. That said, when the aurora forecast looks especially good, city authorities will sometimes switch off the street lights to give residents a clearer view.

Remember that Iceland is an increasingly popular and busy place, and during the autumn and winter months, the private and small group tour companies are regularly fully booked. And you won’t be the only one chasing the lights--there will be lots of coach parties out hoping to catch the light show.

Other attractions

Of course, being a natural phenomenon there’s no guarantee that you’ll see the lights. But whether you see them or not, there are many other attractions in and around Reykjavik to make for a wonderful holiday.

Best-known is the Golden Circle tour of the region’s waterfalls, lagoons and geysers. The tour typically lasts a full day, but half-day tours are available.

In the city, there’s Hallgrímskirkja, a modern church which offers uninterrupted views across the city and the surrounding natural sights (entrance ISK 900).

Reykjavik's annual festivals are a mainstay of the city’s cultural scene. The world-famous Iceland Airwaves festival takes place in early November, in late November there are Christmas carols at the Lighting of the Oslo Christmas Tree and the Winter Lights Festival in early February sees the city’s attractions covered in glowing lights.

At the Secret Solstice Festival (mid-June, during the summer solstice) top musical acts play over 48 hours during constant daylight. Shortly after, Iceland celebrates its National Day (June 17) when the city centre comes alive with parties, food stalls, and re-enactments of Viking battles.

Reykjavik boasts several excellent museums, many of which are dedicated to the country’s Viking past, including Arbaer Open Air Museum (entrance ISK 1,600) which houses an authentic Viking settlement; The Settlement Exhibition - Landnámssýningin (entrance ISK 1,600) which is an interactive museum dedicated to the city’s Viking legacy; and Culture House - Safnahúsið (entrance ISK 2,000) which displays artefacts of historical significance.

For something a little more unusual there is the Phallological Museum, dedicated to more than 200 penises of animals, fish, and humans (entrance ISK 1,500).

And of course, there’s plenty of shopping to be had on Iceland's main shopping street, Laugavegur, in the centre of the city.

The Reykjanes Peninsula is a dramatic and wild region of Iceland located on the southwestern tip of the island. This UNESCO-listed geopark is a place of outstanding natural beauty. The region is home to brightly coloured wooden churches, snowy mountains, vast lava fields, and dolphin-filled seas. A secluded wooden lighthouse stands alone at the tip of the island.


The best months for seeing the northern lights here are between September and March.

The whole peninsula offers clear views of the lights, so there are no particularly recommended viewing spots. The main settlement in the peninsula, Reykjanesbær, is perfect for seeing the lights, and the secluded lighthouse jutting out into the sea at the north end of the peninsula can be a highlight.

At a glance

Like so many other places in Iceland, this region is an uninterrupted wilderness and there is little light pollution to get in the way of viewing the lights. The main settlement, Reykjanesbær has a wonderful quiet town atmosphere with outstanding natural beauty on the doorstep. The architecture is also delightful and there are plenty of hiking paths for walkers.

You’ll need to drive to the region from Reykjavik or from Keflavik International Airport which is just south of the capital. There are few settlements outside Reykjanesbær.

Most tour companies lead coach trips from Reykjavik to the Blue Lagoon, one of the country’s most popular attractions. The lagoon is a geothermal spa carved into the black lava surrounding Svartsengi geothermal power plant. Heated and mineral-rich water filters into the pools every two days. The waters are purported to offer numerous health benefits but are also popular as a place to simply relax.

Other attractions

Viking World is a museum home to the Viking ship Íslendingur (Icelander) (entry is ISK 1,500).

Brennisteinsfjöll are green moss-covered sulphur mountains and you can tour disused sulphur mines.

Eldey is a 77m rock standing alone in the middle of the sea off the peninsula. It’s an amazing sight when the seas are calm -- it looks like an iceberg floating on the water.

West Iceland is remote and stunningly beautiful. With its endless lakes, towering mountains and dramatic lava fields, it’s a wonderful region to explore -- ideally on horseback. The remoteness makes it a perfect place to see the northern lights. The skies are clear and there’s little light pollution to get in the way.

Iceland_West Iceland

The northern lights can be best seen in west Iceland between September and April.

Snæfellsnes peninsula -- around Snorrastaðir farm, anyone interested in geology will enjoy the great views of Eldborg rock formation. At night, a series of small rivers and lakes reflect the many bright colours of the northern lights. Anyone lucky enough to see the display here will have memories to treasure forever. The peninsula is a 90km piece of land that protrudes from the island. It is around a 2-hour drive north from Reykjavik.

Glymur Waterfall is Iceland’s largest waterfall. It’s at the end of the Hvaljörður peninsula, and it creates spectacular sprays of water which rise into the sky and make the aurora seem even brighter and more impressive. It’s about an hour’s drive from Reykjavik, at the heart of Hvaljörður fjord.

At a glance

West Iceland offers some of the most wonderful yet under-rated natural sights in the country, including endless snow-covered lava fields, the Breiðdalur volcanic area, and the Hengifoss waterfall. And the complete absence of light pollution makes it a great place to see the northern lights.

Other attractions

The Settlement Centre is a museum dedicated to the Viking settlements of Iceland and it is housed in two of the oldest buildings in the country (entrance is ISK 2,400).

Háafell Farm is an active goat farm where you can visit the goats and buy local products.

Snorrastofa Museum is home to Iceland's oldest works of literature.

Hengifoss Waterfall is Iceland’s second highest waterfall, and one of the most remote. There is a hiking path that leads from the top of the waterfall to the bottom. There is also an easily accessible shallow cave behind the falls that echoes with the thundering water.

Breiðdalur volcanic area is one of the most picturesque areas in Iceland. The landscape is littered with inactive volcanoes covered in grass, moss, and rivers. From the main, and tallest, volcano, Mt. Bæjartindur, views can be had across the landscape.

The Westfjords region is a large peninsula jutting out towards Greenland from Iceland’s extreme northwest corner. The region is dominated by sheer cliffs that plunge dramatically into the sea and a countless number of fjords, some small, some large, which are carved into the coastline.

There are a number of tiny fishing villages clinging to the edge of the peninsula. The largest settlement, Ísafjörður, has fewer than 2,600 inhabitants, all of whom live on a spit of flat land which juts out into a fjord.


The best time to see the lights is between September and March.

Small though it is, there is no need to leave Ísafjörður to see the northern lights. It is sparsely populated, and the easiest place in the region to get around. As you might imagine, there is little or no light pollution at night, and the lights can be seen strong and clear thanks to the region’s close proximity to the Arctic Circle.

Dynjandi waterfall is in Geirþjófsfjörður, known as "the middle bit" of Westfjords. The falls spray water vapour into the air, creating a mist that carries the flashing lights across the area in a most spectacular way.

Bolafjall is a tall cliff overlooking the village of Bolungarvík and it offers extraordinary views--some people say all the way to Greenland. Certainly, the northern lights between Iceland and Greenland are brighter and stronger than almost anywhere else thanks to the solar winds channeling between the two islands. It can be extremely windy at the top and the road to get there takes strong nerves!

Reykjanes geothermal area is an Olympic-sized natural hot pool next to the sea, close to the road, and with a wonderful view of the mountains. It’s a perfect (and romantic) place to watch the skies glowing with the northern lights.

At a glance

The Westfjords are remote, with tiny settlements clinging to the shoreline. Naturally there is no light pollution to cloud your view of the lights. The views of the towering cliffs and mountains and sparkling lakes are breathtaking and there are more than enough hiking paths on the very edge of Iceland to keep the most committed walker happy.

Because of its remoteness and historical disconnection from the mainland, from when the 10km isthmus was covered in ice, fishing has become the mainstay of this region. Route 60, the only major road in this part of the country, leads from the beaches and villages next to the sea, up and around the mountains.

It’s not the easiest place to get to. You’ll need to drive from Akureyri or Reykjavik, or fly from Reykjavik on one of the twice daily flights. Keep in mind that during the winter, there might be weather advisories and road closures, so monitor the forecast closely.

Other attractions

The Westfjords region is a great place to venture out and experience the great Icelandic outdoors. There’s horse riding along the sea cliffs and surrounding hills; there’s fishing (fresh and saltwater), and there’s some great skiing on illuminated ski slopes in Ísafjörður.

There are some interesting folksy cultural attractions too. In Þingeyri village you’ll find a Viking village and working replica Viking longboat, and a witchcraft museum at Hólmavík.

Where to see the Northern Lights in North Iceland

Endless lakes and historic monuments

With its tumbling waterfalls, seemingly endless lakes and rivers, abundant wildlife and historic monuments, it’s not surprising that North Iceland was voted Lonely Planet’s number one destination to visit in 2015. This remote region is centred on Akureyri, the unofficial capital of North Iceland and second ‘city’ (more a town). It is an ideal base from which to see the northern lights. No wonder then, that this is fast becoming ‘the’ place for tourists to visit in the country.

The northern lights season runs from September to April.

Central Akureyri is as good a place as any to see the northern lights. There's no need to escape the town to see a display because the lights are so strong in this part of the world, they can easily be seen from the heart of the town at night -- perfect for those who prefer not to leave their hotel!

Lake Mývatn is a huge lake in the north of the country, about 30 minutes from Akureyri, filled with small islands. There are regular eruptions of steam in the middle of the lake. In the surrounding area, there are lava rock formations called ‘Dimmuborgir (dark castles), shaped like castles rising from the ground. Regular day tours leave Akureyri for the lake, approximately 1 hour 15 minutes. If the weather allows for it in the winter, it is possible to hire a car and drive through the wilderness along Route 1.

At a glance

North Iceland is an uninterrupted wilderness, yet close to the amenities of Akureyri. Despite the size of the town, there is little light pollution to spoil your view of the northern lights. In addition to seeing the lights, there is a lot for the visitor to take in, thanks to the region’s amazing natural beauty with its lakes, cliffs, mountains, and hot springs.

Of course, being a remote region has its downsides. In the winter, it is best to fly from Reykjavik to get to Akureyri, and there are few settlements outside the town. You’ll need to travel with a specialised tour company to get out into the countryside safely.

Other attractions

Whale watching is a wonderful summer activity when the seas are calm. You can make the trip in traditional wooden boats, which take you out into the bays of Skjálfandi and Eyjafjörður.

Skiing is available in Dalvik, which is about 35 minutes from Akureyri. Even when closed, the ski area can be opened up by request with two days’ notice.

Dimmuborgir is a rock formation unlike anything else. The lava rocks have been naturally carved into the shapes of castles. The area could easily be mistaken for the backdrop in a Lord of the Rings film.

Akureyrakirkja is one of the largest churches in Iceland and the symbol of Akureyri. Two geometrically-shaped towers stand above the entrance and the whitewashed bricks glow in the bright midday sun during the summer.

Helgi the Lean and Thorunn Hyrna statues stand tall above Akureyri city centre. In the year 890 AD, the first settlers in Akureyri named Helgi the Lean and Thorunn Hyrna arrived after being raised in Ireland. On Hamarkot rocks, next to the police station on Brekkugata Street, Helgi established his farm called Kristnes (Christ-ness).

Icelandic Seal Centre is a fascinating museum on the life of seals in Iceland.

The east can be a winter wonderland with endless ice fields, where towns are few and far between, and the northern lights are bright. Wild reindeer roam the land and wildlife such as Arctic char and trout swim in the lakes and wild horses walk the mountains. Small quaint villages with brightly coloured houses hug the coastline, all adding to the region’s charm.


The northern lights can be best seen between September and April.

Mount Snæfell or Snow Mountain, is the tallest free-standing mountain in the country and is possibly the best place in east Iceland to see the lights. The skies are completely dark with uninterrupted views, and the snow reflects the lights in a most spectacular way. There are no buses to Snæfell, so taking a tour is your best option, especially in the winter when driving in the area can be tricky.

Mount Dyrfjöll is not a real mountain, but a rock formation in the middle of an icy wilderness. It offers sweeping views across the landscape from an elevated position. It is a challenging walk though, and you will need good hiking boots in the autumn and winter to prevent falling on the ice. Drive to Dyrfjoll on road number 94. It's between Fjotsdalsherad and Borgarfjordur Eystri and it takes about 3.5 hours to hike to the summit.

Breiðdalsvik is one of the longest and widest valleys in east Iceland. Valleys, much like fjords, create a beautiful landscape from which to see the northern lights. But this is a wilderness and you will need an expert guide. Although remote and difficult to find, the main village of the same name has hotels, coffee shops, restaurants, and one of the country’s first co-operative shops, founded in 1883. Flights go from Reykjavik’s domestic airport to Egilsstaðir, and the village is located a 1-hour drive from the airport, or a 7-hour drive direct from Reykjavik along Highway 1.

At a glance

This is an uninterrupted wilderness offering truly amazing landscapes unlike anything to be seen anywhere in the world. There is no light pollution to spoil your view of the lights, and for the more adventurous there are high mountains and cliffs which will get you front-row seats to the show.

However, being as remote as it is, the region can be expensive to get to, and few specialised tour companies operate there. It is also difficult to travel around without 4x4 vehicles. And don’t expect lively nightlife--there are few settlements consisting of more than clusters of houses.

Other attractions

Hiking: there are many trails and routes for people wanting to get close to the region’s great outdoors, some of which can be done without a guide. But, be careful during the winter months. Alternatively, your tour operator will organise a guided route, with equipment provided.

Fáskrúðsfjörður settlement is one of the eastern-most villages in Iceland with a population of fewer than 1,000 souls. Interestingly, the village was originally settled by French fishermen. They built their own houses and harbour, even a hospital, which would meet their needs while they were there to fish. There is still a French flavour to the place and the old hospital is now a hotel--which, according to some locals, is haunted.

Papey Island is tiny and magical, and a must-see. A boat out to the uninhabited island is not to be missed for the wonderful views and the wildlife during the summer. Depending on the time of year, you might see seals, puffins, guillemots and other seabirds. But be warned, the ride can be bumpy, and there’s a good chance of getting wet!

Skiing is available at Stafdalur’s small ski facility. You can try Alpine skiing, cross-country, snowboarding and also riding a snowmobile. It’s floodlit, and naturally, the views are breathtaking. There are three ski lifts covering 5km of natural snow-covered slopes ranging from 450m and 800m elevations. 30% of the resort is classified as easy, 60% as intermediate, and 10% difficult. Stafdalur is open between December and May between 10am and 4pm every day. Day tickets start at ISK 2,500.

Whoever coined the phrase “the middle of nowhere” could have had Iceland’s highlands in mind. It’s a vast, unspoilt and unpopulated wilderness -- 40,000 square kilometres of endless deserts, mossy fields, and snow-covered mountains at the centre of the island.

The scenery here ranks among the world’s most dramatic, with a landscape marked by ice caves, hot springs and horses roaming freely. Not surprisingly, the region attracts more adventurous visitors every year. There is some wonderful hiking to be done in this remarkable part of Iceland, and of course, hot springs to relax in.


The northern lights can be best seen across the region between September and April.

However, many roads to the highlands are closed to the public from September. Visiting the highlands in the winter months typically means joining a tour with specially-modified vehicles to navigate the snowy terrain.

Þórsmörk region, named for the famed Norse God Thor (Þór), is a stunning landscape of mountain ridges, valleys and glaciers. This is a major hiking and trekking destination and, thanks to its pitch-black night skies, is an excellent place to see the northern lights. To access this area in winter, you will need to visit on a tour. There are several routes to take in the area ranging from short day trips from Reykjavik to multi-day treks.

Laugahraun lava field is a huge lava field in Landmannalaugar. The natural hot water rivers and warm pools give off steam, which creates a unique atmosphere making for some terrific and unusual photographs of the lights. But you will need a specialist guide to ensure that you don't get stranded among the active volcanoes! There is a 75-bed camping hut owned by Ferdafelag Islands at the edge of the lava field in Landmannalaugar. You must visit with a guide in the winter months.

Hekla Volcano is about 30km from Landmannalaugar. The unusual natural angle of this 1,491m-high volcano and its constant cover of snow creates another unique opportunity for photographers. Again, you’ll need a guide to find your way around what is one of Iceland’s most active volcanoes (the most recent eruption was in 2000).

At a glance

The highlands region is an uninterrupted wilderness with incredible landscapes. Because it is so remote there is no light pollution, and the high mountains and cliffs allow the adventurous to get up higher for even better views and photos of the northern lights.

The remoteness of the region, which makes it so attractive, also brings a few drawbacks. You’ll have to travel by land from Reykjavik as there are no airports. As you’d probably expect, it is difficult to travel round the region without a specially-modified vehicle and there are few settlements with any hotels or amenities. Most people visit this region with the support of a tour operator, and in the winter it is necessary to visit with a guide.

Other attractions in the area

Askja is in an even more remote part of the already-remote highlands. Tours visit the area and the scenery is mind-blowing. If you think it looks like a moonscape you won’t be surprised to learn that astronauts on lunar missions were brought here for part of their training. The mountain is known as a caldera. It has a 1,510m deep cauldron-like depression at its centre (hence its name) which forms a green-blue lake that smokes in the midday sun during the summer. The area is accessible for only a few months of the year (between late June and early October) with experienced guides.

Landmannalaugar is a geothermal area surrounded by spectacular and colourful mountains where visitors can bathe in the natural hot springs. It’s an experience you won’t want to miss.

Sprengisandur is a stunning route and perfect for long or short hikes during the summer. The longer the hike the more you’ll need to plan, and the more physically fit you’ll need to be. It is an isolated area, rich with legend and superstition. In earlier times, when beliefs in elves were common, nervous travellers would ride their horses so fast that they became exhausted: sprenja in Icelandic -- which is how the area got its name. Now, travellers will want to take their time and soak up the unforgettable views.

South Iceland made the news for all the wrong reasons after the 2010 eruption of volcano Eyjafjallajökull which caused air traffic disruption across the Atlantic. When it’s not causing global travel chaos, this region happens to be one of the best places in Iceland to see the country’s eponymous glaciers, the vast slow-flowing ice fields which cover 10 per cent of the island.

You can only explore the glaciers on guided tours. South Iceland is home to Iceland’s largest national park, Vatnajökull, which covers over 13,920 sq km -- an incredible 14% of the country -- and the region is accessible thanks to easy connections via the country’s major motorway.


Fjallabak Nature Reserve is totally free from light pollution, but remember that the region’s southerly location means the northern lights are less frequently visible down here. Tours from Reykjavik visit the reserve.

Þingvellir National Park is a historic place of global importance, as the location of the world’s first parliament (930 AD) and now recognised as a UNESCO world heritage site. It is also geologically significant as the meeting point for two tectonic plates. You can walk from one side to the other, through a rift valley. It is also an excellent place from which to see the northern lights since it is far from settlements and traffic, and the skies are totally free from light pollution. The best time to see the lights is between September and April. The national park is a 40-minute drive from Reykjavik along Þingvallavegur along road number 36. There are established walking routes across the park.

Vatnajökull is the largest glacier in Europe (covering approximately 13% of Iceland’s landmass). With vast ice fields covering several active volcanoes, the region contrasts fire and ice in classic Icelandic style. Vatnajökull National Park is the largest in Western Europe and is great for hiking, ice climbing, mountaineering and more.

At a glance

The area’s big advantage is its accessibility, with Reykjavik just on the doorstep. Yet there are also wide open and deserted places in the region, which means little to no light pollution to get in the way of seeing the lights. There are also some wonderful natural and historic sights to take in: Stunning scenery and the site of the world’s oldest parliament, and it’s not often that you can walk between two tectonic plates--a unique experience.

There are many small towns and villages scattered across southern Iceland, the largest being Selfoss with a population of just over 6,900 and shops, restaurants and hotels; the smallest village is Skógar with a population of just 25.

The village of Vik is the stand-out settlement surrounded by volcanic black sand, with thousands of terns nesting on the surrounding cliffs, and a 120-metre headland extending into the sea, offering views out to sea, over the village’s wooden houses, and to the nesting puffins who live on small islands just off Vik’s coast during the summer.

To get to the region you need to drive -- it’s not far enough from Reykjavik to fly, and its accessibility makes it comparatively expensive.

Other attractions

Golden Circle Route is the classic tourist trail in Iceland which takes in some of the country’s most iconic sights, including the 70m high Gullfoss waterfall and the famous Strokkur geyser (erupts every 5-10 minutes up to 40m high). All tour companies lead daily trips around the Golden Circle at varying prices.

Þuríðarbúð Folk Museum established in 1949, is dedicated to the elves and "hidden people" that (it is said) around 50 per cent of Icelanders still believe in. Located a few minutes from Skogar Waterfall, along Ring Road 1, entrance costs ISK 2,000.

Arnarker lava cave is 16 metres deep and 516 metres long and is lit by the glow of lava reflecting from the stalactites and stalagmites that protrude from the cave walls. You get down to the cave via a ladder. Arnarker is located in the middle of Leitarhraun lava field, north of the road leading from Þrengsli towards Selvogur.

Glacier walks will allow you to appreciate Mother Nature at her most awesome. But you’ll need a guide and you’ll need to be reasonably fit. Southern Iceland is full of glaciers, but the most accessible is Solheimajokull Glacier, a 1.5 hour hike suitable for people of all experience levels. Sinkholes and ice ridges line the paths. The glacier is on top of Katla volcano, one of the country’s most active.

Vestmannaeyjar (the Westman Islands) is an archipelago located off the mainland’s south coast. Heimaey, the main island, is home to around 4,100 people and can be reached by a short flight from Reykjavik, or a ferry. With its small white houses and brightly coloured roofs, the picturesque town has a unique atmosphere and is known for the annual National Festival which celebrates Iceland’s thousands of years of history.

Being almost entirely free from light pollution the islands are perfectly placed to catch the northern lights because of the strong solar winds that pass over the islands, bringing the lights with them.


Herjólfsdalur is a valley surrounding Vestmannaeyjar, with scenery that is beyond beautiful. This is where the first settler on Vestmannaeyjar made his home, and archaeologists have found what is thought to be his house. A replica was erected at the spot. It’s a unique setting and as you can imagine, with no light pollution to distract from the northern lights. There is open access all year round.

Stórhöfði is also just outside Vestmannaeyjar at the extreme south of Heimaey, a 10-minute drive in a 4x4 vehicle. This is public land with open access, and again, there is no light pollution to spoil your view of the northern lights.

Eldfell is a dormant volcano, a 30-minute drive from Vestmannaeyjar. This is one of the highest points on the island with the best views of the skies. Again this is open access land with no light pollution. But it can be steep and in the autumn and winter, it can be slippery underfoot.

At a glance

There is probably less light pollution here than anywhere else in south Iceland and Heimaey is perfectly placed to see the northern lights. Strong winds can have the effect of blowing the aurora across the island–although the winds can also make it difficult to track the lights.

Almost all the island is open to visitors. However, because of its remoteness, you will need an off-road vehicle to get almost anywhere outside the major settlement. There are a few guesthouses, shops, and other amenities.

Other attractions

Skansinn Church is a replica of the first wooden Viking church in the country and was donated by the Norwegian Government in the year 2000 to mark 1,000 years of Christianity in Iceland. The church is located next to the harbour, on Heimaey Island.

Elephant rock as its name suggests is a huge rock near Vestmannaeyjar which looks remarkably like an elephant, and the surface of the rock gives an uncanny impression of the animal’s wrinkled skin. The rock can be found behind the golf course, at the end of Halldórsskora cliff. The best views are from a boat in the waters surrounding Heimaey.

Stórhöfði is a rocky peninsula at the southern end of Heimaey, allegedly the windiest place in Europe. There is nothing here other than a small weather station and birds, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

Why Horizon Guides?

Impartial guidebooks

Impartial guidebooks

Our travel guides are written by the leading experts in their destinations. We never take payment for positive coverage so you can count on us for impartial travel advice.

Expert itineraries

Expert itineraries

Suggested itineraries and routes to help you scratch beneath the surface, avoid the tourist traps, and plan an authentic, responsible and enjoyable journey.

Specialist advice

Specialist advice

Get friendly, expert travel advice and custom itineraries from some of the world’s best tour operators, with no spam, pressure or commitment to book.