Iceland is home to more than dramatic landscapes. Its thermal springs, giant glaciers and bubbling magma are the night-time hosts to the stunning Northern Lights. A real bucket-list item, the aurora borealis is caused by electrically charged particles from the sun colliding with gaseous particles in the earth’s atmosphere. The result is nothing short of spectacular, as raking ethereal lines are picked out against the night sky, with greens, reds, purples and blues all on offer.
Where to go?
Iceland's Golden Circle – a popular 300km loop from Reykjavik – offers some of the best vantage points for viewing the lights. However, you often don’t even need to stray from the Icelandic capital to catch a glimpse. On clear nights, the aurorae can be spotted from the city’s parks or at Grotta Lighthouse while drives beyond the city limits gives you a better chance. There are also plenty of Northern Lights tours on offer, with experienced guides who can bring wide-eyed travellers to little-known viewing spots.
In fact, all along the route, you’ll have the chance to spot the lights. Visit tectonically forged gorges in Thingvellir National Park or bursting hot springs at Geysir and, at its furthest point, you’ll arrive at Gullfoss where rushing water splits green fields and plunges into a three-step drop. By day stop for whale watching tours or ranging hike and, by night, turn your eyes skywards for dancing greens and falling purples.
For a more uninterrupted viewing experience, head to Hofdabrekka in southern Iceland. With mossy outcrops to its aft and jagged slashes of coastline to its fore, it’s the quintessential off-the-beaten-track Icelandic escape. The nearest major settlement, Vik, is some five kilometres away to the west. Here, travellers are often rewarded with views of the Northern Lights unclouded by light pollutions and commercialisation. Heading north, Lake Myvatn is our second remote recommendation. Thanks to its eutrophic lake and mineral-rich soil, it’s home to a startling array of ecosystems from alien lava formations to steaming fumarole fields.
When to go?
Like Iceland’s weather, the aurora is famously unpredictable, but it is known to be at its most active between September and April. The winter months are ideal for a holiday to the area, given that cold, clear skies produce less rain and clouds making for excellent viewing conditions.