No matter what you have read or heard – it is possible to see the northern lights without leaving Reykjavik. The skies must be clear and completely dark and, most importantly, the aurora forecast must be strong. On such nights, there is a chance of witnessing the incredible light show of auroras from Iceland’s capital city. Auroras are fickle and no matter where you go, there is no guarantee that they will make an appearance. Forecasts are always a good way to increase your chances, though. But if you return to the city at the end of a northern lights tour without seeing any, there is no need to be despondent. Here are some of the places in and very close to Reykjavik where the chances of seeing auroras are the best.
The pearl shape of Perlan is instantly recognizable and a key part of Reykjavik’s skyline, with its vast glass dome sitting on six water tanks. Perlan sits on the 61-meter high Öskjuhlíð hill, which is just high enough to get you head and shoulders above the city lights. It is a popular destination to get a 360° view of Reykjavik city and of course, a spectacular panorama of the sky above it. The observation deck is open until 10 PM and the last admission is an hour earlier.
There is more to the story at Perlan. If the northern lights do not show up, you will be pleased to know that Perlan offers a back-up. Áróra is an astonishing 8K northern lights planetarium show which will leave you in awe. Not only do you see northern lights dance all around you, but you see how they form in outer space and learn to understand their scientific mysteries.
The Sun Voyager
Another popular choice for those staying in the city is the harbourfront area. Right on the seashore, there is a gleaming sculpture Icelanders call Sólfar, which overseas visitors know as the Sun Voyager. Jón Gunnar Árnason, who designed this well-known work of art, created it as a dreamboat. So enjoying the green and purple dance of auroras above the Sólfar must surely be a dream come true. The sculpture is floodlit but for all the photographers out there – that makes it easier to focus and get a shot of the auroras with a fabulous sculpture as the foreground interest.
Reynisvatn Lake lies at the edge of Reykjavik, in the Grafarholt neighborhood. It is not very well known, except maybe by those who go fishing for lake char, rainbow trout, and salmon that have been set free into the lake in recent years. By night, there is not as much light at Reynisvatn as in the city center. This might make all the difference if you wish to see the colorful curtains of auroras light up the sky.
This is technically a little outside the city limits, in Seltjarnarnes. But it is such a good spot compared to downtown Reykjavik if you wish to escape some of the light pollution, that we mention it anyway. Popular among tourists and locals alike, the distinctive form of this historic lighthouse will anchor any photographs you take of the northern lights. The drive to the Grótta Lighthouse takes about twenty minutes but bus number 11 runs almost all the way out there. The walk to the lighthouse from the intersection of Lindarbraut and Hofgarðar is only about one kilometer. The nearby Grótta Beach is also worth checking out and is often less crowded.
If you are hoping to branch out on your own, remember that the chances of spotting auroras are the best when it is dark and when the sightline to the north is clear. Good luck, Aurora fans!