Quick Q&A: Can you see the northern lights in summer in Iceland?

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Sometimes I forget that the things that may seem obvious to me as a local are not so obvious for those who are not born and raised here at 64°N. It would be tempting  to some to answer questions like that with snarky comments, making fun of the person asking, but today I’m just going to answer a question I get all the time. Because I’m nice that way.

Question: Can you see the northern lights in summer in Iceland?

First of all, if you are new to Iceland and it hasn’t been on your radar for very long there’s a very important thing you need to know about this marvelous island in the middle of the Atlantic ocean. With places as far north as here we have this thing where the winters are dark but the summers not so much. In fact, in the summer we have a period where it’s basically bright all the time. If you are not familiar with the midnight sun this Wikipedia article can maybe explain what it’s all about.

If you want to see the northern lights there are a few things that have to come together: The activity level has to be decent and the sky needs to be clear. But first and foremost you need it to be dark and that’s where you start running into problems with seeing the aurora in summer. Because it doesn’t get dark, remember?

So the short answer is no – you can’t see the Northern lights in summer in Iceland. The long answer though is that it depends on how you define summer. Although the last northern lights tour is on April 15th and they don’t start again until September 15th it doesn’t mean that it’s impossible to see the lights outside of that time. I’ve seen them in May and I’ve seen them as early as around 20th of August. Which is technically still summer. Ish.

But June and July is more or less out of the question because of the aforementioned midnight sun. Which is something that is worth visiting Iceland for in itself.

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13 thoughts on “Quick Q&A: Can you see the northern lights in summer in Iceland?”

  1. Henning Strack says:

    Coming from Germany that was quite obvious to me, but then I know people from Brazil who were blown away by the differences in seasons and daylight hours even here. When you’re not used to it, it’s just not something you think about…
    My holiday in Iceland starts on the 6th of May, so I suppose my best bet would be to set an alarm clock for the exact middle of the (short) night (my research suggests that that is at 1:24 a.m.), when it is presumably darkest… and hope.

  2. Andy says:

    Thanks for the answer. 🙂

  3. Julie says:

    Thanks for writing this! I’m flying in on Aril 29, just a few days after the new moon, and I was wondering if there was any chance at all I’d be able to see the lights. I’m tentatively considering spending the first couple of nights in the countryside somewhere on the off chance I’ll be able to see them.

    1. mm Auður says:

      It’s impossible to say at this point since there are so many different factors. But if the activity level is high and the cloud clear you might see them late at night.

  4. Caitlyn says:

    We will be there April 18th. All the tours are unavailable for that time. Any suggestions for what we should do to see them? Are they better seen from different locations etc?

    1. mm Auður says:

      The reason the tours stop at April 15th is that it gets a lot less common to see the lights after that time. You can still see them until about the end of the month but it’s not reliable enough that the companies want to offer tours.

  5. K says:

    Hah, your remark about seeing them in May gives me hope for my visit to Iceland in early may! :>

  6. Lorie McCoy says:

    I will be visiting in early August. What are the “odds” that I will be able to see a hint of the lights?

    Thanks!!!

    1. mm Auður says:

      I can’t give you odds but early August is not as likely as late August.

  7. Annie says:

    Iceland 11-25 Aug. latter part in the Westfjords. Chances of Northern Lights?

    1. mm Hrannar - I Heart Reykjavík says:

      Hi Annie

      I sat in a hot tub on the south coast in mid August, last year and saw a bunch. So there is a chance 🙂

      1. Annie says:

        Thank you for your kind reply! There is hope after all! 🙂

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