Where to See the Northern Lights in Reykjavík

Northern Lights in Iceland

Seeing northern lights is a dream for many. In Iceland, the lights are usually green but sometimes purple, red and white. They can be seen on dark nights if their activity is high and the skies are clear. The northern lights have a schedule of their own and can be quite unpredictable. But if you’re in Iceland between September and April, remember to look up when the skies are clear. Like stars, you can best see these wonders away from the pollution and city lights; the darker the surroundings, the better. If you’re staying in Reykjavík, you don’t need to go far. Here are some of the best places to see the northern lights more clearly.

Northern lights in Iceland
Photo: Golli.

Grótta in west Reykjavík

Grótta is a small island connected to the Seltjarnarnes peninsula, about six kilometres [3.7 mi] west of Hallgrímskirkja. Due to its location, there are minimal city lights and pollution, giving you a higher chance of seeing the northern lights. Grótta’s lighthouse adds to its picturesque coast, creating a tranquil experience as you gaze at the lights.

To get there, you can take bus route 11 from Reykjavík city centre and get off at Hofgarðar. It is a 1.3 km [0.8 mi] walk from the bus stop to the vantage point.  You can also travel by car, bicycle, ride-share, scooter, or on foot.

Grandi harbour district

This area of Reykjavík is about two kilometres [1.24 mi] from the city centre. This neighbourhood has been growing in recent years, and you will now find various boutiques, restaurants and museums in the Grandi area. Due to its location on the waterfront, it is an excellent viewing point away from the city lights. You can get there by foot, car, bicycle or scooter, or take bus route 14 to Grandi bus stop. The best vantage point is on the northern tip, so walk up Eyjaslóð street along the water.

Perlan, Reykjavík, Iceland at sunset
Photo: Perlan’s 360° sightseeing platform offers great vantage points.

Perlan sightseeing platform

Perlan museum is in Reykjavík, just two kilometres [1.24 mi] south of the city centre. A large sightseeing platform wraps around the glass dome, where you have a 360° panoramic view of Reykjavík and beyond, which offers a great, unobstructed vantage point to see the Aurora.

To get to Perlan by bus, you can take bus routes 13 or 18. You can also travel by foot, ride-share, bicycle, or scooter. You can buy tickets to the sightseeing platform at Perlan’s reception for ISK 2,990 [$22, €20]. The observation deck is open until 10 PM, giving you ample time to observe the lights.

Northern lights and the peace tower in Iceland
Photo: Golli. The Northern Lights Yacht Cruise invites for beautiful views of the bay.

See the Aurora from a yacht

The Northern Lights Yacht Cruise will give you incredible views and the ability to see the Aurora more clearly. The two-hour cruise leaves from the old harbour in Reykjavík at 10 PM and is for those aged seven and older. As of 2024, the price is ISK 14,700 [$107, €99] per person, including blankets, Wi-Fi and a guide.

For an even better vantage point, there are more northern lights excursions, many of which depart Reykjavík city centre. You can also rent a car and chase the Aurora on your own.

No luck?

If you are not fortunate enough to catch the northern lights while in Iceland, you have other options. You can opt for a virtual experience by going to Perlan and experiencing them in the planetarium or to the Aurora Northern Lights Center in the Grandi harbour area, where you can admire the lights through VR goggles.

Perlan Planetarium Northern Lights
Photo: The northern lights in Perlan’s planetarium.

To keep track of the best times to see the northern lights in Iceland, using apps such as My Aurora Forecast & Alerts can better your plans. You can also visit the Icelandic Met Office’s website, where you can see the Aurora forecast. Note that on their map, the white areas indicate clear skies and a higher chance of seeing them. You will find their activity level in the upper right corner.

You can click here for a map of the Northern Lights viewpoints.

Can’t Trademark ‘Northern Lights’ District Court Rules

A hotel operator in Grindavík can’t claim sole use of the phrase ‘Northern Lights’ and prevent other hotels and tourism service providers from using it in their own branding, RÚV reports. The District Court of Reykjavík ruled on the matter on Friday, saying that ‘Northern Light’ is too common a phenomenon for a company to be allowed to trademark the English term. Allowing one Icelandic company the exclusive right to ‘Northern Lights’ (or even ‘Northern Light’ in the singular) would be a disproportionate restriction to impose on other guest accommodation providers.

Too Broad a Term to Trademark

The owners of Northern Light Inn in Grindavík, South Iceland requested that a ban be imposed on Grótta Northern Lights Apartments and Rooms in Seltjarnarnes, just outside of Reykjavík, preventing the latter business from using the English phrase ‘Northern Lights’ in their name.  The Grindavík hoteliers registered the phrase ‘Northern Light’ as a trademark in 2006 and believed that the Seltjarnarnes hotel’s use of it in their name, even in the plural, was an infringement on their exclusive right to the term. The matter was taken to the county magistrate, who imposed a ban on other businesses using the name. (At time of writing, the hotel was using the English name ‘Grótta Aurora Lights,’ presumably due to the standing ban.)

The magistrate’s decision has now been reversed by the District Court in Reykjavík. Reserving exclusive use of the term ‘Northern Light’ for one hotel in Iceland would mean that the trademark holders would be able to prevent businesses across the tourism sector to refer to the northern lights in their English-language marketing or publicity materials, regardless of what services they were offering, said the judge. ‘Northern Light(s)’ is a term that is “closely related to services that it’s well-known that tourists seek out in Icelandic tourism.” The fact that the trademark was for the phrase ‘Northern Light’ in the singular changes nothing, the judge continued, and nor had the plaintiffs in Grindavík proven that tourists had confused the hotel in Seltjarnarnes with the one in Grindavík because they both use ‘Northern Lights’ in their name.

See Also: Who Owns HÚ(H)!?

This isn’t the first time that there’s been a scuffle over the attempted tradmarking of a commonly used term or phrase in Iceland. In one notable example in 2018, Icelandic cartoonist Hugleikur Dagsson was not allowed to sell t-shirts he designed in honor of the Iceland’s World Cup-qualifying football team because the caption on the shirt was a trademark violation. Hugleikur’s ‘Man Celebrating,’ shirt showed a man in Iceland’s team uniform doing the now-famous ‘Viking Clap’ and shouting “HÚ!” However, Gunnar Þór Andrésson, a sports trainer at the Landspítali Hospital, claimed that the caption was too close to the exclamation “HÚH!” which he’d trademarked.