Not many people know this, but Iceland has some of the cleanest air in the world; even when you take into account the frequent volcanic eruptions.
This is due to the country’s low population density and the large amount of green coverage. Although Iceland doesn’t have as many huge forests as it once did, it’s heavily covered with moss and grass. Maybe you’ll notice the difference this makes when you breathe in the fresh air here.
One of the most beneficial side effects of low air pollution is visibility. On a clear day, you can see incredibly far in Iceland. In fact, you can see Snæfellsjökull all the way from Reykjavík, a glacier over 100 km away. If this is just in the daytime, imagine what you can see at night. Stargazing in Iceland is just at another level!
Because of Iceland’s high visibility, stargazing is a hugely popular activity with both tourists and locals. Keep in mind that some of the best stargazing spots are only reachable by car or van; book yours at Campervan Iceland. Now, let’s look at the best places to chase down a star-studded sky in Iceland
When is the Best Time to Stargaze in Iceland?
When you ask, “is Iceland good for stargazing”, the answer is dependent on the time of year and season in which you travel.
You will see few to no stars in the summer months, as the sun barely sets between May and August. This has its advantages, with much more daylight for exploring, but it also makes it harder to sleep. On the other hand, winter is the time to visit for an Icelandic starry sky.
The closer we get to the winter solstice—December 21st—the longer the darkness lasts. By the time that day arrives, Iceland experiences only a few hours of ‘daylight’, which is still fairly dim. Although this sounds stifling, there can be a certain magical feel to it, particularly as it’s so close to Christmas.
December, then, is the ideal time to stargaze, with any time from October to March offering dark skies. This is also when the northern lights (hopefully) reveal themselves, but more on that later.
Of course, with the winter also comes a higher frequency of storms, which clouds the skies and hides the celestial bodies. Therefore, before embarking on a stargazing outing, check the forecast online. While this doesn’t mean that bad weather is a complete write-off, it’s best to be safe.
Iceland’s weather is famously unpredictable and can change dramatically at a moment’s notice. A clear half an hour is all the time you need for a spectacular stargazing experience.
In terms of the time, be prepared to stay up late or wake up early to catch a clear sky. While the stars will be out as long as the sun is down, the northern lights don’t follow a schedule. It may be 10pm, midnight or 2am in the morning, but make the sacrifice because the northern lights are worth it.
Where are the Best Cities to Stargaze in Iceland?
Although Reykjavík is one of the smallest capitals in the world, it’s still full of artificial lights. As such, while it is possible to see both stars and the northern lights within the city, the show’s much better outside.
It is possible to see both stars and the northern lights within the city, but the The great thing about the Capital Region is you don’t have to drive far in any direction to go ‘rural’. Let’s see which spots you should add to your itinerary.
This is a good spot if you’re based out of Reykjavík and don’t want to travel too far away. The lighthouse is at the tip of the small peninsula on which the capital is located: Seltjarnarnes.
Only a 10-minute drive from downtown, it doesn’t put you completely away from artificial lights, but it’s clear enough to make a great show.
Even when the lighthouse is on, you can see the northern lights from the beach if they appear. Failing their appearance, it’s an incredible spot from which to view the night sky, with a highly romantic vibe. There’s even a small, man-made but naturally heated foot bath close to the lighthouse.
Bring a torch of some kind or have the light on your smartphone ready to guide your walking path. It can be easy to lose your step on some seaweed at the beach, which blends with the black sand.
In Northern Iceland you can find Mývatn, known as the “northern lights capital of Iceland”, a famous place for its clear skies.
It’s one of the largest lakes in the country, and so offers a beautiful reflective view in the water. Aside from a small village on its north shore, Reykjahlíð, the lake is very remote and perfect for stargazing.
Lake Mývatn is also easy to reach, with its west and north shores lining up thanks to the Ring Road. There is a less-travelled road, Route 848, which circles the other shores, creating a ring of its own.
The lake is also one of the stops along the Diamond Circle route, which contains other natural wonders. Mývatn is not far from the town of Akureyri, the second-largest urban area in Iceland. It’s a good idea to park here and visit the lake in the evening.
If you fancy a dip in a geothermal pool, head to Mývatn Nature Baths, located slightly east of the lake. Perhaps you’ll even see the northern lights while relaxing and wading calmy in the water.
This is about as remote as you can get. The highlands are the interior of Iceland, completely uninhabited for most of the year.
In fact, they are inaccessible between October and May, due to extreme weather and heavy snowfall. While it’s unlikely you’ll see the lights up there, you may be treated to a wonderful star viewing.
Between June and September, the highlands are accessible via gravel mountain roads, known as F-roads. These can only be driven on by 4x4 vehicles and in many cases, they are sprinkled with river crossings. Before planning a highlands trip, make sure you’ve hired a suitable vehicle.
If viewing the stars from the highlands is your goal, it’s best to aim for a September trip. This is long after the June summer solstice, when the darkness has begun to creep back in. You’ll experience some of the most breathtaking views in the world, and more stars than you can count.
Aside from the stunning scenery, there are also incredible hikes in the highlands, and natural hot springs. Campsites are set up in the two main highland stops, Landmannalaugar and Þórsmörk.
Tips for Stargazing in Iceland
- Dress warmly. While Iceland isn’t as cold as Finland or Canada, temperatures can still drop several degrees below zero Celsius. The wind that the country is famous for adds an additional chill factor. Come equipped with thermal layers underneath your clothes, and waterproof layers on top.
- Aim for moonless nights. A full or near-full moon interferes with your stargazing and northern lights viewing. Of course, no human can control moon phases, but it’s something to keep in mind.
- Bring a long-exposure lens. Seeing a sky full of stars and/or northern lights in person is better than a picture, but photos are still great souvenirs. To capture them, you’ll need the right camera accessories and settings. Research this before leaving to make sure you’re prepared.
- Keep looking up. No matter where you are in the country, there’s always a chance the northern lights will appear. The forecasts can only predict so much; sometimes it’s just a matter of chance. Keep looking up and you may be surprised by a show.
Stargazing is one of the most relaxing, awe-inspiring, and in some cases, romantic activities you can do. It’s a great reason to visit Iceland in the winter, when blankets of white snow and ice add to that magical feel.
Lock in your camper rental to guarantee you have the vehicle of your choice for your stargazing in Iceland adventure.