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Iceland December - Northern Lights

Hello all, my family is considering a trip to Iceland the end of December for six days (six nights). Are the chances of seeing the Northern Lights guaranteed this time of year? If we are not able to see the lights, we probably would just wait to visit Iceland in the summer time as the amount of daylight is much greater.

Also, would we be able to visit the must see places with such little daylight in December? We definitely want to see a Volcano, Blue Lagoon, and other must see attractions. The New Years Eve fireworks displays look amazing too.

Thanks for your feedback.

Posted by
345 posts

The Northern Lights are never guaranteed, so just plan that if you see them it is a bonus.

As for going in December, I have not been there during that time yet, but our adult kids have. They loved it! They were there for 3 days over NYE a few years ago. They said the fireworks were great and they also did the Blue Lagoon and a tour of the Golden Circle. Our daughter is always cold, and still she said that was the coldest she has ever been. However, she loved it so much that she has been back!

With all that said, I would go with whatever time frame works best for you. There are pluses and minuses of both times of year.

Posted by
6699 posts

It depends on how much time you're happy to spend outside as a family versus indoors. If you were going in December and most/ all your interests were outdoors, then obviously you'd have to plan around that in a constrained time frame. The upside would be less people and likely much less expensive lodging than the height of summer. Reykjavik has a robust nighttime music and bar scene but, if your family consists of small kids, then that's probably not much of a draw. But I'm sure there are things to do all year round (probably things that are not intuitive) as the local population lives with the short winters and has adapated to them. The Blue Lagoon is open in the dark, in the rain, etc... that's not an issue. Like the prior poster said, the Northern Lights is more of a luck and probability thing than a guarantee of any kind.

Posted by
1373 posts

One tip when booking a Northern Lights tour is to book it for the first night you are there.
Most tour companies guarantee that you will see the NL's, and so will cancel your tour if the forecast is not good.
They then keep rebooking you till you do see them.
So if you're there for four nights, you surely should get to see them by the fourth night!
I was cancelled once, but got to see them the following night.
I was there in December, and it was a great time to visit.
Breakfast in the hotel by candlelight!
I didn't find it super cold, but it was extremely windy, and it was very cold being out at night in the middle of nowhere looking at the NL's.

Posted by
29 posts

I agree with SJ. I have been there several times either the week after Thanksgiving or Christmas. I agree that if you want to see the lights, booking as soon as possible, and if you don't succeed, keep rebooking. I was fortunate to see them once I figured it out, and the experience was one I will never forget. There are aurora forecasts as well that the guide companies use to determine probability of seeing the lights. Wear lots of layers and bring very good gloves, as it can be bitter cold out in the country (where you'll avoid city background light). Because of the location of Reykjavik in the Gulfstream, it does tend to stay warmer than you might expect; on my trip after Christmas, the temps stayed around 32°F. That's warmer than it was in Upstate NY during the same period. I went to the Blue Lagoon on New Years day and sat in the waters outside while it snowed. I loved it!!
Reykjavik did not have an organized fireworks show when I was there, but most families spend upwards of $500 (equivalent) on fireworks, and then everyone sets them off. Be careful and know what's around you and you should have a great show. Lots of folks light them off near the Hallgrimskirke; I would just make sure you're not in the center of the crowd.

Posted by
4849 posts

Michael, you probably have already, correctly figured that December has the longest, darkest nights of the year in Iceland, so you’re definitely setting the odds in your favor in that regard. We were there in early April, at the tail end of the season as far as nighttime darkness is concerned.

We’d booked a trip that included a hot springs/steam room/sauna visit, dinner, and the Northern Lights viewing at the end. The soak was at the Fontana springs, which we thought were more “authentic” than the Blue Lagoon. The first bits were outstanding, but the cloud cover made it impossibly blue to have any clear view of the sky. We were all delivered back to our hotels earlier than expected, and no refunds or additional opportunities were offered or expected by anybody at the time.

Ours was a landbound tour, but we later learned that some others who’d done a Northern Lights tour out at sea got an opening in the clouds, and saw some, although they said it wasn’t totally spectacular, but certainly better than no lights. So overcast skies can affect things, and even if everything else is in your favor, weather or clouds could determine whether you can see Lights. Your chances in Iceland are certainly better than in North Carolina, so hope you get a good light show!

The Kerid volcano hasn’t erupted in a really long time, but you can easily walk to the edge and peer down, to the lake that’s now inside to cone. In addition to active or slumbering volcanoes, there's at least one that’s dormant (at least for now).

Posted by
9636 posts

I've been to Iceland three times to see the Northern Lights. Each trip was a week. Twice in October, once in November.

No luck. Next time.....Norway or Sweden. Iceland, being an island, gets more clouds.

But you may luck out.

Posted by
2094 posts

Are the chances of seeing the Northern Lights guaranteed this time of
year?

As others have said, the lights are a natural phenomena that are never guaranteed. And problem with Iceland is that is a small island in a big ocean, that gives it a humid climate with a high chance of clouds. It doesn't matter how beautiful the lights are, if there is a thick cloud cover you will not see it.

Iceland is an amazing island and I can really recommend a trip there, but for the northern lights it is not the best location.

Posted by
1535 posts

As has been mentioned there is no guarantee to see the lights, but you do have to go Oct-March when there is sufficient darkness. Clouds/weather is the reason you don't see them. I went in late October and was very lucky to see them twice, on the flight to Iceland and on my second night, but it was cloudy/rainy the on and off my entire trip. I agree with the suggestion to take a tour early on in your trip that offers rebooking if you don't have a successful viewing. Most hotels will help you book/arrange. However since most flights from the US arrive in the very early morning, I would suggest going your second night. Most of the lights tours don't even depart until 9 p.m. and return after midnight. I made the mistake of booking the lights tour on arrival day and the golden circle tour the next morning - I was tired from flight, then had a late night, and then a very early morning was a bit much on this traveler.

And of course you can visit all the things you want to see, you'll just have a short window of daylight to do so. If scenery > northern lights on your bucket list, I'd pick a different time of year.

Posted by
2094 posts

If scenery > northern lights on your bucket list, I'd pick a different
time of year.

So would I. And if the lights are more important, I would not go to Iceland in the first place.