What is the best time of year to see the aurora in Iceland? I'd like to visit outside of the winter, when it is a bit warmer, but I do want to see the aurora. Thanks!
Well, that's tricky. Seeing that you come from LA, you'll probably always think it is cold in Iceland. A good summer day is 20°C. And during the summer, there are no northern lights. Instead, you have the midnight sun, bright day light through the entire night, which is another fantastic thing :)
On the upside though, winter is maybe not as cold as you might think. The average temperature in January is only around 0°C in Reykjavik. That means you don't have to be in -20°C and heavy snow to see the northern lights.
This winter the northern lights are exceptionally strong, thanks to some solar activity. The season is generally from October to early April. The warmest time would probably be October then.
You can go on certain northern lights tours for the best chance of seeing them, but there are no guarantees. It all depends on the weather. Your chances are relatively good though, and even if you are unlucky, Iceland is guaranteed to be an adventure worth your trip :)
It took me about 20 transatlantic flights until I saw a stunning aurora borealis one night. My recommendation is to take an evening flight on the northern Atlantic route, when there are reported sun flares. And yes, do it in Winter.
Aurora or not, Iceland is a fantastic and charming little country to visit. Don't miss the Blue Lagoon.
Keep it up, the restless ones are usually lucky ones!
The aurora themselves are not seasonal, so theoretically can be seen any time of the year. All you need is the right solar activity, clear skies and darkness. The darkness is why winter is recommended for seeing the aurora because the hours of darkness over the summer are so short, less than 4 hours around the summer solstice (late June), and it doesn't get really completely dark at night during that time, making aurora impossible to see even when they are there. This lessens your chances of seeing them in the summer.
If you want to avoid the winter and still have a goodish chance of seeing the aurora, come in April/May or late August to September/October.
P.S. Northern Iceland is better for seeing aurora because it is less cloudy than the south.
Well an Icelander would probably have the best answer but based on experience and a bit of research, Equinox or thereabouts is a good time. There's no guarantee the sun activity on any given day would be high but during either vernal or autumnal Equinox is apparently beneficial for viewing due to earth's position relative to the sun. The other factor is sun yearly activity which peaks every eleven years during 'solar max'. Therefore, solar activity during Equinox would be the ideal time. Even still it all seems to boil down to chance. I was in Þingvellir during solar minimum and saw stunning auroras that easily outdid any other sighting - it was over autumnal equinox. During 10 days only 3 nights were clear the other 7 had complete cloud cover. Just go and cross your fingers ;)