northern lights in Iceland

Northern lights in Iceland

We often get asked about the northern lights.
How to experience the northern lights in Iceland?
What time of year can you see them?
What time of day can you see them?
And last but not least, does a trip to Iceland guarantee a sighting of this awe-inspiring phenomenon? 

These are valid questions and we are going to cover them in this post. There is nothing like experiencing the dancing green lights in the sky on a cold winter night and you just can’t tear yourself away. However, it can be quite disappointing to spend hours on end searching for the northern lights and never getting the chance to see them. 

Unlike travelers, native Icelanders typically don’t make a concerted effort to see the northern lights. For them, these lights grace the sky on clear, beautiful nights, where a simple glance upwards unveils them. Thus, embarking on a northern lights expedition is not a common local practice. The northern lights can be enjoyed from anywhere. The reason travelers often go hunting for northern lights is because they have limited time to witness them and cannot rely on luck if they want to make sure to see them.

So, let’s delve into the most effective approach to chasing the northern lights. The paramount lesson to internalize is that the northern lights are a natural wonder that defies guarantees. While there are strategies to enhance the odds of sighting them, a 100% certainty remains elusive due to the nature of weather conditions. The questions posed earlier can be addressed with general guidelines, but the Aurora Borealis remains a phenomenon unique to each passing day.

What time of year to see the northern lights in Iceland?

They are known to be most visible from September to March. It is possible to see them in August and April if you know what you are doing and have luck on your side.

The northern lights are a natural phenomena and there are certain conditions that need to be met for them to be visible: 

      • It has to be dark out (hence them being visible during winter)

      • The sky needs to be clear (no clouds covering the view of the northern lights)

      • The northern lights need to be happening in your area

    What you need to ask yourself every day of your trip in Iceland is what time and where will the northern lights be visible tonight?

    When we go on a northern lights tour we do plenty of research before heading out which is without a doubt the most important part of the tour. 

    We always check the aurora forecast to understand which area of Iceland will have northern lights on that specific evening. 

    Cloud forecast in Iceland

    In order to see the northern lights you need to find the white colored area and stay away from the green colored area because that means that the clouds are blocking visibility. 

    We also examine the aurora forecast from the space weather prediction center

    Aurora forecast in Iceland

    On this website you can monitor the location and activity of the aurora borealis. The green color represents the location of northern lights so you can locate the area of Iceland that is covered with green. 

    The next step is to combine these two forecasts to find the perfect location to view the northern lights. You need to find an area where there is a lot of northern lights activity with less clouds. 

    Another factor to consider is the sunset, dark time and moon rise. 

    Northern lights in Iceland. Darkness time.

    You can find this information on the right hand side of the aurora forecast. The moon can decrease visibility as any light can. Therefore getting out of the city can increase your chances of good visibility.

    As you can see in the picture above, the duration of dark time in the beginning of August is very short and that’s also why the northern lights season doesn’t fully start until September. 

    After doing your research you can focus on the next steps. It’s important to strike a balance between patience and flexibility. You need to be patient to see if you can find a good view of the northern lights in the location you have determined but it’s also important to stay flexible and continuously watch the forecast and be able to transfer to another location to explore better opportunities. 

    Our guides are experts in finding northern lights, with tours starting at 22:00 in the evening. We have already done extensive research before heading out to the most likely viewing areas. Since it’s a private tour we have the flexibility to change our mind and drive in a completely different direction if we think the chances are better there. 

    Can you see the northern lights in Reykjavík?

    Yes you can absolutely see the northern lights from Reykjavík, however, there is more light pollution in Reykjavík than in the countryside so the intensity of the lights might be affected because of the city lights. If you are planning on seeing the lights from Reykjavík then the Grótta area is a great place to look for them. 

    Essential Attire

    You need to be well dressed if you are going on a northern lights hunt. It’s often cold out during the winter months when the aurora borealis are visible and if you are outside for an extended period of time, either looking for them or looking at them it can get very cold. It’s always advised to wear layers in general in Iceland since the weather can change so fast and the same applies for viewing the northern lights.

    Northern lights photography

    It’s important to note that the northern lights usually look more pronounced in photos than in real life because cameras capture more light than the human eye is capable of.

    When it comes to capturing the northern lights on camera there are a few key things you need to keep in mind. 

    • Change your camera settings appropriately, preferably during the day time to get better results.
    • Bring extra batteries or a portable charger because batteries have a tendency to drain faster in the cold.
    • Get comfortable with your phone or camera settings before heading out. 
    • If you choose to use your phone and want to use apps to help with the photography download them before hand and get familiar with the settings.
    • Download our free northern lights photography guide to get specific tips. You can print it out or keep it on your phone for easy access when you are out taking photos.

    Get a free northern lights photography guide!

    This free northern lights photography guide/checklist will come in handy when you are preparing for your northern lights hunt. 

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