When can I see the northern lights in Iceland?
To experience the northern lights in Iceland you might want to visit in the winter. The high season for aurora spotting in Iceland runs from around mid September through March. Conditions can vary from day to day so stay alert and check the forecast regularly.
The reason you they are impossible to spot during the summer months (April-August) is that nights are very short and never completely dark. In May – July the sun just barely swoops beneath the horizon so the nights are bright during that time.
The aurora hunters worst enemies are cloud covers and light pollution. Even the light from a full moon can prevent the aurora displays from being as vivid as the are in complete darkness. So check this lunar calendar site for careful planning!
Where can I see the northern lights?
To see the northern lights in Iceland, a trip out of town is recommended as light pollution can prevent you from spotting the aurora displays. There are good “dark” spots within the city though and a few of them are listed in this “Best of Reykjavík” article. Don´t be shy to ask the locals for advice also. Some may have a secret spot they would share with you.
Always check the forecast for cloud covers to see where you will be most likely to find the auroras. Also have the moon in mind. Best conditions to spot the northern lights are under the new moon.
Sometimes solar flares can provide exceptional displays and they are monitored and can be predicted. If you want to delve deep into the science behind it you can read about it here. The number on the Icelandic Met Office forecast signals the intensity of the aurora where 0-3 is the norm and 7-9 potentially means you can spot some incredible aurora displays.
What if conditions make aurora spotting impossible?
If the weather is cloudy and you have no chance to see the auroras, we recommend a visit to Aurora Reykjavík, an interactive aurora exhibition. Also the “Wonders of Iceland” exhibition in Perlan has a beautiful northern lights feature in their 360°planetarium movie theatre. You can read more about it in this article from May 2019 and book your ticket here if you think you would enjoy it.
How can I see and experience the northern lights in Iceland?
You have a good chance of spotting the auroras by driving out of the city in any direction. Your chances are even better if you book a northern lights tour with one of the local travel operators in Iceland. Below are some of our local recommendations and reviews depending on what kind of experience you are looking for.
We encourage you to check out this article about one of the many aurora tours we have tried and written about. If you think this experience might suit your needs you can book a guided bus tour outside the city by following this link.
If you prefer going on an unforgettable aurora hunting boat trip you can check out this 2 hour boat tour out to Faxaflói bay. There is no light pollution at the open sea so this is a great way to explore the city from afar while experiencing the aurora at the same time!
You could also book this super jeep tour and experience the auroras in the utmost comfort and style! Highly recommended!
How can I photograph the northern lights?
Northern lights can be tricky to photograph. But with these settings on your camera you will get the best results:
- ISO 800
- Aperture 3.5 or lower
- Exposure time 10-20 seconds
- Manual focus
You can also read this guide from a few years back on how you can get the most out of your aurora hunting experience.
What about safety?
If you decide to do you own driving always make sure to stay safe. The traffic on the roads in Iceland has increased considerably in recent years and it is important to be aware that most roads in Iceland are just one lane in each direction. So they are generally quite narrow. For this reason parking on the side of the road can pose a great danger to you and to other drivers.
So if you spot the aurora while driving in Iceland DO NOT hit your brakes and jump out of the car. Always be sure to exit the road safely before stopping and enjoying the northern lights in safety from ongoing traffic.
Please visit Safetravel.is for more info on rules and safety on the Icelandic roads.
Who are we?
We are your local experts from the Reykjavík Grapevine! We have been publishing travel articles and reviews since 2004. Our main goal is providing our readers with the best local recommendation available so they can enjoy Iceland as much as we enjoy it. Feel free to follow us on social media for Icelandic news, travel features and food reviews. Also check out these articles on everything you need to know about whales, glaciers or volcanoes in Iceland!
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