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A Guide to the Northern Lights in Iceland

A Guide to the Northern Lights in Iceland

The aurora borealis is one of the great natural wanders of the world. Many flock to see the Northern Lights in Iceland because it is simply one of the best places to see the phenomenon.

What is the Aurora Borealis?

The Northern Lights, or the Aurora Borealis is a spectacular natural light show. This is caused by sun particles colliding with gases as they penetrate our atmosphere. Seeing the Northern Lights in Iceland is a great option because this phenomena only occurs close to the magnetic poles.

What is the Best Time to See the Northern Lights?

Because of Iceland’s high latitude, the seasons dictate not only the weather, but also the amount of daylight. Many choose to visit Iceland in the colder and darker months to maximise their chances of seeing the Northern Lights.

The season is from late August to mid-April. However, from October to February has the highest chances to see them due to the early setting of the sun. For best results, you will need complete darkness.

Many other factors including aurora activity, cloud cover and light pollution affect your chances of seeing the Northern Lights in Iceland. A good resource for checking for a forecast is the Aurora Forecast website.

Northern Lights in Iceland

Where and How to See the Northern Lights in Iceland

So you’ve made it to Reykjavik? I remember how excited I was as soon as I checked into my hostel. Luckily, if you’re in the right season, you might be lucky enough to witness the auroras from town!

Best spot to see the Northern Lights near Reykjavik

If conditions are right, you might be lucky enough to spot the Northern Lights without traveling too far from the capital city. For the best Aurora, it is important to have a little light pollution as possible. A great spot which isn’t too far from the city is a hill beside Reykjavik University.

Follow the map below to get the university. You will see a trail leading up the forest hills where you can find some secluded spots to watch the Northern Lights. We were lucky enough to catch an awesome Aurora spectacle over Reykjavik on our first night in Iceland.

On the road

It’s true that the best Northern Lights in Iceland are a little off the beaten path. Heading away from the city and into the vast landscapes will provide the best viewing conditions. There are several tour companies that operate in Reykjavik. Some hostels even organise trips.

In saying that, by far the best way to see the Northern Lights is to have your own car. Many choose to travel Iceland around the famous Ring Road. If you choose to take this option, and I highly recommend it, then you will be rewarded with some amazing Auroras.

Northern Lights in Iceland

Check out my write up on how I drove the Ring Road for under $50 per day here.

Photography Tips to Capture the Northern Lights

The best way to check for activity is actually to use your camera! Your camera’s sensor, which is more sensitive to light than the human eye, will pick up Aurora activty, often before you do.

A tripod is a must

A tripod, Gorillapod or makeshift stabilising device is crucial for capturing the Northern Lights. Because you are shooting the night sky, slow shutter speed is important, and therefore the need to hold the camera still. There’s nothing worse than capturing epic Aurora beams but everything else is unsharp.

Use a wide aperture

Widening your aperture to the lowest your lens allows will mean sharp images without having to bump up the ISO. It is important to cater to the surrounding light, however generally a 30 second shutter, 2.8 or 4 aperture and 800 ISO will suffice.

Remember to enjoy the moment

There’s a reason you flew to the Arctic Circle and climbed a mountain in the middle of the night. Seeing the Northern Lights with your own eyes is one of the most amazing experiences one can have. Getting an epic shot is awesome, but don’t forget to soak in the moment.


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A Guide to the Northern Lights in Iceland