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The Enchanting Northern Lights in Iceland: How & When


Northern Lights in Iceland

Welcome to our comprehensive guide to the magical experience of witnessing the northern lights Iceland! As experts in all things related to this mesmerizing natural phenomenon, we're excited to share with you everything you need to know about planning your dream trip to see the aurora borealis in our beautiful country.

In this guide, we'll cover essential information from the best times to visit, to where to stay, and even how to capture the perfect photo. So, let's embark on this incredible journey together and discover the enchanting world of Iceland's northern lights!

Understanding the Northern Lights: Aurora Borealis

Dive into the science behind the magical dance of colors in the sky. Discover what causes the aurora borealis and how Iceland's unique location plays a role.

What Causes the Northern Lights in Iceland?

The aurora borealis, or northern lights, is a captivating natural light display that occurs predominantly in the polar regions, including Iceland. These ethereal light shows are the result of charged particles from the sun, called solar wind, colliding with the Earth's magnetic field.

As the solar wind travels toward the Earth, it interacts with the planet's magnetosphere, causing the charged particles to funnel towards the magnetic poles. Upon entering the Earth's atmosphere, these particles collide with gas atoms and molecules, causing them to emit light in various colors.

The most common color seen in the aurora borealis is green, resulting from the interaction between solar particles and oxygen atoms at altitudes of around 100 kilometers (62 miles). Other colors such as red, yellow, blue, and purple can also appear, depending on the type of gas atoms or molecules and the altitude at which the interaction occurs.

Northern Lights in Iceland

When Can You See the Northern Lights in Iceland 

Timing is crucial when planning your northern lights adventure. Learn about the ideal season, months, and conditions for a memorable aurora experience in Iceland.

Iceland Northern Lights Season

The Iceland northern lights season typically begins in late September and lasts until early April. During this period, the long and dark nights provide optimal conditions for observing the northern lights. However, the visibility of the aurora borealis is heavily dependent on weather conditions and solar activity.

Best Time to See Northern Lights in Iceland 

The best time to see northern lights in Iceland is generally between November and February. This is when the nights are longest and the skies are darkest, providing the perfect backdrop for the aurora borealis.

It's important to note that the northern lights are a natural phenomenon and their visibility can never be guaranteed. However, by visiting Iceland during these peak months, you'll maximize your chances of witnessing the mesmerizing display.

Best Month to See the Northern Lights in Iceland

While the entire northern lights season offers opportunities for aurora sightings, the best month to see the northern lights in Iceland is often considered to be March. During this month, the skies are typically clear, and solar activity is generally high, increasing the likelihood of seeing the aurora borealis.

Additionally, March offers milder temperatures compared to the winter months, making it a more comfortable time for outdoor activities and northern lights hunting.

northern lights sightseeing

Where Can You See the Northern Lights 

Explore the most spectacular locations in Iceland for aurora spotting. From Reykjavik's surroundings to remote corners, find the perfect backdrop for your northern lights experience.

Northern Lights Reykjavik, Iceland 

Even though northern lights Reykjavik sightings are possible, the city's light pollution can make it more challenging to see the aurora borealis. For the best experience, we recommend venturing outside of Reykjavik to areas with minimal artificial light.

Some popular spots near Reykjavik for northern lights viewing include Thingvellir National Park, Grotta Lighthouse, and the Reykjanes Peninsula.

Where to Go in Iceland to See Northern Lights 

Iceland is full of stunning locations that offer incredible opportunities to witness the northern lights. Some of the best places to visit include:

1. Vik - This charming coastal village in South Iceland not only offers incredible northern lights viewing opportunities but is also home to the famous black sand beach and dramatic sea stacks.

2. Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon - Located in Southeast Iceland, Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon offers a unique setting for northern lights viewing, with the aurora reflecting off the stunning icebergs in the lagoon.

3. Snaefellsnes Peninsula - Often referred to as "Iceland in Miniature," this picturesque region offers a variety of landscapes and is an excellent location for spotting the northern lights.

4. Akureyri - As Iceland's second-largest city, Akureyri offers a good balance between city amenities and access to darker skies for optimal northern lights viewing.

5. Westfjords - This remote and rugged region of Iceland boasts minimal light pollution, making it an ideal destination for aurora chasers seeking an off-the-beaten-path experience.

Skogafoss waterfall

What Airport is the best in Iceland for Northern Lights? 

When planning your northern lights adventure in Iceland, you will most likely arrive at Keflavik International Airport (KEF), which is the country's primary international gateway.

Located approximately 50 km (31 miles) from Reykjavik, Keflavik Airport serves as a convenient starting point for your journey to see the northern lights. From the airport, you can rent a car through Reykjavik Auto and explore the various northern lights hotspots around the country.

How to See the Northern Lights in Iceland

Maximize your chances of witnessing the elusive aurora with expert tips. Understand how often and for how long the northern lights grace Iceland's skies.

How Often Can You See the Northern Lights in Iceland 

The frequency of northern lights Iceland sightings varies depending on several factors, including solar activity, weather conditions, and the time of year.

During the peak season (November to February), the northern lights can be visible on average every two to three nights, provided that the skies are clear and dark. However, it's essential to keep in mind that the aurora borealis is a natural phenomenon, and sightings can never be guaranteed.

How Long Do the Northern Lights Last in Iceland 

The duration of a northern lights display can vary significantly, lasting anywhere from a few minutes to several hours. The intensity and movement of the aurora borealis are influenced by solar activity, with more active periods resulting in longer and more vibrant displays.

To maximize your chances of witnessing a spectacular show, it's recommended to dedicate at least a few nights to northern lights hunting during your trip to Iceland.

Watching the Northern Light

Where to Stay in Iceland to See the Northern Lights 

Choose the perfect accommodation for your northern lights holiday. Discover options that cater to your preferences and provide optimal aurora viewing opportunities.

Accommodation Options for a Northern Lights Holiday in Iceland

There is a wide range of accommodation options available for your northern lights holiday in Iceland, catering to various preferences and budgets. Some popular choices include:

  1. Hotels - Many hotels, particularly those located outside of Reykjavik, offer northern lights wake-up calls to ensure you don't miss the aurora when it appears.
  2. Guesthouses - Staying at a guesthouse can provide a cozy and intimate atmosphere, often with personalized service from the owners who can share their local knowledge and tips for spotting the northern lights.
  3. Cottages and Cabins - Renting a private cottage or cabin in a rural area can provide an ideal setting for northern lights viewing, away from city lights and with unobstructed views of the night sky.
  4. Campsites - For the more adventurous traveler, camping during the northern lights season can offer a unique and immersive experience. Just be sure to pack warm clothing and gear, as temperatures can drop significantly at night.

Northern Lights best locations

Tips to See the Northern Lights in Iceland

Make the most of your northern lights adventure with these expert tips. Enhance your experience by knowing when and where to go, what to wear, and how to plan your trip.

Choosing the Right Time and Location 

  1. Visit during the peak season - The best time to see the northern lights in Iceland is during the winter months, from November to February, when the nights are longest and darkest.
  2. Stay away from light pollution - Light pollution can significantly reduce the visibility of the aurora. Head to rural areas, away from city lights, to increase your chances of spotting the phenomenon.
  3. Check the weather forecast - Clear skies are essential for viewing the northern lights. Always check the local weather forecast and plan your aurora hunting accordingly.
  4. Monitor the aurora forecast - The Icelandic Meteorological Office provides an aurora forecast that predicts the likelihood of seeing the northern lights. Keep an eye on this resource when planning your outings.
  5. Be patient and persistent - The aurora is a natural phenomenon, and sightings can never be guaranteed. Dedicate several nights to northern lights hunting and be prepared to wait for the perfect conditions.

Aurora Borealis in Iceland

Preparing for the Elements 

  1. Dress warmly - Icelandic winters can be cold, especially during the night. Wear layers, a warm hat, gloves, and insulated, waterproof footwear to stay comfortable while waiting for the aurora.
  2. Bring a thermos - A hot beverage can help keep you warm during your northern lights hunt. Fill a thermos with your favorite hot drink to enjoy while waiting for the skies to light up.
  3. Pack a blanket - A warm blanket can provide additional comfort and protection from the cold while you're watching the aurora.

Planning Your Trip 

  1. Rent a car - A car rental in Iceland provides the flexibility to chase the northern lights and visit different viewing locations based on weather conditions and forecasts.
  2. Join a guided tour - If you prefer a more structured experience, consider joining a northern lights tour. Expert guides can help you find the best viewing spots and provide valuable insights into the aurora.
  3. Consider a multi-day itinerary - To maximize your chances of witnessing the northern lights, plan a multi-day trip that includes several nights dedicated to aurora hunting. This will allow you to adjust your plans based on weather conditions and aurora activity.

How to Photograph the Northern Lights in Iceland 

Capture the enchanting beauty of the aurora borealis with professional photography tips. Learn the techniques and equipment needed to preserve your magical memories.

Photography settings for Northern Lights

Tips and Techniques for Capturing the Magic

Capturing the stunning beauty of the northern lights of Iceland in a photograph can be a challenging yet rewarding experience. With the right equipment and techniques, you can create unforgettable images of the aurora borealis. Here are some tips to help you achieve the perfect shot:

  1. Use a tripod - A sturdy tripod is essential for stabilizing your camera and eliminating camera shake during long exposures.
  2. Choose a fast lens - A lens with a wide aperture (f/2.8 or lower) will allow more light to enter the camera, resulting in better low-light performance.
  3. Manually focus - Autofocus often struggles in low light, so it's best to manually focus your lens to ensure sharp images.
  4. Shoot in RAW format - RAW files contain more image data than JPEGs, providing greater flexibility during post-processing.
  5. Experiment with exposure settings - Start with a high ISO (1600-3200), a wide aperture, and a shutter speed of 10-30 seconds. Adjust settings as necessary based on the intensity of the aurora and your desired outcome.
  6. Include an interesting foreground - Composing your shot with a captivating foreground (e.g., a landscape or a person) can add depth and context to your northern lights images.
  7. Take multiple shots - The northern lights can change rapidly, so continuously take photos to capture the different shapes and movements of the aurora.

Unforgettable Northern Lights Journey in Iceland

Embarking on a journey to witness the northern lights or aurora borealis in Iceland is an unforgettable experience that should be on every traveler's bucket list. With its breathtaking landscapes and optimal viewing conditions, Iceland offers the perfect setting for chasing the elusive and awe-inspiring aurora.

By following our comprehensive guide, you'll be well-prepared to plan your dream trip, capture stunning photographs, and create memories that will last a lifetime. So, pack your bags, rent a car from Iceland Cars, and get ready to embark on the adventure of a lifetime as you chase the magical northern lights in Iceland.