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How and Where to See the Northern Lights in Iceland

How and Where to See the Northern Lights in Iceland

Olly Gaspar

By Olly Gaspar, full-time traveler for 6 years. I visit every place I write about & share real tips, photos, & advice from my trips.

Here’s how to maximize your chances of seeing the incredible aurora borealis on your trip to Iceland.

The aurora borealis is one of the great natural wonders of the world. Many tourists flock to Iceland to see the Northern Lights because being located between latitudes 63°N and 66°N, it is one of the best places to witness this incredible phenomenon,

However, seeing the lights is by no means guaranteed, although there are some things you can do to increase your chances.

First: Understanding 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 phenomenon only occurs close to the magnetic poles.

Man under the northern lights in iceland

Want the Easy Way to Witness Iceland's Aurora Borealis?

From ambient light to magnetic field activity, there are many factors that impact your chances of seeing the lights.

That's why many tourists choose to take the guesswork out of the equation and book a Northern Lights bus tour instead.

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! Below are my recommendations for seeing the aurora in Iceland.

Dedicated Northern Lights Bus Tour from Reykjavik

The best Northern Lights conditions occur when there is little light pollution. Therefore, it's a good idea to get out away from the city and into the country's interior like the region around the Golden Circle for the best spectacle.

While you can rent a car, a more convenient way to do this from Reykjavik is to hop on the dedicated Northern Lights evening bus tour. This 4-hour tour is run by a local Icelandic guide with years of experience in hunting down aurora locations.

DIY: Best Spot to see the Northern Lights in Reykjavik City

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.

The location is the park pinned as "Náttúruminjasafn Íslands" on Google Maps.

As you approach, 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.

Reykjavik university map in iceland

See the Aurora from the Ring 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 organize trips.

In saying that, by far the best way to see the Northern Lights is to have your own car. Many choose to travel to 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. You can even stay in some amazing coastal towns like Vik in the south, which has much less light pollution than Reykjavik.

Northern lights in iceland

What is the Best Time to See the Northern Lights?

Yes, you'll need to plan your visit if you want to maximize your chances of a sighting. 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 maximize their chances of seeing the Northern Lights.

The season is from late August to mid-April. However, October to February have 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

Travel 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 activity, often before you do.

Use a Tripod

A tripod, Gorillapod or makeshift stabilizing 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.

I hope this Iceland Aurora guide has been helpful for your trip! Before you start planning the bucket list moment of a lifetime, check out some of my other guides for more inspiration!


What month is best to see the northern lights in Iceland?

The best months to see the northern lights in Iceland are from September to mid-April, with peak viewing in October and March due to the equinoxes.

How likely is it to see the northern lights?

Your chances increase with clear, dark skies and high solar activity, but it's still a natural phenomenon with no guarantees, so staying multiple nights improves your odds.

Does the aurora happen every night?

No, the aurora doesn't happen every night; its appearance depends on solar activity and clear skies, so checking aurora forecasts can help plan your viewing.

Where is the best place to see the northern lights in Iceland?

The best places are away from city lights, such as Thingvellir National Park, the Snaefellsnes Peninsula, and the Westfjords, where darkness and clear skies are more likely.

Is Norway or Iceland better to see them?

Both countries are great for northern lights, but Iceland's dramatic landscapes and accessibility from Reykjavik make it a popular choice.

How far is Reykjavik from the northern lights?

You can see the northern lights near Reykjavik as we did, but driving 30-60 minutes away from the city's light pollution to places like Thingvellir National Park increases your chances.

Can you see the northern lights in Iceland on your own?

Yes, you can drive to dark areas outside the city and use aurora forecasts, but guided tours offer expert knowledge and increase your chances of a successful sighting. I saw them on my own near town, so it just comes down to luck!

Where to fly to Iceland to see the northern lights?

Fly into Keflavik International Airport, then base yourself in Reykjavik or another town with good access to dark skies and tour options.

A guide to the northern lights in iceland
Thanks for Reading

I'm Olly Gaspar, adventure traveler from Australia. I’ve spent the last six years traveling the world full-time, sharing my first-hand experiences & photography in over 700 travel guides on We Seek Travel. I visit every destination I write about to bring you unique travel itineraries, epic hiking routes, fun tour ideas, travel & photography gear ideas, & interesting places to stay.

I only make genuine, worthwhile recommendations based on my experience, expertise, & research. If you buy through my links, I may get a commission, supporting this website at no extra cost to you. Read my Publishing Ethics Statement.