A quick guide to seeing the Northern Lights in Iceland! Includes tips on maximizing your chances of seeing the incredible aurora borealis on your trip.
The aurora borealis is one of the great natural wonders of the world. Many tourist flock to see the Northern Lights in Iceland because it is simply one of the best places to see this incredible phenomenon.
However, seeing the lights are by no means guaranteed, although there are some things you can do to increase your chances.
By Olly Gaspar, traveler, travel blogger & photographer for 5+ years with 600+ published travel guides. I visit every place I write about & share real tips from what I learn.
First: What is the Aurora Borealis?
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.
More:Top 10 Iceland Bus Tours
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.
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
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. You can even stay in some amazing coastal towns like Vik in the south, which has much less light pollution than Reykjavik.
Related:How to Travel Iceland on a Budget
What is the Best Time to See the Northern Lights?
Witnessing the Northern Lights in Iceland is usually on everybody's northern European bucket list. But, 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 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.
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.
Use a Tripod
A tripod, Gorillapod or makeshift
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.
More Iceland Travel & Adventure Guides
I hope this quick guide to seeing the Northern Lights in Iceland 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!