how to see northern lights in iceland hotel

Seeing the Northern Lights in Iceland – Best time and places

Traveling to Iceland to see the Northern Lights is the easiest way to fulfill the dream of dancing with the “Green Lady.” Flights to this island, especially from Europe and from the United States, are more frequent and cheaper every year. That’s why today, Iceland is one of the top destinations to see Northern Lights, competing with the traditional Lapland region of Norway or Finland.

Iceland is not at a high latitude like Lapland or Northern Canada/Alaska — most of the island is below the Arctic Circle — so it’s normal to wonder:

Can you see the northern lights in Iceland?

At a latitude of 65º, the chances of seeing Northern Lights in Iceland are very high. However, the Aurora is just one of the countless attractions on the island. Before my first trip to Iceland, I heard that some Icelanders still believed in goblins and trolls stories. As soon as I set foot in Iceland, I understood why: the landscapes of Iceland seem to have been taken from a fantasy book.

aurora season in Iceland

Photograph taken by Javi Pozas

We already have an article where we tell you everything you need to know to plan a trip to Iceland, but we wanted to create a specific article aimed at helping you learn how to see the Northern Lights in Iceland, where and when.

In this article, we won’t see in depth what the Aurora Borealis of Iceland is. If you want to dive deeper into this, I suggest reading our popular guide to photographing the Northern Lights.

How to see the Northern Lights in Iceland?

Before talking about when to see the Northern Lights in Iceland, you need to  become familiar with the KP index, since it’s one of the key elements to predict the Northern Lights in Iceland during your trip, and it will help you decide when and where to photograph it. (+ info about the KP index is in our guide to learn how to photograph the Northern Lights).

WHY YOU CAN SEE THE NORTHERN LIGHTS IN ICELAND?

Just to offer a brief explanation of why the Northern Lights are formed in Iceland, we will say that the Aurora Borealis is the result of the collision of solar particles with the Earth’s atmosphere. Due to the low magnetism of the poles, these particles are attracted towards the edges of the Earth.

best time to see northern lights in Iceland

The intensity of the solar particles is measured by the KP index on a scale from 0 to 9. The higher this value, the easier it will be to see the Northern Lights further away from the poles. Located at a latitude of 65º, the odds of viewing the Northern Lights in Iceland are very high.

To summarize:

What is the Northern Lights of Iceland?

The Northern Lights of Iceland is the phenomena that take place when solar particles hit the Earth’s atmosphere and are attracted to the poles. The intensity of the particles is determined by the KP index and the color of the Aurora will vary depending on the composition of the elements present in the atmosphere with which these particles collide.

When to see Northern Lights in Iceland

The best time to see the Northern Lights in Iceland is the season with the most hours of darkness, mainly fall and winter. During most of the spring and summer, it’s not possible to see the Aurora Borealis in Iceland, since the days are longer and there aren’t moments with total darkness.

However, it is necessary to consider other factors such as the cloudiness and the solar activity — the latter much more remarked in the equinoxes. This means that the end of September and the end of March are statistically very good times to see a bigger display of Northern lights in Iceland.

lighthouse best places to see northern lights in iceland

Photograph taken by Arturo Monetti

Which are the best months to see the Northern Lights in Iceland?

Depending on your goal and your preferred conditions, these are the best months to see the Northern Lights in Iceland: 

  • August: Seeing the Northern Lights in Iceland in August is not easy. But if you travel at the end of the month, check the Aurora Forecast in Iceland and you might be lucky.
  • September: The nights become longer. It’s not so cold and solar activity is usually high. September is one of the best months to see the Northern Lights in Iceland.
  • October: The first snowfalls start in most of the island, but solar activity is usually high during the first two weeks and it is less cold than during the winter.
  • November: Ice and snow bring the beginning of the Arctic winter to Iceland. The weather is unstable, but the number of hours of darkness to view the Aurora increases.
  • December: You can enjoy many hours of darkness and there are fewer tourists in most locations, so December is a good month to consider viewing the Aurora in Iceland.
  • January: If you want to photograph the Northern Lights in Iceland under its winter wonderland scenery, in addition to seeing them, January is one of the best months to do so.   The entire island is deep into the Arctic winter.
  • February: The cold and snow are still constant, and more and more tourists are traveling at this time to photograph the Aurora Borealis in Iceland. Many smaller waterfalls are frozen.
  • March: Winter snow and ice linger into March but at the end of the month, with the arrival of the spring equinox, solar activity usually increases. There are more and more tourists, but it’s one of the best months to capture the Northern Lights in Iceland.
  • April: The number of hours of light increases drastically and the atmosphere of the island changes dramatically with the thaw. During the first 15 days of April, you’ll be more likely to see the Northern Lights than during the last 15 days.

Therefore, the Northern Lights season in Iceland begins in September and usually ends in April, with rare displays at the end of August and at the beginning of May.

how to see the northern lights in iceland

Photograph taken by Arturo Monetti

 Regardless of when you travel, I recommend you carry at all times a system to predict the Northern lights forecast in Iceland with an alarm. That way you’ll receive instant notification in case of a sudden KP increase. We recommend using the App “Aurora” (+ info about Aurora forecast in our guide to learn how to photograph the Northern Lights).

Below you can find a chart of historical data of the Northern Lights in Iceland in 2017, with Reykjavik as a reference.  We compare the nights with KP≥3  and nights that last more than 4 hours.

Historical Data of Northern Lights in Iceland by Month in 2017
 

Nights with KP ≥ 3

Dark nights ≥ 4 hrs

Northern Lights Nights

Northern Lights in Iceland in January

22

31

22

Northern Lights in Iceland in February

19

28

19

Northern Lights in Iceland in March

22

31

22

Northern Lights in Iceland in April

21

0

0

Northern Lights in Iceland in May

19

0

0

Northern Lights in Iceland in June

10

0

0

Northern Lights in Iceland in July

17

0

0

Northern Lights in Iceland in August

17

0

0

Northern Lights in Iceland in September

27

18

17

Northern Lights in Iceland in October

18

31

18

Northern Lights in Iceland in November

17

30

17

Northern Lights in Iceland in December

16

31

16

You can use this Iceland Northern Lights Calendar as a reference. Keep in mind, though, that the KP is random and will vary from one year to the next, and that the calendar above doesn’t show the cloudiness, which is a key factor in determining your chances of seeing the auroras. If you want to know the Northern Lights forecast in Iceland today, check this website.

Where to see the Northern Lights in Iceland

The whole island of Iceland is perfect to see the Northern Lights. Even in the capital of Iceland, Reykjavik, despite the light pollution, you can see the Aurora Borealis when there is a big display of intensive lights.

 

The Northern Lights usually start showing up in the North. Although as the intensity increases, they can appear in any position in the sky. That’s why the best places to see the Northern Lights in Iceland are those beaches, waterfalls or locations facing North.

In addition, the KP needed to see the Northern Lights in Northern Iceland is slightly smaller than in the South, as shown by the following map of the Aurora Borealis in Iceland.

northern lights map in iceland

As you can see, the Northern Lights are visible across Iceland from KP3 and even in Northern Iceland, you could see the Northern Lights starting with a KP2. You just need a clear sky, a place away from the light pollution and a good KP index.

best months to see the northern lights in iceland

In the following section, I will break down the best places to see the Northern Lights in Iceland. But before, here are my favorite top 7 locations:

Best Places to See the Northern Lights in Iceland
  • Hvolsvöllur: The most photogenic church in Iceland to see the Northern Lights away from the light pollution.
  • Skógafoss: The best waterfall to see the Northern Lights in Iceland.
  • DC Plane Wreck: The plane crashed on the sólheimasandur volcanic beach.
  • Jökulsárlón: A glacial lagoon unique for viewing the Aurora Borealis in Iceland.
  • Stokksnes: The best beach and compositions to photograph and view the Northern Lights in Iceland.
  • Kirkjufell: The most iconic mountain to see the green lady in Iceland.
  • Hvítserkur: Also known as “ The Rhino,”  a spectacular rock formation that is perfect to view the Icelandic Northern Lights.

Best place to see the northern lights in Southern Iceland

These are the best places to see the Northern Lights in southern Iceland from west to east:

  • Gígvatnsvatn and Kleifarvatn: The thermal lakes located in the Southwest of the Keflavik peninsula offer a golden opportunity to see the Northern Lights in Iceland, without any light pollution and without people. Take note of this place if you are near the airport or Reykjavik.
  • Kerid crater: This outstanding crater located in the Southwest offers an otherworldly scene when the Aurora is reflected on its central lake.

best spot to see northern lights in iceland

  • Gullfoss: The orientation and location of Gullfoss make it an ideal place to see the Northern Lights in Iceland. Photographing it, however, is quite challenging due to the strong water spray from the waterfall and the lights of other photographers.

Gulfoss waterfall best place to see northern lights in Iceland

  • Geysir: Although there’s  a lot of light pollution from nearby services, when Aurora has strong intensity, viewing the green lights from Geysir is a unique experience. Seeing the Northern Lights in the Golden Circle of Iceland is possible and Geysir is an example of this.

when is the best time to see the northern lights in iceland

  • Hvolsvöllur: Of all the photogenic churches in the south of Iceland, this is my favorite. Not only because of its beautiful shape and color, but because there is no flash or external lighting.
  • Skógafoss: The Skogafoss waterfall faces north towards the Eyjafjallajökull volcano, so there is no light pollution. There are usually a lot of photographers because of its accessible location, so sometimes the flashes and lights make it difficult to see the Aurora from Skogafoss.

northern lights forecast for today Iceland

  • Solheimasandur DC3 Plane Wreck: The 2.6-mile walk to the famous plane wreck in Iceland is worth it to be completely away from the light pollution and allowing you to view the Aurora Borealis practically alone.
  • Vik: Although the orientation of the beach is not North if the KP forecast is strong, Vik offers endless possibilities to see the Northern Lights in the south of Iceland.
  • Jökulsárlón: If you want a unique photograph of the Aurora Borealis that’s practically impossible to get anywhere else on the planet, head to the Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon, where you can view the Aurora shining in the pieces of ice coming off the Vatnajökull glacier.
when is the best time to see aurora borealis in iceland

Photograph taken by Sara Delgado

  • Stokksnes: The iconic Vestrahorn Mountains (more popularly known as Stokksnes) offer a great opportunity to see the Northern Lights reflected on the beach and over the incredible black volcanic sand dunes.
aurora borealis in reykjavik

Photograph taken by Arturo Monetti

  • Hvalnes Lighthouse: Not far from Stokksnes, you can also find the Hvalnes lighthouse, where you can view the Aurora Borealis facing North over the iconic Eystrahorn mountains and a spectacular volcanic sand beach.

Best place to see the Northern Lights in Nothern Iceland

If you are in the north, the best places to see the Northern Lights in Iceland from west to east are:

  • Kirkjufell: The northern orientation of Iceland’s most iconic mountain is perfect for viewing the Aurora in Iceland even when the intensity is not strong. Keep in mind that the lights of the road, the nearby parking and the large number of photographers that usually visit this location can make the photography session difficult.
Aurora Borealis Kirkjufell, Snæfellness peninsula, Iceland

Photograph taken by Arturo Monetti

  • Búðir: Seeing the Northern Lights in Iceland is possible from its most famous church: the Black Church of Búðakirkja. If you plan to visit the Snæfellness Peninsula, and the forecast is favorable, consider adding this church to your list of locations to stop by.
budir church black church northern lights iceland

Photograph taken by Néstor Rodan

  • Skardsviti Lighthouse: This lonely lighthouse located in the Northwest edge of the Snæfellness peninsula, will allow you to capture the Aurora in Iceland with a different and original composition.
when and where to see northern lights in iceland

Photograph taken by Arturo Monetti

  • Hvítserkur: This rocky formation also known as “The Rhino,” faces north towards the sea, making it a prime location to photograph the Aurora in northern Iceland.
  • Goðafoss: The northern orientation of this waterfall and its beauty make it one of the best spots to capture the Aurora during your trip to Iceland.
best time to see northern lights in iceland godafoss

Photograph taken by David Aguilar

  • Dettifoss: This huge waterfall is one of the most difficult to photograph, but it can be a great spot to view Northern Lights in Iceland.

Best place to see the northern lights in Reykjavik

Seeing the Northern Lights in Reykjavik is possible. The capital of Iceland is not the best place to see the Auroras due to the strong light pollution. However, if the display is strong, there are certain places where you can view it without traveling far.

Here are the best places to see the Aurora Borealis in Reykjavik:

  • The sculpture “Sun Voyager” is a few minutes away from the city center. Look towards the north coast if the Aurora prediction in Iceland is promising.
  • The art piece of Þúfa, also facing north and near the former location, is another great place to see the Northern Lights in Reykjavik.
  • From the rotating glass restaurant Perlan. Although it’s near the center, it’s somewhat separated from other buildings and lighting and is in an elevated position. This is ideal to see the Northern Lights from the capital of Iceland.
  • The township of Seltjarnarnes, just a 15-minute drive from Reykjavik, is a good place to see the Northern Lights because it’s located away from the light pollution of the center.
  • Álftanes.This peninsula is a place to consider to see the Aurora if you’re staying in Reykjavík. It’s a 25-minute drive away from downtown.
  • Kleifarvatn. This series of thermal lakes located 45 minutes away from the capital, offers the best place to see the Aurora Borealis without light pollution.

Kleifarvatn lake northern lights close to reykjavik

Another option from Reykjavik is to take a Northern Light Tour (check full list here), which will bring you to the place where there are more chances to see the green lights at night.

 

Best place to see the Northern Lights in the highlands of Iceland

In general, keep in mind that in the highlands of Iceland there are usually many clouds due to the altitude. During most of the autumn and winter, access is not possible since the roads are cut by snow.

However, viewing the Aurora in the Icelandic highlands is possible.

Here are the best places to see the Northern Lights in the Icelandic Highlands:

  • Haifoss: It is the first point of interest within the considered “Highlands of Iceland,” and its huge waterfalls facing north will make it easy to see the Aurora.
  • Sigöldugljufur: This canyon taken from a fantasy world offers one of the best spots to see the Northern Lights in the highlands of Iceland. It’s located at the entrance and at an altitude that’s not very high. In addition, it has a north orientation.

Northern Lights in Sigoldugljufur

  • Veiðivötn: This is in the heart of the Highlands. It’s in an area full of craters and large lakes, forming the perfect scenario to view the Aurora Borealis in Iceland during the month of September.
  • Landmannalaugar: Seeing the Northern Lights in the Icelandic Highlands from its epicenter is possible. Bear in mind that the luck factor is important in this area since it’s usually covered with clouds.
stokksnes aurora borealis in iceland in september

Photograph taken by Arturo Monetti

If you plan to travel in September to see the Aurora Borealis in the Highlands of Iceland, it’s important to check the state of the roads and the weather forecast for safety reasons, since it’s possible that the first snowfall of the season starts at this time.

To do this, we recommend visiting the official website of road conditions in Iceland.  Check the roads you plan to take beforehand, as well as the weather forecast, to avoid entering the Highlands if a storm is coming.

best places to see northern lights in highlands iceland

Also, before heading to the Highlands or any other place in Iceland for the purpose of seeing the Northern Lights, be sure to check the cloud prediction. We use the Vedur website to find out the best places to see the Northern Lights in Iceland, depending on the cloudiness of the area. This is fundamental in order to succeed with our particular Northern Lights chasing nights.

Northern lights hotels in Iceland

In recent years, there has been a sudden growth in the Northern Lights tourism in Iceland. Not so long ago, taking a trip to Iceland to see the Aurora Borealis was logistically complex, inaccessible and expensive. This has changed over the years. Now, for $200, you can fly to this amazing island from different locations in the U.S. and Europe.

In addition, Icelanders have been able to meet this growing demand by offering specialized services such as exclusive hotels to see the Northern Lights.

Not so long ago, they were behind other countries in terms of Northern Lights tourism. For example, the first hotel with igloo bedrooms to see the Aurora Borealis in Iceland was recently opened, unlike Norway or Finland, where these types of hotels have been the landmark of Aurora luxury tourism for a long time.

HOTEL RANGÁ

If your trip is specifically aimed at seeing the Aurora in Iceland, the Hotel Rangá will be your best bet.

This hotel is designed for the Aurora lovers; it offers a real stars observatory, an atmosphere of low light at night, and even an alarm to wake you up when the Aurora starts shining across the Sky.

On top of that, the facilities have a beautiful design and the rates are superb.

HOTEL HUSAFELL

One of the best hotels to see the Northern lights in Iceland both for the quality and the location is the Hotel Husafell.

The Husafell area is a beautiful valley full of snowy peaks, waterfalls, and vegetation. This paradise is also the perfect spot for seeing the Aurora, far from the light pollution of Reykjavik.

The hotel is decorated in a luxury-minimalistic Nordic style and offers activities for the day like hiking and thermal baths. The food and breakfast are some of the top rated in all Iceland.

HOTEL LAXNES

Away from the city center of Reykjavik, and therefore, most of the light pollution, the Hotel Laxnes is one of the best choices for seeing the Aurora in Iceland.

It is a rustic classic hotel with a picturesque bar and a delicious breakfast.

They also offer other activities from the Hotel like Whale watching tours, hiking and kayak tours.

Reykjavik Domes

Enjoying the Northern Lights in Iceland in a more original way is possible thanks to the Reykjavik Domes, a complex of luxurious tents with garden views to see the Aurora right from the door.

This glamping (“Glamorous camping) option provides also with a kitchen and a bathroom with a shower and free bathrooms.

Just taking a look at the interior of the domes you’ll see that this has nothing to do with normal campings; Here you’ll have all the facilities to stay comfortable seeing the Aurora in Iceland.

GRAND HOTEL REYKJAVÍK

If you are looking for a more standard hotel to see the Northern lights in Iceland, the Grand Hotel Reykjavik offers all the standards of normal hotels with top design and quality.

From here you’ll have quick access to many great locations to chase the Aurora in Iceland.

Aurora Cabins

In a remoter location close to the picturesque Stokksnes beach and the village of Hofn, these cabins offer a beautiful mountain view away from any light pollution.

If you like a peaceful mountain view and a bit of solitude for your Northern lights experience in Iceland, this is the place for you.

 

Iceland Northern Lights Tours

There are a lot of aurora hunting tours in Iceland that allow you to enjoy this phenomenon accompanied by a local guide. If you have little time and don’t know very well how to find the Northern Lights, these tours can help you. There are many types but we recommend any of the following ones:

 

best date to see northern lights in iceland

The guided multi-day tours to see the Northern Lights in Iceland are also very popular nowadays since the chances of seeing the Aurora in Iceland are generally high. During our last trip to see the Northern Lights in Iceland, we were lucky enough to see the Aurora for 5 nights out of the 10 we spent across the island.

white church northern lights iceland

For September, we have organized a Northern Lights Photo Tour in Iceland. If you want to discover the best locations and places in Iceland, go out every night to chase and photograph the Northern Lights, and learn a lot of photography with a group of like-minded and passionate photographers, do not hesitate to join us. It will be a unique experience!

Warning: This trip is not for you if you are not a true, passionate freak of photography, regardless of your level or skills. If you join us, you are literally going to spend more time in Iceland with a camera in your hands than with your hands empty. If you’re interested in another type of trip, we can help you find another tour. We only offer tours for enthusiastic photographers.

Our best Northern Lights Images in Iceland

Here you have our best Aurora Borealis photos from Iceland. All these images of the Northern Lights were taken in the south and the Highlands of Iceland between September 14th and 24th, 2018 with a KP between 2 and 5.

To take the pictures, I used all the tips I mentioned on this guide: how to photograph the Northern Lights. In the article, I don’t only speak about photography, but also about how to see the Northern Lights with useful prediction tips that you will need in your trip to Iceland. However, I did not want to wrap up this article without giving you some basic advice.

How to photograph the Northern Lights in Iceland

These are the steps you must follow to photograph the Aurora Borealis in Iceland:

  • Step 1: Prepare your gear. Here, I recommend you best photography equipment to travel
  • with to Iceland.
  • Step 2: Mount your
  • Step 3: Set the focus if you want to get sharp images of the Northern Lights in Iceland.
  • Step 4: Shoot in RAWif you want to edit your pictures later.
  • Step 5: Raise the ISO  according to your camera sensor.
  • Step 6: Open up the aperture of your lens to the maximum to capture more light and get better results.
  • Step 7: Shot different shutter times.
  • Step 8: Think about the composition when shooting the Aurora with the incredible Icelandic landscapes.

And, as commented before, if you want to photograph the Aurora Borealis in Iceland with me next September, join our Iceland photography tour.

DO NOT HESITATE TO LEAVE A COMMENT IF YOU NEED MORE INFORMATION ABOUT VIEWING AND PHOTOGRAPHING THE NORTHERN LIGHTS IN ICELAND!

photography by danzafra

– OTHER POSTS OF THE NORTHERN LIGHTS in Iceland COLLECTION 

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16 thoughts on “Seeing the Northern Lights in Iceland – Best time and places

  1. Sasikumar S says:

    I am planning for Jan or March 2020 to south of Iceland to see Northen Lights, interested with Photogenic places. Also seems, March will be crowded. Which are all the best places to visit ? Do I need to take special clothes if I want to go by Jan 2020 ?

    Thank you,

    Best Regards,
    Sasikumar S

    • Capture the Atlas says:

      Hi Sasikumar,

      March is not too crowded compared to the high season (April-Sept), so you should be fine 😉

      Statistically, March is also one of the best months to see Northern Lights in Iceland (better than Jan), and it’s usually less cold, so if it’s your first in Iceland I’d probably suggest planning your trip in March.

      I wish you all the best in your Northern Lights chasing experience!

      Cheers,

      Dan

  2. Nico Ferraro says:

    planning a trip in 2020 to Iceland to see the lights
    what will the best month? from what I read will it be late September?
    have time to plan so how long can we wait to book our trip to Iceland
    thank you

    • Capture the Atlas says:

      Hi Nico,

      Statistically, the end of September and March are the months with more Northern Lights nights per year in Iceland. If you prefer warmer weather and see beautiful colors during the day, then the end of September could be the best bet for you.

      Have a nice trip!

    • Chitranshu sharma says:

      Hi
      I am planning a trip from 10th October to 17th October
      I am really confused if should go to Tromso and Abisko or go to Iceland
      Can you recommend which one should i pick

      • Capture the Atlas says:

        Hi Chitranshu,

        you can see Northern Lights in all the places you mention.

        If your goal is merely seeing Northern Lights, I’d probably pick Tromso or Iceland.

        All the best chasing the Aurora!

        Dan

  3. Mary and David Lewis says:

    I’m in the planning stages of a trip to Iceland either 2020 or 2021– my bucket list extending my comfort zone in the cold nights of winter! But a passion to see this phenomenon. I will surely be booking one of your tours, as photographers. Yes, we have the gear.

    My question: How do I coordinate this with a vacation package to minimize the cost of air travel and hotel expenses? Will we need to rent a car?

  4. Charul says:

    Hi,
    Planning a visit in 3rd week of October, around the 19th/20th. Is that a good time to see the lights?
    thanks!

    • Capture the Atlas says:

      Hi Charul,

      October is a very good period for seeing the Northern Lights in Iceland, so if there are clear skies, make sure you check the Aurora forecast every day.

      All the best chasing the Aurora in Iceland! 😉

      Dan

  5. Karl Jarrow says:

    Traveling to Iceland next week. Do I have any chance to see the Northern Lights in Iceland in July?

    Thanks and awesome pictures btw
    Karl

  6. James says:

    fantastic resource, thank you so much.

    We’re coming from the US Oct 13-16 for 3 nights. Should we set the expectation that we need to leave one person up all night to look for the NL’s? Or are there certain times of the overnight period that are more successful for viewing?

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