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 is 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 such a high latitude as Lapland or Northern Canada/Alaska, even most of the island is below the arctic circle, so it is 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, and 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

Photography 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 particular article aimed at helping you to know how to see the Northern Lights in Iceland, where and when.

In this article, we will not see in depth what the Aurora Borealis of Iceland is; if you want to dive deeper into this I suggest to read our popular guide to photograph the Northern Lights.

HOW TO SEE NORTHERN LIGHTS IN ICELAND?

Before speaking about when to see Northern Lights in Iceland, you need to know and get acquainted with the KP index, as it is one of the key elements to predict the Northern Lights in Iceland during your trip and to decide when and where to photograph it. (+ info about the KP index in our guide to learn how to photograph 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 will be to see the Northern Lights further away from the poles. Located at a latitude of 65º, the odds of viewing 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 is 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, which means that the end of September and the end of March are statistically very good times to see a big display of Northern lights in Iceland.

lighthouse best places to see northern lights in iceland

Photography 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 remember to check the Aurora Forecast in Iceland as you might be lucky.
  • September: The nights get 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 fortnight 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 see the Aurora increases.
  • December: You can enjoy many hours of darkness and fewer tourists in most locations, so December is a month to consider to see the Aurora in Iceland.
  • January: If, in addition to seeing the Aurora, you want to photograph the Northern Lights in Iceland under the winter wonderland scenery, January is one of the best months with the whole island 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 can be 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 is 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 will be much more likely to see the Northern Lights than during the last 15 days.

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

how to see the northern lights in iceland

Photography taken by Arturo Monetti

In addition, to bear in mind the best time to see the Aurora Borealis in Iceland, I recommend, regardless of when you travel, to carry at all times a system to predict the Northern lights forecast in Iceland with an alarm, so we can receive an instant notification in case of a sudden KP increase. We recommend to use the App “Aurora”(+ info about Aurora forecast in our guide to learn how to photograph northern lights).

Below you can find a chart of historical data of Northern Lights in Iceland in 2017, with Reykjavik as a reference and where we compare days with KP≥3 with days which nights 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, but keep in mind that the KP is random and will vary from one year to another and that the calendar above doesn’t show the cloudiness, a key factor in determining your chances of seeing 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 Northern Lights. Even in the capital of Iceland, Reykjavik, you can see the Aurora Borealis despite the light pollution, when there is a big display of intensive lights.

Northern Lights usually start showing up in the North, although as the intensity increases, they can appear in any position on the sky. That is 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 Northern Lights in Northern Iceland is slightly smaller than in the South, as shown by the following map of 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 we 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 Northern Lights in Iceland
  • Hvolsvöllur: The most photogenic church in Iceland to see the Northern Lights away from light pollution.
  • Skógafoss: The best waterfall to see Northern Lights in Iceland.
  • DC Plane Wreck: The plane crashed on the sólheimasandur volcanic beach.
  • Jökulsárlón: A glacial lagoon unique for seeing the Aurora Borealis in Iceland.
  • Stokksnes: The best beach and compositions to photograph and see 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 perfect to see 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 is strong light pollution from nearby services, when Aurora has a strong intensity, seeing 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: Taking all the photogenic churches in the South of Iceland this is my favorite and 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 many photographers as it is an easy-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 totally away from the light pollution and allow us to see the Aurora Borealis practically alone.
  • Vik: Although the orientation of the beach is not North, if the KP forecast is strong, Vik offers an endless-possibilities scenario to see the Northern Lights in the south of Iceland.
  • Jökulsárlón: If we want a unique photograph of the Aurora Borealis, practically impossible to get anywhere else on the planet, head to the Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon, where we can see the Aurora shining in the pieces of ice coming off the Vatnajökull glacier.
when is the best time to see aurora borealis in iceland

Photography 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

Photography taken by Arturo Monetti

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

BEST PLACE TO SEE THE NORTHERN LIGHTS IN NORTHERN 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 high. 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

Photography 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 this church in your list of locations.
budir church black church northern lights iceland

Photography 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

Photography taken by Arturo Monetti

  • Hvítserkur: This rocky formation also known as the “Rhino” faces north towards the sea, making it a gold 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

Photography taken by David Aguilar

  • Dettifoss: This huge waterfall is one of the most difficult to photograph, but it can be a great scenario to see 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 see it with no need to move far.

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

  • The sculpture “Sun Voyager”, a few minutes away walking 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 is near the center, it is somewhat separated from other buildings and lighting and in an elevated position, 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 if you are in Reykjavik, as it is located further away from the light pollution of the center.
  • Álftanes. This peninsula is a place to consider to see the Aurora if we are staying in Reykjavík. It is 25 minutes away driving from downtown.
  • Kleifarvatn. This series of thermal lakes located at a 45 minutes drive away from the capital, offers the best place to see the Aurora Borealis without light pollution if you stay in Reykjavik.

Kleifarvatn lake northern lights close to reykjavik

Another option from Reykjavik is to take a Northern Lights Tour, which will take you to the place where there are more chances to see the green lights that 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 and during most of the autumn/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, located at the entrance and at a not very high altitude. In addition, it has a North orientation.

Northern Lights in Sigoldugljufur

  • Veiðivötn: In the heart of the Highlands; This area full of craters and large lakes form the perfect scenario to see 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, as it is usually covered with clouds.
stokksnes aurora borealis in iceland in september

Photography taken by Arturo Monetti

If you travel in September and would like to try to see the Aurora Borealis in the Highlands of Iceland, for your safety it is important to check the state of the roads and the weather forecast, since it is 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 and check beforehand the roads you plan to take and 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 Northern Lights in Iceland depending on the cloudiness of the area, which is fundamental in order to succeed with our particular Northern Lights chasing night.

ICELAND NORTHERN LIGHTS TOURS

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 changed over the years, and now even for $200, you can fly to this amazing island from different locations in the US and Europe.

In addition, Icelanders have been able to meet this growing demand by offering specialized services: from exclusive hotels to see Northern Lights (like this famous hotel in Southern Iceland), guided Northern Lights tours, Aurora cruises and night sessions in the SPA to enjoy this singular phenomenon.

best date to see northern lights in iceland

However, they remain somewhat behind other Northern countries in terms of Northern Lights tourism. For example, there is still no hotel that offers igloo bedrooms to see the Aurora Borealis in Iceland, unlike Norway or Finland, where these types of hotels are the favorite choice of luxury tourism. In any case, we always prefer and consider more beautiful to see the Aurora from a beautiful natural location than from any hotel.

The guided tours to see Northern Lights in Iceland, are also very popular nowadays, as 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, disregarding your level or skills. Literally, if you join us you are going to spend more time in Iceland with a camera in your hands than with your hands empty. If you are interested in another type of trip we can help you find another tour, but 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 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 break down on this guide to learn how to photograph 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 the best photography equipment to travel to Iceland.
  • Step 2: Mount your tripod.
  • Step 3: Set the focus if you want to get sharp images of Northern Lights in Iceland.
  • Step 4: Shoot in RAW if you want to later edit your pictures.
  • Step 5: Raise the ISO depending 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 time.
  • 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

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