Tips for Seeing the Northern Lights in Iceland

Tips for Seeing the Northern Lights in Iceland

Aurora Borealis – An Elusive Beauty.

When we went to Iceland last month, I had only one goal: seeing the northern lights. It was my bucket list item, practically my whole reason for taking the trip! A friend of mine had been to Iceland twice and did not get to see them either time. That made me nervous. So I read up on how to see the Northern Lights in Iceland and decided to stack the odds in my favor. Here’s how I did it:

1. Go in the winter.

In the winter months, the northern half of the Earth is tilted slightly away from the sun, which is why you have shorter periods of daylight. In order to maximize your chance of seeing the northern lights in Iceland, you should plan your trip between October and March.

2. Go when there is a new moon.

Moonlight can be very bright, and the brighter the sky, the harder it will be to see the northern lights. Therefore, pick a travel date around the new moon, which is when the moon is not at all visible. Just Google “moon phases” and find a calendar that shows when the new moon will be.

3. Check the forecast. Then check again. And again.

Once you arrive in Iceland, keep an eye on the Aurora forecasts at the Icelandic Meteorology Office web site. You’ll be looking at two things.  First, the amount of cloud cover that will be over the part of Iceland you’re in – skies need to be somewhat clear in order to see the aurora. Second, the amount of solar activity, which is rated on a scale of 0 to 9.

If you hit anything above a 4 and you follow the other tips here, you’re golden. When we went it was a 2-3 and we still saw them, although they were faint:

how to see the northern lights in Iceland.
My picture of the northern lights. I didn’t quite get the camera settings correct, but it’s still proof that I saw them, so I’m happy.

You will want to check the forecast repeatedly throughout the day, as weather conditions in Iceland are apt to change drastically from hour to hour.

4.  Get your camera settings right before you head out.

Don’t even bother trying to photograph the northern lights with your smart phone. You will definitely need a camera, and you will definitely need to adjust the settings to get a good shot.  Read up on how to set your camera before you go, and set your camera accordingly. You do not want to be standing in the middle of a field at night, in the winter, fiddling with your camera. It’s just not a good use of your time.

5. Find a dark place.

Try to get as far away as you can from city lights, also called “light pollution.”  Many people say that Thingvellir National Park is a good place to look for the lights. We were in Eastern Iceland when our opportunity arose, so we went to the local airport in Egilsstadir. The airport was closed and the parking lot was empty, so it was pretty dark.

6. Remember, you’re looking for the northern lights.

There is no point facing south when you’re looking for the northern lights. Directionally challenged? No problem!  Most smart phones have a compass app that will let you figure out which way is north.


7. Be patient.

The Northern lights may not be immediately visible, and your eyes may need a few moments to adjust to the darkness. They may not be as vividly colored as you see in photographs, and therefore not as noticeable.  But take heart, if there is no cloud cover and solar activity is present, you will see them.


Header and Pinterest images created with photo via Flickr by Giuseppe Milo.

How to See the Northern Lights in Iceland
Article Name
How to See the Northern Lights in Iceland
Seven tips for finding and photographing the northern lights in Iceland.
Julie Peters
Travel As Much
Travel As Much
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