We can help you to find the Northern Lights in Iceland. On our web you can find some great tours, where you can hunt for this majestic natural phenomenon. We at Iceland Travel have many local expert guides who are exceptional and seasoned Aurora hunters.
Iceland is one of the best places on Earth to spot the elusive Aurora Borealis and the auroral activity. Many places, only a short drive away from Reykjavik, offer great opportunities to spot this splendid and majestic natural phenomenon. Have you ever seen the auroras dance across the darkened night sky in vivid colors? It’s beautiful.
Just remember, since the auroas are a natural phenomenon there is never any guarantee that you will see them. Weather is a huge factor and though we often have clear night skies in Iceland (especially when it is cold) the lights can be elusive. You can greatly increase you chances in seeing them simply by e.g. find a great spot where light pollution is little to none.
We have many visitors every year that come specially to see the auroras because Iceland is a great place to see them. Therefore we often get to hear the same questions. Here are some of them and our best answers.
When is the best time to see the Northern Lights in Iceland?
The Northern lights can be elusive and there are a few factors you need to keep in mind when trying to witness this great natural phenomenon. Weather, season and location all matter and by taking them into account you can greatly increase you chance to see the Auroras.
We often get the question: When is the best time to see the Northern Lights? There’s both a simple and complicated answer to that question. The simple answer is: From September to mid-April, or when the nights are dark and cold. After equinox in September, the nights in Iceland are fully dark and that alone increases the chances of seeing the Northern Lights. You might find some sources stating that the best time is November – February, but if you decide to visit Iceland during these months please consider that the weather can be unforgiving, lots of rain and snow, which can seriously reduce your chances to see the Northern Lights.
Here is the longer and more complicated answer.
Iceland is one of the best places in the world to see the Northern Lights, due to some very important factors. First, Iceland is close to the Arctic circle and though we enjoy long and bright summer nights, in winter the nights are dark (but not full of terrors) and long. Guaranteed darkness is the single most important factor in seeing the Northern Lights, in daylight the Auroras are invisible.
Weather is also a huge factor and the second most important one. To see the Northern Lights the skies need to be clear, preferably very clear and empty of clouds. Iceland is an island in the middle of the North-Atlantic. Weather changes are frequent here, even more so in winter. You want to have, as mentioned before, clear skies and if rain or snow is in the forecast, the chances for seeing the Northern Lights are greatly reduced. Here’s a tip, clear skies often coincide with cold nights, where the temperature is below freezing. By keeping an eye out for the weather forecast you can greatly increase your chances of seeing the Auroras.
Location is everything!
Finally, just as in the real estate business, location is critical. The chances you’ll see the Northern Lights in Reykjavik, even on clear, cold nights, are minimal, simply due to light pollution. Cities light Reykjavik are lit up in the night and this diminishes your chance to see the Auroras, so you need to leave the city and head out to the countryside, where there are few, if any, lights. Of course, there come times when the Northern Lights are so strong that they are visible in the city, but we do not recommend that you rely on that to happen. There are many great places in Iceland to see the Northern Lights and you don’t need to travel far from Reykjavik to find perfect locations for seeing the Northern Lights.
Please remember, that the Northern Lights are a natural phenomenon and there’s never any guarantee that they will lit up the sky the moment we decide to look up. Hunting for the Auroras requires patience and warm clothes. If you make sure that you’re dressed in warm clothes and you are willing to wait for the Auroras, your patience can be richly rewarded.
Some Northern Lights Facts
The Aurora Borealis are a fantastic natural phenomenom to behold and Iceland is one of the best place on Earth to see them. But surrounding the Auroras are many legends and myths. Here are a few Northern Lights Facts.
Many people travel to Iceland every year to see the Northern Lights. We often hear the same questions regarding this beautiful natural phenomenon.
Few Aurora facts and frequently asked questions
What are the Northern Lights?
There are many legends about the lights. In medieval times seers and fortune tellers believed that the lights were harbingers of woe, war and famine. The Menominee Indians of Wisconsin believed the lights indicated where the spirits of great hunters and fishermen, called manabai’wok, could be found. Many different cultures believed that the lights were spirits, either of their people or the animals that they hunted.
After diving into the subject it’s clear that “Solar winds hitting the earths magnetic shield creating color” is just not going to cut it! The Northern Lights are a series of discharged particles emanating from the sun. These tiny charged beauties gush out of enormous dark spots on the sun’s surface creating clouds which travel over 150 million kilometers before reaching Earth.
To enter the Earth’s ionosphere the particles need to become tangled in the magnetic field and be dragged down to the poles. When the lights are dragged into the poles they collide with gasses. This collision is what creates the Auroras. The colour of the lights depends on what types of gasses the discharged particles collide with. For instance a collisions with oxygen typically produce green and yellow lights while contact with nitrogen results in reds, violets, and blues. The shape of the lights depends on the magnitude of the solar flares. During periods of minimal solar flares, shapes tend to be less dramatic. But in cycles of strong flares, lights dance, wind, loop and weave through the night sky.
Where can I see the Northern Lights?
As the lights stem from particles entering at the Earth’s poles, the best places on Earth to see the Northern Lights will be in and around the Arctic Circle. Which in turn means that Iceland is one of the greatest places on Earth to see the Northern Lights. If you have the chance of staying away from heavily populated areas, that would be a good way to limit the light pollution. However, you can expect to see the lights from the city when they are at their strongest but you will not be getting the same spectrum of colour as you would be getting away from the city lights.
When can I see the Northern Lights?
Now that you know that Iceland is one of the best places to see the lights, you have to make sure to visit in the right time of year. The fact is you can NOT visit Iceland in the summertime and expect to witness the Northern Lights at the same time as the midnight sun. Sorry, but that is a fact.
In order to see the Auroras you need darkness so you should consider traveling from around the middle of September until early April. You’ll also be needing clear skies to see the lights so it’s best to head out when the weather is still. This will always remain a bit of a gamble as we often offer a variety of weather in a single evening. Just remember, when hunting for the Northern Lights patience truly is a virtue!
What is the best way to see the Northern Lights?
Now that you know the “what, where and when” of the Northern Lights we only have the “how” to cover. Whether you’ll be staying in Iceland for few days or if you´re only looking for an evening tour, you’ll find that it’s possible to hunt for the Auroras in all sorts of manners.
When it comes to the aurora hunting, it’s best to start by looking at the time you have in Iceland. If you are planning a short winter holiday and are able to arrive on any weekday (well, and don’t have any qualms about driving yourself!!) then a northern lights self-drive holiday is perfect for you. But if you would rather like to travel with more people and reap the benefits of a specialized tour guide then you should think about booking a northern lights escorted tour.
Northern Lights videos and photos
Taking a good photo of the Northern Lights is not as easy as it sounds. Cold and arctic environment is certainly a problem, but being in the right place at the right time is just as much a challenge. Here are few tips and tricks to get the best Auroras photos.
Iceland is a cold country, especially in winter. That brings up many challenges when you’re taking pictures of the Northern Lights. Cameras and camera lenses can be affected by the cold, e.g. if you bring the camera from cold environment to a warm environment. This can be a real problem if you often jump in and out of a warm car.
Keeping the camera in a camera bag is recommended. You need a good pair of gloves, along with other warm winter clothes so you won’t get cold. And don’t forget to brings some snacks and a hot drink in a thermos. We also recommend that you read up on these Northern Lights facts, to make sure you are in the right spot at the right time.
Getting the best Northern Lights photos
In general, auroras are fairly dim and you can see stars through them. As our eyes don’t see colour at such low light levels the aurora looks white to us unless it is very bright. The camera will however see the colour. Photographing the auroras, especially when not bright, isn’t easy as the stars move across the sky with the rotation of the earth.
This limits the longest exposure you can make without converting stars from pinpoints into streaks. The longest exposure time depends on the focal length of the lens. Typically you will be using a fairly short focal length to get enough of the sky in. That means the exposure time should be no longer than about 20 to 30 seconds. With the low light a fast lens is required otherwise you need to increase the ISO setting to high levels. That will introduce a lot of noise into the image.
If you used a lens with a maximum aperture of f2.8 you would have had to use an ISO of 3200. If your lens was only f4 then you would have had to use an ISO of 6400. A slow lens just isn’t going to give you the best results. Of course if you strike a really bright aurora then a slower lens will work just fine.
You should always be taking photos in Raw Image Format, at least for the purposes of Nocturnal and Northern Lights photography. Raw editing allows you to make much bigger adjustments than Jpeg, such as correcting exposure, changing white balance and many others. Most of consumer DSLR cameras are capable of shooting Raw.
If you use these simple tricks, you should get great Northern Lights photos.
Photos of the Northern Lights in Iceland
There are many great photos of the Northern Lights in Iceland, but these are usually the produced through hard work, experience and a good dose of luck. There are a few tricks to capturing the opportune moment, when the Northern Lights dance across the sky.
As mentioned above you need to have your camera, ready and set up for this kind of photography. Finding the right spot can be a bit tricky, but if you make sure that you work with the locals and watch out for Northern Lights Forecast, you should be able to get a chance to get your perfect photo. Make sure you dress warm and pack all your needs, since hunting for the Auroras can take the whole night, and nights are long in Iceland during the winter.
Finally, picture the Northern Lights with something in the foreground. Not because you just want to take photos of the Northern Lights doesn’t mean you are just to photograph the sky all night long. Adding the whole scenery on where you stand is the most dramatic way to take photos. Plus, it would remind you of the place where you have experienced the breathtaking phenomena.
Good luck getting some great Northern Lights photos.
If you’re more in the mood to see a video of the auroras you will find some by clicking here.
Northern Lights Tours
Finding the right Northern Lights Tour can be quite the headache. There are many tours to choose from and many different types of tours. Here are a few pointers on the tours.
We offer a few different types of tours where you have a chance to witness the majestic, yet elusive, Northern Lights. We have many great local expert guides who are specialized Aurora hunters and know myriad of superb spots where you can experience the lights dancing across the sky in beautiful, serene and unspoiled surroundings.
Northern Lights Forecast
The spectacle of Aurora Borealis requires dark and at least partly clear skies. You need to keep an eye for the weather forecast and make a note of where and when you can find the best condition for seeing the lights. We recommend that you watch the forecast on Icelandic Met Office’s homepage, see here.
Just remember, that even though the weather is great, clear sky on a cold winter night, there’s never any guarantee that the auroras will light up the sky. The Northern Lights are a natural phenomenon.
Northern Lights around Reykjavik
It’s not uncommon to see the auroras on a dark night in Iceland. In fact, throughout the ages the Auroras are mostly linked in Icelandic lore and myths to weather, and the lights have not the same mystical theme as for many other nations. If the auroras were dancing and moving swiftly across the sky, many people believed that the weather would turn sour in the next few days.
The light pollution in Reykjavik can stand in a way of you seeing the Northern Lights in the city, but great spots for spotting the Auroras are only a short drive from the city. On a clear night, however, when the auroras are strong and vivid, you might see them in Reykjavik as well, but we do not recommend that you rely on it. This natural phenomenon is an elusive one and we consider ourselves lucky when we see the auroras dance high above the traffic lights.
There are many guided tours available in Reykjavik and to have a local, expert guide leading you to the best spots, where you can see the majestic Northern Lights upon the darkened night sky is more than worth it.