How to See the Northern Lights in Iceland

So you’re coming to Iceland and seeing the Northern Lights is HIGH on your bucket list. Am I right?! I hear you my friend, that was my biggest wish as well.

Good news…I am here to help you fulfill your bucket list!

Thankfully, my bucket list wish came true, and with loads of photos to remember them by. It was definitely the highlight of 2014, and perhaps in the top 5 most memorable moments of my life. We have also been lucky to see the lights a few times since we moved here, even from the balcony of our apartment! I can’t wait to see what these beauties have in store for the winter!

So if you are planning on visiting Iceland in the near future, you are in luck! Read on for the best tips for viewing the dazzling Northern Lights.

What are the Northern Lights?

First, a little lesson on what makes the Northern lights. Because, science.

It all starts with the sun. The sun releases solar flares which travel towards the Earth in the form of electrons. The earth has a geomagnetic field that acts as a shield to protect the Earth.  The flare wraps around the Earth’s atmosphere and then separates at the poles. This is why you can only see the lights from the extreme hemispheres. (Fun fact! There is also a Southern Lights known aurora Australis – commonly seen from Antartica, Australia, and New Zealand.)


3 rules to view the Northern Lights

Now let’s talk about the basic rules to follow to ensure your Northern Light viewing, plus photo tips on how to best capture them!


Avoid as much light pollution as possible. This means getting out of Reykjavik! Or any city you are in. The darker the area around you, the better. If you are in Reykjavik and don’t have a car to drive away from the city, grótta lighthouse is a good place to go to minimize light.

                          Northern Lights outside of Egilsstadir – 2014


Cloud cover is the most important factor. The sun could be throwing huge flares for days, but if the clouds are heavy in the sky, forget about it. Make sure to check the cloud cover forecast for the evening. (see websites below)

Northern Lights from our apartment balcony – 2015


Best time of the year to see the Northern Lights is between August-April, with the most intense colors in October and April. The tourist season in Iceland runs from May-August, and those are also the months with the most daylight! Therefore, visiting Iceland in winter definitely has its advantages!

READ MORE:   Summer in Iceland: Weather + Daylight Hours

Northern Lights AND big dipper! Stykkisholmur – 2015

How to photograph the Northern Lights

Okay, so now that you know how to find the northern lights, you want to be sure to capture a memorable photo! Here are the general rules:

  • Long exposure time, i.e. 20 seconds
  • Mid-range ISO. I like to keep it around 800 (this will be different depending on surrounding light pollution).
  • Aperture between f/2.8 and f/5.6
  • Keep the camera completely still. A tripod is a must for this. If you have a shutter release that would be extra helpful to minimize any blurring.


  • Tours can be a great way to see the Northern Lights, especially if you are not renting a car. However, obviously, the tour cannot guarantee a Lights sighting. (Like when we were so excited to go on a whale-watching tour and saw the tail flick up once. It happens.) Again, it all depends on the cloud forecast and solar flares, and Iceland weather can be very unpredictable. Be patient!
  • Aurora Reykjavik Northern Lights Center is located downtown and actually a really impressive museum. Their motto is “where the Northern Lights are always on display!” The museum has interesting information about the mythology and science of the Northern Lights, and of course, the photos are incredible! There is also an amazing widescreen room where you can watch time-lapse video footage of the Northern Lights captured from all around Iceland. It will make you want to hike to all places through Iceland in the dark and freezing cold just to become a professional Northern Lights photographer!
Jennifer learning about the Northern Lights at the Aurora museum

Aurora Checkers

And now you are a Northern Lights pro! I wish you luck on your quest to find the Northern Lights. Iceland is an incredible place to see the Lights because of it’s wild and untouched landscapes. I promise they will not leave you disappointed!

If you’re interested in how to see the northern lights, where to look for them in Reykjavik, camera settings, etc, you will find it inside my Guidebooks! All in one helpful, downloadable PDF document that you can take with you during your trip to Iceland.

Question: Are the Northern Lights on your bucket list?!

Happy planning,

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  • jana maria
    March 16, 2017 at 10:38 pm

    great! i will take these ideas 🙂

  • Rene Olejnik
    February 23, 2017 at 8:09 am

    Cool hope to see and catch some of these beauties in a few days 😀

  • Bilyana | OwlOverTheWorld
    February 18, 2017 at 7:54 pm

    Great article, very informative. The Northern lights are on the top of my bucket list, Iceland too. Thanks for sharing!

    • Jeannie
      February 23, 2017 at 10:20 am

      I sure hope you get to see the lights soon, they are absolutely breathtaking!

  • Hannah
    January 15, 2017 at 2:25 pm

    ahhh I really hope I get to see them when I come! I only have 2 nights (just in for a weekend) so crossing my fingers. Will keep tabs on the aurora checkers resources- thank you!

    • Jeannie
      January 20, 2017 at 3:25 pm

      Hey Hannah! Happy to help, I really hope you get to see the lights – its an unbelievable experience!

  • Grace
    October 21, 2016 at 10:17 pm

    Hi Jeannie! Thank you for such great tips and a helpful site. I am trying to plan a trip in Feb 2017. Similar question as Hannah, any recommendations on where to drive and see the lights? Or are there any remote hotels you could recommend? I’ve seen those glass igloos in Finland, does Iceland have anything like that? Thanks so much!

    • Jeannie
      November 7, 2016 at 2:37 pm

      Hi Grace, I just added an entire guide book that answers your exact questions! If that doesn’t help, please let me know if you have any further questions. Have a great time in Iceland!

  • Hannah
    October 19, 2016 at 1:00 pm

    Hi Jeannie,

    I am visiting Iceland in three short weeks and am hoping to glimpse the Northern Lights. We are renting a car and I am wondering- can we simply drive the car out of the city to go see the northern lights on our own, or do we have to book a tour?

    Any recommendations on the best places to see them?

    Thanks! Love the site 🙂

    • Jeannie
      November 7, 2016 at 2:28 pm

      Hey Hannah – I just added an entire guide book that answers your exact questions! If that doesn’t help, please let me know if you have any further questions. Have a great time in Iceland!

  • Shawna
    October 8, 2016 at 5:50 pm

    Great info to know for my next trip to Iceland! I found a great price on a flight Sept 4th and flew out 4 days later…haha. A little Bday treat for myself. I went primarily to glimpse the Northern Lights. I flew out of Baltimore at 7pm and about 2-3hrs into the flight, the pilot said, ” For all of you on the left side (sorry right side) you can look out and see the Northern LIghts.” It. Was. MAGICAL.!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! It was as if the Heavens were putting on our own dancing Light Show. For a couple of hours, we flew rrrrrrrrrrright by the Lights. Simply incredible! I sat there saying WOW for 2 hrs…haha ….I had planned a cruise my 1st night to go and try to catch a glimpse of the Lights, but after THAT flight, anything else would have been…meh 😉 haha

    • Jeannie
      October 11, 2016 at 11:30 am

      OMG Shawna that is amazing! I have always wanted to see the Northern Lights from a plane – what a perfect perspective! Good for you treating yourself to a birthday trip to Iceland. Hope you had a great time! Let me know if you ever make it back this way 🙂

  • Jane Bailey
    September 27, 2016 at 8:04 pm

    Jeannie….. Great blog and wonderfully helpful site…. going to be out there from 10th to 18th Oct. so really been of use to me. Very grateful… Regards… Jane

    • Jeannie
      October 11, 2016 at 9:13 am

      Thanks so much for reading along, Jane! I’m glad I could be of help to you, have such an amazing trip in Iceland – can’t wait to see your photos!

  • Jess Valentine
    September 12, 2016 at 9:57 am

    Very informative great post!

    • Jeannie
      September 16, 2016 at 8:59 am

      Thanks Jess!

  • Carla
    March 26, 2016 at 6:03 am

    I’m so glad I found your blog! Super interesting and informative. Thank you so much. Is there a particular time during the day to see the northern lights better? I’m going in a couple weeks.

    • Jeannie
      April 5, 2016 at 11:23 am

      Hi Carla, so glad the blog has been helpful for you! The lights have been all of the place lately, but can usually show up between 10pm and 2am. My favorite site (softservenews.com) breaks it down by 30 minute intervals and usually gives a good time estimate of when to expect aurora activity. Good luck and enjoy Iceland!

  • Amber
    March 17, 2016 at 9:59 pm

    Your image showing the color spectrum is super helpful, I can never remember the order! My favorite website is spaceweather.com It shows the solar wind speed, particle density, and the NOAA visibility map.

    • Jeannie
      March 20, 2016 at 1:43 pm

      Ooo, I didn’t know about this spaceweather website, thank you!

  • Go Iceland Car Rental
    February 4, 2016 at 11:43 am

    What a brilliant article and beautiful shots. Didn’t know about the colors where height dependable.
    A timer or a remote for the camera would also help 🙂
    We just wrote a small mini guide on how to shoot Aurora Borealis, there is maybe one or two details there that is good to know!
    Happy photographing!

    • Jeannie
      February 5, 2016 at 8:27 pm

      Thanks so much! The remote definitely helps a lot. Happy aurora hunting!

  • Rachel
    November 29, 2015 at 5:03 am

    This is definitely high on my bucket list! Thanks for sharing these helpful tips!

    • Jeannie
      November 29, 2015 at 10:02 am

      They are definitely an amazing sight to see! Glad you found it helpful!

  • Emily
    November 20, 2015 at 11:11 pm

    Thanks for the tips, Jeannie! It is especially helpful to know how to adjust the camera. As a novice photographer, I wouldn’t have thought to make sure the exposure time was set differently. Hope we get lucky enough to see them in a few weeks!!!

    • Jeannie
      November 23, 2015 at 8:16 am

      Hey Emily, the camera settings are super important for capturing a good image! Good luck on your lights hunt!

  • Noor Unnahar
    November 14, 2015 at 1:39 pm

    It’s definitely on my bucket-list to visit Iceland to see Northern Lights. I am not coming anytime soon, I wish to come someday. Though I’m sure this freezing cold will be the death of me, haha!

    • Jeannie
      November 14, 2015 at 8:14 pm

      I think Iceland rewards you with it’s beautiful scenery and the Northern Lights for putting up with its cold and dark 🙂 Otherwise everyone would probably leave!

  • Kelley
    November 12, 2015 at 3:57 am

    Love the camera tips! You’re so thoughtful 😁

    • Jeannie
      November 12, 2015 at 11:11 am

      Thanks girl, anytime!

  • Kristy Logan
    November 9, 2015 at 4:54 pm

    Hopefully these tips come in handy in March!! Seeing the northern lights is definitely on my bucket list 🙂

    • Jeannie
      November 12, 2015 at 11:01 am

      YES they definitely will especially with your new camera! The aurora awaits you 😀

  • Marianne // DYOB
    November 9, 2015 at 2:34 pm

    Hi Jeannie, I’ve always wanted to see the Northern Lights, so this was awesome to read! For some reason it never occurred to me to see them in Iceland even though it’s a country I have been definitely wanting to visit.
    I must know though: how do you stand the cold!!? 😉

    • Jeannie
      November 12, 2015 at 11:00 am

      Iceland is truly an amazing place to see the Northern Lights…and everything else! I grew up in Wisconsin so I am actually quite used to the cold! And the scenery make it moooore than worth it 😉