Winter time in Iceland offers some of its darkest days but there is always beauty to be found in the dark. The Northern Lights, also known as aurora borealis, are one of the most magical spectacles you can witness (also the most unpredictable) and if you are trying to find the best time to see the Northern Lights in Iceland in 2022, you have come to the right place.
My goal is to inform you about the best time of year to experience the northern lights, as well as the best places to visit so you don't miss out on the awe-inspiring experience!
What are the Northern Lights?
The northern lights, or the aurora borealis, are beautiful dancing waves of light that have been captivating people for centuries. The earliest suspected recording of the northern lights was found in a 30,000 year old cave painting in France.
Fun fact: One legend suggests that the lights were reflections or glows from the shields and armor of the Valkyrie, female warriors who would choose who may die in battle and who may live to fight another day. >
When highly charged solar wind particles flowing from the sun collide with the earth's air molecules it transfers the energy into beautiful luminescence light. Fancy right?
Some of the dominant colors seen in northern lights are red, a hue produced by the nitrogen molecules, and green, which is produced by oxygen molecules.
When is the best time to visit Iceland to see the Northern lights?
Northern lights usually occur during spring and autumn as they provide more stable weather conditions and milder temperatures. Also this is the time when there is the most aurora activity around the equinoxes.
November, through to February, offer the darkest skies and the longest evenings for the best conditions for gazing at the beautiful northern lights..
Fun fact: Iceland see's only four to five hours of daylight in december.>
Between 9pm and 2am are considered the best time for the northern light sightings in Iceland, though sometimes the absolute best sightings are between 11pm and midnight.FYI: In daytime you cannot see the aurora, even though there are high ratings of solar wind particles entering the atmosphere.Best conditions in Iceland for northern lights sightings are on a still night where there are no clouds in the sky. We recommend looking into the weather forecast before leaving for a northern light gazing.
FYI: Be aware that the weather in Iceland can change any minute.
Leaving Reykjavik can be an absolute must due to the light pollution from street lights and housing, but if conditions are right you might still be able to see them from the capital.
Can you see the Northern Lights every night?
Experiencing the midnight sun in Iceland is also bucket list material!
You might get lucky and see the northern lights many nights in a row but be prepared to not see them at all, as they are very unpredictable and cannot be called upon with a viking horn or a magical spell of any kind.
Which part of Iceland is best for Northern Lights?
Many have asked us ?Where can I see the northern lights in Iceland? or ?What part of Iceland is best to see the northern lights?? when they are booking a rental car with us here at Northbound.
Really, you can see the northern lights from anywhere if the conditions and solar winds are favoring you.
Six places we recommend visiting to see the northern lights.
1. Þingvellir (Thingvellir National Park)
Approx. 35 miles northeast of the capital Reykjavik along Route 1, which takes about 40 minutes. This is one of the destinations included in the Golden Circle so definitely worth a visit. The roads are plowed most days in winter but we recommend checking vegagerdin.is which informs you about the driving conditions enroute to Thingvellir.
The reason for the good northern light gazing conditions is that there is no light pollution in Thingvellir and it gets very dark during winter time, without driving for long from Reykjavik.
Check out our Ultimate guide to Thingvellir National Park
2. Ásbyrgi (Asbyrgi Canyon)
Asbyrgi Canyon is a beautiful horse-shoe shaped and is known for its folklore. It is roughly 50 miles east of Husavik which is also included in the Diamond Circle route.
The cliffs are up to 100 meters in height, while the canyon itself measures 3.5km in length and 1.1km across.
Fun Fact: An old Icelandic myth states that Sleipnir, Odin's great horse from old Norse mythology, stepped down and hit the ground with one of its eight legs creating the enormous horse-shoe shaped canyon we see today in Ásbyrgi.
3. Kirkjufell (Kirkjufell mountain)
Kirkjufell mountain looks like the perfect cylinder and one that you can't miss on route 54 towards Snæfellsness (Snaefellsnes), which is about a two hour drive from Reykjavik. It is 463 meters high and is considered one of the Icelandic wonders, talking about hitting two birds with one stone.
Fun fact: It became famous after being presented as the ?Arrowhead Mountain? on Game of Thrones.
Check out our site on Kirkjufell
4. Vestfirðir (Westfjords)
Westfjords of Iceland is one of the hidden gems in Iceland due to its distance from the capital and the other more ?can't-miss? destinations, such as fx. The Golden Circle and Jokulsarlon glacier lagoon to name a few. Westfjords is known for its beauty and awe-inspiring nature and landmarks.
Fun fact: There are at least 24 geothermal natural pools in the peninsula and most of them are accessible and free of charge.
Most of the towns in the Westfjords are not sparsely populated so the light pollution won't deny your senses of witnessing the northern lights. We recommend renting a 4x4 (northbound link) and driving to Bolafjall when the northern lights are at their brightest.
Check out our Complete guide to the Westjords
5. Norðurland (North Iceland)
Northern Lights can be seen in North Iceland from the end of August to mid- April. North Iceland also has longer hours of darkness and typically less cloudy than other areas, making them ideal spots for watching the aurora borealis.
Enjoy the clear skies by simply looking upwards towards those dancing, flickering lights of natural beauty.
Check out what to see in North of Iceland
6. Jökulsárlón (Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon)
Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon is one of the most stunning and breathtaking natural regions in Iceland. It is Iceland's deepest lake with depth of 814 feet (248 meters) and it's surface is roughly 11.2 square miles (18 square kilometers).
Fun fact: About 11% of Iceland is covered by glaciers.
The ice found in Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon is over 1000 years old and is known for its unique colors.
Photographers are drawn to this lagoon because the scenery creates a special foreground with reflection in the ice and water from the aurora as the show stopper.
On intense aurora nights, it can light up the entire lagoon with dancing colors, including green, pink, red, purple, and blue.
This is truly a once-in-a-lifetime northern light viewing opportunity.
Fun fact: James Bond movies ?A view to kill? and ?Die another day? were filmed at the lagoon.
How to take a photo of the Northern Lights
We all want to take the perfect photo of the Northern Lights so let's just take a minute and go through some recommendations from professional photographers.
Digital camera settings:
- Focus manually on a distant light.
- Adjust an ISO from 3200 to 6400.
- Adjust your white balance to 3500k.
- Set a shutter speed between 1-15 seconds.
- Use an aperture of f/2.8 or the widest in your lens.
- Set the general camera settings for Northern Lights (if available).
Not everyone has a fancy camera, what if you only have an iPhone?
No problem, we got you covered.
Here a few tips:
- Bring a powerbank to charge your phone.
- Download the NightCap app (https://www.nightcapcamera.com/)
- Follow this advice for camera settings
- Use a tripod of some sort, or find a way to keep your phone stable with some rocks or equipment on hand.
- Don't only focus on the Aurora. One third of the picture can be of mountains, lake, nature etc (Rule of thirds).
- Clean the lens of your phone, just in case.
FYI: If you are having problems with taking a photo, just put the camera down and lay down for a minute. Don't let the moment pass you by.
Where can you find out if the northern lights are showing in real time?
There are ways to see if the northern lights are likely to show their colors at a certain time. Now remember, sometimes they might be projected to be full force but due to conditions, circumstances and weather you might not see them. But we always encourage you to go nevertheless!
Below are sites that offer real time data about Northern Lights / Aurora Borealis in Reykjavik:
- Icelandic Northern Lights forecast (the green are clouds)
- Icelandic Astronomy Website
- Icelandic Facebook Northern Lights sightings
Seeing the Northern Lights can take some planning and some chasing as you want to be able to witness them in total darkness with clear skies. If you're lucky, it only takes stepping outside after dinner and as a desert you get some beautiful Aurora on a plate, so remember to look up.
Be prepared for any weather and temperatures. Bring a cozy blanket, hot coco and wear something warm.
You might need to drive for a bit so fill the car up with gas so you don't get stranded in your rental car.
You can always book a Northern Light tour and let others take care of the hard work. Just sit and enjoy the show!
What to pack
When hunting for the Northern Lights in Iceland during the winter, it's important to pack warm clothing, including a waterproof and insulated jacket, pants, gloves, and a hat. You'll also want to bring sturdy and waterproof boots, as well as multiple layers of thermal clothing.
It's also a good idea to bring a flashlight, a camera and a tripod, and a portable power bank for charging electronic devices. Additionally, you should bring a map and compass, and a means of communication such as a mobile phone or VHF radio. And lastly, bring snacks and water to keep you fueled and hydrated during your trip.
What kind of car is best to travel around in Iceland to see the Northern Lights?
We recommend getting a 4x4 SUV of some sort. You can reach destinations that smaller cars cannot and gives you the upperhand of witnessing the GOAT of natural phenomenons.
Book an Icelandic rental car for your stay in Iceland
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Does moonlight affect the Northern Lights?
This depends on the brightness of the aurora and its power at night. If the aurora are faint and the moonlight is bright, it could have a negative effect on visibility. However, if the aurora ratings are strong you will be able to witness it's greatness.
Does it hurt my eyes to stare at the northern lights?
No, the light from the Northern Lights does not hurt your eyes, but you can get a sore neck from starring for to long.
How cold do the temperatures get in winter in Iceland?
According to the newest data, the cold season lasts for 4.9 months, from November 8 to April 4, with an average daily high temperature below 40°F (4,4°C). The coldest month of the year in Reykjavík is January, with an average low of 28°F(-2,2°C) and high of 36°F(2,2°C).
Like we say in Iceland
"There is no bad weather, just poorly dressed people"
Can I see the Aurora in Reykjavik?
Yes, you can. Seeing the Northern Lights can take some planning and some chasing as you want to be able to witness them in total darkness with clear skies. If you're lucky, it only takes stepping outside after dinner in Reykjavik and as a desert you get some beautiful Aurora on a plate, so remember to look up.
Best Time to See The Northern Lights?
At night in the winter with as little light pollution as possible. It's best when there are no clouds in the sky and the weather is still and calm. Always make sure you look up at night in September - December with hopes of seeing this magical wonder.