So you are wondering where is the best place to see northern lights in Iceland. Great choice of destination. Iceland is stunning in winter. Its nature takes your breath away, you won’t meet as many tourists as you would in the summer and prices are lower. And above all, you get a priceless bonus. Chances of seeing northern lights in Iceland – the complicated physical phenomenon which shows by green, purple and even red or blue light.
But what do you need to know to find the best place for northern lights in Iceland?
Northern lights in Iceland: Useful information
What are the northern lights?
Let me try to explain it using simple words 🙂 Northern lights are a phenomenon we can observe on the poles of our planet – North Pole (aurora borealis) and South Pole (aurora australis). It is related to solar wind – a cloud of particles flying from the Sun towards the Earth up to 8 million kilometres per hour.
The Earth’s magnetic field protects us from potentially tragic results of solar winds.
However, we can compare our magnetic field to a big donut. The dough covers the Earth from most sides – but it does have holes, weaker points. These weaker points are in the North and South Poles.
When the particles get past our magnetic field and fall to our atmosphere (into the donut’s hole), they clash with oxygen and nitrogen atoms and transfer energy.
Oxygen and nitrogen need to get rid of the energy. They do it by emitting photons – light particles. We see them as northern lights. Their color depends on the type of particle that emits the photons (oxygen or nitrogen) and how high above the Earth it happens.
If you look for more information, make sure to watch some scientific videos about it like this one 🙂
Where to see northern lights?
In Iceland, for example 🙂 Generally speaking they appear in the Arctic Circle but if conditions are good, also below it. In such countries like Norway, Sweden, Finland or Iceland – lights appear regularly and these are popular destinations for tourists hunting the Aurora. Except for this, northern lights appear also in Greenland, North America, Russia or northern China – check this guide to northern lights for more details.
When to see northern lights in Iceland?
You can see the aurora during long, winter nights – from September till March. I heard that the best time to see northern lights in Iceland is March and September because of the spring and autumn solstice. I have seen the Iceland northern lights in February. The best time of night to see northern lights in Iceland is from 9:30 pm till 1 am – but there is no real rule here, the lights can appear outside of these hours too.
In the season, you can also take an organized tour for hunting the Northern Lights from Reykiavik which are some of the best Iceland tours. Success depends on conditions (below) but the guides usually know where the chances are biggest that night.
Conditions for northern lights viewing, Iceland
You may choose the best place for northern lights in Iceland but if it’s a cloudy night – unfortunately you won’t see anything. The sky has to be clear or with little clouds, the Aurora appears above the cloud level.
The second most important factor you need to consider while thinking where can you see the northern lights in Iceland is light pollution. You want to be as far from light as possible. It is true that if the conditions are good, you can even see the northern lights in Reykiavik – but it’s not the best way to see northern lights in Iceland. Dark places make your chances much bigger.
Before deciding on the best time for Aurora Borealis in Iceland, check what phase the Moon will be in. Full moon shines like a lantern and makes watching the night sky more difficult, no matter if you hunt for Milky Way and the stars or the Aurora. It is still possible to see the lights during full moon but just to be safe, choose dates as close to New Moon as possible.
KP Index’s scale is from 0 to 9 and it indicates global auroral activity, magnitude of geomagnetic storms. KP 0 means zero or only tiny northern lights even far north. KP9 indicated a major magnetic storm and Auroras visible as far south as France or northern Spain.
The higher the KP, the higher your chance for seeing a spectacular Aurora. KP 1 and 2 mean low chances for seeing the Aurora (which doesn’t mean you can’t see it then for sure!), KP3 gives you realistic hope – and nights with KP 4 and above are the best time for the northern lights in Iceland.
Northern lights forecast – MyAurora app
MyAurora is an app where you can check detailed aurora forecast. But not only that – it also sends you notifications what time to see northern lights in Iceland in your specific location. Great thing – you don’t need to stay outside the whole night and freeze your butt off. You can just watch the app 🙂 I didn’t trust it 100% but the notifications gave me an idea when to go out and when to stay inside.
The app used to be free but now unfortunately it is only available in paid versions. If you know any reliable free Aurora forecast apps – let me know!
The best place to see northern lights in Iceland
Auroras generally appear above your head or above the northern horizon. The best place to view northern lights in Iceland is a dark spot with a good view over the northern horizon. If you look north and see a mountain there, remember that the Aurora can be visible behind it.
Popular places to see northern lights in Iceland include Gullfoss waterfall, Thingvellir National Park and Jokulsarlon glacier bay. I would recommend you the area of Fjallsarlon Bay. When you walk there from the parking lot, you have to climb a hill which will be one of the best spots for northern lights; Iceland’s northern part is a great choice too. It’s the wilder part of the island, harder to access in winter.
We’ve seen Aurora during our first hour already – on our way from Keflavik airport to Reykiavik so keep your eyes open 🙂
Personally, I would like to tell you where to stay in Iceland to see the northern lights. This is THE BEST accommodation I have EVER stayed it. I mean it.
The Holiday Houses near Kirkjubæjarklaustur, around 250 km east from Reykiavik. These houses are located in the middle of nowhere in a beautiful area. You can watch the sunset from the terrace – and they are also perfect for northern lights hunting. Check them now!
You don’t have to drive anywhere – you can just go out for a short walk to be in the best place to see northern lights in Iceland. If you get cold or Aurora is not there – you can go back inside and try again in a couple of minutes.
What does the Aurora look like to your naked eye?
Even though I visited some of the best spots for northern lights, Iceland – I couldn’t influence the conditions. When I saw the Aurora, KP index was 3 and the lights were weak.
What I saw with my naked eye looked more like a white fog, not like the green light my camera saw. If it hadn’t been for the pictures – I still wouldn’t be sure if I saw the Aurora or not 😉 There were just moments when it looked green-ish.
It is partly my fault because I didn’t let my eyes get used to the dark. I looked at the shining screen of my camera way too often. Don’t make the same mistake, walk away from any light and try to look at shining screens as little as possible. But don’t be disappointed if the Aurora you see will be white. I’d recommend you to expect it to be – and if you are lucky enough to see a big, spectacular green and purple show – good for you!
I was ready for a spectacular show and felt somewhat disappointed at first with this micro-aurora. But the feeling passed quickly. These northern lights were great too, I was lucky to see them and I am grateful. The goal of seeing the northern lights in Iceland is accomplished. And I won’t give up – I’ll continue hunting for the spectacular one 🙂
How to take photos of the Aurora?
I am not an authority when it comes to night photography, I have a lot to learn myself. My photos are far from perfect – but if you have no idea about it, I can give you some useful tips 🙂
Don’t worry if you don’t have a professional camera. I am sure your smartphone has all options you need for taking a photo of the night sky. If you’re in doubt, watch some smartphone photographers on Instagram (like Oderwany) who show that limits are in your head and you just need to learn your gear well.
First of all, you will need a tripod. Check this guide to the best travel tripods, you may find it helpful. Night photography requires long exposures and if you move the camera then, it will be blurred.
Settings you’re aiming for are:
- Wide aperture (the lowest f number possible), for example f/2.8 or f/3.5. The lower the better. It depends on the lens on your camera. If you’re taking photos with a smartphone, you most probably can’t change it, most phones work on a fixed one, which is fine and don’t worry about it. My lens’ widest aperture is f/3.5 so that’s what I worked with. Lower would be better but well, I didn’t have much choice 😉
- Exposure time between 10 and 15 seconds. Don’t make it longer because then you’ll capture the stars moving through the sky and they will turn from dots to small lines. If your phone doesn’t let you use exposure long enough by default, test other camera management apps available in Google Play or App Store, they have more options.
- ISO 1600. The higher the ISO, the more light-sensitive your camera is and the brighter your photo. On the other hand, high ISO value decreases the photo quality. Test it and take a photo using ISO 800, 1600 and 3200. The better your camera, the higher ISO you can use. I know that my camera gives the best results up to ISO 1600.
Settings of most of my pictures in this post: f/3.5, 13 seconds, ISO 1600.
I hope you know now how to find the best place to see northern lights in Iceland 🙂 If you liked this post, let me know in the comments. Have you seen the Aurora already?
Check this extensive guide to the most stunning Iceland attractions:
And also check the below posts about other places with awesome nature:
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