This phenomenon, also called Aurora Borealis, is one of the main attractions of Iceland during winter time. For those who have never or rarely seen them, it’s amazing to find how the sky suddenly turns into vibrant green, red, orange, purple or pink. It’s a once in a life experience! Wow! Northern Lights in Iceland!
Behind this breathtaking spectacle there is a scientific explanation: energetically charged particles collide with atoms. This solar wind generated enters the atmosphere by the Earth’s magnetic field. In other words, Northern lights have to be with geomagnetic storms and gases in the air (oxygen and nitrogen).
One of the most common questions I get asked as a local from Reykjavik is when and where is the best to see the Northern lights. Well, this spectacle is not a cinema session that starts at certain time; you have to bear in mind that it’s a natural phenomenon therefore, unpredictable. If you are lucky, you can even see them from the plane while landing or taking off in Iceland! However, let me give you some tips to make you live this amazing experience.
Firstly, the best time to see them is from late August to April, from 6pm to 4am and most probably between 10 and 11pm.
If sky is clear and it’s cold, you will most probably enjoy them!
Secondly, there is no just one place to see the Northern Lights in Iceland. Go ahead and plan your own route searching for them, it will be an adventure itself! If you have a car, going to the north or Eastern fjords could be a good choice, either stopping on a calm sea port or between mountains. Landmannalaugar it’s a really special place, but you will have to be careful as it’s only open some months of the year and you need a special car to get there.
You will also enjoy a magical experience going to a black sand beach, maybe around Vik and seeing the Northern lights while hearing the sound of the waves. Don’t panic if you can’t get a car, it’s also possible to see them from Reykjavik. Although I recommend taking a walk outside the centre, maybe to Seltjarnarnes. This is a quiet dark uninhabited peninsula where you can have a foot thermal bath while enjoying the Northern lights. It sounds good, doesn’t it?
In order to make easier for travelers the Northern lights “hunting”, the Icelandic Met Office has developed an Aurora forecast website where you can find updated information about the weather conditions and how likely is to see the Northern lights each day. Remember when checking the map, the white areas are the clearest. Not to miss it!
Finally, if you are planning to enjoy Northern Lights in Iceland alone, do not forget to tell your plans to your friends, hotel staff or on this website. Always wear thermal clothing, some hot drinks, reflective jackets, mobile phone and warm gloves. In case you like photography, I suggest that you where once of those gloves with holes on your fingers. Also, let me give you some instructions to get the best pictures of Northern lights:
- Get a tripod; you will need a long exposure time (at least 20 seconds).
- Use a fast lens (aperture f/2.8 or better) and a fast film (800 ASA or better), or equivalent ISO setting on a digital camera.
- Use RAW format if possible, and cable release or self-timer to trigger shots without stirring the camera.
- Make sure you have enough space on your memory card and two batteries charged.
- Try everything, different objectives and exposures and shoot even if you think there is nothing in front of you.
- Last but not least, enjoy the moment!! As I said before, it might be a once in a life experience, so make it worth it!