The northern lights in Iceland – The definitive guide

The northern lights in Iceland are a must-do if you’re coming to visit in the winter.
It’s important to be prepared so you can get the most out of your time on the cold winter nights. That is what this guide is for. 

I’ll give you the knowledge, tips, and best practices so that you can enjoy your northern lights hunt!

A few things

I’ll go over a few things, such as;

  • When you can see the northern lights.
  • Clothing, what to wear.
  • Take a Tour or drive yourself?
  • How to find good spots
  • Best practice when hunting.
  • Make it cozy.
  • How to get a good picture

If you follow these tips, you’ll be all set for your trip to see the northern lights in Iceland!

The tips

First things first,

When can you see the northern lights?

You can see the northern lights from September to the end of March. However, the best time is November to February due to the amount of darkness you’ll have. If you go hunting for the northern lights in September, be prepared to be coming back late. While if you come at the end of November, you can leave and return earlier.

Though one thing that September has got going for itself is the intensity of the lights, they tend to be stronger during that time. 

Best time to see the northern lights, graph

What to wear

No matter when you’re going to see the northern lights, it’s going to be cold. In September you could get lucky and get away with a regular down jacket, however, you don’t want the weather to ruin your time. 

This is why I recommend a parka, outdoor pants, shoes, and crampons (for high winter). You’ll be able to stay out as long as you like!

What to wear when seeing the northern lights in Iceland.
A picture of a woman wearing a parka, outdoor pants and a beanie.

Here Guðný is wearing a parka, outdoor pants, and a beanie. Though you might notice that she could have chosen better shoes! 

We wrote a short blog about what clothes to bring, definitely check it out!

But since I promised a checklist, here is a quick rundown!

  • Good shoes, preferably water-resistant
  • Thick socks
  • A beanie 
  • Gloves, preferably made out of water-resistant material
  • Parka in the winter
  • Fitted raincoat in the summer/spring
  • Outdoor pants that are a bit on the larger side
  • Pants to wear underneath the other pants
  • Crampons to prevent you from falling in the winter
  • A thick sweater
  • A Thin sweater
  • Scarf

Rent a car or take a tour?

Either option is a good one. 

If you already have a car, then going out and hunting the northern lights can be a fun memory to take back home with you. If that is your plan, then check out this blog we wrote about driving in Iceland. 

Below I’ll mention how to find a good spot to see the northern lights. 

If you plan on taking a tour, then you’re all set! Not really much to add there. 

The benefit of taking a tour is that they know where the northern lights will be that evening and take you there. 

You won’t have to think about anything and can just focus on enjoying yourself. The drawback is the lack of freedom. If, for example, the intensity is very low that evening, you’ll have to book another tour to try again. 

How to find good spots

A great place to find find out where you’ll be able to see the northern lights and how intense they’ll be is vedur.is.

A picture of vedur.is in Icelandic

You can switch to English by pressing the British flag in the center of the screen

A picture of vedur.is in english

From there, click ‘weather’ and that will bring you to the following page.

A picture of vedur.is and the 'weather' forecast.

Here you can see a map of Iceland and what the weather is like. You won’t need it for the northern lights forecast, but it’s nice to be aware of this. 

At the bottom, you can see ‘Aurora forecast’ 

A picture of vedur.is and the aurora forecast.

On this page, you can see all the information you’ll need.

On the right – the intensity:

This will tell you how intense the northern lights will be that night

Sunset – Dark – sunrise:

It tells you when it’ll be dark and when the sun sets. Very handy in September and March.

The green areas are the clouds and the white areas are clear skies, this is where you want to be. 

At the bottom, you can control the time and day.

We also wrote a quick blog about the ‘aurora forecast’.

Best practice 

Here are a couple of good tips for your aurora hunt.

Get away from the lights!  The northern lights in Iceland tend to hide away from the city lights. About 20 minutes is enough, you don’t have to go very far.

Park off-road. When parking your car make sure that you park all the way off the road. Visibility is low at night and it can be very dangerous if you park your car half on the road and half off. 

Wear reflective straps. This is good advice in general since it gets very dark. Wearing reflective material is important so that the cars can see you.

Make it cozy

If you want to be super cozy you can bring hot cocoa with you on your trip. However, if that is not an option then I’d recommend Kókómjólk, an Icelandic chocolate drink that is amazing when it’s cold.

A picture of Kókómjólk

Kleina, kringla, or cinnamon buns are great to pair with hot chocolate or kókómjólk.

A photo of a Kringla

This is a ‘kringla’.

Nothern lights in Iceland
A photo of a Kleina

This is a ‘kleina’.

All these items can be found at the local supermarket such as; bónus, krónan, nettó

How to get a good picture

This part is mainly for people with smartphones. If you have a proper camera a quick google search is enough to find the settings you’ll need.

How to take a photo of the northern lights changes with each new generation of smartphones. A quick google search and a little bit of trial and error will lead you in the right direction. 

The main thing you’ll need to get a good photo is…

A tripod

Whether you’re using a smartphone or a proper camera, when taking photos of the northern lights, you’ll have to hold still and unless you’re a robot, you’ll shake too much.

But since I promised a section on how to get a good picture, here is a guide that will help you out! 

Final words

That’s it!

Follow these tips and suggestions and you’ll be prepared to enjoy your time hunting the northern lights in Iceland! Find a great spot where you’re warm and dry in good clothing with some Kókómjólk in your right hand and a kleina in your left!

Check out our selection here and if you want some more useful information about how to travel in Iceland, we have more blogs right here!

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