Chasing the Northern Lights in Iceland

This was one of the things that me and Rachel wanted to see more than anything whilst in Iceland. It’s also one of the hardest things to see. The Northern Lights are very reliant on the weather and can’t just be slotted into your itinerary. Either they will show or they won’t, but it helps to be clued up about when they may show.

During our time in Iceland, every night Rachel set several alarms to wake up in the middle of the night to check if the Northern Lights had magically appeared outside our window. Not once did they appear like this. But we did see them on our last night, after we quite literally got in the car and chased them around the country.

Witnessing the Northern Lights was such a breathtaking experience. However, neither of us realised just how much affects the chances of seeing this phenomenon in the sky. Hopefully this blog post will give you the best chance of seeing the Northern Lights in Iceland.

The Weather:

Firstly, the best time to visit is winter. There’s between 4-6 hours of daylight in Iceland during the winter months. During the peak of summer, Iceland can have as much as 20 hours of daylight each day. Since it needs to be dark to see the Northern Lights this will obviously hinder a sighting.

The Northern Lights won’t show if there is too much cloud coverage. Ideally the sky would be completely clear without any clouds. We struggled because of the cloud coverage but were determined not to leave the country until we had seen them. Maybe it was a bit of luck, maybe it was our undeniable persistence not to go to bed that night until we had found them.

The Aurora Forecast:

Check the Aurora Forecast here several times each day. This website will tell you if or when the Northern Lights are likely to be active each night. It shows you the cloud coverage for everywhere in Iceland because less clouds mean higher chance for the Northern Lights. It will tell you the exact time for sunrise/ sunset each night and when the moon rises. Yes, seeing the Northern Lights is serious business. If a full moon is present that will reflect more light into the sky, making it harder for the Northern Lights to appear. We visited Iceland during a half moon phase and saw them so don’t be disheartened if the weather isn’t going your way completely. We also saw the Northern Lights when the Aurora forecast said they were inactive. My advise to use it as a guide rather than a definitive for whether you will see the Northern Lights or not. 

Look North:

Maybe this one sounds quite obvious to you, maybe we didn’t do enough research into seeing the Northern Lights. We expected them to just appear in front of us each night. That won’t happen. Not only do you need to be in the Northern Hemisphere of the world, but you also need to be facing North. This basically means every night that Rachel woke up several times and looked outside our bedroom window for the Northern Lights we probably weren’t even facing North anyway. We found this out towards the end of our trip in Iceland. Don’t do what we did and remember to look North.

Drive out of the City:

Whether you do this by taking a guided tour or by hopping in your hire car, you won’t see the Northern Lights in Reykjavik. There’s too much light pollution. But you also don’t have to drive that far. We saw them about half an hour outside of Reykjavik driving towards Selfoss. Find a safe place to pull the car over and wait for the Northern Lights. You might have to wait a while but when they come it will be the most magical thing you have ever seen.

Make some amazing memories:

I don’t have any breathtaking pictures to show off what we saw that night. My camera simply isn’t good enough to capture great night time photography. But, I was able to enjoy the experience more and honestly its a memory I will cherish forever. I feel so lucky to have seen the Northern Lights, Iceland really was a dream trip for us. Next on my wish list is to see the Southern Lights on the South Island of New Zealand.

Read Next: 6 Incredible Days in Iceland: A Winter Road Trip Itinerary

Chasing the Northern Lights Iceland

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. divya

    Iceland and Northern Nights has been on my bucket list forever! Your post makes me want to go there like now and I am certainly booking this soon. Northern Lights are surreal. Thanks for your sharing these awesome tips!

    1. Nicola

      Definitely one of the best experiences I’ve had whilst travelling so far, highly recommend a visit to Iceland in the winter!

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