best time to see northern lights in iceland

Best Time to See Northern Lights in Iceland – With Forecast Chart!

“When’s the best time to see Northern Lights in Iceland?”

“Can you see Northern Lights in Iceland in September?”

“Can you see Northern Lights in Iceland in April?”

“What is the best month to see Northern Lights in Iceland?”

“When exactly is the Iceland aurora season?”

These are all questions we are dying to know when planning an Iceland Northern Lights trip – or, well, any trip to Iceland really.

In today’s post, I’m going to answer your burning questions and concerns, and help you determine the best time for Northern Lights in Iceland. As a bonus, I’m sharing with you the ultimate Iceland aurora forecast tool. Keep on reading!

best time of year to see northern lights in iceland

best time to visit iceland for northern lights

When is the best time to see Northern Lights in Iceland?

When I booked my Europe trip, I chose to visit in September. This is when it’s not too crazy cold yet and there is a chance of seeing Northern Lights. Not to mention, the crowds will have died down from summer.

More on that later. First, let’s understand what Northern Lights really are.

What are Northern Lights?

iceland northern lights trip

To put it in plain English, Northern Lights are bright dancing lights of the aurora. Hence why they’re known as Aurora Borealis (in the north) and Aurora Australis (in the south).

This phenomenon is caused when a collision occurs between electrically charged gas particles from the sun that enter the earth’s atmosphere.

Depending on the type of gas particles that are colliding, the resulting colors may differ. Some common colors include green, pink, yellow, blue, red, and violet.

Key Ingredients for Witnessing Northern Lights

iceland aurora season

In order to witness Iceland Northern Lights, you need three key ingredients: darkness + clear skies + aurora activity.

Most travel experts recommend September to mid-April as Northern Lights Iceland months. This is because these are the months with the darkest nights. However, you need to take into account that some of these months also have the worst weather with tons of rain and snow.

That said, it’s important to factor in clear skies. Even with dark nights, if the skies are cloudy, you’re pretty much out of luck.

Once you have dark nights and clear skies, you’ll need high aurora activity of course. I recommend studying Icelandic Met Office’s aurora forecast in Iceland.

How to Read the Aurora Forecast Chart

In order to decide on the best time to visit Iceland for Northern Lights, you need to learn to read the aurora forecast Iceland chart.

Forecast chart from Icelandic Met Office.

The chart may look a little intimidating at first, but it’s actually very straightforward.

As you can see, there is a map of Iceland. On the map, there are light green and dark green patches. These represent clouds, whereas the white sections are indicative of clear skies. You want to avoid the green and be in the white areas on the map.

On the right, there is an aurora level indicator from 0 to 9 – 0 being the weakest and 9 being the strongest. Now it rarely ever reaches 9 in Iceland. Regardless, even with a 2 or 3, you can see faint traces of Northern Lights in the sky.

The chart also tells you when the sun sets and what hours are the darkest until sunrise. You will obviously want to aim for the darkest hours for the best viewing experience.

northern lights forecast iceland

When did I actually see Northern Lights in Iceland?

My dad and I visited Iceland in September. First week of September to be precise.

We didn’t get to see the lights dance until the 4th day we were there because of how rainy it was. (Keep in mind that Iceland is notorious for rainy falls.)

northern lights in iceland in septemberAperture f2.8, shutter speed 6″, ISO 5000.

The aurora activity was a 2. With long exposure settings on my camera, it was absolutely breathtaking. Although mind you, this was my first Northern Lights experience and I’m someone who enjoys taking pictures.

My dad, on the other hand, was not impressed. To the naked eye, it was extremely faint. Like barely there. In fact, we almost missed it because we weren’t sure if what we saw was the actual Aurora Borealis.

northern lights in iceland in septemberTaken in the parking lot of Icelandair Hotel Vik.

In short, if you want to catch that mesmerizing, “too beautiful to be real” light show, I suggest staying in Iceland for a longer period. Maybe around two weeks just to be safe.

We were there for a week and of the 7 days (technically 6 nights), we only saw Northern Lights once. On some days, the activity level spiked to a 3/4, but it was simply way too rainy. At the end of the day, it really comes down to your luck.

How to Prep for Your Northern Lights Experience

In addition to letting you in on the best time to see Northern Lights in Iceland, I figured I’d share some tips on how to prepare yourself for the most enjoyable experience.

northern lights iceland months

1. Stay warm!

Since you’ll be outdoors, it’s crucial to stay warm.

what to pack for icelandPhoto from Uniqlo.

Uniqlo’s HEATTECH Thermal Base Layers are my secret weapon for layering. I have their crew neck t-shirt and leggings, and they make all the difference in the world.

Be sure to stock up on some hand warmers as well. No matter how prepared you think you are, Iceland can be much colder than you ever expect. (It’s literally the kind of cold that’s chilling to the bones.)

2. Scout your photo location first.

Looking to photograph Northern Lights? Seek out your photo location during the day!

If you think you can chase the lights and find a spot last minute, you are wrong. Sooooo wrong. Because when it’s dark at night, you bet it’s dark. Like pitch black dark. (Remember, Iceland doesn’t have that many street lights!)

We were in Vík when we saw Northern Lights. There was a charming little church right behind our hotel that we didn’t even notice until the next day because of how dark it was. (There was a power outrage in the entire town too so that certainly didn’t help.) Take it from someone who’s missed out on great photo opportunities, scout your location first!

iceland photography

When choosing a location, pick a subject you can shoot. For example, a church. If you manage to locate a mountain or a body of water, even better! The lights will add a lot of drama – especially with the reflections.

I recommend picking 2-3 spots in case the lights don’t align with your location. Since we were in Vík, I thought the basalt stacks at Reynisfjara Black Sand Beach would be perfect. Except as it turned out, the lights were in the complete opposite direction! I ended up shooting them against some random mountains and looking back now, I definitely wish I’d planned ahead.

3. Know your camera settings.

If this is your first time shooting Northern Lights in Iceland, John from EXPOSED has some awesome photography tips.

Additional Photos & Information

Still debating on the best time of year to see Northern Lights in Iceland? I’ve asked a few of my blogger friends to share their experiences and when they think the best time to go to Iceland for Northern Lights is.


best time to go to iceland for northern lights iceland best time to see northern lights

Rachel from The World In A Weekend took these stunning photos back in January 2016 at Hotel Ranga.


best time to go to iceland to see northern lights

Masha from Fingertip Travels took this stellar shot at the end of August in Reykjahlíð around Lake Mývatn.

June and July are still fairly bright due to summer solstice. According to her experience, however, you can see Northern Lights as early as late August. It gets dark around 10:30PM and stays so until 4:30AM.


best months for northern lights in iceland

Heather from Trimm Travels photographed these gorgeous Northern Lights near Þingvellir National Park on October 5th. Can you imagine how awe-inspiring this must’ve been in person!?

best time for northern lights in iceland best month to see northern lights in iceland

And there you have it! This is how you determine the best months for Northern Lights in Iceland.

While there isn’t a definitive answer for the best time to go to Iceland to see Northern Lights, remember… Northern Lights = darkness + clear skies + aurora activity.

Don’t forget to check out my vlog for more ideas on things to do in Iceland!

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  1. Your photographs are incredible. Iceland looks like an amazing place to see the Northern Lights. That’s good information about staying in Iceland for two weeks to catch them. I was lucky enough to see them in Canada on a three-day visit.

    1. Thanks Christina! I’m so jealous you got to see them here in Canada!!! I’m from Vancouver and I’ve always wanted to see them up north but have yet to plan a trip hehee.

  2. Lovely to have a sighting, I know what you mean about not being sure because it’s so much fainter to the naked eye, it’s only the long exposure photography that really brings it out. Unless you are extremely lucky to see a much stronger one! Great photos from you and your blogger friends.

  3. Fantastic guide and good tips for those who havent been to seen this amazing event but the only other thing to watch out for when planning a Northern Lights trip is the Full Moon. If there is a Full Moon, then its not a great time to go and they rarely show up when the moon is out. Not sure why this is.

  4. Thanks for sharing ! Definitely bookmarking this post for my next trip to Iceland. We visited it this year during Summer so obviously couldn’t catch the aurora ! We are definitely coming back again for the aurora !

    1. Oh fun! I actually wanted to visit in the summer for the gorgeous lupine blooms, but seeing Northern Lights in person was a big bucket list item for me so I couldn’t miss out on that. You gotta revisit again for sure and let me know how your winter trip goes!

  5. Stunning, this is definitely something I want to see for myself and your guide with the forecast map and information about how to film is really useful. I’ll be back when I get my act together and finally book myself to Iceland

  6. I’ve always wanted to see the Northen Lights myself and this is definitely a helpful guide especially for first timers. 🙂 Great tips and recommendations especially about scouting the location first during daytime. I’m pretty sure it’s one of the things that people miss the most (I’m pretty sure I am one of those 🙂 ).

    1. Hahaa I definitely missed out on that so I’m glad my mistake could help you out. Hope you’ll get to make it out to Iceland soon, Marvi 😀

  7. Some very useful tips especially, for photographers. I visited Helsinki and the activity scale got upto a 4 I believe but as it was the city there was nowhere to actually view them properly. So scouting a good location first is key.

    1. 4?!?!?!?! That’s unreal! But ughh bummer you couldn’t escape the city lights though. I’m sure you’ll get to see them again, this time maybe in Iceland 😉

  8. Oh to see the Northern Lights. This is high on my bucket list and you’ve shared some really great tips here. I can’t wait to go back.

  9. Wow! Your photos are surreal. Absolutely magnificent. I’ve read so many (as in way too many) articles about the Northern lights and they are all more of the same. YOU, however, did a fantastic job of starting out by explaining the Northern lights to us. Though I knew basically what it was, I feel really for Jeopardy now…well done! You have certainly set yourself apart from the others writing abut Iceland.I also loved how you segwayed into your visit and all of the informative things you shared. Nice writing!

    1. Wow, thank you Melody! I’m so flattered and really glad to hear you found this guide helpful. Hope this will inspire ya to pay Iceland a visit and check out this magical dance of colors!

  10. My biggest fear about seeing the Aurora is that I won’t be able to capture the magical lights on my camera so I keep reading and bookmarking photography tips to have handy when I travel to Iceland in October next year! I really cannot wait to see the Northern Lights and your tips are pretty cool – especially about scouting the location beforehand, during the daytime and making sure you keep warm because it’s sure to get cold at night. Also, you need to track the weather and the probability of the lights being seen. I can’t wait to go on my Aurora chase next year!

    1. I’m excited for you, Medha! Seeing Aurora Borealis dance is definitely a once in a lifetime magical experience and I think you’d really love it. Can’t wait to see what kind of photos you’ll capture!

  11. Such an amazing guide to see the Northern Lights! I have always been fascinated by them ever since I got to know about them. Can’t wait to see them for myself for real someday, till then I will gorge on these stunning captures from you and your friends. Thanks for sharing.

  12. Those are pretty useful tips for capturing the lights. From dressing to what to do with your camera. You nailed it with your shots and I am. So envious for you having seen it altogether

  13. This is a great guide for those seeking to see the Northern Lights. My sister gets asked this question often as she has been to Iceland twice. I also love that you had a photo of the kairo! I am from Japan and we use those all the time during the winter months 🙂

    1. Oh those things are LIFE SAVERS!!!! I just never know what to do with them after though. Not sure if you can recycle them, but I always feel a little guilty for creating extra garbage, yikes!

  14. Thanks for a great guide to seeing the Northern Lights in Iceland. This is on my bucket list. I love that you did not notice the church behind you until the next day due to the darkness. Here’s hoping you get to see the Northern Lights again and that they impress your dad next time.

  15. Experiencing and photographing the Northern Lights remain our biggest dream and we hope to get there someday. In the meantime enjoyed reading your post and looking at the brilliant photographs. Great tips too. Especially the one about scouting locations for shooting in the daytime is something that will stand us in good stead when we get there.

    1. I’m excited for you to realize this dream, Sandy! And you gotta show me your photographs too. Would love to see what gorgeous locations you’ve scouted!

  16. What an awesome guide to see the Northern Lights! I have always been fascinated by them since I first saw them and got to see them in person twice! I have to say this article is a must for people seeing them for the first time. Thanks for sharing.

  17. Northern Lights are very much on my bucket-list. And I am glad I came across your article. This makes for such an useful guide on how to see the best of the Northern Lights. Will keep this handy. And great pictures, by the way!

  18. Amazing photos you have. I loved Iceland but we went out 3 nights and didn’t see the lights. We have seen them since in Finland. What great photos!

    1. Ughh that sucks! On the bright side though, awesome that you saw them in Finland! Maybe that’s where I ought to plan my next trip too hehee.

  19. This has brought back amazing memories of Iceland for me. Sadly, we didn’t see the northern lights, simply because we missed them! I really appreciate the forecast, it’s so helpful for those of us who want to see them! I’ve pinned this for future reference.

    1. I’m so glad to hear, Lisa! Well, not so glad about you missing out on the lights but I’m sure there’s always a next time 😉

  20. So many great and precious info here, thanks to you for sharing them all. In particular, I loved your caption with the camera setting as I am so bad at taking pics at night and I really need help!

    1. You’re most welcome, Federica! Definitely check out that video from Exposed. John has some awesome tips that I think you’ll find super helpful!

  21. Ok what a great resource! I saw the Northern Lights for my first time this year in Alaska and it just teased me to want to see more. After this, I am ready to try Iceland. THANK YOU <3

    1. Alaska! Fun! Sounds like we gotta trade places. I’ll go check out Alaska next and you Iceland. We’ll trade stories after! 😀

  22. The northern lights are my dream, I would like to go there, but I want to be also sure to see them. I know it is not really easy and not always it is happening. I wanna plan to say longer than a week to enjoy the sky show.

  23. The Northern lights are so beautiful, and you bring up some good points, they are best enjoyed without other light pollution. I can’t even begin to say when there are starfalls or meteor showers that I hope to be able to go out of the city to catch a glimpse of them, I don’t think the northern lights are any different, except for the feel that they provide 😀 thank you for the informative article

  24. I am from Canada and I just learnt that we can go see the northern lights in norther nManitoba (and go see the polar bears). Now that I know it is a little closer to home, I think that I would love to go see them in the next couple of years. Great photos, even though some of them weren’t yours. I don’t know if I could spend two weeks in Iceland waiting for the northern lights, so hopefully if I did end going somewhere to see them, they would be visible after a couple of days!

    1. Oh no way! I’m on the west coast here and have always wanted to venture up into Yukon for these lights. Good to know there are so many other options right here at home 🙂

  25. I’ve wanted to see the Northern Lights for ever! I was thinking of going in February but I’m worried about the cold. So if you use the forecaster, do you then try to drive to the white areas or do you wait for the white areas to develop near you? I’m pinning this for later!

    1. Iceland is actually pretty small and you can drive the whole country in a day. That said, you can totally drive towards the white areas. For us though, our trip was very short meaning we had to wake up early every day. Driving 3-4 hours away from our hotel just wasn’t ideal, but it’s definitely doable if you’re planning a longer stay and not as rushed on time.

  26. Ha! SO SO SO true…it all depends on luck with the Northern Lights. Iceland is difficult because it’s rainy so much of the time as you stated. We got lucky in that they came out 3 nights of the almost 2 weeks we were in Iceland. We saw them two of those nights and they were so gorgeous. We even got to see some pink! I’m SO mad at myself because we knew the activity was high one night in Reykjavik but because it was so rainy and we were in town, we didn’t go out. Rainy plus city lights *usually* equals no go. I was NOT happy with myself the next morning when we found out people had seen them in the city! Will definitely have to write about my experience soon!

    1. Pink!!!! Ughh so jealous! Bummer you missed it in Reykjavik but hey, on the bright side, you caught them on 3 nights 😉

  27. The Northern Lights experience is on everyone’s dream list of travel, and for good reason. Of course, the biggest challenge is planning to ensure that one does get to see them while on the trip.

    1. It’s definitely a challenge, which is why I’ve created this guide to hopefully help those thinking of visiting Iceland for Aurora Borealis!

  28. I know Northern Lights are very difficult to be captured so beautifully and even getting a glimpse of it is very lucky indeed. Your post gives a lot of valuable information about the combinations of circumstances when we can get a chance to see this nature’s wonder. Thanks for sharing all the details about the weather, photography, getting warm and many more for Northern Lights in Iceland.

  29. This is a spectacular and one you have captured really well. I visited Iceland last year but went on the summer trail to see more of the country which is not reachable in winter so missed the northern lights unfortunately. I will go back again just for this sight and would love to capture the Aurora on my camera as well as you have. some top tips here and very helpful .

    1. I actually wanted to visit during summer for the lupine blooms, but I knew I couldn’t pass up on the chance of seeing Northern Lights. Sounds like we gotta trade places though for our next revisit hahaa.

  30. I saw the Northern Lights several times when I lived in Alaska. Never failed to amaze, even if they weren’t that dynamic. Iceland is high on my list and I’d love to see the lights there!

    1. Ahh I hear great things about Alaska! Let’s make a deal: you visit Iceland and I’ll plan a trip to Alaska. We gotta trade stories after! 😉

  31. The Northern Lights are so high on our bucket list, but not sure about the freezing temperatures up north! Guess we’ll have to travel to Iceland someday anyway! Thanks for inspiring us with this post!

  32. Can you believe that I’ve been to Iceland 3 times (twice in the winter) and never seen the Northern Lights?! Although I guess considering you were there for 6 nights and only saw it once, it’s not so surprising that I’ve never seen it. We did go out on a boat tour one night while we were in Reykjavik, but it was too cloudy to see the Northern Lights. I will definitely have to watch the youtube vid about how to take photos of it though because I feel like with my skills, even if I did see it, I wouldn’t be able to capture it so beautifully.

    1. WHAT!? Omg that’s such a bummer… I guess if you ever revisit, you just gotta stay for a much longer time and really make sure you finally see them hahaa.

  33. What an amazing phenomenon. It adds pure magic to any landscape photograph. If only traveling to northern countries was a bit cheaper.

    1. It may not be the most inexpensive trip to take, but it’ll certainly be one of your most memorable trips 😉

  34. This is such a visual treat. You were really lucky to see them so perfect!! Thanks for including tips about dressing up the right way. Coming from a tropical country, this is very helpful.

  35. Wow this photos!!!! They are totally surreal. And thanks for the detailed post, will read it again once I decide to go Northern Light hunting.

  36. That was a brilliant infographic in the middle of the article! Thanks for the info, I am currently planning a 300mile walk across Iceland and was wondering about the best time to see the lights. Needless to day, you more than answered my question and a whole lot more besides 🙂

  37. OMG ホッカイロ haha!!! It looks just so amazing Jas! Seeing northern lights is one of my dreams! Thanks for sharing this 🙂

  38. I go to Iceland in a few weeks with the main purpose of seeing the Northern Light. This post has been so helpful, and I’m now even more ready to encounter it, so thank you so much for that! ☺️

  39. Northern Lights always manage to mesmerize me. I think it is one of the most beautiful phenomenons in the world that every person should witness at least once. Thanks for the great tips on seasoning. I hope I will get to see this wonder in 2019.

  40. Amazing content! The graph about the best time to see the lights was actually so helpful. I am currently in Taiwan, hopefully, they will lift the quarantine requirement so I can see this beauty!

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