When, where, and how to see the northern lights in Iceland

September 20, 2017

Seeing the northern lights in Iceland can be one of the most breathtaking travel experiences of your life. And while there’s no tried and true formula for seeing the aurora borealis (anywhere in the world), some preparedness can help. Here are eight great tips for northern lights-seekers.

Know when to go

Because of it's so far north, Iceland gets tons of daylight during the summertime months — and during that time, even after midnight, it’s still not fully dark (this is known as the “midnight sun”). You can optimize your chances of spotting the northern lights, then, by going during the months when there are more nighttime hours — generally, between October and April.

Know WHERE to go

You can see the aurora borealis from Reykjavik, but even the relatively small city creates light pollution, so you might not end up getting the full show. Hit the road for Iceland’s more remote regions or smaller cities, where you'll be better able to see the lights in their full glory.

Check the weather

There’s no guarantee that a clear sky will reveal the aurora borealis, but it’ll help — cloud cover obscures the lights, so if the forecast is calling for a rainstorm, blizzard, or generally overcast conditions, best to chance it another night.

…and check again

Arctic weather is unpredictable. If you checked the forecast in the morning, take another look before you head out for an evening northern lights-spotting excursion. And even if things don’t look like they’ve changed, pack extra clothing and layers in your day pack, just in case.

If you're planning an excursion to see the northern lights, be sure to bundle up.

If you're planning an excursion to see the northern lights, be sure to bundle up.

Bundle up

Because the northern lights operate on their own schedule, there’s no guarantee they’ll show up in a timely fashion (if at all), meaning you might be spending extra time outside waiting for them to make their debut. Dress in layers, with warm, insulated footwear and a warm cap (if you forget yours consider buying one from 66 North, the popular Icelandic outdoor gear manufacturer). Consider bringing single-use hand warmers, as well.

Get some exercise

If you’re still worried about getting too cold while waiting for the aurora borealis to show up, don’t keep still! Check to see if evening skiing or snowshoeing is available in the area, or schedule a brisk walk after dark. (Again: remember to bundle up!)

Pack a warm snack (or beverage)

Warm soup or stew, hot chocolate, tea or coffee — or even a hot toddy — will go the extra mile to keep you warm, and keep your energy up, as you wait for the aurora borealis to appear.

Use a long exposure

If and when you spot the northern lights, no doubt you’ll want to photograph them. You’ll need to have a camera equipped with the ability to take a long exposure, otherwise you won’t succeed. All DSLR cameras have this functionality, as do certain smartphones and apps. Do some research before you head out on your trek, to ensure you’ll be able to capture this breathtaking natural phenomenon in photo form, to look back on forever.

Getting there

Ready to try your luck at spotting the northern lights in Iceland? G Adventures can get you there. Check out our Northern Lights and Golden Circle tours here.

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