Iceland, Travel
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My little guide to seeing the Northern Lights in Iceland

Also known as Auroras, the Northern Lights are one of the most stunning shows nature can offer, but also some of the most elusive and unpredictable. What causes the aurora borealis to appear? Where can you see them? When do you have the best chances of seeing them? Here’s my little guide to chasing the Northern Lights in Iceland so that you can too witness this unique and breath-taking phenomenon.

Featured photo by Chris Henry on Unsplash.

As I mentioned in my yearly review, seeing the Northern Lights had been on my bucket-list for the longest time, and being able to see them in 2022, during my 6-day trip to Iceland was nothing short of a dream come true. I visited Iceland between February and March, and while we tried not to get our hopes up about Northern Lights, we certainly tried to maximise our chances of seeing them. So here’s everything that I learnt and experienced!

  1. What are Northern Lights?
  2. Where can you see the Northern Lights in Iceland?
  3. When can you see the Northern Lights?
  4. What is the best way to see the Northern Lights?
  5. Is a Northern Lights tour worth it?

What are Northern Lights?

Let’s start with the basics. The Northern Lights, also called aurora borealis or just “auroras”, are a natural phenomenon that occurs at night in the Northernmost regions of the Earth. They look like giant streaks and flows of light dancing in the sky and are usually green but can be of many different colours (red, pink, blue, etc.).

Simply put, this stunning light show is the result of solar particles ejected from the Sun, reaching our atmosphere and being deflected to the Earth’s magnetic fields (North and South pole). Then, when these particles collide with our atmosphere, it creates the beautiful display that we all know. The different colours of the auroras correspond to the different gases that you can find in our atmosphere!

Catching auroras in Iceland

A streak of green light across the sky
The aurora we saw started out as a very faint, almost invisible light green cloud, then this bright streak of light crossed the sky.

Where can you see the Northern Lights in Iceland?

To witness nature’s most beautiful light show, you’ll need to get as close as possible to the North pole, and Iceland is perfect for it because you can see the auroras pretty much everywhere on the island, thanks to its proximity to the Arctic circle.

However, the main condition to see the Northern Lights is to have dark skies, so if you want to maximise your chances of seeing them, it is ideal to find a place with little to no light pollution. Luckily, there are plenty of such places in Iceland, and you can see them even if you are in Reykjavik, but driving a bit further away is recommended if you want to be sure to see them.

When can you see the Northern Lights?

The first thing to keep in mind when talking about auroras, is that they are unpredictable. This means that you could be there at the perfect time, in the perfect place, and still you won’t see any. It also means that one could last just a few seconds or a lot more. There is no way to know in advance.

Now that this has been said: when is the best time to see the Northern Lights? Here are the two main conditions to be met:

  • The sky has to be dark, so the best time of the year to see them is from September to April, when the nights are longer. It can happen in other months too, but the chances to actually see them are much slimmer.
  • The sky has to be clear: you won’t be able to see auroras in the middle of a snow storm, so you’ll just have to wait and hope for a clear night where you can see the stars. It doesn’t matter if there are some small clouds here and there though!

To help you in your Northern Lights quest, you can refer to the Aurora forecast website for Iceland, which shows you the cloud coverage of the island and the forecasted aurora activity on a scale of 0 to 9.

What is the best way to see the Northern Lights?

Northern Lights in the Icelandic sky
During several minutes, the lights were dancing in the sky.

Once all of the above conditions are met, it is pretty simple to see the Northern Lights: you just have to look at the sky and you might be blessed with this stunning sight. You can be lucky and just “stumble upon” an aurora unexpectedly, but you can also go about chasing them and try to wait outside for a bit. It goes without saying that if you decide to do this, you should wear appropriate warm clothes and stay close to your car/accommodation as the weather can change very quickly.

Another option is to book a “Northern Lights tour”, where an experienced guide will take a group of people to chase the auroras in specific places. They are very popular and you can find hundreds of them that also combine visits of other famous landmarks. We opted for a simple one, the “Northern Lights Bus Tour from Reykjavik” on GetYourGuide, that I would really recommend because it is quite cheap but really convenient! If you are wondering whether you should book such a tour, here are my thoughts below!

Is a Northern Lights tour worth it?

There are different things to consider when deciding to book a Northern Lights tour: your budget, your itinerary, whether you have a car or not and of course the number of days you have overall in Iceland. I personally would highly recommend it, especially if it’s your first time in Iceland, if you don’t have a lot of time there or if you are only staying in the capital.

From my experience, we would not have seen the Northern Lights if we hadn’t booked a tour, even though we had a car and had some nights in the middle of nowhere with clear skies. This is because our guide knew how to recognise a faint aurora from the beginning. So when he saw a very faint green light, he knew it was the beginning of an aurora that would get brighter and brighter, taking up the entire sky. And in fact it did, and it was one of the most beautiful sight I have ever seen.

Important tip: if you book a “Northern Lights tour”, make sure that it offers the possibility to reschedule a second tour if you can’t see the auroras on the first one. Then, try to book the first tour at the beginning of your stay, so you still have time to do a second one!


The Northern Lights are one of the most stunning displays of nature and a unique, bucket-list-worthy experience. Some people are lucky and see an unexpected aurora on a random night, while others go on tours several times before they catch their first glimpse of them.

So, if you’re planning a winter trip to Iceland with the sole purpose of seeing an aurora, you might very well be disappointed, but there are still so many amazing things you can see! To get more ideas of things to look forward to during tour trip, you can read my list of the best things about winter in Iceland and keep your fingers crossed for the Northern Lights!

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Hey, I'm Juliette! I'm starting this blog to keep a record of and share my adventures. I love everything sweet, sunny days, fluffy kittens and people who smile. When I don't work I like to discover new places and try to learn languages. I hope you will find something that you like in here! ☼

33 Comments

  1. Iceland and Northern Lights are on top of my bucket list! Hopefully soon! 😁
    Great recommendations especially booking a tour to help you find the lights. I’ve had friends go to Iceland (in December) and still miss seeing the lights.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Yes! Booking a tour doesn’t guarantee you to see the Northern Lights either, but for us as first-timers, it was amazing! I hope you get to go one day!

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    • I hope you get to see them one day, and I hope that you will see the Northern Lights too! We were really lucky to see them – and on our last evening! Thanks for stopping by!

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  2. Stunning photos, Juliette. I’d love to see this phenomenon. Your article is full of useful tips and suggestions for people who are doubting over whether to book a tour or not. I’d certainly be one thinking it over as I generally dislike and stay away from tours. The rebooking possibility is an excellent option to have.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks a lot! I’m also not very fond of tours in general, and it is true that it’s a less intimate experience, but this time the expertise of the guide is really what allowed us to see the Northern Lights, that’s why I would recommend it, especially for first-timers that stay for a limited time!

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  3. The Northern Lights have been on my bucket list since forever– I’ve been to places (e.g. Iceland, Canada, Norway, etc) for the opportunity to see them, but alas, due to timing (i.e. going during summertime), I never got the chance to see them! I’ve heard that they can also be seen in Alaska, which is geographically closer to me, so one of these days, I’ll have to bite the bullet and go. Glad you got to see them– they’re certainly stunning!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, you can also see them in Alaska apparently! They are absolutely stunning and I hope you’ll get to see them one day! Though for Iceland we really tried not to get our hopes up as there were so many other beautiful things to see!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Those pictures are beautiful and thanks for this informative post! I so want to see the Northern Lights ones day, it’s very high up on my bucket list!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you! The good thing is that you can see them in several countries and don’t need to go to Iceland, the negative side is that they’re impossible to predict!

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  5. It would be neat to see the Northern Lights one day as it is among the most spectacular shows humans can see. I’ve read accounts about how some people, despite their best effort to see the Auroras, ended up not being able to see any. While on the other hand, there are individuals who seemed to be extremely lucky for being able to see the Northern Lights without trying!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, since they are so unpredictable, it is impossible to know if you will see one or not during your visit. We were extremely lucky for sure! I guess that’s also why they are so famous! Thanks for stopping by!

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  6. Wow, what a spectacular experience, Juliette! The northern lights are a fascinating sight, and it’s no wonder why people make pilgrimages to the polar regions to see the spectacular light show. I am glad to hear you had a chance to see the Northern Lights In Iceland and fulfilled one of your bucket list dreams! Fortunately, I don’t need to travel all the way to Iceland to see the magical Aurora Borealis. You can see the magical Northern Light display across the Emerald Isle. Thanks for sharing and have a good day 🙂 Aiva xx

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oh that’s amazing, I didn’t know you could see them there too! It must be amazing to see such beautiful sight regularly, and I sometimes wonder if “locals” get used to it to the point that they don’t care anymore, but I honestly think it’s impossible not to admire them in awe when they come up! Thanks for stopping by!

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  7. Very helpful and informative post, Juliette! You’ve covered all the information needed to see the lights. I’ve seen them only once, as a young child many years ago in Alaska. I need to go to Iceland to see them again!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks a lot! I can’t imagine how impressive they must be for a child! What’s sure is that now I kinda want to see auroras every year, but sadly that is not very realistic ahah, maybe next year I’ll try catching them in Norway or Sweden! I hope you get to see them again too!

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  8. This is a nifty guide to ensure we see them lights in the sky! It’s good to know about the millions of guided tours and to pick one that offers rescheduling options. I can see how some companies might rip you off if you aren’t careful haha Great post, Juliette! 😀

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks a lot Lashaan! I suppose (or hope) most of them offer the option to reschedule a tour given how crazy the weather in Iceland can be, but it’s better to make sure, just in case! Our first tour was actually cancelled and luckily we planned a last evening in Reykjavik before leaving just for this – and that’s when we saw the Northern Lights!

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  9. Such a helpful post. I didn’t know you could see them in from Sep to April! That’s a pretty long time- I thought it was a shorter period. It’s on my bucketlist too and I hope I get to see them one day. Will definitely take your tip and join a tour. Can you just take a picture without changing settings?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you so much! You will increase your chances of seeing them if you go in winter of course, simply because the night is longer, but you can see them earlier or later in the year as well, it’s just that the time frame available is shorter since the days are longer!

      For the pictures I’d recommend trying out some settings the nights before to test them out. My boyfriend took those pictures with his phone, but depending on yours you could get a very blurry picture in night mode (that’s what I did), or a nicer one by changing some settings in the “pro” more (we looked them up on the internet). Our tour guide also took some pictures and sent them to us at the end of the tour so that we could enjoy the “show” 😊

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      • Ahh ok!
        Ok- I am not great at taking photos in low light/night so I will be sure to try it out beforehand. That is great that the guide also took pictures so you didn’t have to worry.

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