Guide to Catching the Northern Lights in Iceland

Iceland Travel Blog
Northern Lights sighting at Varmahlíð (Northern Iceland).

The Northern Lights (or Aurora Borealis) is considered a mysterious and elusive wonder of Nature, which makes it a bucket list items for many travelers.

We were in Iceland during mid September and which was early in the Aurora season. The best times for Aurora sighting in Iceland is winter season, around Nov-Jan. The Northern Lights are only visible at dark, clear skies which means you would need to stay up till late, and brave the cold wind in order to witness this phenomenon.

You could choose to join an aurora bus tour, or chase the aurora on your own. I will include some information for both.

Joining a bus tour

It makes sense to leave the aurora chase to the professionals so that you could catch some sleep and stay in the warm vehicle before the Lights are spotted.

Most Northern Lights tours at Iceland depart from Reykjavik daily. The tour operators could decide to cancel the tour due to bad weather forecast. However, you should be able to rebook your tour on another date at no additional cost. The cost is refundable if you did not manage to go on the tour due to bad weather.

However, most of us would not spend too much time at Reykjavik. Therefore, you could consider booking an aurora tour for the days where you are based at Reykjavik, and then chase the Lights on your own when you are out of the city.

Aurora sighted at Myvatn, Northern Iceland

Exploring on your own

Some people may choose to drive out to empty, open space at night to wait for the Lights. If you are not comfortable with driving at night, you could pick accommodations that are located on open space with no other building nearby.

Most of these hotels offer Aurora wake-up service whereby they will knock on your doors if there is any Northern Light sighting.

Alternatively, you could perch your tripod and camera at a good spot outside your accommodation and wait patiently. Typically, the chance of sighting is high if there is minimal cloud cover. If the stars or Milky Way are visible, the chances of aurora sighting could be good.

Sometimes, the Northern Lights do not appear green in our naked eyes. We spotted faint white light in the horizon and took some photos with long exposure. We realised that the “white light” was green on the camera screen. To understand better, you could refer to this article from Futurism.

As you can imagine, patience is important when tracking down the Northern Lights. The wait is often not very pleasant, as it is cold and dark and there is nothing much to do except to stare into the sky.

Photography tips

  • Perch your camera on a tripod.
  • Switch to Manual mode and set the focus to infinity.
  • Shutter speed could be between 10 to 25 seconds. The intensity of the light appears stronger on a longer speed like 25 seconds.
  • Turn the timer of your camera on and press the shutter. This will allow the camera to capture the image steadily with minimum shaking in the long exposure mode.

Guide to Northern Lights in Iceland
Basically perched my camera on top of a car to snap this!

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