Hunting
Northern Lights

The Ultimate Guide to spot the Aurora Borealis

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Northern Lights in Iceland

The Northern Lights, also known as the Aurora or Polar Lights, have been a phenomenon that has puzzled humans across the Earth for thousands of years.

Documented as early as the 4th century BC, the Aurora has made an appearance throughout the ages in many ancient folklore tales, from Norse and Viking mythology to olden Australian Aboriginal stories. In the 1700s, Benjamin Franklin wrote a paper to try and explain the cause of this ethereal vision.

In short, solar flares on the surface of our sun send bursts of charged solar particles across our galaxy. When our planet gets in the way of these streams, those solar particles react with Earth’s magnetic field, and this is where the magic happens.

Many travelers to Iceland will pay top dollar for a Northern Lights tour bus to take them to the best places, but when you have your campervan, you can avoid the crowds and stay as long as you like, enjoy the magic of Iceland at your own pace and fall asleep under the glow.

Time and place to spot the Aurora Borealis?

In Iceland, this incredible natural phenomenon does not have a specific place where it glows; it happens year-round and in every corner of the country. However, it is only visible in the dark winter sky, and away from light pollution. The intensity is related to the solar flair seasons, thus there are months where the frequency, duration, and intensity increase. More on that below. Also, the further north you go the more intense the Northern Lights tend to be. Finding them is not the problem, but finding clear skies at the right moment can sometimes be tricky. Patience is key, and that’s why the camper is your optimal tool.

man under northern lights

How to spot the Aurora?

The months to see the Aurora are between late September and April, with the current (they fluctuate) high-seasons between September-October, and March-April.

You need to watch the Aurora Forecast on the Icelandic Met Office website. If the forecast shows a three or higher, there are sure to be northern lights.

To catch a glimpse, or if you are lucky enough to get a full light show, make sure you are in a dark, moonless location far from city lights, in an area free of clouds. Check the Weather Forecast and search for the clearest skies around.

man looking at northern lights

Guided Tour vs Campers for Northern Lights hunting

Most Northern Lights tour companies in Iceland will take paying passengers to The Snæfellsnes Peninsula, Þingvellir, or the Reykjanes Peninsula to see the lights. They do nothing special to guarantee success beyond what you can do with the tips listed above. And your time is limited when on a guided tour with a group. Although, the guides in Iceland are excellent most of the time, and you can learn a lot from them. They also tend to be a gag. But you can just as well drive around, looking for clear skies, with the Aurora Forecast as your compass.

By staying up into the night, and following the clear skies, that’s how you catch the Northern Lights. It’s tricky to catch these moments on a guided tour.

Aurora Photography

How to photograph the Northern Lights?

A tripod will be your best friend; this is an essential tool to make sure every shot comes out clearly. It is almost impossible to get a northern lights shot without a tripod.

On your Smartphone:

Turn on the Live Photos feature on an iPhone, and try to play around with the exposure and ISO settings to maximize the amount of light your lens captures. If you can switch to manual mode, tune your ISO to 800 and try a 10- or 20-second exposure.
You can edit photographs later by changing the exposure and brilliance to your desired level.
There are also new apps you can download to assist you with this.

On a camera:

Set the ISO to 800 and your aperture to as low as possible, and set your shutter speed to very slow- between 5 to 20 seconds. Try to use manual focus and set it to as distant as possible.

Most importantly, make sure you also enjoy them with your own eyes!

Where to go to see the Northern Lights?

Our list of top 10 epic places to see the Northern Lights in Iceland, away from the tour buses! 

(Almost) Every link leads to Google Maps for easy navigation and location.

1. The Snæfellsnes Peninsula

The Snæfellsnes tends to be rather deserted in the winter (as is most of Iceland). This one is taken at Arnarstapi, a nice campsite in Snæfellsnes.

The Snæfellsnes Peninsula has a tiny population and therefore has minimal light pollution, and you do not have to drive very far from town to be in complete darkness. You are likely able to see the Aurora from your campsite. However, if you would like total seclusion, you should take a drive to the black church Búðakirkja, the cliffs at Lóndrangar, or the famous Kirkjufell Mountain. These locations can also set an epic scene for your photography.

2. Tröllaskagi

A 10-minute drive north of Siglufjörður in the North of Iceland, you will come across an orange lighthouse on the edge of the ocean, by the side of a mountain. Here you will be almost as north as possible, far away from human contact with a vast expanse of sky for the best chance of a northern lights display.

3. Strandarkirkja

Not far from the CampEasy office, on the south of the Reykjanes Peninsula is an area called Strandakirkja. Here there is also a FREE campsite, called Gata Free Camping, and who doesn’t love free stuff! The area is a very cozy and dark place far from light pollution, and we have seen the Aurora many times from this location.

4. Jökulsárlón

Arguably one of the most famous locations in Iceland. The Glacier Lagoon and Diamond Beach are remote and dark and on the edge of the ocean. It is possible to capture the glaciers and icebergs if you have your camera set up just right, and if you manage to capture the Milky Way and the Aurora, you will hit a magnificent trifecta.

5. Djúpivogur

A small town located in the East of Iceland, the surroundings are very dark and remote. Here is one of our favorite hot tubsDjúpavogskörin (Free, open 24/7, year-round), which is by the coast and is an incredible place to lay under the Aurora and stars, soaking in the beautiful display. This cozy place will leave a lasting impression.

6. Kleifarvatn

Number 6 in our epic list is a lake in the Reykjanes Peninsula. During the wintertime, parts of the lake freeze over, and the shoreline dusted with snow. It is also in pitch-black darkness with no traffic- a perfect place to see the magnificent Aurora reflected off the lake. This location is a hidden gem for aurora photography.

7. Hvalfjörður

Not too far from Reykjavik is Hvalfjörður. Hvalfjörður used to host part of the ring road until the construction of the tunnel, which effectively saves commuters an hour drive around the Fjord. Nowadays, this road is all but deserted. The winding road around the fjords and mountains is a beautiful place to catch a glimpse of the Aurora, and there are a few beautiful waterfalls along this route- Laxfoss is a favorite of ours for photography.

8. Vestmannaeyjar (Westman Islands)

Overlooked in many tourist guides- we recommend the Westman Islands, specifically Heimaey Island, the home to the population and the most significant island by far. Home to a quaint small fishing town on a volcano, with a tiny community that sees minimal traffic during the winter months. The views of the northern lights are incredible here, and it does have an exceptional feeling of remoteness and magic. It’s very straightforward to bring your campervan across on the ferry and stay overnight at the campsite on the island.

9. Ásbyrgi Canyon

In the north of Iceland, about 40kms east of Húsavík, you will find Ásbyrgi. According to Norse Mythology, the canyon formed when Odin’s 8-legged horse touched the Earth with its hooves. Spectacular landscapes shrouded in complete darkness with extraordinary views of space. The canyon is somewhat underrated, and a hidden gem we recommend.

10. The Westfjords

Undoubtedly a spectacular place to see the northern lights- although difficult to access during the winter months. The road from Hólmavík to Ísafjörður is the best route; however, it is very weather-dependent. You need to check the road conditions and weather before you travel. The auroral displays have been known to be intense and incredible and lasting for many hours. It makes sense, it’s further up north.

Bonus Location! – Arctic Henge

Because 10 locations are not enough, we are adding Arctic Henge in the North-East of Iceland. The henge is a spectacular place to see and photograph the northern lights. These stone arches were built as a monument to Norse Paganism and are a somewhat modern Stonehenge near to the Arctic Circle. The beautiful stone arches are a wonderful location for your northern lights photography.

↔ Every Slide has information on Northern Lights for that month ↔

October
in Iceland
The Photographers Favorite Aurora Month

October is an excellent month to hunt the Northern Lights, especially the first 2 weeks. In October, days are short, making it ideal for hunting the elusive lights. Most F-Roads are closing but normal roads are mostly accessible. Some years we get snow, but not much.

October:

Bring:
- Thermals and lots of socks.
- A thick coat.
- A tripod for Northern Lights photography.

Rent:
- Extra towels.

What To Read:
October
UPSIDES

Great Season for Northern Lights

Cheaper

Fewer Tourists

Winter Activities

October
DOWNSIDES

Chilly

All the Weather Types

Fewer Campsites

Reykjavík Average
Temperature
Thermometer Icon
High: 6.8 °C (44.2 °F)
Low: 2.2 °C (36.0 °F)
Northern Lights Icon
Darkness: 4/5
Aurora Season: 5/5
Min/Max
Daylight Hours
Sunshine Icon
Longest Day: 11h 17m
Shortest day: 8h 3m
Recommended
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November
in Iceland
Back Again, The Long Night

Days are now short with intermittent snowfall. Some years there's plenty of snow, some there's little-to-none. Fluctuating weather, with plenty of both rough and calm days. Most roads are open, but none of the F-Roads. Northern lights aplenty and excellent opportunities for bargain deals and exciting activities to choose from.

November:

Bring:
- Thermals and lots of thick socks.
- A thick coat.

Rent:
- Shoe spikes at CampEasy. Or bring your own.
- Extra towels.

What To Read:
November
UPSIDES

Long Nights for Northern Lights

A Lot Cheaper

A Lot Fewer Tourists

Winter Activities

November
DOWNSIDES

Somewhat Cold

Somewhat Rough Weather

Very Short Days

Fewer Campsites

Reykjavík Average
Temperature
Thermometer Icon
High: 3.4 °C (38.1 °F)
Low: -1.3 °C (29.7 °F)
Northern Lights Icon
Darkness: 5/5
Aurora Season: 3/5
Min/Max
Daylight Hours
Sunshine Icon
Longest Day: 7h 56m
Shortest day: 5h 4m
Recommended
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December
in Iceland
Join The Festivities

It is increasingly popular to combine a visit to Reykjavík with a few days out of town on a camper mixed in. Winter Solstice is on the 21st, with only 4 hours of daylight. Surprisingly, it's the month with the fewest visitors. Reykjavík lights up with decorations, with heavy use of Christmas lighting in most homes in Iceland. New-Years Eve is spectacular as Icelanders blow up their hard-earned cash with fireworks.

December:

Bring:
- Thermals and lots of thick socks.
- A thick coat. Maybe even two.

Rent:
- Shoe spikes at CampEasy. Or bring your own.
- Extra towels.

What To Read:
December
UPSIDES

Longest Night for Northern Lights

A Lot Cheaper

The Least Amount Of Tourists

Winter Activities

December
DOWNSIDES

Cold Month

Rough Weather

Shortest Days

Fewer Campsites

Reykjavík Average
Temperature
Thermometer Icon
High: 2.2 °C (36.0 °F)
Low: -2.8 °C (27.0 °F)
Northern Lights Icon
Darkness: 5/5
Aurora Season: 3/5
Min/Max
Daylight Hours
Sunshine Icon
Longest Day: 4h 59m
Shortest day: 4h 7m
Recommended
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Bar Hopping
January
in Iceland
In Constant Twilight

The winter solstice has just passed, and every passing day lasts about 5-minutes longer than the last. The sunrise and sunset come and go, making for a short but beautiful days in constant twilight. An excellent time to find yourself at popular tourist destinations in complete solitude.

January:

Bring:
- Thermals and lots of thick socks.
- A thick coat. Maybe even two.

Rent:
- Shoe spikes at CampEasy. Or bring your own.
- Extra towels.

What To Read:
January
UPSIDES

Long Nights for Northern Lights

A lot Cheaper

A Lot Fewer Tourists

Winter Activities

January
DOWNSIDES

Coldest Month

Rough Weather

Very Short Days

Fewer Campsites

Reykjavík Average
Temperature
High: 1.9 °C (35.4 °F)
Low: -3 °C (26.6 °F)
Northern Lights Icon
Darkness: 5/5
Aurora Season: 3/5
Min/Max
Daylight Hours
Shortest day: 4h 22m
Longest day: 6h 57m
Recommended
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February
in Iceland
Time To Strap On The Skis

February in Iceland offers some unique experiences with the highest number of opening days in the ski areas. If you are into any kind of snow-sports it's a good time to visit. Tourist season hasn't started, and February is a great time to find solitude on the Icelandic roads. Rent skis or snowboard for the trip, or bring your own and mount it on the roof.

February:

Bring:
- Thermals and lots of thick socks.
- A thick coat. Maybe even two.

Rent:
- Shoe spikes at CampEasy. Or bring your own.
- Extra towels.

What To Read:
February
UPSIDES

Long Nights for Northern Lights

A lot Cheaper

A Lot Fewer Tourists

Winter Activities

February
DOWNSIDES

Cold Month

Rough Weather

Short Days

Fewer Campsites

Reykjavík Average
Temperature
High: 2.8 °C (37 °F)
Low: -2.1 °C (28.2 °F)
Northern Lights Icon
Darkness: 4/5
Aurora Season: 3/5
Min/Max
Daylight Hours
Shortest day: 7h 4m
Longest Day: 10h 7m
Recommended
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March
in Iceland
Northern Lights Explorer

March is one of the best months to come and hunt the northern lights. The 2 "high-seasons" for the Aurora Borealis are in March/April on one end, and September/October on the other. And in March, it is still very dark during a relatively long night, making it ideal for hunting the elusive lights.

March:

Bring:
- Thermals and lots of thick socks.
- A thick coat. Maybe even two.
- A tripod for Northern Lights photography.

Rent:
- Shoe spikes at CampEasy. Or bring your own.
- Extra towels.

What To Read:
March
UPSIDES

Great Season for Northern Lights

A lot Cheaper

Fewer Tourists

Winter Activities

March
DOWNSIDES

Cold Month

Rough Weather

Fewer Campsites

Reykjavík Average
Temperature
High: 3.2 °C (37.8 °F)
Low: -2.0 °C (28.4 °F)
Darkness: 3/5
Aurora Season: 5/5
Min/Max
Daylight Hours
Shortest day: 10h 13m
Longest Day: 13h 29m
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April
in Iceland
Northern Lights, Oh Thy Glory

April is one of the best Northern Lights months, but the night time needed for Aurora Viewing is getting shorter. You are likely to get a more vibrant Northern Light show in early April. It gets a bit warmer, with temperatures rising to a 7°C average high at the end of the month. The Island is thawing and the environment changing, fast.

April:

Bring:
- Thermals and lots of socks.
- A thick coat.
- A tripod for Northern Lights photography.

Rent:
- Extra towels.

What To Read:
April
UPSIDES

Great Season for Northern Lights

A lot Cheaper

A Lot Fewer Tourists

Winter Activities

April
DOWNSIDES

Somewhat Cold

Somewhat Rough Weather

Fewer Campsites

Reykjavík Average
Temperature
Thermometer Icon
High: 5.7 °C (42.3 °F)
Low: 0.4 °C (32.7 °F)
Rain Icon
Darkness: 2/5
Aurora Season: 5/5
Min/Max
Daylight Hours
Sunshine Icon
Shortest day: 13h 36m
Longest Day: 16h 48m
Recommended
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