Northern Lights – How To Find Aurora Borealis in Iceland

written by Hanie Hidayah October 13, 2015

Since we released our Iceland videos where we managed to capture the movement of Aurora Borealis also known as the Northern Lights, we have been getting questions on ‘How To Find the Northern Lights‘. In fact it has been a frequently asked question that we thought we should just write down what we experienced and did, since winter is coming and Northern Light activities are peaking. We’ll address some basic things you need to know before you plan your trip, and set your realistic expectations if you’re looking to experience nature’s most amazing light show.


What is the Northern Lights/ Aurora Borealis

The dancing lights of the Aurora happens when there are collisions between electrically charged particles from the sun that enter the earth’s atmosphere. They will only appear above the magnetic poles of the earth – northern and southern hemispheres.

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how to search for northern lights

Where Can I See the Northern Lights?

Aurora Borealis occurs in the northern hemispheres so places like Iceland, Greenland, Norway, Alaska and Canada are well known to be the best destinations to head to. Just like star-gazing, you need to be in a spot with little to no light pollution to be able to see the lights clearly. That means heading out of the cities, and park yourself in nature. We traveled to Iceland in February to see the Northern Lights at it’s peak season, and had to drive out of the city to get away from the light pollution but depending on the level of activity, it has been reported that the public were able to see it even from their neighbourhood areas.

Can I See the Northern Lights At Any Time?

We get this question a lot, and unfortunately there is no guarantee that you will see the Northern Lights after flying out to these places. Northern Light hunters and tour groups relies on forecasts of solar activities, and the cloud movement above the areas you will be at. Basically, you will need to rely on a few forecasts and follow real-time updates from a few key websites (which we will discuss later on in this post). We have met a few people who goes to Iceland every year and still have not been lucky enough to see the Northern Lights.

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The Aurora Borealis is only visible from October to March. While we were there in February, there were sightings once almost every 3-4 days in different parts of the island but even as I’m writing this (October) the aurora forecasts are showing an active level. It also depends on the skies at the part of the island you’re at, which will be shown below.

How Do I Use The Northern Lights Forecasts

northern lights forecast - how to

The most non-complicated forecast we used was via their well-known forecast website and this is the forecast that most visitors use to check their luck on Northern Light sightings throughout their visit. The best is to use at least one or two more forecasts source to support your main forecast if you’re really desperate to film for the Northern Lights (like we did).

  1. Cloud Cover: This part is what you should be looking at to see the cloud covered areas on the island. Do note that this changes with wind, weather and other variables. The brighter the part of the island (in color), the clearer the sky would be. Areas that are under white colors have better chances of seeing the Aurora, but that depends on #3.
  2.  Day and Time Toggle: Vedur has basically provided forecast for the entire week so use the toggle to find out which areas would be blessed with clear skies at different times. The best time to watch the Aurora is around midnight or early mornings. Do note that this changes throughout time as weather in Iceland can be unpredictable.
  3. Aurora Forecast Level: Aurora forecast level shows the real-time solar activity. The number changes throughout time too, so the higher the level, the higher your chances are to see the Aurora (provided that other variables are good too). The time that we saw the Northern Lights, the forecast level was on #3, so don’t worry too much unless it’s 0.

Tip: If you’re staying in a hotel, check with the concierge on their forecasts and let them know to give your room a call if there are any light activity outside. We did that when we stayed in Vik, they called at 1am to wake us up as another guest came in and told them that the lights just started flaring up.

What Should I Expect

Expect nothing. Seeing the Aurora depends on the weather, and luck! My advice would be to not revolve your trip around the Northern Lights. Travel to the destination and see other things that nature has to offer, as seeing the Aurora would be the icing on the cake for your trip. If there are Northern Light sightings in your area, don’t be disappointed if the colors do not come out strong. It takes a while for our eyes to adjust and see it clearer. On one of the nights, we decided to park our camera on a tripod and watch it through the screen as our eyes saw only faint green lights. It was still worth it.

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What Should I Prepare

As the Northern Lights occur during colder months and you’d be sitting outside most of the time, it is best to wear layers and top it off with a wind-proof outerwear (the wind in Iceland is a killer). A hot cuppa would be great too, and we did just that while we parked our car in an empty camping ground. If you’re planning to capture photos or videos, you would need a good camera that could capture images in low-light conditions and a tripod (and ample space in your memory card). Maybe some tissue would come in handy if you’re the emotional type like me as I teared a little each time we got to watch the lights dance. The rest, is up to you.

I hope this helps you prepare mentally and physically before planning your Northern Lights trip and we wish you the best of luck! You can find more information about the Northern Lights in Iceland on their Aurora Center website.

Watch the Aurora Borealis move (without timelapse) from 2:26 from our Iceland trip video and follow us on Youtube!

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