Cheers
jon

Travelled to 7 countries / regions

Written 18 briefs
Just got back from a road trip in Iceland

25 views

0 comments


Europe > Iceland
Updated on Nov 06, 2018 Useful Info

How to see northern lights / aurora borealis in Iceland

  • You're never guaranteed to see the northern lights in Iceland no matter what you do. It really is the luck of the draw. For 2 reasons:
  1. Northern lights only happens when there's significant solar flare, and solar flares happen randomly throughout the year instead of in a predictable cycle. There's no time of the year when it's more frequent or less frequent
  2. Even when solar flare happens, there can't be any cloud cover in the particular area you're in. So it's also the result of good weather
  • When I spoke to a local Icelander, he said that he probably only sees northern lights a handful of times a year, and he lives in Iceland. So just imagine the slim probability of travellers catching it
  • So the bottom line is there's no way to plan for it. Even the most accurate aurora forecast will predict no more than 3 days in advance (and 3 day forecast is extremely inaccurate. When I went the cloud cover forecast for even the next 5 hours changed every hour)
  • That being said, here's the what you need to do to maximize your chance of seeing it:
  1. Go to Iceland sometime from September to early April: only during these months will there be absolute darkness at night. In the rest of the year the sun never fully sets in Iceland because of how far north the country is, so you'll never be able to see the northern lights even if they're there and the sky is clear because their light will easily be overpowered by the remaining sunlight
  2. Spend longer time Iceland: the more time you spend in Iceland, the higher the probability that you'll see the northern light on at least 1 of the nights there
  3. Spend more time in the northern part of the country: northern lights get stronger and more visible the more north you go. Not that it matters much but getting away from Reykjavik means little less light pollution
  4. Stay up late. Cloud cover (and forecast) changes hour to hour. Just because there's cloud at 8pm and the forecast says it'll be cloudy the rest of the night, doesn't mean it'll stay cloudy. Like I said, when I was there the cloud cover forecast for the next 5 hours literally changed hour to hour
  5. Keep a keen eye on the forecast and plan accordingly: go to Icelandic Meteorological Office's official website (vedur.is) and click on their page on "Aurora forecasts". This page shows you everything you need to know about if and when you'll be able to catch northern lights. Below is my guide on how to understand this page:

User submitted photo of Iceland

  • Other tips:
  • There are specialized tours in Iceland to see northern lights. Personally I don't think it's worth it because it's not like these guys can control the weather any more than you can. Their value add is to be able to take you to the right place at the right time, something you can probably do as well using Vedur.is
  • According to the Icelander I spoke with, apparently in real life, the northern lights appear white to the naked eye, rather than green like they're usually shown in photos and videos. They never look as they are in pictures