When are the Northern Lights visible?

The Northern Lights are natural phenomenon and they do not appear on a fixed schedule. Also, because the lights appear in the thermosphere, above the clouds, they can’t be seen on cloudy nights. A Northern Lights sighting is never guaranteed but if you follow these steps, you have more changes to see the sky glow with the aurora borealis.

The lights are magical but the science behind them is even more fascinating. These lights we admire here on earth are caused by great solar storms. Particles released from the sun during these massive storms travel through space and when they hit earth’s atmosphere, they burn up in a flash of color.

The Northern Lights only appear around the magnetic north pole, so Alaska, Iceland and northern Scandinavia are the best places to see them.

Wait until dark

The Northern Lights are not very bright and certainly not bright enough to outshine the sun. You must wait until it’s dark to go out to hunt for the Northern Lights, but the good news is, during winter in Iceland, you don’t have to wait that long. That means you can’t see the Northern Lights in the summer. Icelandic winters are long and dark but during summer, the sun hardly sets.

Get out of town

As I have mentioned, the Northern Lights aren’t bright enough to overpower other sources of light, so if you want to see them at their best, get away from the city lights. On a good night, you can still see the lights within the city limits but the light pollution from the city will always dull their brightness a little.  The photo below  was taken in the city lights. If I would have gone out of the city lights the Northern Lights would have been much sharper.

When are the Northern Lights visible ?

If you want to avoid disappointment, check out the aurora forecast published by the Icelandic Meteorological Office. They predict the cloud cover and the level of aurora activity. They´re not infallible but following the forecast is a good rule of thumb.

The best time to visit Iceland for Northern Lights is during winter from October to early March.

Make sure the sky is clear

The Northern Lights appear high in the sky, which means that clouds can cover the view of the light from the ground, just like the stars.

Consider taking a tour

If you don’t have a car, taking a tour can be a convenient way to get out of the city lights. Most tour companies offer Northern Lights tours by bus and if you don’t see any lights you can take the tour again the next night for free. Here is information on tours.

Bring a camera

The Northern Lights are unforgettable, but you still want to take some photos as souvenirs of your trip to Iceland. Don’t forget to bring your camera but be aware that taking great photos of the northern lights can be tricky. Read the instruction below.

Wear warm cloths

The Northern Lights are natural phenomenon so they’re not dependable. Sometimes they come out early in the evening, clear and bright, but sometimes they don’t appear until the middle of the night or just appear as a blurry fog of lights. So it’s better to put on some warm clothing.  Good waterproof boot, heavy jacket and a hat on you head is a must. Read more about Icelandic weather here.

You might have to wait for a vile .You don’t want to miss your opportunity to see the Northern Lights because you are cold. They are worth the wait.

4 tips on how to photograph the Northern Lights!

  • Bring a tripot.  A tripod, or something to keep your camera level is essential to get a clear photo of the northern lights. You need a long exposure time to capture as lights as you can and if your camera moves even a little your photo will be blurry.
  • Set your aperture low. The aperture dictates how much of your lens is covered. You want it as much open as possible to capture as much of the light as you can.
  • Set your ISO High. The ISO dictates how sensitive the camera is to the light. Usually if you set it too high, the photo will be grainy but in the darkness of night, it’s essential. Start at 800 and adjust it until you find the setting you like.
  • Set a long shutter speed. This controls how long the lens is exposed, taking in light. You need some time to capture the northern lights, so try 10 seconds to begin with and then adjust it to your liking.


I hope this information is helpful.  If you have a comment or a question, please do not hesitate to leave it below.

Þórhallur / Thorhallur

Founder of FactsAboutIceland.com


4 thoughts on “When are the Northern Lights visible?”

  1. I often hear of people taking cruise ships to see the Northern Lights. Have you ever gone on the cruise ship to see them? Or would you recommend sticking with what you said above?

    • Hello Sharon and thank your your comment.
      Living in Iceland as I do you don’t need to take a cruise ships to see the Northern Lights. They are all around me all winter long and they are wonderful you can watch them endlessly.

  2. Dear Thorhallur,
    Greetings from Chile. I wanted to drop you a line to say that we were looking at your site today from Chile. I am a WA member, but I also help my partner with her English classes for really advanced students. Having reviewed your site once, I thought it would make for an interesting subject that wasn’t dominated by COVID!
    Whilst reading your site I spotted a few spelling/grammatical/links errors in English. I fully a appreciate you are drafting in a second language for you, but I thought you would want to know. I spotted the following which you may wish to change.
    On the Northern Lights blog: Which I loved, I spotted the following:
    The lights are magical but science behind should read “The lights are magical but the science behind….”
    https://en.vedur.is/weather/forecasts/aurora/ why not make this a link?
    They´re no infallible – I think this should read, They´re not infallible
    Bring a trippot – I think this should read, Bring a tripod.
    The Golden Circle Tour: and its number is one, – Might this be better as “and its number is 1#” as you use elsewhere?
    You have a terrific site.
    Best Regards,
    Trevor (TJ on WA)

    • Thank you Trevor. I always appreciate when someone gives me a hand to make this website better.
      Spelling and grammatical corrections are always welcome because English is not my primary language.
      Thank you for your kinds words and encouragement.


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