Iceland – The Northern Lights

The Northern Lights

I’m starting my Iceland blogs with my experience seeing the Northern Lights, also known as the Aurora Borealis in the northern hemisphere.  I’ve always wanted to see the Northern Lights and knew that I had to go way up north during colder weather for the best chance to see them.  Iceland was the perfect location for a great opportunity to see them and also have plenty to do for a nice holiday.

As part of my bigger holiday, I decided to stay in the capital city of Reykjavik and venture out each day to see different parts of the surrounding area.  With no car rental, it was best to join a northern lights excursion.  There are many outfits in Reykjavik that do these excursions and the price ranges greatly depending on whether it’s a small or large group and the activities you do.  I decided to join the northern lights excursion with Reykjavik Excursions which uses large buses to transport you to an ideal viewing area.

Even being close to the Arctic Circle during the best time of year for viewing does not guarantee you are going to see the Northern Lights.  There is a Kp factor which evaluates the level of activity expected each day.  I had initially scheduled to go out Friday evening to see the northern lights but due to cloudiness, the excursion was cancelled.  Luckily, you can rebook for the next night at no additional charge.  I watched the forecast everyday and rebooked for Sunday night which indicated mostly clear skies (that can change so quickly so it’s still no guarantee).

Sunday came and the forecast still looked good… no cancellation email had been received… and it was time to join the excursion.  The bus headed out to Thingvellir National Park which is a great viewing spot with low light pollution and our guide indicated a Kp factor of 4 to 5 which is very good for viewing the lights.  Our guide gave us an informative narrative on the lights as well as some myths about Iceland as we made our 50 minute drive to the national park.

Upon entering the national park, our guide pointed out the start of the northern lights had already begun.  It wasn’t what I thought it would be as the color was more white/grey before it became greener.  The photographs with longer exposures show the marvelous colors and shapes of the northern lights.

I’ve only been awe-struck a few times in my life and this was one of them.  Below is a sequence of pictures in order to show how much it changes as you watch.  Notice how the Big Dipper shows up… it started very much like a curvature in the sky like a rainbow and then it slowly started to fall and separate…

Here is where the lights start to fall and scatter… it was such a “wow” moment.  The small lit up blip in the photo are of lit up buildings (first time doing night photos so still need to figure this out).

The lights just continued to dance and new shapes developed…

Below you can start to see them fizzle out but still remarkable.  Within 15 minutes or so, the lights started up again as we began our trip back to Reykjavik.

I cannot recommend enough taking the opportunity to see the Northern Lights.  They will not disappoint.  Nature is so remarkable and I can’t get enough of the beauty and grandeur throughout the world.

Travel tips:

  • Highly recommend Reykjavik Excursions to get you there.  The guide was informative, helpful, and camera settings were provided in a booklet so you could take a great picture.
  • There is an App to download that allows those with smartphones to take a great picture of the Northern Lights.  The App is called Northern Lights and costs $0.99.
  • Allow yourself multiple days to see the lights in case the weather does not cooperate, which is likely.  Be patient.
  • Bring a tripod if you plan to use a DLSR camera like Nikon or Canon.  I opted for a cheap, light weight tripod that worked well enough (cost $15 at Target)
  • Dress warmly as the winds can be fierce and you will be outside for a while

Next Blog:  Iceland – The Golden Circle

Categories: Europe


  1. Wow, Dustin, this looks like a real ‘must do’!! How long were you at Thingvellir? And how long was it between your first set of photos and your last?


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