We landed back from Iceland yesterday and already I am writing my first post! Iceland was everything we thought it would be and more, much, much more! We ticked every item I had on my list, but came the second to last night and we still had not seen one item I had purposely kept off the list – the northern lights. I knew we couldn’t plan our trip around this and that we were still a bit early in the season to see them, so I had made no specific plan. However, I couldn’t help but be disappointed with only 2 nights remaining and multiple reports on social media of people seeing them…
What was I doing wrong? I had set up my camera by the window every night, we were staying in remote areas with no light pollution and I was waking up in the middle of the night to check if there were any northern lights making an appearance. So that evening I spent an hour Googling and after gathering 4 good tips this started to happen…
FINALLY, we had a glimpse of them! What I learned is that it was a lot more challenging than I thought to see them and that you shouldn’t only rely on your human eyes. So here are my 4 tips to see the Northern Lights in Iceland when they may not be obvious to find!
Use the aurora borealis apps
I found a few apps which track live the movement of the aurora borealis so you can check if you are on their path. I downloaded My Aurora Forecast to check from what time Iceland sky would turn green.
Check the Leirvogur Magnetic Observatory website
This website was essential to see the northern lights! Leirvogur Magnetic Observatory website is all in Icelandic but the only thing you need to look at is the right end of the top graph. These are fed with live data and if the line starts moving, get your camera ready! If it stays flat, go back to bed.
Use your camera instead of your eyes
This was the secret for us to finally see the aurora borealis! I naively thought that the northern lights would be a pretty obvious thing to notice, in my head the sky would get filled with super bright green and pink lines. How wrong was I! Chances are the sky is full of them yet your eyes cannot see them. This is exactly what happen the night I caught them on camera. All I could see was this…
Yet a friend told me that if the dark skies seem to have some lighter patches I should set my camera on a long exposure and take a picture. I did and boom! My screen was filled with green! So do not solely rely on your own eyes and use your camera if the sky seems oddly bright in the middle of the night.
The right weather and the right time
A lot of sites say you need a partially cloudy sky to see the aurora borealis, yet we saw them best when the sky was completely clear, so do not give up if the weather is a bit off.
The first few days in Iceland Andrew and I hiked A LOT which meant that by 9 or 10 pm we were fast at sleep. So we missed peaked northern lights time which from what we saw was between 11pm and 5am. So try to stay awake late if you can or set an alarm around 3am for a quick glimpse through the window. Painful I know, but I was so happy to sacrifice a night of sleep for a lifelong memory!
I hope these 4 tips to see the Nothern Lights in Iceland help you! Of course, these are also applicable in any northern country where you can get a glimpse of the aurora borealis.