The Northern Lights are breathtaking…and elusive. Follow these tips to increase the chances you will see Mother Nature’s glorious display.

The Northern Lights, or Aurora Borealis, is one of Mother Nature’s most spectacular sights. The northern half of Iceland, close to the Arctic Circle, is one of the best places to see this nightly show. Keep an eye on the Aurora Service forecast, an all-volunteer group of Northern Lights fans who report sightings and areas of likely activity. You can even sign up to be texted alerts as much as an hour ahead of expected Northern Lights activity.

Here are a few tips for viewing the Northern Lights when in Iceland.

Visit Between September and March

During this time of year, the skies are usually clearer and darker, clouds fewer, and temperatures MUCH colder. The lights are known to come in groups of nights. They may appear for two or three nights and then fail to show for the next two or three. If you travel to northern Iceland during the Polar nights, in the days around the winter solstice in December, it’s possible that you might even see the Northern Lights at midday.

Northern Lights above Reykjavik (do not count on seeing it from the city as there is too much light pollution)

Get Away from the City

Urban centers like Reykjavik have all-night streetlights and light pollution from cars and homes at night. The skies must be clear and totally dark to get the best views of the Northern Lights. At the very least, head a few miles outside of the city to find clearer skies, or drive 3 hours away to the remote town of Thórsmörk and stay overnight in a volcano hut (read more about it here). Even better, book a tour that will take you miles out to sea on a two hour boat ride ensuring an undisturbed view of this amazing natural sight.

Camp under the Northern Lights
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Head to Grímsey Island

Take an Air Iceland flight from Reykjavik or Akureyri to the secluded north Iceland island of Grímsey. The Northern Lights are most visible inside the Arctic Circle, which cuts through the middle of Grímsey. Grímsey Island itself has just 2 hotels, 1 shop and lots of uninhabited open countryside. If you are the hardy, outdoorsy type, bring a tent and camp out in the undisturbed wilderness of this small North Atlantic island. Accommodation options:Malahorn Guesthouse & Basar Guesthouse.

Thingvellir National Park valley

Rent a Car

Rental cars are readily available in Reykjavik and other major towns across the country and can be rented with a foreign drivers license. Keep the car filled with fuel and be ready to drive wherever the Aurora Service forecasters say you are most likely to see these elusive lights. You could find yourself driving to Þingvellir National Park, the town of Álftanes just outside of Reykjavik, or the rural wilderness of the northwest. Just be aware: The Aurora Borealis is notoriously unpredictable and can appear when you least expect them--and last only a few seconds.

Take Photos with Long Exposure Capture

Sometimes the human eye cannot see the different colors of the Northern Lights because of the weather or intensity. When you find a great secluded spot away from light pollution, set-up your high resolution camera and aim it to the skies. Make sure that your camera is set to long exposure capture. When you view the photos, even if you couldn’t see the flashing colors of the lights, your camera probably did. Enjoy your awe inspiring photos!

Illuminated church with the Northern Lights above