Northern lights are common in Iceland. This guide discusses some of the best locations for photographing the Northern Lights. My top ten locations are in the North, South, East and West parts of the country. I discuss the pros and cons of each place regarding Aurora photography.
Jökulsarlon Glacier Lagoon
It’s challenging to better Jökulsarlon for photography. Photography doesn’t get much greater than capturing the Northern Lights in a quiet lagoon alongside glacier icebergs. The well-known glacial lagoon is ideally suited for taking pictures of the aurora. The majority of the shoreline’s accessible areas face north, and most light displays appear between the mountains and above the glacier.
While returning from the area with his family, one of Iceland’s best northern lights photographers noticed some impressive auroras in Jökulsarlon. According to rumours, he drove his family back to Reykjavik for five hours before returning to Jökulsarlon for another five hours to take pictures of the auroras. The most extensive collection of Northern Lights images and films from Iceland is that of Aurora Legend Olgeir Andresson.
Top Tours in Iceland
Vestrahorn Mountain is one of my favourite locations for winter afternoons. It is not easy for Northern Lights because the landowner has introduced a toll and has a physical barrier on the access road. Although you might have paid, if the barrier malfunctions at night, you could be stuck there until the Viking Cafe opens in the morning. The trick with the automatic barrier is to drive up very close to it, and if that still doesn’t work, beep your horn to raise the attention of the landowner. If it is night, then keep sounding your horn to let him know.
The above image was taken around 8 p.m. on a winter evening after a nice meal in Cafe Horny. It is a good example of how effective the “Magic Cloth Technique” is for night photography. Read more about this picture HERE.
Kirkjufell Mountain is officially the most photographed mountain in Iceland. Kirkjufell is close to Grundarfjörður – a town on the Northern Coast of the Snæfellsnes Peninsula. The North facing view works well with the Northern lights as the mountain is silhouetted against the nigh sky. The nearby waterfall is a good option for night photography, but there is also a small lake after the waterfall. It is possible to get a god reflection of Kirkjufell Mountain and the Northern lights in the lake.
Goðafoss is my favourite place to be on a summer night. 10 years running, I visited the waterfall at 3.a.m on a summer night. It doesn’t work so well for the northern lights because, as you face the falls from the river bank, you are facing south. Southern sky northern lights are not impossible, but they are rare. Also, North Iceland has access issues in the winter, with the chances of the main road being closed. I only visited Goðafoss waterfall once in the winter, and we were unlucky with auroras. The above image is fake, just like many other Goðafoss Northern Lights photos.
Hvítserkur is known as the Troll Rock or the Drinking Dragon. It is in the north of Iceland, near the town of Hvammstangi. The rock is an ancient volcanic core and is made of very tough basalt rock. The inlet is well sheltered and quite shallow, so reflections can be quite good. Also, the view out of the fjord is facing north. There was a hotel very close, but everyone I talked to said that it wasn’t very well managed, and now it’s closed. Check out nearby hotels HERE. I camped there once and managed some night photography. Camping is not permitted.
Námaskarð Hverir is a geothermal area in the north of Iceland, close to Lake Myvatn. Námaskarð is a clay terrain with bubbling mud pots and steaming fumaroles. The good thing about the Fumaroles is that you can move around them to get the Northern Lights in the right place. However, geothermal zones can be hazardous, and wandering around at night could get you into trouble. There are some very good hotels around Lake Myvatn, so you don’t have to stay too far from the location. My strong recommendation is Hotel Laxa. Although it is not the closest to Námaskarð, it is the best value. Beware of the wet clay! After rain, the clay can be soft, and it really sticks to your shoes.
Grotta Lighthouse is a short walk from downtown Reykjavik. It used to take me 45 minutes each way. The lighthouse is on an island. I wouldn’t recommend going out to the lighthouse for Northern Lights photography. If you lose track of time, you could end up stranded by the high tide. The photography is better from the mainland because there is a bay of water, which can be useful for reflections. Although Grotta is close to the city lights, the view out to sea isn’t affected by Iceland’s capital city light pollution.
Fjallsárlón Glacier Lagoon
Fjallsárlón Glacier Lagoon is close to Jokulsarlon. It takes about 10-15 minutes to drive there from Jokulsarlon. The glacier lagoon is enclosed and doesn’t have interaction with the ocean. Fjallsárlón is a small lagoon, so it’s close to the glacier. The lagoon can have large floating icebergs and good reflections. It can be difficult to find at night, and the access can be difficult, so it’s best to check it out in the daytime first. Because this smaller lagoon is closer to the mountains, the view to the northern horizon is obscured. This can affect aurora viewing, but a strong aurora display has no issues.
Vík í Mýrdal
Vík í Mýrdal is nearly the Southern most point in Iceland. Vík í Mýrdal is famous for the Reynisdrangar sea-stacks which create an iconic silhouette against the night sky. The famous black sand beaches at Vik and Reynisfjara both have views of Reynisdrangar. Reynisfjara can be dangerous during the day, so you should be extra vigilant at night. Views of Reynisdrangar are facing South, so photographing good Northern lights here is quite rare.
Öxarárfoss waterfall is located at þingvellir National Park. The waterfall is only one hour drive from Reykjavik, so it’s a possibility if you are staying in the Capital. The falls can be accessed from the low plateau of the parliamentary plains. This historical location is home to stunning geology. Öxarárfoss waterfall falls into the Almannagjá (every-man gorge). The gorge offers protection in windy weather, but does obscure the Northern horizon which means you might not see a weaker aurora.