Northern lights are common in Iceland. This guide discusses some of the best locations for photographing the Northern lights. My top ten locations are from 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
Jökulsarlon is difficult to beat for photography. Photographing Northern Lights reflecting in the still lagoon with the glacier icebergs is about as good as it gets. The famous glacier lagoon lends itself to Aurora photography very well. Most of the easy access parts of the shoreline are facing North and the majority of Light Shows appear between the mountains and over the glacier. One of Iceland’s top Northern Lights Photographers was returning from the area with his family but spotted some good auroras at Jökulsarlon. Rumour has it that he drove his family back to Reykjavik (5hours) and then drove back to Jökulsarlon (another 5 hours) to photograph the Auroras. Olgeir Andresson has the greatest collection of Northern Lights photos and videos from Iceland.
Tours Around Iceland
Vestrahorn mountain is one of my favourite locations for Winter afternoons. It is not easy for Northern lights because the land owner 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 rais the attention of the land owner. If it is night, then keep sounding your horn to let him know.
The above image was taken around 8pm on a Winter evening after a nice meal in the 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 03.00 on a Summer night. It doesn’t work so well for 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 a 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 ad is 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 walk away from downtown Reykjavik. It used to take me 45minutes 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 with 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 Jkulsarlon. 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, s 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.