Are the northern lights on your bucket list? They’re certainly on mine. I just didn’t really know that I wanted to go to Iceland to see them, that was until I saw a stupidly cheap deal that I couldn’t ignore. There are a lot of companies flogging cheap package trips to Iceland for around £200 at this time of year. The reason being that it’s the end of the winter and so it’s hit and miss as to whether you will get to experience the northern lights. Still, you’re getting a slice of the action in one of the most pricey destinations to visit in the world, for chump change! So whether you see the northern lights in Iceland or not, it’s still a cracking deal and worth the trip.
I was especially excited for this trip, as most of our holidays tend to be in warmer places. When visiting a country with a more palatable climate, it generally means that we are able to do less ‘looking at things’ and are able to spend more time actually ‘doing things’. That said, I often find that for me, something’s missing. I think it’s the dramatic landscape and scenery that is offered by those countries that are covered in snow, with soaring mountains and blue skies that meet perfectly with the white horizon, no matter which way you look, that really gets me. I knew that even if I didn’t see the lights, that I would be satisfied with what Iceland had to offer, based on the scenery alone.
Before we left our hotel on the first morning, we gathered outside to see the solar eclipse. It was quite the spectacle, as we were so far north, we witnessed almost total coverage. As the sun was covered, it became very, very cold, which gave us a taste of what the evenings might be like in Iceland.
Only 320,000 people live in Iceland, which is amazing when you think that 53 million people live in England, which is almost the same size as Iceland, or, that 8 million people live in London, an area tiny by comparison at one hundredth of the size of Iceland. A third of these people live in the capital city, Reykjavik, which is where we started our trip. It’s not really a city that you would want to spend a massive amount of time in. Yes, it’s beautiful, but put quite simply, there’s really not a lot to do there. A walk along the harbour is certainly worth your time, as it offers views of glorious mountains in the distance as you overlook the bright blue, unspoilt water.
There’s also an old church with some interesting architecture and a cracking view of the city from the top.
The view is simply stunning as you gaze upon the vibrancy of the houses below. It makes me question why we are building houses out of brown bricks, when houses can look so beautiful and yet be so functional?!
There’s a lake, some shops, some restaurants and an abundance of museums in the city. An extraordinary amount of museums in fact. However, the only one which caught our eye was the ‘phallological museum’. Yes, it’s exactly what you are thinking. It’s a museum, full of penises. I don’t think I have ever left a museum wanting to vomit, but I’ll take my hat off to the penis museum, they genuinely did a great job in making me want to do so. I have actually been to penis museums/parks in the past, in fact, to two separate ones in Korea (I am aware that’s a bit weird…). This one wasn’t the same. The Korean penis parks were innocent (as innocent as a penis park can be); wooden penis statues, penis see-saws and penis gardens. The Iceland phallological museum however was not so innocent; it was cocks in jars. Real cocks, preserved in jars. Cocks from all the sea creatures. Cocks from all the land creatures. A cock from a man. The guy who opened the museum started off this hobby by finding beached whales and stealing their knobs for his personal collection, and it grew from there. Enough said about the penis museum. Reykjavik and all it had to offer for us, stopped there.
Eating out in the city proved to be a problem for us, as being students we couldn’t afford the city prices. Inevitably we ended up here:
We saw a queue that stretched across the road, so assumed it had some kind of internet-fame-status, or was well recommended cuisine! It was just a hot dog stall. I think it was so popular because there were other people like us who were also starving as a result of city prices. After this we slipped into a convenience store to get a snack. I went to the hot deli, there was a sheep’s head with some mashed potato in some cling film, I left with a donut.
That night we got all dressed up with about 5 layers on, ready and waiting for our northern lights tour. We sat in said 5 layers, in reception, sweating for about 20 minutes, before we noticed the sign on the receptionist’s desk that informed us that the tour was cancelled that evening. Balls. We asked what the deal was. We were told that Iceland is experiencing its worst winter in around 60 years and that the weather had been stormy and unpredictable. Ordinarily, 90% of the time, the lights tours will go ahead, however this winter, 90% off them were cancelled. I wish somebody had told me that BEFORE I came to Iceland.
The thing with the weather in Iceland is, well, as the phrase that was drilled into us continuously by everybody that we met; “if you don’t like the weather, wait 5 minutes”. Completely true. We experienced blue skies to storms within 5 minutes, and then back to blue skies and sun. One night, the wind was so hideous that I was taking off as I walked. The things we do for a £7 half pint of Guiness (I know, I also vomited in my mouth when I heard the price).
The Blue Lagoon is a natural geothermal hot spring, surrounded by mountains and lava fields. Bliss. It seemed like a tourist trap, which obviously it was, but it was the kind of tourist trap that is a tourist trap for a reason, because it is actually good. We did have to queue for 45 minutes to get in, as they were full, despite reserving our tickets, but once the buses of old folks left, we really enjoyed our time there. As you bob in the hot pools, it can rain and snow around you, yet you feel comfortably warm as the steam rises onto your face and your body is submerged in naturally warm spring water. I’d heard mixed reviews prior to our visit, but I would recommend it whole heartedly. After we returned back to the hotel, we arrived to find that the lights tour had been cancelled, again. Things weren’t looking too good!
Golden Circle tours in Iceland boasted that you would visit Iceland’s top 3 natural sites; a national park, a waterfall and a geothermal field of geysers and hot springs. I hate guided bus tours. I hate being with people I don’t know or like; they always manage to get lost, be late, hold the bus up, or just generally annoy me. I also hate being stuck on a bus for hours on end. Therefore, I was pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed this day, despite the fact the tour guide managed to speak continuously for 8 hours straight! I just popped the ipod on, turned to the window, and took in the scenery. Similarly to New Zealand, I didn’t really mind driving around for hours on end, because just looking at the scenery is considered an activity in itself. The pit stops were all great too. We were given sufficient time to go off on our own and to explore each area. The national park was not so impressive, but was nice to walk around, however the second stop at the waterfall was cracking! It was certainly the biggest waterfall that I’ve ever been to and we were able to get very close up for some great views.
After the waterfall, came the geysers. I enjoyed the geysers, if not the eggy sulphur smell.
However, that was until one of them erupted on me! It shot at least 60-70 feet in the air and landed straight on top of us. It served us right for standing right in the firing line I suppose. Queue me, walking around shivering in wet clothes for the rest of the afternoon. Part of me prayed that the northern lights tour would be cancelled so that I had time to go home and change beforehand!
No such luck. What am I saying?! I’d waited 3 days for this! I soon dried off and chucked on a few more layers, and crikey did I need them that evening! The northern lights tour left the city at around 9pm in search of one of mother nature’s wonders. I didn’t really know what to expect. I wasn’t sure how I would react to seeing them, or how I would feel to be experiencing such a natural phenomenon. 9:30pm came and we were all plonked onto a hilltop, away from the city and light pollution, waiting for them to arrive. We waited for 30 minutes. It was 30 minutes I literally spent staring into a field, full of anticipation for what might happen. I did nothing but look into the distance, and ready my camera. I’m no photographer, but I had researched heavily the best settings and ways to capture the aurora. I was excited!
It got to about 10pm and we were ushered back onto the bus as we were told that we were changing location after a tip off. We were heading to the coast. We travelled for a further 45 minutes before meeting the Atlantic ocean. The next 2 and a half hour were strange. They went so quickly, yet I was doing literally, nothing. I sat on a rock, and I stared out into the Atlantic ocean, listening to the waves, not really talking. Staring at the sky, the horizon, the water, the clouds, occasionally something would catch my eye; a shooting star, a moving cloud. I tried to imagine how they might appear, whether they would start as a little dot in the distance and get bigger, or whether they would simply appear, just like that. Except, they never appeared. 1am came and we were told that we couldn’t stay any longer, people were getting cold (they should have come prepared like me, balaclava and all!) and that we could be here all night, as they have been known to appear at 3 or 4am. So we shuffled back onto the bus and were taken back to the hotel, where admittedly it was a lot warmer.
So, we never got to see the northern lights. Isn’t that just an excuse to go back there? Perhaps when I am no longer a student, so that next time I don’t have to eat at a burger place 3 nights running? That being said, it was worth the trip. There’s enough to see and do in Iceland to make the trip worthwhile, even without the lights. Seeing the lights in Iceland would have just been an added bonus to visiting a spectacularly beautiful country.
Thanks Iceland <3