Everyone will have places on their travelling bucket lists that they want to visit as soon as possible. Amazing as it is, Iceland was never on any form of bucket list for me. That was until making my 2015 resolutions, when I felt a sudden urge to witness the northern lights before I died. A friend, who will be known as ‘Patch Adams’, agreed to go on this journey with me and so the planning began.
This was potentially one of the shortest mini breaks I had ever planned, thinking that all Reykjavik really had to offer me was a northern lights experience.
As always, I was looking to keep costs down and so Patch Adams and I opted for the Hotel Fron. Although I would recommend this hotel for those looking for a central, convenient, clean and cheap place to stay for a couple of days, my only gripe was the breakfast on offer. While I wasn’t expecting quails eggs and caviar, the ‘buffet’ pretty much only involved toast and flavourless cereal!
After arriving at the hotel, we decided to take a walking tour of the city. Despite it being March, it was BITTERLY COLD. There was strong icy wind, hail and snow blowing into our faces for the majority of the walk and so we decided to take shelter and head for lunch.
‘Icelandic Fish & Chips’ had a nice selection of fish and was a great place to sit and relax, while getting your bearings of the city centre. We both had oven roasted fish in lemon pesto, with crispy potatoes. It was a great, hearty meal which gave us the warmth and energy to brace ourselves for the hail again.
We eventually found one of the major landmarks of Reykjavik, a beautiful Lutheran church known as Hallgrimskirkja. The architecture of this church was simple yet stunning, and unlike any other church I had seen before.
After this, we headed to another landmark – The Sun Voyager. This is an impressive sculpture of a boat by Jon Gunnar Arnason, which represents an ode to the sun and a vision of light and hope.
The Northern Lights –
I had organised the excursion with Gray Line, who collected us from our hotel by coach and took us to a location where there was a good chance of seeing the lights. The guide explained that while the aurora borealis had not been witnessed for a few days, there was a chance we would see them tonight. During the drive the guide gave lots of information about the aurora, as well as telling us some interesting facts about Reykjavik. For example:
- People in Iceland strongly believe in elves;
- Taxes in Iceland are paid to the Lutheran church, but if you’re an atheist, they go to benefit the universities; and
- The Vikings chopped down all of the forests and the people of Iceland have been trying to re-grow them every since.
We arrived at a building next to a lighthouse where we all piled onto a balcony and stood waiting for a rainbow of colours to fill the sky. I wish I had a lovely photo of the lights to show you but I don’t. In fact for me, the aurora put the bore in borealis. How can I describe this effectively?
Say you’re promised a date with Ryan Gosling – you know in advance that he’s famous and well renowned for his beauty. So you’re waiting for him in the cold and you think “I’m absolutely freezing, but it’s fine because I’m about to go on a date with Ryan Gosling.” Only thing is, Ryan isn’t going to turn up. Ryan is just teasing you. Ryan keeps texting you saying “Sorry, running late!” Ryan is selfish. And pretty soon, you start to hate Ryan. You start to think “I don’t even want to see Ryan, I just want to go home”. THAT IS WHAT IT FEELS LIKE WHEN YOU GO TO SEE THE NORTHERN LIGHTS AND THEY DON’T SHOW UP.
In summary, Gray Line provided a great tour and had the lights appeared, I’m sure everyone would have had a magical experience. They are aware that the lights do not present themselves consistently and so they often cancel tours when they feel it would be pointless to go out. However, if you go and do not get to see the lights, they give you another tour for free. The only thing I feel they could improve on is the length of time they make you stay at the location for. Where there is no chance of the lights being seen, it felt unnecessary to stay for the entire 3 hours waiting in the cold, especially when the vast majority of people were ready to leave early. Some people even decided to go to sleep!
On the second day, I had organised for Patch Adams and I to go on the Golden Circle Afternoon tour (once again with Gray Line).
This tour involved the following –
- Thingvellir National Park
- Gullfoss Waterfall
- The geysirs
- Skaholt Church
Thingvellir National Park is one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen in my life. Snow, mountains, lakes and trees for as far as the eye could see; it truly was like Narnia. Gray Line gave us about an hour to explore the park, most of which we just spent staring at the immense natural beauty.
The second stop was the Gullfoss Waterfall, which was another feat of astounding natural beauty. We were once again left to admire the falls, and also found time to visit the gift shop where I purchased a very useful toy goat.
The geysirs were so exciting. Aside from the fact that everything smelt like sulphur, it felt amazing to be walking amongst bubbling craters that could explode at any moment. The guide took us around the smaller geysirs and explained the science behind them. We were then free to look around ourselves, and managed to catch a couple of very exciting explosions.
The final stop was a short one at Skaholt Church. We didn’t really understand what all the fuss was about until we made it inside and came across a massive mosaic of Jesus, which created an amazing focal point to the traditionally simplistic Lutheran church.
After returning from the tour with one final meal in Reykjavik, we decided to splash out and have a fancy dinner. After reading some great reviews online and wanting to sample more of the great local seafood, we went to Sjavargrillid. They provided us with appetisers of scallop cerviche and bread, with our drinks. We then had an amazing main course of grilled ocean perch with garlic barley, mashed carrot, seaweed, pickled onion, beetroot and lobster glaze.
- All of the water used in hotels and homes in Iceland is powered by the natural springs. This means that it is very sulphurous and… there’s no nice way to say it … it stinks of farts. This can take a lot of getting used to, especially when you’re brushing your teeth!
- The northern lights tour is VERY COLD. Although we were well layered, I feel that a balaclava would have been a good investment.
- We didn’t visit the famous Blue Lagoon. This was as a result of time constraints mainly, and the fact that it was very expensive to even get into, let alone use the spa facilities.
Thanks for reading,
~ Plane Emoji