Recently, I was lucky enough to head off for three nights to experience Iceland & the Northern Lights. Now, after taking the last month to reflect on my experiences and fawn over my own photographs I have put together this list of 5 things to do when in Iceland.
1. See the Northern Lights
Sightings of the fabled Aurora Borealis are never a guarantee when you travel to Iceland, but the best time to seek them out is between October and April. There are many factors that impact the chances of the Lights being visible in the night’s sky and on March 27th, luckily for me, there was a perfect (solar) storm. On a beautiful clear night in Reykjavik, our tour group boarded the coach a few hours after dinner and proceeded to drive about 40 minutes outside of the city to a secluded location behind the mountains, free of any light pollution from the city, as we were given a lesson in the science of the Northern Lights. Despite the big group it couldn’t have been easier to find your own little patch of ground to sit or stand on and enjoy the spectacle in the darkness of the Icelandic wilderness. After a few moments for my eyes to adjust, the sky lit up with shades of white, green and purple light dancing and flickering about as if on a conveyor belt, moving from one side of the night’s sky to the other. The light show was undeniably captivating and for over an hour I was unable to look away from the phenomena above.
2. The Golden Circle
A tour of Iceland’s Golden Circle typically consists of three historically significant and naturally beautiful sites. The first one we visited was Thingvellir National Park. Roughly translated, this means Parliament Plains, and from approximately 930AD until 1798 this was home to Iceland’s political meetings and trial sites. The people would come from all over Iceland on horseback to meet and hold parliament, as well as determine the fates of those not only standing trial for numerous crimes and nefarious activities, but also where political leaders would clash in physical battles to the death. Our second stop was the Geyser fields in the valley of Haukadalur. These geothermal geysers are absolutely fascinating and were the first of their kind known to the world prior to the discovery of those in America and New Zealand. The water beneath the surface boils to 100 degrees Celsius before erupting in spectacular fashion out of a hole in the ground’s surface, with the water spouting to nearly 40 feet high. This process repeats itself every 10 minutes or so and is a great place to set up a tripod and take some photographs or video footage. The final stop on our tour was Gulfoss. Named the “golden waterfall”, when the sun hits it at just the right time, multiple rainbows and beams of light will begin to reflect and dance off of the water’s surface. The sheer cold and powerful winds felt when standing in front of this natural beast left me with an experience that I will never forget.
3. Iceland’s Southern Shore
Although not as vast as the Golden Waterfall, the Skogar Falls are just as impressive and powerful, with a height of over 60m and a fall that usually leaves travellers standing in front of at least two rainbows. Further on throughout our tour of Iceland’s Southern Shore we visited Reynisfjar. This volcanic black sandy beach is home to several bird species that are highly sought-after by bird watchers worldwide, including the famed Puffins. It is unlike any beach I’ve ever seen before. Dangerous, powerful, mystical and beautiful all at once, this is a site I am glad I had the opportunity to see while in Iceland.
4. Reykjavik City Tour
With a population of roughly 123,000 people, Reykjavik is one of the world’s smallest capitals, but this doesn’t stop the city from boasting a healthy nightlife and one of the world’s best art and literature scenes. There are dozens of unique buildings and churches to visit in Reykjavik. The HARPA concert hall and Hallgrimskirkja, a modern church, are just two of the must-see architectural marvels. If architecture isn’t your thing, Reykjavik offers numerous restaurants with meals ranging from local dishes, such as Fin Whale Burgers and Fermented Shark, to the classic pizza and pasta dishes found worldwide. As well as restaurants, local bars can be found throughout the main street and most of them have fun themes, although admittedly drinks are expensive throughout the city. I would highly recommend taking one of the many widely available walking tours of the city, as they are incredibly informative and Reykjavik has a rich and fascinating history.
5. The Blue Lagoon
About a 40 minute drive from Reykjavik, Iceland’s Blue Lagoon sits in the midst of an inactive lava field, and is one of Iceland’s most popular tourist destinations. In the spirit of the natural geothermal spas and pools found throughout Iceland, the Blue Lagoon is a man-made lagoon which utilises mineral rich geothermal water, said to have the power to heal skin conditions and much more. I spent close to 3 hours at the Blue Lagoon at the end of March this year. Unwinding and recovering in the warm water was the perfect way to end my holiday in Iceland. After 4 days in some of the coldest temperatures I’ve ever experienced, the therapeutic water was a very warm welcome. With spa facilities, in-water massages, sauna, steam rooms, café, in-lagoon bars and a high end restaurant you could easily spend more than half the day relaxing by the water and eating lunch inside the warm facility.