Iceland was cold. And expensive. But still totally worth it. We had found a good hotel (£88 for 3 days / 4 nights!) and flight deal and since Reykjavik is only 3 hours from London we thought it would be a good opportunity to check out another place. Plus we reallyyyyy wanted to see the northern lights. It seemed Iceland Air had posters in every tube station and well, the marketing worked on us. But don’t be fooled by the good deals that will physically get you there, it is a Nordic country after all and exploring / sightseeing will cost you a bit of money. There is no public transport to get you around the country so the options are really just those big tour buses or renting some private transport.
Our first day was spent exploring Reykyavik, the worlds northernmost capital, finding out what there was to do and making some general plans. We knew we wanted to see the northern lights so made our way to the reserve some seats on the bus. The drill is – they call you around 5 or 6pm on the day and will let you know if the tour is still on depending on weather conditions. Since it was still morning we went back to exploring the city. A walking tour sounded like a pretty good idea since the main downtown area is quite small. Our tour started near the harbor front, continued on through the streets and ended with some pretty good tips for checking out the local food places from other tourists. Two cheap and satisfying recommendations are the hot dogs from the famous hot dog stand (just ask anyone and they’ll point you) and the lobster soup at Saegreifinn – The Sea Baron. Both did not disappoint. Reykyavik is very beautiful, surrounded by mountains and is well maintained with cute colorful houses throughou the city. The 3 hour walking tour was a bit long though, in our opinion it could’ve been done a lot quicker. But we did learn the importance of elves in Icelandic culture. We still had a bit of time to kill after the walk so we stumbled upon a beer tasting at Micro Bar. Also a very good find. And then the call came that there would be no northern lights that night. Since it is a natural phenomenon the companies will let you on future dates up to year I think if you pay and don’t get to see them the night you booked. We still had two nights to see these northern lights so although slightly disappointed we decided to hit up the town that night. Reykjavik has a lot of fun places to check out from divey bars to whiskey bars to full on clubs.
The next day was our big tour around the country. We did the golden circle (like every other tourist it seemed). Usually I don’t like those big tour buses but like I mentioned before, it was an expensive country. We would’ve much rather ride around in this bad boy instead of the big tour buses.
Nonetheless, we saw some beautiful scenery, waterfalls, geysers and lots of snow. All very pretty but for some reason tiring. All we did was sit in a bus the whole day! Around 5pm we were given the news that due to bad weather the northern lights tour would not be going again. Bummed out we consoled ourselves that we had one more night.
The third day was reserved for some R&R. It was the day of the blue lagoon! If you’re passing through Iceland on a layover, I would highly recommend this. This is one of Iceland Air’s biggest selling points – ‘other airlines give you miles, we give you time’ presumably to attract tourism to the country. The blue lagoon is near the airport and yes, although expensive, it is a worthwhile experience. We decided to go all out and get in water massages. The feeling of soaking in a natural hot spring in freezing temperatures (it started lightly snowing at one point) is incredible and for me a very unique one. After we were all relaxed and warmed up, we got back on the bus.
On the way back we got the news we were waiting for – the evening tour for the northern lights was on! Yippie!!! We started doing cartwheels in the aisle of the bus! Just kidding. We just looked at each other and quietly squealed. But this left us with a problem. What to do about dinner? We very well couldn’t go without having dinner. And we literally had 30 min to drop our swimming stuff, pack on more layers for the night, eat dinner and be back at the bus for the evening tour. So what did we do? We ran home, grabbed more layers, ran to the nearest eatery we could find (thankfully it was a pizzeria), ordered a pizza (yes a whole 18″ pizza because why not?) GOBBLED it down and ran back to the bus. I can’t say I felt particularly good after eating half a pizza that fast, then running….but we were finally going to see the northern lights!!! I didn’t care!
We got to the bus area on time but since the past few nights had been cancelled there were massive amounts of people with the same idea. About 700 in total to be exact. Chaos everywhere. People were running to each empty bus that pulled up filling it within minutes. We were towards the end but managed to finally get on. And they had accounted for the fact that there would be so many people and had the buses ready to go so kudos to them for making sure everyone had a seat. The tour takes you about an hour outside Reykjavik since you can’t see the lights in any light pollution. We pulled up (yes all 700 people) to this massive cabin in the middle of nowhere. The place had food, drinks, and felt like a big cozy camping area. To be honest it was pretty fun, like a big party. We switched between entertaining ourselves, dozing off and wandering outside for a few hours.
And then finally we saw them.
Just kidding, this was a screensaver on a projecter in the cabin. But we pretended.
Finally it was 11pm and time to go back. In the end the much famed lights didn’t make an appearance. At the time it was disappointing but not so much that it put a damper on the entire trip. We’ve gotten too used to the convenience of having everything at our disposal and getting to the destination, not enjoying the journey. But this was actually a fun experience and the journey was equally worth it.
Reykjavik has its own unique quirky character and a fun place to visit on a stopover. And Iceland is really beautiful, clean, and safe. There are only around 325,000 citizens in the entire country. Every time a baby born is born, they actually change the number on a big board in the capital. I haven’t not liked any place I’ve been to so far. Yes, some I like more than others and I’d probably put Iceland lower on the list to go back to simply because it’s so expensive but I’d like to return perhaps when it’s summer with 23 hours of daylight and/or I have more time and money to spend on some unique experiences and explore more of the country.