There are three facts you need to know about Iceland:
1, It’s not actually all that icy
2, It smells of egg
3, You need to go there
The phrase ‘too good to miss’ pops into my head regularly as I research and write our weekly newsletter deals, however due to the lack of holiday time available to me (well I’ve got to be in the office finding deals sometimes, don’t I!) I frequently do in-fact miss out. However missing out was not an option when I came across the Icelandair’s Northern Lights break this winter. For as long as I can remember I have longed to explore Reykjavik, and the chance to see the Northern Lights, well that was just the icing on the cake (aside: Iceland may not have ice, but it has a lot of cake).
The Egg is in the Water
The first thing you notice when you arrive in Iceland is a distinctive eggy whiff (in fact my travelling companion swore she could smell it from before the plane even began it’s descent into Reykjavik Airport). It wouldn’t have been a surprise had I thought of it. Pretty much the whole country is powered by geothermal energy, i.e. water heated by volcanoes and geothermal springs, so naturally it’s going to contain a lot of sulphur.
Geothermal borehole house. Photo by lydurs
There are 200,000 people living in Greater Reykjavik
…And every single one of them is out on a Friday night. OK, that might not be a fact. For example there was still someone manning our hotel desk. But it certainly is true that Reykjavik nightlife is heaving, especially considering its tiny population.
Friday and Saturday are the massive nights out, it is MUCH quieter during the week. Don’t let that stop you though. Wandering through town on a Thursday night we were drawn to one bar noticeable for it’s loud and lively atmosphere. Naturally we wandered in. We were initially confused by the amount of large placards lining the walls, until we were informed that we had just wandered into a student union and they were in the midst of their campaigns for student president. Not to worry though they said, as they gave us free jelly shots and launched into an animated discussion of their favourite UK football teams.
Kaffibarinn – Famous for appearing in the film ‘Reykjavik 101’ and for being part owned by Blur’s Damon Albarn. Photo via chrisframpton
Do save yourself for the Friday and Saturday night runtur though. Runtur translates as round tour, though we would know it better as a pub crawl, and a massive one at that. Alcohol is EXTREMELY expensive in Iceland so the evening starts at house parties. By about 12am the locals are suitably sozzled and head out onto the streets to party! There are hundreds of teeny cafe bars in Reykjavik, and you’ll visit plenty during the course of the evening, from dingy rock clubs with dancing on the tables to swanky hotel bars. The absolute hippest place to be changes regularly. When we were there it was a Shoreditch style club called Bakkus, but check with some locals, because times might have moved on in the three days since I was there.
There’s too Much to Manage in Three Days
Unfortunately we didn’t travel very far outside of Reykjavik on our trip, but we did make the effort to see the attractions of the Golden Circle – a token viewing of just part of Iceland’s amazing scenery. I was driving, so my appreciation of said scenery was somewhat limited by needing to concentrate on keeping the car on the road (I said it’s not that icy in Iceland, well guess which day it decided to snow!) but I did see vast lava fields, distant mountains and lovely lakes.
Iceland scenery – my photo
The Golden Circle encompasses Þingvellir national park, meeting place of the European and American tectonic plates and the site of the world’s first ever parliament. There are also stops for the Gullfoss waterfalls and for geysers (including Geysir, the geyser after which all other geysers are named). It’s all pretty essential viewing, but be warned that lots of other tourists will be doing the same. Oh and also stand well back from the geysers!
Strokkur geyser – my photo
Aurora – Worth Waiting For
OK, it’s time for the big question. Did I see the Northern Lights? Well…. YES! After our first tour was cancelled I wasn’t expecting much. It was wet and cloudy most of the time we were there, and I knew we were going to need clear skies if we were going to see anything. But on the second night we were told the tour was going ahead.
Photo by Keekslb
It felt like the whole hotel was going with us, we took up three whole coaches and there was an atmosphere of excitement. We drove north for two hours to get away from the city light pollution, and initially things weren’t looking good. At our designated spot there was nothing to see, we waited half an hour until even the most dedicated headed back to the warmth of the coach. BUT on the way home the coach driver spotted something in the sky. He hastily parked and we all piled off. The northern lights are never the same, for us they looked like faint, wispy clouds, with the barest of a green tinge. If it weren’t for the fact that they moved to fast to be clouds you couldn’t have known. They were far too faint for anyone to get a picture, so please know they looked absolutely nothing like the image above!
Curing the Leaving Blues
Iceland’s most visited attraction is the Blue Lagoon, a massive heated pool (heated by volcanoes, naturally) right in the rift of the European and American tectonic plates. It’s located really close to the international airport so the majority of visitors call in either on arrival in Iceland or on their return. We thought we’d save it as a final treat before we had to come home. And what a treat it was. Hazy sunshine peered through the clouds of steam rolling off the turquoise water as we lodged ourselves in a squishy underwater bank of detoxifying silicone mud, sank as deep into the water as possible and relaxed.
Photo by Anosmia
One final fact for you: You need to take a good conditioner. The after effects of the Blue Lagoon are drastic. I awoke the next day to find I had skin softer than a babies bottom, but hair that could stand on end.
Top photo by Soffia S.