I just got back from a short 3 day trip to Iceland. It was my first time to Iceland, and yes- I chose to go in the dead of winter. As I wrote a while back, seeing the Northern Lights was a bucket list item of mine. Beyond that though, I have been having a really strong urge to visit Nordic/Scandinavian countries. This happens to me fairly frequently- I’ll become hyper-focused on a place after some inspiration strikes, and I try to make it happen. I’d been thinking about Iceland for a while, and asked a lot of friends if they wanted to go. Everyone was interested, but no one could commit. So what did I do? Booked it anyways and took off on my own.
I flew over on IcelandAir on a red eye. I have to say- I was astounded by how great this airline is. Both flights got in early, the planes were nice, and they actually treated passengers like humans and not cargo. I also liked their upgrade option- a few days before your flight, you get to bid on an upgrade, as much or as little as you’d like. I ended up getting both legs of my journey upgraded which was so worth it. Lounge access alone made it worthwhile.
Anyways, we landed before 6 AM, and I was dropped at my hotel. Obviously I couldn’t check in yet, so I decided to go exploring. I bundled up and headed up a hill, through the woods, in the dark, to Perlan.
Perlan is an architectural landmark in Reykjavik- it’s a dome topped building with 360 degree views of the city. I didn’t go in at that point since I looked like a creature after traveling all night, and I was rounding 24 hours of being awake. I did, however, get treated to some pretty incredible views.
I spent a few hours wandering around the building, and the hill it is located on (Öskjuhlíð). During WWII it was actually used by the US as a place to build bunkers, so there are a lot of markers/remains of that time. I watched the sunrise through the trees, and eventually, I headed back to my hotel, checked in, and (as lame as it is) napped for a few hours.
Post nap, I took off for Reykjavik. Honestly, not my favorite city. Reykjavik didn’t feel like it had as much character as other cities in Europe, but even so, there were a lot of parts I did like.
I spent the rest of the evening hanging out in a geothermal spa. Iceland is basically run on geothermal energy, someone told me 90% of the country’s heat comes from geothermal energy (which is crazy). Beyond that, Icelandic culture is also heavily focused on spas; Icelandic people spend a lot of time relaxing in thermal baths and saunas. I ended up in geothermal spas every day I was in Iceland. The most unique was on my Golden Circle tour (the Golden Circle is a driving route in the south of Iceland that takes you through a National Park, the geysers, and to some serious waterfalls- It’s an insanely popular tourist spot). We stopped at Laugarvatn Fontana, which is on the bank of the Laugarvatn Lake (largest in Iceland) and is a hot bed of hot springs. In fact, Fontana Spa literally bakes bread by digging a hole in the sand and leaving dough in the hot sand for 24 hours. The bread is delicious and definitely worth trying if you go.
It didn’t look quite like this while we were there, as it was snowing, and the winds were insane. However, it was really cool to be in a naturally heated pool in a snow storm. I also am a big sauna person- dry heat is right up my alley. The whole visit to the spa was invigorating and relaxing all at the same time!
Speaking of the Golden Circle, we hit up Þingvellir National Park, the Gullfoss waterfall, and the geyser geothermal region in Haukadalur. It was heavily snowing when we were in the National Park, so visibility was minimal. They did film scenes from Game of Thrones (those Beyond the Wall) and it was very easy to picture.
Our visit to Strokkur (a geyser) was also very cool. There is a slight smell of sulfur in the air as the entire area is basically bubbling with geothermal energy. I watched Strokkur shoot like 40 feet into the air twice, and it was pretty spectacular.
The crowning moment of the Golden Circle, for me, was Gulfoss. The weather had cleared, and the view of the falls was spectacular. I would love to come back in the summer when you can get way closer to the falls themselves.
As it had been snowing all day, and the aurora forecast was low- not to mention that the tour the previous night had been cancelled due to poor conditions, I was not optimistic that I was going to get to see the Northern Lights. However, the forecast called for the skies to clear so I decided to take a shot and see what there was to see.
I stood in the freezing blackness for an hour and a half with like 100 other people (all getting more and more anxious- the shouts of ‘please turn off your flash’ turned into ‘if you don’t turn off that motherfucking flash- I SWEAR TO GOD’). If we hadn’t seen a super vibrant shooting star about 45 minutes in, I’m fairly certain the crowd would have turned on one another. Staring at the insanely bright stars was nice, but it wasn’t what I hoped for. I started to lose steam, and once I couldn’t feel my feet or hands, I went back to the bus to warm up. Within (I kid you not) 30 seconds, the entire sky lit up. I ran off the bus without my gloves or purse (I did grab my camera). Standing under those lights with 100 people cheering, and at one point there was singing, was mind blowing. I felt so connected, to strangers and to the universe. It is awe-inspiring and every bit as magical as I had hoped. I have caught myself staring up at the sky anytime it is dark just trying to catch a glimpse of those lights again. You know that feeling when you finally hook up with someone you’ve been into for a long time, and you catch yourself smiling for no reason for days afterwards? That is exactly what this was like for me. I’d just be maniacally smiling, and acting giddy because of the lights. I am so thrilled I got to cap off my trip by knocking this off my bucket list. Although, I already want to see them again. This time though, I want to be in an isolated spot, maybe in a hot tub with some prosecco to really top the moment off.
All in all, Iceland gave me everything I was looking for. I came back feeling refreshed and satisfied, and I can’t wait to go back. I am hoping to make a summer trip and hit up the Blue Lagoon and go trekking on Icelandic horses. If you’re thinking about going- go. It was spectacular.