Taking my own advice for once (see Ten Tips for Beating the January Blues), the BF and I took ourselves off for a few days to Iceland last week. Normally I would be craving sunshine at this time of the year, but knowing that the best time to see the Northern Lights is between September and April, we decided to tick off one of the items on our ‘bucket list’ first. As it happens we were out of luck. Despite chasing the lights for two consecutive nights (when conditions couldn’t have been more favourable), all we managed to see was a faint green arc on the first night and some promising white lights on the second night that then just faded away without putting on a show. But don’t let that put you off, there is much more to Reykjavik than the elusive Northern Lights.
Tjörnin pond and old town, Reykjavik
We were really lucky to have two perfect winter days. Snow had fallen before we arrived but then skies had cleared and we were treated to an Icelandic winter sun. In other words a sun that doesn’t rise until 11 am, sets at 4.30 pm, and travels in a low arc across the sky. Perpetual dusk. Breakfast by candlelight was a surprise and unexpectedly romantic. We were also surprised that Christmas decorations don’t normally come down until the end of January – anything to alleviate the gloom. And it was cold. Colder than expected as the wind-chill is biting. If you go, take your thermals.
Hallgrímskirkja church and old town, Reykjavik
So what would we recommend?
CityWalk Reykjavik is a free two hour guided tour of the major landmarks. Reykjavik is small, and you could probably do this yourself with the help of a guidebook, but you would miss out on an insider’s view of the city’s culture. Martin, the guide, is informative, funny, and welcomes banter. It was a well attended tour and he earned his tips at the end. Make sure you book online first. When the tour is over, enjoy a hotdog at Baejarins beztu pylsur.
View from Hallgrimskirkja church
You can’t miss the Hallgrímskirkja church as it can be seen from almost anywhere in the city. The view from the top is well worth the few kronas charged. We were also lucky enough to be there when organ practise was taking place. Another place that is worth visiting is the Harpa Concert Hall and Conference Centre which received the prestigious Mies Van der Rohe award for architecture. Not only striking in itself, from inside you can enjoy stunning views of the surrounding mountains and the North Atlantic Ocean.
Harpa Concert Hall and Conference Centre
Exploring the sights outside of Reykjavik it’s best to book one of the tours. We chose the Golden Circle Classic Tour which takes in Thingvellir National Park, where the American and Eurasian tectonic plates are pulling apart at a rate of a few centimetres per year, Gullfoss (Golden Falls) waterfall, which is the largest waterfall in Europe and the Geysir geothermal area where the Strokkur geyser shoots a column of water up to 30 metres into the air every 4-8 minutes in a fantastic display of nature’s forces. This was definitely one of our highlights. You might be lucky enough to stop at other places as the guides seem to add and subtract sights depending on weather conditions.
Thingvellir National Park
So even though we didn’t see the Northern Lights, there was plenty more to see. It is expensive. Though, apparently not as expensive as before the economic crisis. So maybe, it’s best to go now. Whatever you normally expect to pay for drinks and eating out in London, double it. But if you love wide open skies, spectacular sunsets, snuggling up in winter woollies, seafood dinners, candlelight and cosy bars, this might be the trip for you.
Who knows, you might get a spectacular light show thrown in.