So when you and your bestie are pouring over a map trying to decide where to go on your next adventure you want to go somewhere all the cool kids are going to (Iceland), somewhere with plenty to see and do (Iceland), with stunning scenery (Iceland), safe for female travelers (Iceland) and not too far of a flight from Dublin…did somebody mention, Iceland?!! Nature runs the show at this holiday destination and you, the visitor, are simply there to witness its awesomeness.
I’m lucky to have a best friend with itchy feet and a burning wish to see and explore as much of the world as she can. It works out well because the travel bug has well and truly bitten me and what better companion to have on an adventure than your bff! We chose Iceland at the end of March this year for an extended long weekend. (we had read that the best time to see the Northern Lights is between November and March). Hurry up girl, pack your mittens and woolies and let’s go!
Don’t roll your eyes when I say that I had added my name to the clichéd list of people who claim that seeing the Aurora Borealis is top of their bucket list, a long time ago. They’re not visible everywhere in the world, have a limited, seasonal run and are kind of a big deal. Why wouldn’t you want to see them!?
Iceland has so many amazing natural delights to see and memorable, fun day trips to share, not to mention the adorable Icelandic ponies BUT I’m not going to lie, I would have been disappointed if I hadn’t seen the Northern Lights. I was willing to forego seeing sporadically spouting, sulfurous geysers in favour of five minutes of aurora watching.
Sure, the glaciers are breathtaking, the geysers are pretty amazing, the snow covered landscape and turquoise Blue Lagoon are both spectacular BUT the temperamental, not guaranteed, totally dependent on colliding-gaseous-particles-in-the-atmosphere-lights were the thing I had my heart set on. Obviously.
On a 4 day/3-night visit there is certainly plenty to keep you busy tours wise and if nature doesn’t impress you there are museums and thermal baths as well as Game of Thrones location visits and lobster rolls to help you pass the time!
On the way to our hotel we passed the colorfully painted traditional houses, snow capped mountains, distant glaciers, the iconic Hallgrímskirkja church. As a structure, it is certainly very impressive. And pointy.
Let me share a tip I heard of before I went, to help with deals on party drinks! Download an app called Appyhour, it lets you know where all the best happy hour deals in Reykjavik are. Also you should DEFINITELY check out Glo, on Laugavegur 20b. It’s a scrumptious, raw bar tucked in off the main thoroughfare, for affordable and delicious meals. Making celebrating your Icelandic adventure affordable!
On our second day we were booked on a bus at 9am that brought us on our Golden Circle Tour. It snowed on our first night so we awoke to a city, lightly blanketed in snow. DELIGHTED! I LOVE snowy days. Cue me, 2 hours later, shivering….ANNDD I’m done with the snow.As much as I loved the powdered sugar prettiness. I did not love the frostbite conditions when I took my gloves off to take photographs!
The Golden Circle Tour takes in the UNESCO listed Þingvellir National Park, the site of a magnificent rift valley that marks the crest of the Mid Atlantic Ridge. Walking down through a literal crack in the earth’s surface is pretty amazing and the recent snowfall made it look so picturesque.
Our knowledgeable guide informed us that Northern Europe’s first parliament was formed in this national park and so its cultural significance is as great as its geographical. It’s kind of a big deal.
Next stop the spectacular Gullfoss waterfall. I only managed to get one photo of it because after I took my gloves off to snap the thunderous, cascading icy rapids I almost lost my fingers to the cold. I spent the rest of the stop trying to get feeling back in them. Snap quickly or not at all. My fingers are fine now. Thanks for asking. Boy, was I glad I had packed those mittens!
Finally to the spouting geysers in the geothermal active valley of Haukadalur. It wasn’t as sulphurous as we were expecting. There are two large geysers, with one that erupts less frequently than the other. Strokkur spouts every few minutes to a height of about 10-20 metres but sometimes as high as 40metres.
The larger geyser, Geysir, is less frequent but when it does erupt we were told it is quite the sight to behold with spurts of 50m to 170metres. Silica has clogged up the spout after years of build up so the eruptions are greatly decreased now.It was certainly one of the most amazing natural phenomenon I have ever seen and while the constant stream of tourists from arriving tour buses detracts a little, it is nonetheless a reminder of the sheer power of nature.
Now, skip on to that evening and the NORTHERN LIGHTS (!!!) tour, which is entirely dependent on weather. Tour companies can make no guarantees that you’ll see the lights but I had the highest hopes for this trip. While Iceland had been amazing thus far and had already given me a wealth of memories I am not going to lie, the lights were all I wanted to see! I had the aurora forecast website on constant refresh on my phone.
We were driven about 90 minutes outside the city, to have the best chance of seeing the aurora. It was most certainly the most nervously excited I had felt in a long time! The anxious anticipation of a light show that is entirely dependent on nature is nail biting. We stood outside the bus, in the cold, stamping our feet to keep warm hoping and wishing and even praying!
I wish I could share with you, the feeling I had when after staring almost unblinkingly at the dark Icelandic sky for an hour, waiting for any glimmer of the lights, I noticed a barely perceptible green shimmer start to emerge from behind a stretch of cloud. The faintest of glimmers turned into long ribbons of dancing green light. Slivers snaking across the sky, exactly as I had seen in videos and photographs. It is definitely one of the most wonderful experiences of my life and one I feel I could never tire of witnessing over and over again.
The vivid green ribbons edged with pink tinges stretching across the sky above us is a memory I know I will always cherish. By trying to catch such an ever changing phenomenon with my camera I was missing it happening above me so I just put my phone away and watched. Awestruck.
The envy I feel for people who get to see these on a regular basis is all consuming! It is truly amazing to be able to see the beauty and wonder of a window into nature’s jewellery box!
Right enough faffing about in the freezing cold, because it was, freezing cold.
Our last day in Reykjavik coincided with a trip to the Blue Lagoon – Its possibly one of the most recognizable images of Iceland. Thermally heated silica pools open to the public for your instagramable pleasure!
The basic package at the Blue Lagoon is about €40 and includes your entry fee and you can scoop some of the silica mud from bowls around the pool to make a face mask. We also had a towel included in our package. It goes up to €70 for a comfort package including drinks, bathrobes and algae masks.
Iceland and its breathtaking scenery and landscapes will claim a piece of your heart for its own. I would certainly go back and still have plenty to see and do. Summer hiking trails, whale watching, plus the glistening ice caves and rocky fjords in the west of the island and the magnificent waterfalls to the south. You just keep on giving, Iceland!
Quick facts about Iceland:
-Surveys show that despite their obsession with modern technology, as many as 80% of Icelanders believe in the existence of elves.
-The sexually liberal country has not only criminalised the purchase of sex, but has also banned strip clubs.
-Roughly 85 percent of Iceland’s energy is from renewable resources, and well over half of that is geothermal alone.
About Ciara Mc Nally:
My name is Ciara and during term time I work as a mild mannered primary teacher but once the holiday bell rings, I am a dust trail. Racing out the door to the airport on another culture clad city break, beachy turbo tanning trip or foodie festival funanza. Also, I love clouds. Whether my head is in them, I’m admiring them from below or watching them from my squashed, economy seat high above! As soon as I touch down from one trip, I count down to my next ‘wander’ and since I started my blog this summer, it is all I want to do! Read her blog here
*photo’s by Unsplash