In search of the Northern Lights

To some people, three trips to Iceland in five yeaFrozen pond in Reykjavik 101rs could be seen as excessive. All I have to
say to that is NO, you are wrong, Iceland is brilliant and nothing you say will make me think otherwise. So that’s why I’m going to tell you about my most recent trip, just last week in fact, to the most magical country on Earth…

Whale watching

OK, let’s just get the bad bit out of the way first. Our first main activity of the trip was a whale watching journey in the sea off the coast of the Reykjanes peninsula southwest of Reykjavik. ‘Whale watching’ is perhaps a grand term for a trip which I can only describe as ten minutes of hail, two hours of nothing whatsoever and then half an hour of INSANITY. I was feeling pretty confident we’d see something as the sightings tend to be pretty reliable in the Icelandic waters, which are home to thousands of whales and dolphins. We were in pretty high spirits when we donned our natty red thermal suits (I feel like thermal suits are my 2016 look), even when we went out onto the deck to find a spot and were almost immediately hailed on. So we waited. And waited. And waited. Apparently we saw a rareish seabird. Then some common ones. Then some zzzzzzzzzzzzzz. I think we told ourselves we saw about a million whales while we Whale watching with Elding Whale Watching in Reykjavikwere looking out for the telltale signs (fountains from blowholes, splashing, fins, seabirds flocking towards a source of fish). Every wave started to look like a whale. None of them were whales. Probably. Who knows.

A couple of hours in and we’d gone into a bit of a trance. The rocking, the afternoon sun… we were glazing over. But then, THEN, we hit a sea storm. It came on suddenly. The guide shouted into her microphone ‘IT’S ABOUT TO START HAILING AGAIN, IT’S COMING NOW… OK RIGHT NOW, YOU MIGHT WANT TO GO BELOW DECK’, and it really was RIGHT NOW. Immediately, the wind picked up and the boat started tipping from side to side. We pulled ourselves up and held onto a pillar. I have no idea how we managed it, but somehow we threw ourselves to the top of the stairwell and walk down (backwards – it’s safer apparently, though it certainly didn’t feel it), where we staggered back to some seats. Fortunately I don’t suffer with seasickness, but I think the two of us were some of the only people on the boat not to succumb. It was pretty unpleasant, and it took quite a while for the storm to calm down. But thank god, it did, and eventually we made it back to shore in one piece… just. We didn’t even see a bloody porpoise and apparently they’re ten a penny!

Bobbing along in Blue Lagoon

The best way to celebrate the fifth anniversary of your first visit to Blue Lagoon is to goKayleigh and Rachel at Blue Lagoon, Iceland again right? Right! So off we sauntered through the gorgeous alien landscapes of southern Iceland and slipped into the milky blue waters of Blue Lagoon (one of the 25 wonders of the world, apparently!). The silica-rich water is meant to be good for the skin, and it hovers around 38 degrees all year round, making for a very hyggeligt outdoor experience (and as we know, I love finding hygge outside just as much as inside). Of course, we decided to luxe it up a bit with prosecco (me) and sparkling strawberry wine (Rachel), so we had an even lovelier time. We also took advantage of the free mud masks and became mud monsters for the majority of our time there (I went for two applications – I seriously needed it) and we were silky soft little cherubs by the time we got out. We were also very brave and faced the -1 air temperatures to dash back across the decking into the changing rooms – when in Iceland…

Finding nourishment

Hot chocolate at C is for Cookie, ReykjavikWhen the temperature doesn’t climb far above freezing, you want comfort food, so that’s what we got everywhere at all times. From our ludicrously indulgent hot chocolates in C is for Cookie (hygge aplenty) to our meatballs ‘n’ Icelandic cod at The Laundromat Café and even the little pot of skyr we picked up at the supermarket, literally every single thing we ate and drank was bloody delicious. A special shoutout has to go to Tíu Dropar, a café-cum-basement wine bar which we dropped into for happy hour. Alcohol is expensive in Iceland (it’s not quite Norway prices but it’s not far off), so we decided to hunt around for two-for-one offers and ended up happening upon Tíu Dropar on our way up Laugavegur. I’d never actually spotted it on either of my two previous trips, so it was cool to see something completely new. Halfway through the evening, one of the women sat behind us got up andHot dog at Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur in Reykjavik, Iceland started playing the accordion which was super cool. We also stopped off at Reykjavik’s most famous eatery, Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur (meaning ‘the best hot dog in town’) for a hot dog. Even Bill Clinton ate there when he visited Iceland. It’s not super easy to find, so if you’re looking for it as it’s TINY, so head for the Radisson hotel just up from the waterfront and look out for the little red stand.

Another shoutout goes to Reykjavik Chips who saved our bacon on the last night when we were in a MEGA RUSH and needed food pronto for reasons which I’m about to explain…

The Northern Lights saga

WELL, if I’ve ever encountered a rollercoaster of emotions, it was the last night of our stay in Iceland. We floated back to the hotel after Blue Lagoon, refreshed and soft as newborns, and thought we’d check in at the desk to see if our Northern Lights boat tour would be going ahead. It’d been cancelled the previous two nights as it had snowed a lot, and it was snowing on the bus back from Blue Lagoon so we assumed it’d be the same. But NO.

“Yes, it’s going ahead!”
“… IT IS?”

Well, this threw us. We’d been planning a leisurely evening of luxe food and possibly one last happy hour. But when the Northern Lights come calling…

So, we FLEW back to the room to dump our swimsuits and towels, and raced outside into the treacherous ice to get some food. We ended up back at good old Reykjavik Chips, where the world’s slowest man prepared our potatoes. After about 95 years of waiting, he handed them over, and we pelted our way back to the hotel (my coat is still covered in sauce from the chips that sadly didn’t make it into my mouth). We got back bang on 8, when the pickups would start, and felt very smug as we sat there.

… for all of five minutes. I suddenly wondered if the receptionist would have thought to rebook us following our previous two cancelled tours. I went to ask, and he looked up our tour company and said ‘I’m sorry, the 9pm tour is full. I can book you onto the 11.45pm though?’ We were getting up at 4am, so that just wasn’t going to happen. My heart stopped, I panicked, I swore. Three visits to Iceland with no luck and then the ONE NIGHT the tour runs, we’ll have to wave everyone else off and miss the bloody lights! Then I pulled myself together and asked if he could double check with ANY company. While the receptionist waited on the line,  he said ‘If I were you, I’d just ask the driver from your original company. If he says no, I’ll drive you to see the lights myself’. I love Iceland!

So the man from our tour company arrived, and nobody had to pull any punches. I just said ‘Our tour was cancelled last night’, and he added us as a +2 to his list. Easy. So all was well.

Fast-forward the boat, which was called Andrea (bloody brilliant). This boat was significantly nicer than the one from the whale watching saga, and we took a seat next to the door. Within the first 10 minutes after leaving the harbour, the EXTREMELY EXCITABLE Spanish tour guide started shouting ‘EVERYONE OUT ON DECK, THE LIGHTS ARE OUT AT THE BACK OF THE BOAT!’ We flew up the stairs and peered at the tiny smudge of faint green light, with everyone trying to take photos. Hopeless, utterly hopeless. A couple of IDIOTS kept using flash. Flash! For the Northern Lights! Soon, the light disappeared behind a thick blanket of cloud, and we made our way back in as it continued to snow.

Northern Lights over Reykjavik, Iceland
Photo courtesy of Special Tours

A short while later and the tiny Spanish woman sprinted past us. “THE LIGHTS, THE LIGHTS ARE HERE, QUICKLY! DON’T RUN ON THE BOAT!” Again?! So soon?! After the previous day’s whale failure (#whalure… works better out loud), this seemed almost too lucky. So out we went again, hands still grey and itching with the cold from our last venture onto the deck. And the tiny Spanish woman was right! The lights were EVERYWHERE, and they were dancing! They were green and purple and flickering and it honestly could’ve been magic. I couldn’t stop grinning and it took my breath away. My one and only bucket list item was being ticked off before my eyes. The American couple behind us were loving it just as much, yelling ‘GEE THIS IS SO NEAT!’ at every given opportunity. They were right. It WAS neat.

Our guide said she’d never seen the Northern Lights in the snow before, and we honestly got a stunning display. The lights filled the entire sky, and arched over us like a rainbow. My heart was racing. It’s far and away the most amazing thing I’ve ever seen, and I’d give anything to see them again.

Aurora Borealis over Reykjavik, Iceland
Photo courtesy of Special Tours

The lights stuck around for about 10 minutes, then the cold became unbearable, so we slid our way back into the boat to warm up. There were a couple more flickers, but I was beyond ecstatic with the show we’d experienced. Despite the cold and the snow and the lethally slippery deck, I was brimming with an internal hygge – it was a real privilege to be able to savour this utterly delightful moment and not think about anything else. This for me is the ultimate hygge experience – becoming enveloped in wonderful experiences and feeling comfortable and alive and present.

Iceland, thriceland

The Sun Voyager sculpture in Reykjavik, IcelandSo no, three times in five years is absolutely not excessive. I will 100% go back to Iceland, and I can guarantee I will always have new encounters with hygge. Next time I’d love to venture north to Akureyri or along the south coast to see the black beaches and volcanoes (the geographer in me).

Have you ever been to Iceland? If so, I would love your recommendations for hygge experiences in Reykjavik and beyond!


12 Comments Add yours

  1. This is awesome! was back from iceland and finland month ago! thenorthern light is so amazing!
    I’m Ray from London originally from Hong Kong.
    New to blogging about cultures and travel
    This month is all about art and lifestyle
    would be really lovely if you lovely people can check it out !

    Cheers X

    1. Hi Ray! That’s so strange, I was also in Finland last month! Where did you manage to see the Northern Lights? I’ll definitely check out your blog, thanks for the link 🙂 x

      1. I wan in Rovaneimi for 3 days but just able to have a glance of the northern light. I managed to see the aurora in Iceland tho 🙂

  2. “This for me is the ultimate hygge experience – becoming enveloped in wonderful experiences and feeling comfortable and alive and present.”…Amen.

  3. Wonderful and hilarious field report! Iceland is at the top of my World Hygge Tour!

  4. P.S. This line — “The American couple behind us were loving it just as much, yelling ‘GEE THIS IS SO NEAT!’ at every given opportunity.” — made me laugh long and hard. I confess, this could easily be me. Hahahaha!

  5. Samantha says:

    Thank you for writing this article. I returned from Iceland yesterday and I am not sure I have ever experienced post holiday blues like this before! You have also reaffirmed by belief in the northern lights. We stayed in a hotel that offered a wake-up call if there was any activity. My heart nearly leapt out of my body when the phone rung at half past midnight on our first night! Never have I gotten dressed so quickly! However, activity must have been fairly low as I could see (what can only be described as) a slightly lighter patch of sky. I was so disappointed. I don’t have a fancy camera and was beginning to believe that that was the only way of seeing the colours. Having read this post I will now not give up on my dream of experiencing the magic so thank you! Regardless of the lights, Iceland is magical and I share your passion to return again! X

    1. It’s hard to shake off isn’t it, Iceland? The wake up call is great! Were you in Reykjavik or further out? Don’t worry – I was extremely persistent in my endeavour to see the lights. It took three trips to Iceland and one to Lapland before I finally saw them! If anything, it’s just an excuse for you to go back… x

      1. Samantha says:

        It really is! We stayed in Reykjavik for the first three nights but were at Hotel Ranga (amazing hotel!) near Hella for the wake up call. We did however see some shooting stars that night so just being there was magical.

        I agree with you completely- I will have to continue my northern lights quest! Would love to go to Norway, Lapland… Or just back to Iceland! X

      2. Ahh so great! Shooting stars, that’s still pretty special 🙂 I love Scandinavia with all my heart, and in fact I need to book my next trip there very soon… X

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