Iceland – Reykjavik and the Northern Lights

Traveling To Iceland

My recent trip to Iceland was planned like this:

Me to my friend Liz: “What app were you on when you were looking at flights the other day?

Liz: “I was on Google Flights. Flights to Peru are $400 in January. You want to go?”

Me: “Sure!”

Liz: “Let’s do some planning.”

<next day – Liz emails me from her cubicle, a floor below mine>

“Tickets to Iceland are $248 for the same time.”

Iceland has been high on my bucket list for a while now. Even though January is the dead of winter – the “off” season for tourism in Iceland – I jumped at the chance to explore the Nordic country. By the end of the day, we had flights. By the end of the week, there was an AirBnB booked. Within another week, we had lined up our day tours. Then, we waited for years (two months) to board a plane, wearing our warmest jackets and boots and feeling pretty proud of our ability to pack all of our winter clothes in carry ons and have them checked free of charge.

That’s a thing to watch with cheap flights – baggage may not be included. 

We flew out of Dulles on Wednesday night, and landed in Reykjavik Thursday morning. Keflavik International Airport is not only beautiful, it’s also efficient. We landed, de-planed, went through customs, got our luggage, and boarded the bus that would take us into Reykjavik within 30 minutes. We won’t discuss how long that process took when we arrived back in Washington.

Iceland - Perlan
One of our first views of Iceland as the sun (finally) rose.

Our AirBnB was in the perfect location, central to everything, and while simple, also well-equipped. We took a power nap and woke up with just enough time to change before Marge picked us up to show us around Reykjavik. Liz and I work for an educational travel company, and Marge works for a company we use for student tours to Iceland. She was absolutely wonderful, and so full of knowledge. She drove us around the city, helped us get our bearings, and took us to Perlan (The Pearl).

Iceland - Perlan
View from the top of The Pearl

The Pearl was once hot water storage tanks, but in 1991, the tanks underwent an update and a hemispherical structure was placed on top of them. Now, it is a beautiful museum, with a restaurant at the top. It’s located on a hill, so the observation deck offers a beautiful view of Reykjavik and beyond. It also has an interesting glacier exhibit, complete with a glacier to walk through.

Iceland - Hofnin

Marge dropped us off at Hofnin for lunch, a cute restaurant on the bay. Talk about a lunchtime view.

Iceland - Hofnin
Lunch views
Iceland - Hofnin
Our appetizer – so good!
Iceland - Hofnin
Fried fish balls and roasted veggies for lunch
Iceland - Hofnin
They served the best chocolate with their coffee!

I don’t exactly love fish, so I was worried about what I would eat in a country that prides itself on their fresh fish. I can eat fish when I have to, though, so I ordered the fried fish balls (when it doubt – fried!), and oh my goodness, they were delicious. The heap of vegetables that came with it were also to die for. We also had a bread basket and some sort of appetizer they bought us that was almost too beautiful to eat. I don’t know what it was – I think there was salmon involved – but it was so very good. I also (finally) had a cup of coffee, and was thrilled that they included a bowl of some of the best chocolate I’ve ever had. I even shared with Liz. We left Hofin impressed and stuffed.

Iceland - Hallgrímskirkja

After lunch, we wandered around Reykjavik for a bit. We did some shopping, stopped at a bakery (for Liz) and a coffee shop (for me) and made our way to Hallgrímskirkja, the iconic Lutheran parish church, to watch the sunset. The church is just as stunning inside, and from the observation deck, we were treated to a beautiful sunset.

Iceland - Hallgrímskirkja
Sunset from the top of Hallgrímskirkja

At 4:30PM.

The days are short in Iceland right now. It was dark until around 10am, and the sun set around 4:30. It was bizarre for us on the first day to see people working and in school while it was still dark out, and waking up was definitely a challenge.

After sunset, we went back to our apartment to nap before our Northern Lights Tour. We were a little sluggish on the wake up – we had been up for most of the last 36 hours or so by then – so we didn’t have time for a sit down dinner. We stopped at a grocery store near our apartment for snacks that doubled as dinner. We learned pretty quickly that the grocery store was a great alternative for sitting down to a meal. It was affordable, portable, and just really good. 

The Northern Lights Tour was an adventure. There is no guarantee that you will see the Northern Lights, but we lucked out. We had a tour guide that happened to also be a geologist. He made a decision as he drove us out of the city to “go left” while everyone else was going right. He proved to be right, and we were able to see the Northern Lights in two locations.

Iceland - Northern Lights
Not the best photo – but proof I saw them!

Many assume you can just glance at the sky and see the Northern Lights. That’s not quite accurate. While you can see the faint lights across the sky, in order to see the vivid colors, you have to take photos. Liz and I got crash courses on how to use our cameras, and managed to get a few somewhat decent shots of the green lights.

I had a moment while looking for the Northern Lights. While searching the sky in hopes of seeing the lights, I realized I was standing in a remote field in Iceland, in snow up to the top of my boots, looking up at a sky so heavy with stars it looked like it might fall. And they were so close. I felt so alive. So grateful. And so in awe of the world God created. That moment was a trip highlight.

Iceland - Hallgrímskirkja
Another view from the top of Hallgrímskirkja

It wasn’t all Northern Lights and stars though. Early in the night, I enthusiastically jump off the bus and landed in about eight inches of snow. My Sperry boots are waterproof, but the snow was higher than the top of them. My socks – both pairs – got wet and by the end of the tour, I was sure my feet were going to fall off. My toes were numb, and they hurt SO bad when they started to warm. When we were back on the bus to head home, I took off my boots and stuck my hand warmers in my socks. I was desperate, friends.

Back at the apartment, I took one of the hottest showers I have ever had – bless Iceland’s thermal heat – and fell asleep, not entirely sure what day it was, but excited for our tour the next day of the Golden Circle.

Next week, I’ll share about our adventures to the Golden Circle and Iceland’s Southern Coast.

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One Comment

  1. Sounds like a fantastic trip! Iceland has never been on my radar for traveling, but maybe I need to add it to my list (of places I will never go).


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