Chasing the Northern Lights
Chasing the Northern Lights in Iceland has been on my bucket list for YEARS, but for some reason or another I never went. So when the opportunity presented itself this time, I had to just seize the moment and go! I booked my ticket on a WOW Air deal less than 24 hours before the flight and was lucky enough to catch the Northern Lights in flight!
Iceland is much more than just the lights though. Its a beautiful destination! Usually people just use it as a stop over, but its worth a stand alone trip.
Top 7 Things to Know About Iceland
1. Everything is truly expensive, there are a lot of hidden costs.
You would think with airline deals for less that $200 RT from Los Angeles, you could find deals in Iceland, but the airfare is about the only thing that was cheap. What is considered expensive is all relative, and coming from San Francisco and LA, I’m used to a higher cost of living, but $26 for a cocktail and $6 for gas station coffee was pretty outrageous.
We only ate out once and the rest of the time bought food from the supermarket and prepared it ourselves. You can buy groceries at the Bonus Supermarket (the one with the giant pig logo) a few miles from the airport, which is also a great place to pick up Icelandic volcanic salt as gifts (they sell the same thing at the tourist traps for 5x the amount). Any of the day tours or activities will cost $150-$400 or more so just be aware of that. On a side note, tax is included and tipping is not part of the culture, so there is that.
2. Make sure to try the local food, lamb, fish, and skyr yogurt. Just don’t order the duck.
I always make it a point to try the local dishes when traveling, and the one time we had dinner out in downtown Rekjavik was at Old Iceland which is known for their great traditional cuisine. We shared the seafood soup and I ordered the lamb dish which was one of the best I have tried. Don’t order duck or salmon though as it is imported in. Many Icelanders will hunt for their own food, but are not allowed to sell it in restaurants.
3. Its a bigger country than you think, make sure to allot a good amount of time for driving.
We were only there for 4 1/2 days and decided to do the Southern Ring Road, which has some of the main iconic sights and amazing scenery. Don’t underestimate the time to drive between sights, It wasn’t uncommon for us to spend 9 hours total in the car every day. If I could have planned it better, I would have added a few more days to break up the sights and really have been able to hike and enjoy them.
The landscape between the main visitor areas is a bit like driving on the big island of Hawaii with lava fields albeit contrasted with the glaciers and vast stretches of nothing but arctic tundra. There's not much wildlife besides some reindeer, Icelandic ponies on farms, and the occasional flock of geese or scampering arctic fox.
4. Do the blue lagoon at the beginning or end of your trip.
The Blue Lagoon is touristy but worth it for the unique milky bright blue color itself! (Plus its my favorite color). Its close to the airport and perfect to either rejuvenate your tired body after a long flight, or relax before heading out. I’d allot about 3-5 hours to soak it all in.
5. Don't expect to see the Northern Lights.
They are so elusive, (just like that douchey non-committal bumble date you may have just had). You just never know if they will show up or not. We were lucky to catch it in-flight, but the weather changes by the hour and you can literally have 4 seasons in a day in Iceland.
Clear, dark nights away from the cities during the winter months from October through mid-April provide for optimal viewing of the Northern Lights. Check the aurora forecast and the weather report for more information. Iceland is an island nation and susceptible to the slightest weather patterns, so its best to always hope for the best, but not to expect anything. Don’t plan your trip around seeing the Northern Lights.
6. Wow air is actually not that bad of an airline.
WOW air really wow’ed me! I thought since it was an economy airline that it would be ghetto (no in-flight entertainment or wifi), but there was actually ample leg room between the seats, the plane itself was rather new and updated, and they have a cheeky sense of humor (Check out that Vomit-meter bag). They do charge for every little thing, so bring your own snacks and entertainment, fill up your re-usable water bottle at the airport, and you are good to go.
7. Go and drink the water in Silfra while snorkeling or diving!
Silfra was one of the most AMAZING experiences I have had. The MOST clean, tasty and delicious pure fresh water comes from this fissure between the North American and the Eurasian tectonic plates. We were super nervous about the freezing cold (literally 35f) water, but with the dry suits, the only part of your body contacting the water is part of your face and your hands (in neoprene gloves).
You need a dry suit certification for scuba diving, but anyone can snorkel if you are adventurous enough! I suggest going on the afternoon trip which is less busy. We were lucky to have the whole place to ourselves and I was able to free dive under the surface! There was hot chocolate and biscuits waiting for us afterwards and no need to rinse off or anything—its all fresh water! We went with Dive.Is who I definitely recommend. #notsponsored