Stunning right? Words can’t even begin to describe the jaw-dropping, thought-stunting experience that is the Northern Lights. We had been hoping to see them the entire trip, but as with all natural phenomena, we had no idea whether all the right elements would come together to make this dream come true…
We had just finished cleaning up dinner and had found a nice, quiet place to park for the night in Myvatn, when all of a sudden a swirling stream of glittering green light began to whirl, sparkle and flash above us! We grabbed every layer of clothing within reach and moments later, jumped out of our camper to witness this unreal, yet completely real, moment in our lives.
#1 on our Iceland Bucket List, you guessed it… discovering the Northern Lights! While there are plenty of tours to go on for this, there is something special to be said about the element of surprise and the amount of gratitude that floods your soul when you’re unexpectedly blessed with such an incredible event. Here are a few tips to help set you up for Northern Light success:
Be sure to check on the Aurora Forecast (season is between September – April) and put yourself in its path. Follow weather patterns here and keep a keen-eye out during clear nights. Surround yourself with darkness and be particularly alert on nights with little moonlight, watch the moon phases here. Avoid any city/artificial lights, in April the Northern Lights come out to dance between the hours of 10:30-2am, when the night is at its darkest. Bring a blanket to lay on, mittens for your hands and a warm drink to enjoy as you await the show!
#2. Dog sledding. If you’re looking for a once-in-a-lifetime experience you cannot go without this one!
Something we didn’t expect along our hour-long journey was for all the pent-up excitement to cause every member of our eight-dog team to poop as they ran! Their ability to run and “take care of business” was actually quite impressive, haha. Once we returned from our journey, we were gifted with the opportunity to get to know the incredible pups that were behind, or should we say in front of, all the hype. Awesome video clip here.
Hurley, Narnia, Greumann and Tiger, to name a few, these were some of the strongest, friendliest and smartest dogs we have ever met. After a few moments with them we were able to get a feel for their unique personalities and before we knew it we were in love… and so were they.
Tips: Wear waterproof clothing/a heavy duty windbreaker, bring your GroPro with waterproof casing and be sure to book your spots with Dog Sledding Iceland in advance! This experience books up quickly, and for good reason.
3. Spend a day relaxing in the milky-teal waters of the Blue Lagoon (full post here).
We said it once and we’ll say it again, this place is truly unique, insanely romantic and no trip to Iceland is complete without it.
4. If you have time for nothing else, do The Golden Circle. All within a 60-mile radius of Reykjavik, The Golden Circle allows you to take in three popular and stunning attractions. First up is Þingvellir, Iceland’s most important historical site and a place of vivid beauty where you can walk across the tectonic plates! See where North America and Europe are literally tearing apart, and admire all of its historically craggy glory.
Next up along The Golden Circle is Geysir, the original hot-water spout for which all other geysers are named! We can’t forget to mention Strokkur, which erupts every 4-8 minutes, making it one of Iceland’s most reliable geysers! See below:
6. If you’re looking for a little more Hollywood action, Myvatn, made famous in Game of Thrones, is also home of one of our favorite hikes on the island!Where else can you go from craggy lava fields to sprawling valleys to the top of an incredibly massive ancient crater and then down into one of the dreamiest, hot-spring caves you will most likely ever see in your life? Stop in the nearest N1 for a hugely helpful area map, this will show you all the unique hikes in the area. We recommend starting at the old lava field, Dimmuborgir, meaning “dark castles”:
After climbing over gnargly, black lava mounds, the path then winds across a vast valley, bringing you all the way to the base of mighty Hverfjall Mountain, the massive crater we spoke of above! We couldn’t resist climbing to the top… making for one unimaginably-windy, intensely-steep hike:
The trail then leads to the dreamy ravine of Grjotagja, where one of the most talked about scenes in Game of Thrones takes place. From there you have the option of looping back or continuing on to one of the other many incredible sites in the immediate area.
Hverir, spotted with boiling mud pools and scarred with deep openings in a planet’s crust, is one of the most moon-like places Iceland has to offer. These gaping “wounds” emit steam and gases, such as carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide, hydrogen chloride and hydrogen sulfide, which, when inhaled, create nothing less than the terribly unforgettable faces you see above.
Searching for some nasal relief, we decided to hike up Námafjall, the mountain beneath where Hverir is located. Steep, but rewarding, this hike allowed us to admire the outlandish landscaping without being subjected to its stench.
Note: It’s especially important to stay on the marked trails in these high-intensity, geothermal areas as not to melt the soles of your shoes!
8. Lick a glacial iceberg! Not even the most incredible of National Geographic photos can prepare you for the surreal scene of luminous-blue icebergs that float along the Jokulsarlon glacier lagoon and wash ashore the black-lava sand beaches of Iceland’s southeast coast.
We watched as the ginormous blocks of glacier broke free and plunged into the lagoon, flipping, floating and dancing their way out to sea. Some followed the waves onto the shore, like giant gems left for us to admire, and climb upon.
Note: Walk to the nearby Jokulsarlon Cafe for a warm drink or a famous bottle of, “Frozen in Time,” beer made of water from the Vatnajokull glacier!
9. Hike Hjallanes. Seriously one of our favorite activities of the entire trip, which we are almost entirely certain is because of the fact that an incredible farm dog decided to join our nearly 4-hour, 7-mile trek, guiding us the entire way.
We accidentally came upon the trailhead, which is located right right next to the Skalafell Guesthouse. From the moment we parked, this wise and friendly canine never left our side. Hiking over mossy fields, trickling streams, along side a herd of Icelandic reindeer and right up to the massively famous glacier, there was no limit to the scenery and amount of enjoyment that this hike had to offer us, all 3.
If you happen to be in town on a clear day, be sure to go to the top of Iceland’s largest and most famous church, Hallgrimskirkja:
Pee on a spaceship with Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia and R2-D2 at Cafe Babalu! While you’re at it, be sure to try a slice of their incredible German Chocolate Cake or Vegan Carrot Cake, sooo good.
On a rainy or snowy day, visit the absolute oddest of museums, The Icelandic Phallological Museum…that is all we will say about that.
Mink – Viking Portrait, located in the heart of Reykjavik just off the busting street of Laugavegur, has been helping tourists and locals alike do just that. We climbed up the tiny set of stairs and arrived to Mink’s Viking lair, which was covered from floor to ceiling in wood, weapons, authentic garb and unique goods, all handmade by Mink and other Icelandic Vikings. Yes, that’s right, sword fighting, bow and arrow slinging Vikings do still exist in Iceland, and Mink is one of them.
We recommend booking this at the end of your time in Iceland, after you’ve had a chance to take in some of the traditional Sagas and get a feel for the intense reality that being a Viking in Iceland’s early days really was.
We had a blast growling, roaring and wielding some of the mightiest weapons that we will probably ever hold in our sugarcoated, 21st century lives. Drew even wore a legitimate 40-pound armor made of steel!
As the amount of tourists flocking to this magical little land continues to increase, we want to end our list with a reminder about how important it is to always preserve and respect the unparalleled tranquility, natural beauty and kindness of locals that you will inevitably come in contact with. If you can leave the island even more beautiful than when you arrived, you can be sure that the Icelandic Yule lads will rain blessings on you forever.