This post was most recently updated on April 22nd, 2017
Guest-written by my nephew, Joshua Johnson, who has a very adventurous spirit!
The northern lights (aurora borealis) are a spectacular, magical light show in the sky. It’s something that’s on almost everybody’s bucket list, and I was no different — I wanted to be able to see them for myself.
I found that Iceland was a great place for the chance to witness the northern lights. As I did my research, the advice I got was “go see Iceland and if you’re able to see the northern lights, then that will be a bonus” since the chances aren’t guaranteed. I decided to go to Iceland, and I fell in love with it. The northern lights were a bonus.
I flew to Iceland from Seattle to Reykjavik in March for around $600 round trip, with Iceland Air. This is also why I decided on Iceland — if you look around, getting to Iceland was cheaper than I thought. Iceland Air is an awesome airline with Icelandic TV, Icelandic music, and even Icelandic water. A very nice airline that made the seven hour journey not that bad. While flying over Greenland in the night sky, I looked out my window and saw a green glow in the sky. I saw the northern lights and I wasn’t even in Iceland yet! I got so excited and probably woke everybody up as I was moving stuff around to try and find my camera to get a picture.
When I landed in the Keflavik airport, the sun was just starting to come up and being able to see the surreal landscape was amazing; it was like I was in the middle of a lava field and in the distance were mountains that looked like volcanos. It turned out finding a car rental company that rents to 20 year olds was a bit tough, though. I found one and I got this cute little ‘smart car’-looking car. I got in and noticed it was stick shift… I had to learn to drive stick someday. Why not in an airport parking lot in the middle of Iceland? I was surprised to find traffic on the one-hour drive from Keflavik to Reykjavik. I killed the car about ten times and it was very embarrassing.
Reykjavik, the northern most capital in the world, was nothing short of spectacular with colorful houses, views of the Atlantic Ocean, and mountains. Reykjavik is built on a cone shaped hill and at the bottom was a beautiful walkway along the water and downtown. At the top of the hill is a very unique church. While staying in Reykjavik I slowly discovered Iceland is pretty expensive. To keep things cheap, I stayed in hostels which cost about 30 U.S dollars.
Golden Circle & Northern Lights
I met up with two friends I’d met on couchsurfing.com, a website where you can meet people who live or will be visiting where you will be. We drove a route which is very popular in Iceland called the “Golden Circle”. The Golden Circle includes many great sites including: Strokkur, a famous geyser, Gullfoss, one of the most powerful waterfalls in Europe and one of the most spectacular in the world, and Thingvellir National Park rift valley,where the continental drift between North American and Eurasian plates can be seen. with huge cracks in the ground you can even walk in between. Thingvellir literally means “Parliament Plains” because it was also the location of the very first parliament from 930 AD to 1798. If you continue south, you will drive with the ocean and mountain cliffs on both sides of you — it is an amazing drive. The cliffs had many waterfalls pouring off them, but one of the most well-known waterfalls is named Selijalandsfoss.You can walk behind this waterfall and take a bit longer walk along the cliffs where you will pass a few smaller waterfalls. At the end of the trail is a hidden waterfall in a cave-like space where the only way to access this waterfall is walking in the river. This waterfall is just as impressive as Selijalandsfoss. A bit further along the road is another major waterfall, Skogafoss (another must-see).
All of these waterfalls are amazing. We decided to stay in a hotel between the two waterfalls. As the hotel manager was showing us around that night, the northern lights were beginning and this was the real thing, much stronger than what I saw on the airplane. We were all so excited and the Icelandic man said, ”just wait, tonight will be great!” We moved our stuff to our room and quickly drove to Skogafoss and we listened to one of my favorite bands, native to Iceland Sigur Ros. The northern lights took up the whole entire sky and moved around like waves in the sky. We watched in amazement for an hour! This day was one of the best days of my life.
The next morning we were on our way to Jokulsarlon, a lagoon with a bunch of icebergs and seals. The thing about Iceland is the weather is unpredictable. It started snowing on us at the lagoon. Iceland is so clean that you can literally drink water from rivers. So I had this idea to fill my water bottle up with water from the lagoon. I got to the car, drank some water and instantly spit it out — I didn’t think about how the ocean was part of this lagoon and the water was so salty. Ten minutes later we had to make a stop and I threw up for fifteen minutes!
We made a stop in Vik, one of the most charming cities I have ever seen. A very small population of wonderful people, a pretty church, black sand beaches and amazing rock formations made this one of the coolest places ever! The man at the grocery store told us a story of when he partied too hard one night and thought he could fly so he jumped off the roof of a house and broke his leg. By the next day, the whole city had heard about it.
Not far from Vik is a beautiful lookout over the ocean; a good viewpoint is near Dyrholaey. We passed by a huge glacier, then stopped and took a walk on top of the glacier. I recommend taking a tour that takes you on the glacier; they will take you into ice caves and provide all the equipment. I stayed back and laid down to enjoy the warm sun in the cold glacier.
Music and Parties in Reykjavik
We headed back to Reykjavik for the weekend. Reykjavik is known for music and parties. My birthday fell on that Saturday, so I woke up and got a hot dog from the hot dog stand Baejarins Beztu Pylsur, and this hot dog was the best thing I’ve eaten in Iceland! It’s a hot dog so famous even Bill Clinton has eaten at this stand. I then went to Harpa concert venue where Iceland Battle of the Bands was going on. Of Monsters and Men, a very popular band in America, won this competition a year ago. After that concert I went and got some food — I ate some whale and lobster soup, and it was very delicious. I then went to another concert where Sin Fang was performing. Around midnight I wanted to make one more stop at a club and just really see what a party was like in Iceland. Not being much of a partier I didn’t stay long.
The next day I took a boat to Vestmannaeyjar, a small island you could easily walk across in thirty minutes. On the boat ride I got very sick for hours; the ocean was not very calm that night. I got to Vestmannaeyjar late at night while it was raining and was lucky that while I was knocking on the door to a hotel, a lady answered and let me in. A lot of the hotels and grocery stores close very early in the day in Iceland. I got to skype my friends back in America that night; that was nice (I’d been gone for two weeks now). When I woke up in the morning, the sight was beautiful! This tiny island had two volcanos on it and a very beautiful hill across from the volcanos. I climbed all three of them and the views were great — you could see the ocean on every side of the island. When it was time to leave Vestmannaeyjar I headed towards the airport because no way would I get on another boat! I got a private twenty-minute flight back to Reykjavik that cost a fortune. While walking, a nice lady pulled up and offered me a ride to the airport. She told me cool stories about how she has lived on the island for twenty-six years and has seen the eruption of the volcano on the island. She showed me a really cool picture taken during its eruption.
It was time to leave to head back to America. On the drive back to Keflavik, about half way between the two cities is probably the most popular attraction: the Blue Lagoon. It’s a geothermal spring, with a milky white look. After a busy two weeks, making a soak in the spring was a must!
What I learned in Iceland
Everything is stick shift and self-driving to the sites is the best way to see Iceland. But get insurance on the car because the roads in the country aren’t the best, and the weather is unpredictable (I broke my windshield twice).
Take a tour to see the northern lights; the tour guides do their homework and research where the best place with the highest chances to see the lights is. If you are unlucky and don’t see the lights they will let you come back on tour at no cost!
Try a hot dog!
Be prepared to spend a lot of money; Iceland is expensive! I ended up spending around 3,000 U.S dollars.
Iceland is a magical place where elves and fairies run free — this place is like no other place in the world. Iceland is a country with a lot more than just the northern lights; it’s a wonderful place. I miss Iceland every day!