The man Iceland reveres as the first settler, Ingólfur Arnarson, has his own monument on Arnarhôll, the grassy hill of the Iceland Parliament. Soleyjargata, the main thoroughfare in the center of Reykjavik, runs along a park, past a picturesque pond on which the city hall sits, past shops and restaurants, continues along Arnarhôll, ending at Harpa. There is much more to Reykjavik than the city center. Yet, on a cold, windy day, for visitors on a short stay, the compact center of the old town offers a great deal to see of the largest city.
For your Northern Lights experience, start with a visit to the Northern Lights Center. The modest information center is a wealth of information on the science of particle combustion that creates light energy, atmospheric content that creates colors, mostly Halloween green and orange, and magnetism that draws solar particles to the poles, hence Northern, or Austral, Lights. Let the helpful staff suggest optimum settings for your camera. For those who use a cell phone for pictures, download the Northern Lights picture taker app before you go. To shoot photos like the pros, you must have a tripod and it is best to use a remote release. Pictures are taken in the dark.
To view Northern Lights at their best, you want to be in a place without ambient light, with a cloudless sky, in a minimal moon phase. September and October are optimum land visitor months, as the sky will become dark by 10 pm, and the outdoor temperatures are still tolerable, when viewing between 11 pm and 1 am. Cruise ship season in Iceland is almost year around. On long winter nights the light show comes earlier in the evening
Tour buses and vans take people from Reykjavik to the few safe places in the nearby lava fields for viewing the lights. Expect to have lots of company as you search for the optimum place to set up your tripod. Bring a low lumen flashlight to walk to your spot. Low light will minimize interference with the Northern Lights experience of people around you. Cell phone lights are too bright. Everyone will want to let their eyes adjust to the dark. Activating even cell phone light is considered rude Northern Lights behavior.
Fortunate are those viewing the lights from a deck chair, in the midst of the dark sea, with easy access to warm comforts. Several lines offer cruise itineraries which highlight viewing the Northern Lights. A few Iceland focused Northern Lights cruises are:
Viking Ocean goes up Norway’s coast in January to early March and in the fall.
Oceania Cruises sends its Nautica and Riviera up the coast of Norway and around Iceland in August and September.
Windstar Star-class yachts go to Iceland – the Star Pride goes the circumference.
Silversea sends the Silver Cloud around Iceland in August, in complete luxury.
Celebrity offers pre-cruise land tours of Iceland on a Canary Island itinerary.
P & O Cruise Lines goes to Norway in February and March.
Hurtigruten is a Norwegian, small ship line that offers 7 & 14 itineraries along the coast of Norway and around Spitsbergen in order to view the Northern Lights.
Cruise itineraries that circumnavigate Iceland are ideal. They are increasing in number in response to demand. Some stalwarts still prefer the thrill of driving narrow icy roads.
Absolutely everyone who comes to Reykjavik must have a Blue Lagoon experience, with or without a spa package. It remains the clean-green Islandic experience to safely swim in a thermal pool. For those able to climb, and who desire not to swim around selfie sticks, go to the Hot River and swim al fresco in Steam Valley, 45 miles from Reykjavik.
In an overnight port stay in Reykjavik, it is possible to swim in the Blue Lagoon, visit the old town and quickly tour the Golden Triangle, which includes Pingvellir, a geyser and Gullfossi waterfall. If on land, plan on a 5-day vacation, inclusive of travel times, at a minimum. To see all the natural vistas; whale watch, walk through a lava tunnel or a glacial tunnel, or hike to a thermal waterfall, plan on a 10-day minimum stay.
So, go now to Iceland before the new hotels are filled. Location weddings under the Northern Lights are growing in popularity. The number of people walking along old harbor and swarming the ‘Of Looking Out to Sea’ sculpture, the 1990 installation of stainless steel by Jön Gunnar Ånason, is growing. They must not realize the artwork is an ode to old age, where the voyager drifts out to sea at life’s end. Go to Iceland now to enjoy life, long before it is your time to Look Out to Sea.
Bar Food – Islenski Barinn & fine dining – Sjavargrillid
Hotels near the Harpa: Center Hotel Arnarhôll (modest priced, great service); Grand Hotel Reykjavik (choice of airline crew, business folks, elegant service)
See all the North Sea stories in Cruise through History© Itinerary XII, coming soon!