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Review: Northern Lights Tour

Specialist Holiday - Sightseeing

Reykjavik, Iceland

In search of the Northern Lights

  • By SilverTraveller schroedie

    22 reviews

    Ribbon

  • Nov 2013
  • Partner

133 people found this review helpful

Lured by the prospect of seeing one of Nature’s wonders – the Northern Lights – my partner and I signed up for a three-night break in Iceland with Secret Escapes. Our flight was with WOW!, a new Icelandic airline which was budget but brilliant – very friendly cabin crew and a safety briefing that was actually entertaining got us off to a great site. The flight was uneventful – cramped as normal in economy but with attentive staff who were helpful and efficient, and we touched down around 3pm, just as it was getting dark. The airport transfer wasn’t trouble-free – our paperwork told us we had a free bus transfer but forgot to tell us you needed to show your paperwork at the bus counter to get a voucher to use on the bus, so there was a certain amount of confusion – but we eventually got on the Flybus and settled down for the transfer. It took around an hour as the bus made stops all over the city, and ours (the Reykjavik Lights Hotel) was one of the furthest, but there was free wi-fi on the vehicle and it was good to finally get to our room. The hotel was clean and elegant, albeit a touch on the stark side, and after settling in we walked out to find somewhere to eat. There weren’t many cheap options but we opted for a Vietnamese restaurant which was ok and not too far away – some hardier travellers headed out on the Northern Lights tour that evening, but I’m afraid we just wanted to get some sleep. Next day we enjoyed a big breakfast with plenty of choice at the hotel, then spent the daylight hours wandering around the city – in November it doesn’t get light until around 10am, the temperature was -1C and it was snowing, but it was fun to walk into the centre and browse the shops. We discovered the harbour (no whale watching trips today), flea market, and one of the city’s famous hot dog booths, too – worth a try as a budget option, but I’m afraid I wouldn’t recommend the sauce that accompanies them. Icelandic fish and chips was good for lunch – we opted not to try breast of puffin followed by minke whale steak – and then we made our way back, ready for our evening tour with Reykjavik Excursions. Sadly the success of such tours lies in the hands of Mother Nature and she wasn’t playing ball. The previous night’s tour had seen nothing, and we headed away from the city praying for better results. But the cloud was low, the moon was full, and again the curtains of green light failed to make an appearance. After one-and-a-half hours in the bitter cold we set off back – but everyone cheered up when the coach came to a sudden halt and we dashed out to see a faint smudge of green moving across the sky. It was a Northern Light – not quite the full Monty, but at least we’d seen a taster for the main event. Our next day we could have gone on a horse-riding tour (lovely people, lovely horses, but SO COLD that we decided against it – and those who did go out said that was the right decision) and instead opted for a longer visit to the Blue Lagoon thermal spa, which was stunning. An icy path (I did think they might have gritted it!) led to a beautifully-designed centre and, after getting showered and changed, a brief dash in the icy air took us to the waters of the thermal power station – and at around 38C they were a delight. This really is a must-visit attraction. After a few hours lazing in the pool – open to the elements, but oh so warm – and enjoying a glass of red wine while luxuriating in the water, we were all set for another attempt at the Northern Lights. Sadly the cloud had set in and the tour was cancelled: but the good news is that if your tour doesn’t take place, or you don’t see the Lights, the company does promise everyone another free tour next time you’re in the country. Next day we were heading home, but took the time before checking out to walk from our hotel to the nearest thermal pool (just 10 minutes away) and enjoy our last taste of Iceland. The air temperature was freezing, but the thermal waters make you forget all that – it was a lovely relaxing end to our holiday and I think I could get used to that aspect of Icelandic life. Overall, this was a fun trip even if we didn’t see the Lights. My top tip would be to avoid times when the moon is full – with less light in the sky you stand much more chance of seeing the elusive spectacle. Otherwise you’re at the mercy of the elements and can’t do anything about that, except have a longer holiday which gives you more opportunities. The highlights were the Blue Lagoon and the local thermal pool. Our hotel was spotless and comfortable, most of the staff were friendly and helpful, and the local buses were a good way to get around. Disabled access in the city and at the pools seemed to be generally very good, although the time spent on the coach on the Lights tour might be a problem, and there aren't always any facilities or even any shelter at the final destination. Would we go again? Definitely, and we’ll check on the moon and go for longer next time as there’s so much to see that just two full days simply can’t do it justice.

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This review is solely based on the opinion of a Silver Travel Advisor member and not of Silver Travel Advisor Ltd.

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Other Members' Thoughts - 11 Comment(s)

  • schroedie
    almost 2 years ago
    Hadn't thought of going to other countries to try again - I shall have to do that as I've been to Iceland twice now and, lovely as it is, it would be good to maybe try Finland or Sweden. Thanks for the idea :)
  • Springhead
    almost 2 years ago
    I loved Iceland when I visited about 18 months ago. Sadly I didn't get to see the Northern lights as it was just snowing too much (I was there 4 nights, 3 full days; the trip did go ahead on the final night I was there but disappointedly no sign of the lights). I did however get to enjoy the Blue Lagoon and to see a humpback whale on a whale watching tour which made up a bit for the diappointment. Trying again for the Northern lights either end of this year or start of next, but opting for Finland or Sweden for the chance to visit another country I have never been to before
  • ESW
    over 7 years ago
    Yes it will be cold. We were lucky to see the Northern Lights in Norway a few years ago. They are only visible on a clear night with no cloud cover, so that means the kind of cold that sucks all the heat out of your body. We had all the layers on that we possessed as well as a big blanket.The lights put on a magnificent show for us and we forgot about the cold until it finished. It took a long time to warm up afterwards...
  • schroedie
    over 7 years ago
    Yes, I think that basically - due to the 11-year cycle of sunspot activity - this year is meant to be one of the best for some time . . . but it's still only a prediction and with the full moon against us (never thought to check that) and the cloud (just one of nature's unpredictable elements) it wasn't to be. I'd still love to see the Northern Lights but I guess luck is going to play a big part in their appearance even if you've got a good clear dark sky.

    And yes, in November it was freezing cold, as you might expect. But the thermal pools really made it worthwhile :)
  • SylviaML
    over 7 years ago
    I thought 2013 was supposed to be an excellent year for the Northern Lights. Shows these predictions are not always right. Glad you enjoyed your trip anyway. Sounds a bit cold for my tastes but I would imagine that if you are lucky enough to get a full blooded version of the Lights it more than compensates. Thanks for sharing.
  • schroedie
    over 7 years ago
    Ah well - there are no guarantees, but we did get a brief glimpse - and it would have been better without the full moon (we forgot to take that into account when we booked the trip). Hopefully next time :)
  • ESW
    over 7 years ago
    What a shame you didn't get a full blooded display of Northern Lights - but what a good excuse to go back again.
  • schroedie
    over 7 years ago
    Hi Janet

    No problem! I don't mind at all :)

    The thermal pool we went to was Laugardalslaug. It's all outdoors but it has hot pools where you can just sit in the water (about 38C, I think) plus a slightly cooler 50m swimming pool. There are also 'hot spots' at the side, up to 44C, and a steam room.

    We got two free tickets with our package deal to use the facilities and it was just 10 mins walk from Reykjavik Lights (probably five when it's not sheet ice everywhere). I'd really recommend it: some people went on the first night we were there and said it was great as it's open late and they were sitting in the hot pools while it was snowing. There's a few metres you have to brave the cold air before you get in the pool but it's well worth it!

    Feel free to keep asking questions :)
  • daydreamer
    over 7 years ago
    Well, mine is booked for March 15 and it did not occur to me to check the full moon but I will pass on that tip to anyone I meet who is planning a trip. I have actually seen the Northern Lights fully ablaze most unexpectedly. It was at the beginning of May in Shetland about 20 years ago, Came out of a village hall after midnight and there they were! I certainly wasn't hunting them.

    Now for your first question. I had already spotted the fact there was a municipal thermal pool not far from the hotel. Is this indoors or outdoors?

    I have plenty of time to ask you more. Hope you dont mind!


    Thanks

    Janet
  • schroedie
    over 7 years ago
    Glad you found it useful :) Feel free to ask any questions - we might well try again around March but are definitely going to be consulting the oracle to make sure we don't go at full moon again.
  • daydreamer
    over 7 years ago
    This is really really useful, Thanks! I am going in March and staying at the Lights Hotel so will soon be plaguing you with questions.