A long weekend in Reykjavik and beyond
Forget Westeros, Iceland is the original land of ice and fire. And, as the nights draw in, the entire country transforms into an otherworldly wilderness, cloaked in snow and shrouded in darkness. With fewer visitors, you’ll have many of the most popular sights to yourself. And, thanks to those long dark nights, you’ve got a great chance of seeing the legendary northern lights.
Here’s our itinerary for a luxury break of northern lights, spellbinding scenery and long, cosy nights – and not a White Walker in sight.
Day one: Reykjavik calling
Just a short drive from the airport, Reykjavik makes a logical – and laid back – base for exploring the nearby sights. If the weather’s good, swap the highway for the longer, quieter Route 420. This will give you your first taste of Iceland’s lunar landscape with black lava fields rolling into the Atlantic.
After an hour’s drive, you’ll reach the comfort of some of Iceland’s best hotels. Two of our favourites include Sandhotel, a collection of art deco townhouses given a Scandi-chic makeover. And Tower Suites Reykjavik, a collection of hip suites at the city’s highest point – ideal for wintry rooftop views.
Settle in, warm your toes, then venture out into the city for a wander. Reykjavik is surprisingly small and easy to explore on foot and, if you start to feel the chill, pop into one of the many cafes. For a top-notch coffee or hot chocolate (or both at the same time) it has to be Mokka. This Reykjavik institution has been serving locals and visitors since 1958 and is as warm and welcoming as ever.
After a quick visit to the striking Hallgrimskirkya and the sleek Harpa concert hall, put your feet up and watch the stars come out. If the skies are clear, and the northern lights forecast is favourable, you could even take a short trip to the outskirts of the city for some early aurora borealis spotting.
Day two: Golden Circle
There’s a reason the Golden Circle’s on every tour operator’s itinerary. It brings together three of the country’s must-see sights – each one is totally different, yet truly breath-taking.
Begin at the Þingvellir (Parliamentary Fields) national park, a UNESCO Heritage site where you can walk along the rift valley between two tectonic plates.
Next stop is the Haukadalur Valley, home to the active geysers of Strokkur and Geysir, as well as numerous other bubbling mud pots and hot springs. In the winter, the huge amounts of steam and barren, frosty landscapes make the explosions even more dramatic.
From here you could complete your circle at the iconic Gullfoss waterfall. Or branch off to the log cabins of Hotel Rangá. Everything about this luxury hotel is geared up for northern light spotting – from the outdoor geothermal hot tubs to the observatory. And, with virtually no light pollution, this is one of the world’s best places to take in nature’s very own magic show.
Day three: time for adventure
Whether you’re staying at Hotel Rangá, or based in Reykjavik, you’re never far from adventure. Talk to your hotel and they’ll happily arrange an unforgettable excursion. Head off on a super jeep safari into the interior, climb a glacier, go snowmobiling or dog sledding. Or create your very own Ingmar Bergman movie on the windswept, black sand volcanic beach at Vik.
As you head off to the airport, there’s still time for one last truly Icelandic experience: the Blue Lagoon. In the winter, this tourist hotspot is quieter, more relaxed and even more out-of-this world. And, if the freezing temperatures get too much, you can always hop into a sauna.
As you jet off, keep an eye out of the window. Depending on the time of day or night, you may just catch one last sight of those northern lights.