I’m looking at taking a trip to Iceland this winter in the hope of seeing the elusive, mysterious Northern Lights. It’s been on my ‘do before I die’ list for as long as I can remember, and this year the aurora is supposed to be particularly spectacular. Fortunately, thanks to the tiny area of inhabitation in Iceland and the compact nature of Reykjavik, a trip to Iceland can be done in a weekend. However, going to Iceland isn’t like a standard weekend away to Europe, and a little more planning needs to be done.
Firstly, there is the matter of money. The Icelandic Króna (ISK) can be tricky to come by outside of Iceland, and many foreign exchange desks won’t stock it at all. You can also expect to get a pretty poor exchange rate whenever you try to exchange your own currency for króna, so if you feel you will need cash, use your card to withdraw it at an Icelandic ATM. However, a better idea still is to simply use your card as normal. Inform your bank that you will be in Iceland to ensure it isn’t blocked, and spend away. Almost everything, including taxi fares, can be paid for with a card.
Secondly, the language. Icelandic is spoken by less than 350,000 people worldwide with the vast majority residing in Iceland itself, so it is not expected that any visitors will speak Icelandic. A few token words (hallo = hello, bless = goodbye, takk = thank you, já = yes, nei = no) is enough to be polite, but almost everyone will speak immaculate English. Danish is also very widely spoken if this is more comfortable for you.
The weather in Iceland is incredibly volatile, so it’s important that you go prepared for all eventualities, particularly throughout winter. It is not at all uncommon to see heavy snow on the same day as brilliant sunshine and pouring rain, so go for layers. Warm layers are particularly important, along with something fully waterproof, but most important should be sensible, walking-friendly footwear. Much Icelandic activity takes place in the rugged nature, so you need shoes that will allow you to walk on slippery, uneven and challenging terrains.
Finally, there’s the small matter of the Northern Lights themselves. There is no way to predict when they will make themselves seen, but there are Northern Lights forecasts online which can suggest how likely it is that they will appear. You will need to leave the bright lights of Reykjavik and head north further into the Arctic Circle for the best chance. You can either join a tour which will take a group of you up together with a tour guide or hire a car so you can drive yourself up into the countryside in the hope of spotting the incredible Aurora Borealis.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have some flights to book…