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Quarantining under the Northern Lights

Last night’s surprise Northern Lights were breathtaking. The KP index showed low activity and it was forecast to be quite cloudy. And yet, in the middle of night, they appeared over Reykjavik, drowning out the sporadic street lights. It got me thinking. In Iceland right now, you need to do a test on arrival, quarantine for 5 days (though you are allowed to go for isolated walks) and then do a second test before being allowed to travel freely. To many, this is a good reason not to come to Iceland just yet. After all, who wants to be stuck indoors for the first 5 days of your holiday? Well actually, if you pick the right quarantine friendly hotel you could well be treated to the Northern Lights each night and tranquil nature walks each day. You will still need to wait until quarantine is over before you can for example, hike on a glacier or discover a blue ice cave. But the vast open spaces in Iceland really do mean that solitude can be realised inside and outside your hotel room. So this quick run down of just 3 spots in Iceland will celebrate the areas themselves. These places are as ideal for their Northern Lights hunting as they are for quarantine friendly day time activities. I’ve intentionally stopped short of suggesting specific hotels or guesthouses as the list is being constantly updated. There are almost 400 options so far. The locations Ok, so technically you can travel to anywhere in Iceland from when you arrive but perhaps it’s best to be sensible about this. Anything more than a half day’s drive is a little unnecessary and if you are paying for a private taxi then it can be a little expensive. All you should be trying to achieve with your quarantine hotel is that it’s away from street lights and has walking options nearby with picturesque scenery. You don’t have to go far to get that in Iceland. So I’ve picked my 3 favourite spots within close proximity to the airport and capital city. 1. Reykjanes Peninsula (1 hour from the airport in most directions) 2. Snaefellsnes Peninsula (2.5 hours north of the airport) 3. South coast of Iceland (starts 1.5 hours east of the airport) The Reykjanes Peninsula This first area is arguably the best for your first quarantine. Depending on where you choose to stay you are merely minutes away from solitude. Once you finish your 5 day quarantine you are also ideally located near the world famous Blue Lagoon, The LAVA Tunnel and Reykjavik itself. The reason I choose this location, especially the south side of the peninsula, littered with forgotten lighthouses, is because of the other worldly terrain. Effectively, no matter where you choose to sleep you will be surrounded with barren, volcanic landscape. Very different from any other holiday you may have taken in the past. The lava fields that have continuously flowed over this geothermally active part of the country have many hidden treasures to reveal on your walks. The multicoloured rock types, sharp and jagged shapes and the steam vents that you may encounter look more at home on Mars. You may even discover a few unblemished lava caves far from the commercial versions that require paid entry. To top it all off, you are treated to an unencumbered view, with the distant lights of the capital city having no effect on your chances of seeing the Northern Lights. Some of the best displays I’ve seen were in this area. Snæfellsnes Peninsula Don’t be fooled by the similar sounding names. The Snaefellsnes Peninsula has its own unique characteristics. Namely, glacier scarred mountains, broken sea cliffs and black sand beaches to keep you amused during the day. My thoughts on this area is to pick a spot as close to the shore as you can. Then the vertiginous walks along the sea cliffs with cracks and holes dotted around the path are right on your door step. To watch the turbulent waves smash against the rocks from the comfort of your own hotel room is quite therapeutic as well. Arnarstapi in the south west of the peninsula is a particularly great spot as it boasts black sand beaches, moss covered lava fields, basalt columned sea cliffs and the acclaimed Snæfellsjökull volcano. This area is the setting of Jules Verne’s Journey to the Centre of the Earth. You will understand why when you acquaint yourself with the area. Even before the quarantine rules were put in place many tourists and tour companies would venture towards this lesser explored part of the country for 2 or 3 nights to search out the Northern Lights. South coast of Iceland This ‘area’ is a little harder to define as it basically covers a 300km coast line. Some sections are punctuated with glaciers and ice caps, others – active volcanoes, while other sections are better known for their black sands and icebergs. One thing is for sure, the south coast has it’s pick of isolated areas. Two spots that might appeal a little more than others though is the tiny town of Hveragerði. This town is on top of one of the most geothermally active areas in the country and plays host to the famous Reykjadalur hot river and many other hot pools. On a chilly day natural steam can be seen coming from the manhole covers on the street as much as in the mountains surrounding it. I’ll tell you this for free, watching the Northern Lights in your own private hot pool with a locally brewed Icelandic beer is hard to beat. Another spot I would potentially suggest is near the famous Skógafoss waterfall. If you are a Game of Thrones, Vikings, or, more recently a Eurovision fan, then this 200ft waterfall will be quite familiar to you. Saying that, 5 days is a very long time to be staring at one nearby waterfall, regardless of its beauty. However, what you might not know is that this waterfall marks the start of the famous highland trail, Laugavegur. Within minutes of walking the 300 or so stairs to get above Skógafoss and you are greeted with another waterfall, and another, and another, and another. You get my point. The view from this higher vantage point is incredible too, with the active volcano, Eyjafjallajökull, being the backdrop for many of your walks. A little lower to the ground there are other hidden waterfalls like Kvernufoss, which you can even walk behind. Then to top it all off, seeing the Northern Lights dancing above one of these waterfalls is quite spectacular. Notable mentions There you have it. If you are planning to come to Iceland while this temporary restriction is in place then I hope you’ll agree that you won’t get bored. Oh, and Iceland has a 97% coverage for cell and internet service so Netflix will still be available in between too. A few spots I didn’t mention above are good alternatives too but with a few caveats. The Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon in the south east is an unbelievable place to hunt the Northern Lights. With icebergs clinking in the foreground and green rhythmic ribbons floating in the background. It’s a little far away to travel on your first day though (around 6 hours in good weather). Húsafell, in the west of Iceland, with the famous strongman ‘Húsafell stone’ is a picturesque farming area with some great hikes to keep you occupied. I didn’t include this as many of the activities in the area require you to be out of quarantine like horse riding and snowmobiling. And finally, the Golden Circle, only 45 minutes from Reykjavik, is arguably the most popular spot in Iceland with its erupting geysers, thunderous waterfalls and broken tectonic plates. The reason this isn’t included is that these spots can be filled with tourists and hence would be difficult to maintain a social distance. You’ll just have to see these ‘notable mentions’ once you come out of quarantine. Not a bad compromise. Ryan Connolly is Co-Founder of Hidden Iceland. Hidden Iceland specialises in private trips, taking you to some of the hidden gems of Iceland with a passionate and experienced guide. If you would like to be a guest blogger on A Luxury Travel Blog in order to raise your profile, please contact us.

Ryan Connolly

Ryan Connolly is the Marketing Manager and Co-Founder for Hidden Iceland. Hidden Iceland is a carbon neutral travel company that specialises in private or small group tours that take you across the whole of Iceland. Hunting for the Northern Lights, discovering ice caves, hiking on glaciers and walking to the tops of volcanoes are some of the more adventurous activities Hidden Iceland take part in. But many of their customers also enjoy relaxing in natural hot pools, enjoying local cuisine and chance encounters with the wildlife too. Ryan has guided in many different countries and is proud to have stepped foot on all seven continents in his pursuit of new terrain. He is a qualified Glacier Guide, Wilderness First Responder and permanent resident of Iceland.

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  1. Looking back over the year there have been long hours when it seemed as if time had almost stood still and it gave me a chance to think about what I want to do if life ever approaches normality again. Once we were allowed to start socialising again I found that it had concentrated some friends minds too. Three of us said that seeing the Northern Lights was in our Top Five travel goals.

    1. Hi John,

      That sounds like a great top 5 list. I’d love to hear the other 4. My top 5 all revolves around nature and empty spaces which is pretty ideal if you’re avoiding crowds in the short term.

  2. A few of my friends have gone on retreats when they’ve craved some peace and quiet as well as a chance to think. A spell of quarantine with the bonus of the Northern Lights is exactly what some people are looking for on their getaway.

    1. Hi Graham,

      I agree. A 5 day retreat is just what the doctor ordered sometimes. Especially with aurora borealis shining above.

  3. 5 days quarantine is not that bad. In other countries they require us to quarantine for 2 weeks. Anyhoo, I learned the world-renowned Golden Circle route can be explored for 3 hours when driving. Too bad it’s not included due in your list due to social distancing. But other than that, your 3 favourite spots looks amazing in pictures. Hopefully someday I can see it in person.

    1. Hi KT,

      I agree. I did the 5 days quarantine here in Iceland recently, when returning from abroad and it honestly disappeared before I knew it.

      The Golden Circle route probably is still possible as a quarantine location. The main problem is that the main sights are not near each other so you would have to drive between them, which would break quarantine. So you would have to just pick one of them to spend the time at.

  4. Thank you for this amazing tip! I was planning to visit Iceland for quite some time now and I was wondering what their protocol is when visitors are coming in from different parts of the world. I did know that they had this quarantine process and it kept me thinking, would I waste a week of my holiday by quarantining instead of travelling the country. I now know that there are great spots to have your 5-day quarantine in Iceland, this post made my decision already. I was also planning to rent a car or maybe even better to rent a camper van so that I can travel the country freely and save on accommodation. Any thoughts on how I can fully experience my visit in Iceland and any tips on what to visit or do when I finish my quarantine? Great post by the way, hoping to see more of your articles soon in this website.

    1. That’s great to hear that you are keen to come to Iceland now. It’s a wonderful time of year right now, especially with no tourists.

      Renting a car or campervan is always fun, though if you are travelling into winter I would only recommend it if you are familiar with snow, ice and wind driving. Otherwise a small group or private tour might be best for you.

      I’ve used Happy Campers for campervans before and they were pretty perfect for what I needed.

      Once you finish quarantine my number one spot is the Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon within the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Vatnajokull National Park. You can also do a number of fun glacier hikes while in the area. Give yourself 2 days in this region.

  5. Can someone transport me to Iceland right now? I really mean it! I am fascinated with the Northern Lights and Iceland is really a dream destination for me. Thank you for sharing these spots because I only know of the glass hotels but I would love to stay in Reykjadalur and dip in the hot river because I know how cold it is in Iceland. I would never regret being quarantined here, if that means seeing the Northern Lights.

    1. Hahaha, Iceland is definitely a good place to be held captive right now with everything else that’s going on in the world.

      Yeah, I agree. If you are going to be quarantined for 5 days it’s worth getting into nature and maximising your chances of seeing the northern lights. What a way to spend your quarantine.

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