Iceland is a cool place to spend New Years Eve – and I’m not just referring to the sub-zero blistering winds that hit you as soon as you leave the airport doors. It’s no secret either. BA Highlife stated that it was “one of the coolest places to visit”. Validating this was Benedict Cumberbatch – AKA Sherlock Holmes – when he boarded my late-December flight from Heathrow. Iceland’s no shifting trend. With its unique style and substance it will remain a luxury go-to destination for those seeking adventure. And take it from me, New Years Eve is the time to tick this bad boy off your bucket list!
Three hours is nothing when you think about it. ‘I’ve had meetings that have lasted longer,’ I thought as the seatbelt sign illuminated as we descended from the clouds. Despite being just a short-haul hop away, the difference in landscape is incredible. Reminiscent of what I imagine the moon to look like, vast wilderness awaits.
The first thing I learnt about Iceland was that it was the land of fire and ice – that and the disappointing fact that it is not actually in the Arctic Circle.
While the majority of its landscape is at first glance a blank canvas, Rekjavik, Iceland’s capital city on the west coast, is anything but barren. The now bustling city is full of authentic bars, quirky shops, restaurants and many colours. As we approached our hotel in the city centre, my attention wasn’t on the incredible architecture that surrounded it. No, instead it was naturally transfixed on the frozen lake knowing that it would frame the first of many photos of my time on the island covered in ice.
The Sandshotel opened its shell in July 2017 (full review to follow). As one of the latest editions to the ever-growing design-led Small Luxury Hotels, it is every bit luxurious as it is small – or cosy given the conditions. The hotel is perfectly positioned for those on a city getaway – just a 5 minute walk to both the coast and the iconic Cathedral.
The interiors give a home-away-from-home feel, but to really make the most of the experience, you need to get ‘outta town’ and out of your comfort zone to chase one-off experiences.
The reality for us, having only booked the hotel for two nights, we had only a small window of opportunity to try and capture the Aurora Borealis – people travel the globe to see the lights dance. We knew our chances that evening were slim, but feeling undeterred, we continued with positive spirits guiding us towards the opening of the natural phenomena.
After four frustrating hours chasing what felt like our tails between our legs, we had all but given up on the frozen skies performing for us. Deflated and defeated, we drove back to Reykjavík with having only captured a spec of green shade hiding behind gloomy clouds.
And then, on the side of the road, she finally lifted the curtains and boy could she dance. Although the mesmerising display lasted no longer than a few minutes, I felt completely and utterly privileged to have finally seen the Aurora Borealis in person. Not bad considering we were only given a 2/10 chance and the majority of other guides had cancelled.
Winter vibes were in full effect after a sleepless night chasing down the lights. Exhausted but excited, we headed inland for some well-earned pampering.
The Blue Lagoon was formed in 1976 nearby a geothermal power plant. For years people have come to bathe in the unique water and apply the silica mud on their skin to feel young again and unwind.
Named in 2012 as one of National Geographic’s “25 Wonders of the World,” the Blue Lagoon has evolved from its infancy as a reservoir of geothermal runoff into a world of geothermal wonder. The unique properties of its waters provide not only an enchanting lagoon experience, but also the patented, active ingredients in Blue Lagoon skin care: silica, algae, and minerals.
It is located in a sprawling, 800-year-old lava field in the heart of the Reykjanes Peninsula – a UNESCO Geopark. Just 20 minutes from Keflavík International Airport and 50 minutes from Reykjavík, the lagoon is simultaneously remote and easily accessible.
Sigrídur Sigthórsdóttir, designer of all Blue Lagoon facilities, is inspired by the interplay of lava, light, moss, and steam – the constituent elements of its volcanic surroundings:
“I attempted to capture the mystery of the location with the ever-changing play of light and shadow across the lava, the steam from the lagoon and the special light that characterises the northern part of the world…Icelandic materials – from moss and stones – characterise the design. We wanted to emphasise the relationship between nature and the manmade.”
My recommendation regarding a visit is to dig a little deeper to book the luxury package. This not only allows you to have your own private changing room, shower and area to relax at any time during your visit, but it also entitles you to enter the lagoon inside a private area, away from the crowds and unexposed to the elements.
The Blue Lagoon holds nine million litres of geothermal seawater, covering an area of 8700 square meters. It has an average depth of 1.2 metres and a maximum depth of 1.6 metres. The lagoon’s water is sourced directly from the Svartsengí geothermal field and its recirculation interval is 40 hours.
In addition to the sublime pleasures of geothermal seawater, the lagoon offers a sauna, a steam room, a waterfall, a luxury lounge, a cafe, an in-water silica bar, an in-water beverage bar, and a tantalising selection of in-water massage and treatments.
Feeling fully rejuvenated, our attention moved towards the date. 31st December 2017, New Years Eve. The last day of the year in Iceland is an interesting one. It is illegal to light fireworks between the 6th January – 28th December. So NYE is, as you can imagine, a display in the sky – not the Northern Lights – worth viewing.
It has been reported that the pollution from the fireworks let off on NYE in Iceland reaches levels that is comparable to a volcanic eruption. We were in the heart of the action, surrounded by 200,000 people in the main square in Reykjavik – fireworks for as far as the eyes could focus! Fireworks are mainly sold by the Icelandic Association for Search and Rescue (ICE-SAR), to raise funds for the courageous volunteer association. After midnight, the nightclubs and pubs are open for business, with dancing and celebrating lasting well into the early hours of the morning. What’s more, I was centre stage in an impressive perfectly timed photo…
The Northern Lights, the Blue Lagoon and the wonderful fireworks display, my time in Iceland has been truly unforgettable. With seven times more tourists that residents (2.3 million visitors per year), Iceland is a bustling tourist trap. Yet, despite the many travelling adventurers, it still feels like there is room for more. Not once did I feel like I was being sold a cliche trip. Nature – wind, fire, water and ice – is Iceland’s true adventure – open to everyone to enjoy.
British Airways operates daily flights from London Heathrow, London City and London Gatwick.
Sandshotel in Reykjavik offers a comfortable stay with reasonable prices to match.