Story Ly Thanh Co
A cozy Christmas spirit and the spectacular Northern Lights warm up the holidays in frigid Iceland.
On arriving in Iceland from Vietnam, I found the holiday atmosphere more subdued than the boisterous spirit and flamboyant décor that I was used to in Asia. However, Christmas proved to be a time to cherish in this frigid country not far from Santa’s home in the North Pole. I was amazed to see so many people celebrating the season in subzero temperatures, but Iceland attracts a large number of tourists in December to marvel at the country’s distinctive sub-Arctic scenery and take in its holiday charms.
Strolling along the bustling boulevard of Skólavörðustígur in the heart of Reykjavik, Iceland’s capital, I was immediately charmed by the simple, traditional decorations. Warmly illuminated pine needle bells hung over the streets, while shops were aglow with string lights, Christmas trees, stockings, wreaths and wrapped presents.
I soon ran across small Christmas markets scattered along Reykjavik’s downtown streets. Here, vendors sell holiday decorations from wooden stalls whose roofs are dotted with lights and festive holly. Handmade crafts and designs, perfect for gifts, are also widely available.
At food stalls, you can order mulled wine, hot chocolate or an invigorating mint latte to sip on as you immerse yourself in the holiday ambiance. These markets are also the perfect backdrops for photos, with their charming décor and classic Christmas trees. For an ideal view of the festive setting, the magnificent, modernist Hallgrímskirkja church towers over the city center. At a height of 74.5 meters, it is the tallest church in Iceland and has a history dating back to 1945.
NORTHERN LIGHTS: THE WONDERS OF ICELAND
Iceland is not only known for its enthralling mythology but also its fairytale-like nature. My Christmas trip would not have been complete without taking in the enchanting Northern Lights, which danced across the sky like green silk ribbons as I watched awestruck in the bonechilling December cold.
In Reykjavik, many Northern Lights tours begin at 8 p.m. and end at 10 p.m., and organizers offer free cancellations and rescheduling to guarantee that you will see the aurora borealis.
If you go on a tour and don’t manage to observe the Northern Lights, the guides will take you on another tour the next day. The process will repeat until you finally witness the spectacular natural light show. If you are unlucky enough to leave Iceland without seeing the aurora, the tour organizers will give you a non-expiring voucher so that you can take the tour when you visit again.
My trip to Iceland lasted a week, but I could not see the Northern Lights on the first four days since the evenings were wet and snowy. Fortunately, on the fifth night, the organizers rang me up and we went to a location near Keflavik Airport, where I witnessed this dreamlike scene for the first time in my life. The lights kept dancing and moving, leaving us in such awe that we hardly noticed the glacial -9o C temperature.
As cold as it was, Iceland is still the country with the most pleasant weather to enjoy this phenomenal experience. Thanks to the Gulf Stream, even the coldest winter day in Reykjavik never goes below -15o C.
Iceland also has ideal conditions for viewing the Northern Lights. Due to its sparse population and low level of light pollution, the celestial spectacle is even visible from the city on some nights. The winds in Iceland are the third fastest on earth, so clouds always move, making the sky that much clearer.
Between the Christmas lights and Northern Lights, Iceland is a magical destination for the holiday season.