There are many ways to try to see the Northern Lights in Iceland. You can go on tours every night during the dark winter months or you can self drive to an area with little light pollution and wait and to see if the glimmer of colours show in the night sky.
There is no certainty however that any of your efforts will pay off.
Or if you’re travelling with a toddler, like we were, you can just make it easy on yourselves and book in a stay at Hotel Ranga. It’s certainly not the cheapest option, however it is by far the most convenient option.
^^One of three outdoor hot tubs at Hotel Ranga. We were lucky that this one was directly outside the double doors from our room. It overlooks the salmon river.
And it made our stay in Iceland much less stressful while allowing us to enjoy our evenings at the hotel as opposed to being outdoors in freezing temperatures just keeping our fingers crossed.
Located in an area with minimal light disturbance, Hotel Ranga is the perfect base for spotting the Aurora Borealis. It is about two hours from the main airport of Keflavik, but the roads are fairly straight forward and easy to navigate. While we used a hired satellite navigation system for majority of the journey we decided to use google maps on my iPhone to pin point Hotel Ranga as we were driving during the night to get there and didn’t want to miss the turning.
Although you can’t really miss the turning because the sign for Hotel Ranga is nicely lit up on the main road.
The reason I booked this hotel was because the hotel has a Northern Lights alarm service. If the Northern Lights come out to play while you’re sleeping you can request that you are woken up by reception who will throughout the night be checking the night sky. For a tired pregnant woman and a sleepy toddler that was ideal for us. And every night we requested that wake up- however the lights never showed while we slept so we were left in peace to sleep through until morning.
However we did get lucky on the very first evening that we arrived at Hotel Ranga. But because we hadn’t scoped out the hotel we didn’t manage to really get the pictures or images we wanted. Literally as soon as we’d settled into our room, we hit the bar for some complimentary drinks (non alcoholic obviously for myself and Little London), and that was when the manager told us to head outside because the Northern Lights were on display.
We certainly weren’t prepared for this showing of the Northern Lights. We’d literally just gotten to the hotel. The cameras were back in the room but because I really wanted to see them and not miss them we just stepped out into the cold Icelandic night.
And there they were. Gleaming green in the night sky. They weren’t the most amazing display but it was still a tick to my bucket list. I saw them.
However, because we were all under dressed to be outside (and we didn’t notice the snow suits that were hanging up for complimentary use) we headed back into the hotel to go to the room and fetch our camera and dress in more appropriate gear.
By the time we came outside again the severity of the green in the sky had died down, and although we snapped a few pictures none were quite to a standard that I would have been happy with.
You certainly need a tripod, and although we had one it’s hard to see through the lens what you’re taking a picture of so it falls to guess-work, and because there was a strong wind it shook the camera blurring the images slightly, and any movement from other people caused noise on the pictures.
I left the picture-taking in Mr London Mum’s hands while I entertained Little London and although he’s usually a pretty good photographer he was pretty shoddy this time around 😉
^^ Probably the best picture we got of the Northern Lights. There is a hill to the left of the cars where many people take their pictures from, but there wasn’t much interest in the rest of the landscape for it to come out well. I quite like having a steady object to focus on to really appreciate the scope of the lights above.
As a tip if you do visit Hotel Ranga, I think aesthetically you’ll get nicer pictures of the lights from behind the hotel as opposed to the front. However you need to make sure you scope a good spot out during daylight hours because there is a salmon river that runs across the land which you don’t want to find yourself in at night-time with expensive camera equipment. You’ll have less people around you (causing blur) and you’ll also be able to also frame the hotel into the picture nicely as opposed to the car park.
This was something we decided we would do if the lights showed themselves again. Which of course they didn’t.
While the Northern Lights are still on my must see list (I want that perfect image), the rest of our stay wasn’t blighted by the fact the lights didn’t come out again.
In fact, the hotel had a lovely rustic charm from the moment you walked into it. The style is that of a large warm log cabin which felt homely and comfortable.
And although there weren’t many children around, Little London was made to feel very welcome by all the staff and in particular the manager of the hotel who was extremely friendly and full of great tips. He gave Little London a Hotel Ranga notepad and pen to enjoy scribbling and drawing in to help keep him occupied and the restaurant had a great dinner menu for children which is always a bonus.
^^ Hrammur the 10ft polar bear in the lobby. We named him Bob for ease.
Breakfast was superb and complimentary. It was lovely waking up in the morning and being able to just get us all fed without any worry. A hungry toddler and a hungry pregnant lady never goes down well. And there was no worry at all with that. They had a mixture of breakfast options catering for every taste including bottles of fizz which I was gutted I couldn’t start my day with!
We decided to go all out and treat ourselves to the Hotel Ranga seasonal four course menu one evening for dinner, after all the restaurant is highly acclaimed.
^^ Lightly cured salmon in lemon with smoked trout roe, fennel and dill vinaigrette and egg yolk.
The prices are top end. But the meal was perfect. It was the only meal we splurged on throughout the time we were in Iceland and it was certainly a memorable meal for us. The chefs are highly talented and that shows. I loved the Icelandic fusion of food with modern, contemporary styling.
^^ Chocolate mousse with aldiberrie puree, chocolate wax and milk ice cream.
The wine flight that accompanies the meal was also top end. I couldn’t drink any of it, but I gave each and every glass that Mr London Mum got a good deep sniff. And then jealously gave him evils from across the table. If you want to just drink one wine instead of paying for the wine flight, the house red they serve at the bar (and I assume you can request in the restaurant) was also very good and far superior to your typical house reds anywhere.
Hotel Ranga was an excellent choice of accommodation and we built our whole itinerary around it to explore a beautiful region of Iceland. While it specialises in the Northern Lights which didn’t quite manage to fulfil my expectations this time around, we still thoroughly enjoyed our stay which goes to show that the atmosphere and the rest of the hotel facilities were exactly what we required.
I would love to go back one day and try again to see the Northern Lights and perhaps spend a bit more time there to enjoy some of the activities they have on offer. And I’d love to make use of their observatory to star gaze while asking their experts a billion questions about the universe.