If you have any intention of seeing the Northern Lights in Iceland, there's no question that you're going to want to stay with Buubble aka Bubble Hotel. It's an experience like no other that puts you in the middle of forest just outside of the main attractions of the Golden Circle. It's just you and your companion in this unusual, clear, plastic bedroom, and the starry sky out there. Pure serenity.
So what exactly is the formula for seeing the Northern Lights? First, you need to be away from the city to avoid the light pollution. Second, you need dark skies and in Iceland that means it can't be during the summer months. Third, it needs to be a clear sky without clouds. Sleeping in a transparent bubble takes care of those first two variables and the third one you'll just have to cross your fingers for.
I had the opportunity to stay in one of the bubbles, called Valdis, on a 8-day trip to Iceland and I wanted to share my experience and my personal Iceland Bubble Hotel review.
Read more about Iceland
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Where to stay in Iceland?
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Iceland Bubble Hotel
The concept of Buubble is simple. Take a bouncy castle, make the walls transparent plastic supported by a metal structure, add a mattress, a heater, and put it in a forest, away from the bright lights. This is the Bubble Hotel in Iceland.
The only time you can see Northern Lights is in the winter and standing in the middle of the night. That means standing outside to watch the light show gets a little cold. It also means you have to stay up all night to watch them or drive a few hours to get far away enough. So if you could just set up your alarm clock to go off at midnight and you could just open your eyes and look up to see the light show above, would you do it? Of course you would!
While still relatively new (started January 2016), there are already 5 bubbles set in different spots in the small forest of a farm. The first type of bubble is literally that inflatable plastic bedroom where warm air is pumped in at a steady rate and is set on top of a wooden platform. The second type, which we got a chance to stay in, is a smaller rigid spherical structure raised by metal legs. This I affectionately call the UFO.
Inside the bubble, things are kept quite spartan with the larger bubbles with enough space for a full double bed, night lamp, and space for a suitcase. In the UFO, the whole “floor” is a mattress with enough room for two backpacks and essentials scattered off to the side.
What's missing inside the bubble is of course a bathroom and shower. As of right now, there's a spacious wooden outhouse with a similar portable toilet to the one we had along the Inca Trail. That being said, building is underway for a fully fledged facilities building complete with toilet, shower and kitchen.
Stays in a bubble range from 28,900 to 29,900 ISK per night. Keep in mind that they have been booking out very quickly so if you have a specific date in mind, you're going to want to book Buubble as soon as possible.
Update for 2021
A big change the guys at Buubble have made is that they no longer allow you to book their bubbles as accommodations on their own. Instead, they've bundled their stays with tours of the Golden Circle and South Coast.
The also have a new tree bubble that you should check out.
So what was it really like staying in one of these bubbles?
The location of Buubble and its bubble hotel is kept a secret and only revealed to guests prior to their arrival. I won't reveal it here but like the website tells you, it is close to the town of Reykholt and is conveniently located along the Golden Circle road. I was given specific GPS coordinates (which you'll learn to rely on in Iceland) so it was a cinch to find.
It is suggested that check-ins happen between 2-6PM however with a full day of activities in Reykjavik, we weren't able to make it there until 8:40PM. I let the folks at Buubble know ahead of time via e-mail and they said this was okay.
Upon arrival, I realized that the bubbles and the wooded forest is actually part of a working farm. There's no Buubble office per say so when you arrive, you ring the doorbell of the farmhouse and the owners help you get situated.
We received a walkthrough of the facilities and snaked through the forest to eventually get to our bubble. There wasn't a whole lot to explain when we arrived at room for the night which seriously looked like something out of a sci-fi movie.
Getting Inside the Valdis Bubble
There's a small wooden step ladder that takes you up the bubble and as you walk up, it almost feels like you're getting beamed up.
To get inside the bubble, you have to open up a zippered flap which rolls up and from there you stick your head right into the bubble. Pull yourself on the mattress and you're right inside.
Like I mentioned earlier, the level inside is one big circular mattress. I'm not entirely sure what material it was made of but it didn't feel like foam, springs, nor was it an air mattress. All I can tell you is that it was quite comfortable. Centred in the bubble are two pillows and two separate blankets.
You can't exactly bring a roller suitcase inside or anything like that but we managed to bring all of our essentials in our backpacks and put them off to the side. After all, we didn't need much else other than water, extra layers of clothing, toiletries, and camera gear.
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What About Showering?
Originally we were planning on just not showering but during the planning of this trip, I realized that Secret Lagoon was not only close but only 15 minutes away.
After dropped off some of our things in the Valdis, we hopped back into the car and drove towards the town of Fludir. Time was tight but we ended up getting there at 9:10PM which allowed us to enjoy the geyser-powered hot springs that is in a way more natural setting than Blue Lagoon.
Our 50 minutes in the pool was the perfect amount of time relax our travel-weary muscles and a few of those beers we purchased at the duty free when we landed in Iceland.
What completed the experience was the ability to shower in the change room and come out feeling refreshed and ready for the aurora borealis. We hopped back into our car and made it back to our bubble with the assistance of our trusty headlamps.
You lie down and when you look up you're treated with the open sky with twinkling stars and the gentle rustling of the surrounding trees. Since the Valdis is a rigid structure, you do get the thin arching lines of the skeleton but beyond that it's clear view to the sky.
By some stroke of luck, the one day the weather had to be good our trip in September, the sky cleared up and the night was set up for a spectacular show.
As we neared midnight, we could see wisps of bright-looking clouds forming in the horizon. From the bubble however, we couldn't see much since our view was limited to the sky directly above. Impatiently, I got out of the bubble and with the help of my camera, I was able to pick out which spots in the sky where highly charged electrons from the solar wind was interacting with elements in the earth's atmosphere.
Contrary to popular belief, the Northern Lights aren't as vividly green as you see in the photos. They start off looking like bright clouds but the longer you stare, you realize that it's constantly changing its shape and literally dancing in the sky. In certain moments, it gets so intense that you can make out a bit of green but I'll say that for the most part, the Northern Lights were intensely bright grey wisps that by the naked eye could easily be confused with clouds.
Since most of the Northern Lights were at the horizon, we ended up standing outside to get full view of the lights beyond the adjacent field or at the parking lot.
Back inside the Iceland bubble hotel, I do remember seeing the Northern Lights but only the one crazy beam that seemed to run the entire sky from east to west.
The inside of the bubble was quite cozy and I found it quite easy to fall asleep amidst the tranquility of the stillness of nature.
Now you're probably wondering, how do you stay warm inside the bubble. The inside of the Valdis is outfitted with a small electric heater that has the power to warm the entire space. That being said, September nights drop down to single digits and despite being fully layered in winter clothes underneath the wool blanket that is provided, we found ourselves to be quite cold especially at the toes.
Morning and Checking Out
As much as the night put us at awe, sunrise was also quite brilliant. Woken up by the call of birds, I jumped at the opportunity to take photos of the sunrise which were quick brilliant from beyond the tree line.
The process of checking out was really simple as all we had to do was get ready, pack our stuff, and head for our car in the parking lot. There of course was no keys involved and nothing really to lock other than the zipping down of the UFO flap.
My Iceland Bubble Hotel Review
Having spent a night with Buubble, here are my thoughts on my stay inside the Iceland Bubble Hotel.
What You'll Love
- Truly unique experience – It's an indescribable feeling to be one with nature. Sleeping under the stars is one of those things that you dream of doing as a kid. There aren't many parts of the world where you can say you slept in a bubble outdoors.
- Northern Lights right there – There's no need to book a special excursion or drive 1 hour out from the city to see them. If it all works out, all you need to do is open your eyes and it should be right on top of you.
- Convenient location – Saying it's near Reykholt probably won't mean much but as we were driving up, you realize that you're literally right off of the road that you'd need to take to go up to Gullfoss and Geysir that's only 20 minutes away. Secret Lagoon right there as well.
- Who needs a shower – When you have Secret Lagoon 15 minutes drive away, what better way to end off your night than by a relaxing spa session at the thermal pool.
- Too comfortable – In fact this could be a con because of how easy it is to fall asleep in the bubble.
- Instagrammable – It's undeniable how photogenic the bubble is especially if you're able to capture it with the backdrop of the Northern Lights.
Room For Improvement
- No longer bookable on its own – This is an unfortunate change in their business model. You won't be able to book a stay as you would a hotel or B&B so you'll need to buy their full package which won't work for some people that are looking to build their own itinerary or have another other tours booked. The forced upsell is unfortunate!
- Line of sight – Placed in the forest and surrounded by trees means that your sight lines are only upwards. As well the clear part of the (Valdis-type) bubble, only starts midway from the sphere. This means that you can't exactly see the whole sky of stars and from a Northern Lights perspective, you won't see it unless it's directly above you. While this is possible, most of the aurora we saw that day were at the horizon which meant we had to be outside of the bubble to watch.
- Heating – The small heater could probably be replaced with a higher powered one as we did feel cold throughout the night. This will most likely be even more of an issue deeper into winter. Easy fix though!
- Better facilities – This is in the works so I only see this getting better.
- Just enough space – I don't really see this as much of a con but you can't exactly roll your suitcase from your car into the (Valdis-type) bubble so you end up having to pull out what you need while in the car and then bring the smaller backpack into the bubble.
- Don't be tricked by the Instagrammers – Hopefully I've been able to show you the realistic side of staying in a bubble. As photogenic Instagrammers and magazines make it look from the outside, if you're expecting the perfect Northern Lights viewing experience from inside is a flat-out lie. Is it a unique stay? Yes, but there are certainly better ways to see the aurora borealis.
Other Bubble Hotel Experiences Around The World
Looking for other bubble hotels in Iceland? There actually aren't any but if you were curious about others around the world, here's a few that I can think of:
- Spain – Aire de Bardenas Hotel
- Austria – Bubble Tent Hotel
- Jordan – Sun City Camp
- Mauritius – Bubble Lodge Bois Chéri
- Finland – Aurora Bubbles, Nellim Wilderness Hotels
Overall, I'll say that the Iceland bubble hotel experience is one-of-a-kind. It was the first time staying in one of these and so as a unique stay, it can't be beat.
That said, as much as it's advertised as a perfect place to see the Northern Lights, the truth is that you're going to have to work for it. This means that you'll have to step out of your bubble to watch the dancing lights if they're out there – walking to an open part of the forest or even out to the parking lot.
Nestled in the high trees, we were lucky to have a moderate show pass through the canopy which allowed me to capture those incredible photos but I can see someone being pretty disappointed if nothing happens. Then, it just becomes a really cool forest glamping stay.
Lastly, I'll say that if you really want to maximize the experience, you won't be getting much sleep because you'll be up late at night with your tripod and camera trying to capture the aurora and then also waking up early in the morning to watch the sunset.
Go in with the right expectations and you'll be good!
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