Every year I go home to Catalunya for Christmas and take a few days off to spend New Year’s Eve somewhere interesting. Usually, I plan this trip well ahead, around mid-year, so I can use my miles to travel Business Class on the 16-hour Singapore Airlines flight from Singapore to Barcelona. This year, as I was planning my trip and my New Year’s Eve extravaganza, I saw a video for Iceland’s 5 Million Star Hotel, the Aurora Borealis Bubble Hotel in Iceland, and I knew I had to go.
Our stay in a “5 million star hotel” The bubble hotel has a completely transparent structure so when you turn out the lights it was like sleeping in a bed in the middle of the forest Although it was -7 degrees outside, inside it was a cosy 18 degrees We were incredibly lucky to spend the night star gazing from the comfort of our bed and even luckier to see the northern lights! @nseaton – photos taken on my Go Pro #northernlights #auroraborealis #iceland #bubblehotel
In this review, I want to share my experience spending a night at the Bubble Hotel in Iceland so that you know what it is, how it is to sleep at the 5 Million Star hotel and what to expect when you’re sleeping in a transparent bubble room.
Curious to find out more about a bubble hotel? Continue reading.
- What are the Aurora Borealis or Northern Lights
- What is an Aurora Borealis bubble hotel?
- How did Iceland’s bubble hotel start?
- Where is the Bubble Hotel in Iceland, Buubble?
- What is it like to sleep at an Aurora Borealis bubble in Iceland
- What you need to know when staying at a bubble in Iceland
- How much is it to sleep in a bubble in Iceland?
- What about toilets
- How much space is there in the Bubbble?
- Is it cold inside the Bubble hotel?
- There are no keys to Iceland’s bubble – How can you lock the bubble?
- WiFi at the bubbles
- How to have your own bubble room at home
What are the Aurora Borealis or Northern Lights
The fascination with the Northern Lights is recent. It is only in the last few years that travelers and the general public have started to hear about and be fascinated by the dancing lights in the sky. Soon enough, they were rushing to book trips to the most remote parts of Iceland, planning trips to see the northern lights in Sweden, filling Santa’s village in Finland…
This is because the last very active solar cycle was in 2013, when the Northern Lights started to be spotted by the residents of Arctic countries. Let me explain a bit more about what the Auroras or Northern Lights are so you understand why we had never heard before about them and suddenly, they were everywhere.
There are two types of Auroras: Australis and Borealis. Aurora Australis or Southern Lights, occur in the southern hemisphere whereas the Aurora Borealis or Northern Lights occur in the northern hemisphere. They are both caused by the same electrically charged particles released from the sun which collide with the gases on the Earth’s atmosphere. The effect of this collision are these light displays in the sky which can go from common green to the most uncommon reddish colors.
Watch this video by the University of Oslo on NASA’s YouTube page to understand how the Auroras work.
The colors are determined by the types of gases the sun’s particles collide with.
The green colors are caused by oxygen closer to the Earth whereas high altitude oxygen causes the red colors. Nitrogen causes the purple and blue colors and the in-between colors of yellow, orange, pink, etc. are caused by combinations.
The Auroras can be seen around the magnetic north and south poles and, because of the geography of our planet and the distribution of landmasses and population, the lights are more commonly chased in the northern hemisphere where they can be spotted in Iceland, Finland, Sweden, Norway and Greenland in Europe and Canada in North America. The Northern Lights have also been spotted as far low as the UK. Although there are plenty of services trying to predict the likelihood of Auroras, they are not always accurate. We were in Reykjavik when the likelihood was supposed to be 1/7 and we saw them every night, over the city skies with all the light pollution.
Aurora Australis, or Southern Lights, can be spotted in New Zealand but are less common as the country is farther from the south pole than the Nordic countries of Europe are to the North. Antarctica would be the best place to see the Southern Lights, but it is unlikely that any regular tourist would be able to travel there during the winter months when the ice is frozen as all cruises and trips to Antarctica happen during the summer. Scientists based there are the only lucky ones.
So now that you know a bit more about the Auroras and the Northern Lights, you can see where and how they would more easily be spotted.
The Auroras require dark clear skies with little pollution and a higher ground as, the farther away from the poles you are the lower they would be on the horizon. So what is the perfect place to spot Auroras?
A location far from large urban centers and clear sky conditions without clouds in either Iceland or Greenland, or the northern territories in Finland, Canada, Sweden and Norway (not their capitals or southern locations which are far from the North Pole).
As these areas are close to the North Pole, they have very short days during the winter and very short nights during the summer. As a result, Auroras are hardly ever spotted during the summer months where daylight can last up to 20 hours or longer and so the sunlight masks the lights. It is said that the best months to spot Auroras are September/October and March/April.
What is an Aurora Borealis bubble hotel?
In the last years, a few glass, plastic, ice and other unusual materials have been used to build hotels and rooms in the Arctic regions across Finland, Iceland, Norway, Canada and Sweden. These hotels cater to those looking for a different experience in the snow in areas conducive to enjoying the Aurora Borealis, or Northern Lights. That is, in remote locations.
As I mentioned in the previous section, the best places to see the Northern Lights are those with little light pollution and close to the North Pole. In these areas, there is usually little infrastructure and development, so savvy hoteliers and entrepreneurs have started to set up low impact, low cost, fancy accommodation options that are designed to maximise the opportunity to seeing the Northern Lights.
Some of these interesting Aurora Borealis hotels are the famous Ice or Igloo Hotels in Sweden, Norway or Canada, that have been around for a long time. These hotels are usually re-built every winter as they melt when temperatures rise. However, the thick ice does not allow guests to see the Northern Lights from their room, but they provide a unique overnight experience and, usually, the option to get a wake up call if the Aurora Borealis are spotted. In that case, the guests only need to grab their jackets and head out (where it is not that much colder than inside!) to enjoy the show.
The next step in your magical Northern Lights experience is to stay at one of the see-through accommodation options which allow you to see the lights from the comfort and warmth of your own bed. These are usually termed Aurora Bubbles, Glass Bubbles or just Bubbles and are usually made of inflatable or hard clear plastic.
There are a lot of different models and options available for the bubbles, with or without their own ensuite bathrooms, with or without curtains, bigger or smaller, etc. In Iceland, the bubbles are made of transparent plastic and are called Buubble.
How did Iceland’s bubble hotel start?
Interestingly, Buubble, the brand name of the 5 Million Star Hotel, or Aurora Borealis bubble hotel in Iceland, is owned by a Danish entrepreneur, Robert Robertsson, and not a hotel brand.
Robertsson is a Northern Lights expert and, when organising a trip for a client, the client suggested he build a hotel with a clear roof to see the lights from the warm comfort of a hotel room, like it is available in several other places like in the Finnish Lapland.
He first tested it with one bubble, a completely spherical one, which was standing up on small metal legs and was quite small with only space for a bed on the floor. As he saw immediate interest in it, he expanded the business to the six bubbles he had at the beginning of 2018 although more bubbles are to come.
Where is the Bubble Hotel in Iceland, Buubble?
The Bubble Hotel in Iceland is located about 100 km and an hour’s drive from Reykjavik near the town of Reyholt, in an undisclosed forest location that was only made available to guests after they had made a booking when booking a night at the bubbles was possible independently of the Golden Circle tour the company runs as well. Guests used to be given basic GPS coordinates as the location was not marked on Google Maps.
As of 2018, the bubbles in Iceland will not be available for booking without the Golden Circle tour anymore so the location will be kept completely secret (although of course if you use the WiFi internet available in the service house you can mark yourself on the map).
The bubbles are not too far from the main road that goes along the Golden Circle Tour that is so popular with visitors to Reykjavik, but they are far enough for you to enjoy total silence.
The six plastic bubbles are scattered around a forest area and about a minute’s walk away from the service house where facilities like toilet and shower are available. Each bubble does not have any of these facilities so, if you need to use the bathroom in the middle of the night, you will have to go to the service house – in the frozen cold of the night.
The property where the bubbles are located is owned by a local farmer and is filled with tall trees that provide privacy and seclusion. The farmer is available and on location should there be any issues with the bubbles during the night, as the guide, who will drop you off, will leave after you have been allocated your bubble.
Despite the bubble being made of clear plastic and therefore see-through, you will not see anyone else because of the vegetation and trees around. Also, if you go during the winter, the sheer darkness of the place will make sure you see nothing but the stars or the Lights for the entire time you are there, unless you turn on the bedside lamps.
You may see the other bubbles in the distance if they have their lamps on, but that is about it. Inside, you could well be in the middle of nowhere and feel like the only people around. The Buubble is definitively the world’s most romantic hotel.
What is it like to sleep at an Aurora Borealis bubble in Iceland
I had seen numerous photos of the bubbles and was pretty clear about what to expect but the reality still beat my expectations and was even nicer and more magical than I could have imagined.
Buubble’s Golden Circle tour is slightly different from the regular day tours you can book from Iceland because, aside from the regular stops at Gullfoss waterfalls, the geysers and the fields, you also have dinner at a local restaurant and then head to the Secret Lagoon for an after dinner dip and shower.
Depending on the time of year, the Golden Circle tour schedule changes. That means that you may get to the bubbles earlier or later. In our case, as we went in the dead of winter, there were only 3 hours of sunlight a day so our tour started at noon and we got to the bubbles around maybe 8,30pm. At that point we had all showered at the lagoon, so we were pretty ready to go to our room. We all waited at the service house for the guide to take us one by one to the bubble we had been assigned.
Walking from the service house to the bubbles was already a very nice start. It was a very short walk through frozen trees covered in snow and only lit by a couple of faint lights. When we got to our bubble I was so excited.
All bubbles are placed on wooden decks and are made of a door followed by a long tunnel, another door and a room that must measure around 2,5-3m in diameter. As it is is a bubble, you can expect the space to be spherical but with a flat bottom.
Inside, the decoration is rather spartan. The double bed is from Ikea and made of two single beds put together. This is probably convenient in case of guests who prefer two single beds and probably because a double mattress may not have fit through the door. There are two small Ikea lamps by the bedside and a small plastic heater.
When the guide walks you to your bubble you are given very basic but clear instructions: Do not open the two doors at the same time or the bubble will deflate. The doors are secured by magnets so as soon as you stop holding them they lock automatically, which is much more practical than the very annoying doors at the bubbles in Aire de Bardenas Hotel, in Spain, which had zippers. This locking system is quick to open and close and, given the distance of the tunnel, it is easy to make sure a door is closed before you can reach the next one.
Bubbles work like any other inflatable toy, so if the two doors are open at the same time, the air escapes and the bubble collapses.
Sleeping at a clear bubble in Iceland was a fantastic experience. Inside the bubble, the temperature was comfortable. Our guide told us that the air is pumped into the bubble at 18 degrees Celsius and so I was expecting to find the bubble nice and warm.
However, on our night, temperatures dropped to -20 with the wind chill factor and the bubbles are only made of thin plastic so I think the 18 degrees were cooled off quickly because I am pretty sure it was far colder inside. With the several blankets, our merino wool base layer, the electric blanket and the small heater, we were fine. Make sure to pack properly fo Iceland. Once inside the cozy bed and cuddled up, there was little incentive for me or my partner to get out into the freezing temperatures of the forest, no matter how many Auroras showed up. And they did.
It was our third night in Iceland and we had seen the Aurora Borealis every night while walking back to the hotel from dinner. We were surprised to see them so clearly in the city, with all the light pollution, especially considering that the predictions said the Auroras were not visible. I was happy to be in the bubble, even if the Auroras didn’t come out to play, because the setting made it the most romantic hotel room in the world.
Then, a few minutes after we tucked ourselves under the many blankets, we saw them, right there, above our heads, visible in the clearing of trees, through the plastic bubble.
We then started to hear voices outside. They were from our fellow travel guests, who, excited to see the lights, got out of their blankets and bubbles to take some photos.
I was tempted to do the same, after all, I am a travel blogger and my need to immortalise these kinds of moments is usually enough to get me to do to anything. But I didn’t. Partly because it was freezing outside, but mostly because I wanted to simply enjoy the moment with my partner. Bundled up into one, there we lay, with our eyes on the dancing lights, we fell asleep while watching the most amazing show.
What you need to know when staying at a bubble in Iceland
While the Bubble hotel in Iceland is quite comfortable, there are a few practical things you should know before going. Here I have tried to explain everything you should know when considering a stay at Iceland’s bubble in the following points but you are welcome to send me an email or leave a comment at the bottom of the post.
How much is it to sleep in a bubble in Iceland?
Sleeping in a bubble is not cheap and comes to about $600 per person including the Golden Circle tour and the night in the bubble. This price does not include dinner or breakfast, which you will be able to purchase at the two meal stops included in the itinerary at two local restaurants that were quite good and reasonably priced for Iceland standards.
If you were to book the tour alone you could be paying around $300-400 per person for a small group size, without the Secret Lagoon and without the entertaining and interesting Olaf, our guide for the day, who was an avid music fan, musician and Sigur Ros mentor. His anecdotes were well worth the extra cash!
When the bubbles were available for booking independently, the price was $300 without the transport or any food.
What about toilets
This is the one million dollar question.
The bubbles do not have ensuite bathrooms. That means that if you need to use the toilet you will have to make your way to the service house where there are two toilets and showers and a small kitchen.
I made sure to use the bathroom before going to the bubble and then use it first thing in the morning. My partner braved the sub zero temperatures to use the toilet in the middle of the night. He returned in one piece, but he got lots in the darkness.
How much space is there in the Bubbble?
We were told to pack light and only bring an overnight bag and that was a good idea. However, there is probably enough space in the bubble to bring a carry on (which many of the guests in the other five bubbles did) and even your larger bags.
The reason why they tell you to bring a small backpack when you book the bubble with the Golden Circle tour is more to manage the space in the car than it is to manage the space in the bubble.
Because there is a double door system to ensure the bubble does not deflate, there is essentially a spacious corridor between the two doors that can fit any bag.
As you will only be spending one night in the bubble and you will be coming as part of the Golden Circle tour, you are best off making sure to have a backpack you can take just for one night to fit essentials and a change of underwear which will come in handy at the Secret Lagoon after you shower.
Is it cold inside the Bubble hotel?
We were lucky, according to our guide, that the weather was perfect to spot the Aurora Borealis and we did see them. It was absolutely beautiful. But the weather was bitterly cold. With the wind chill factor, which always seem to blow in Iceland, the temperatures were as low as -20.
As the bubble is only made of plastic (the same one you use for a bouncy castle or an inflatable pool toy), there is little in the way of isolation from the cold. They provide blankets, an electric blanket and a small heater but even with that, at -20 Celsius, we slept with our thermal base layer on. With all that on, we were ok, far better than we would have been standing outside in the cold, but it was not super warm.
The air inside the bubbles is constantly blowing and being recycled at 18 degrees Celsius but given the cold outside, the temperature was much lower than that.
There are no keys to Iceland’s bubble – How can you lock the bubble?
If you go on the tour, you will arrive at the bubbles in the evening by which time there will be nothing left to do but lay on your comfy bed and watch the sky.
You are unlikely to leave your bubble unattended as its freezing outside and there is nothing there to do, but if you did, say to go watch the Lights, there is no key to lock your bubble. The doors to the bubble close with a magnet and nothing else.
This should not be a problem, but it is good to know, especially if, in the excitement of the moment, you leave the bubble to go out and take some photos. Not that anything will happen because there is nobody around.
WiFi at the bubbles
There is WiFi in the service house but not in the bubbles. If you are European, you will have free roaming from your home country, so you will not need the WiFi.
How to have your own bubble room at home
Interestingly, the bubbles used at the Buubble hotel can be bought on Amazon for less than $900.
That means Robertsson must be making a very good profit from this since the facilities provided are rather minimalistic – no food, no in-room shower or toilet and little in the way of infrastructure or investment beyond the small service house and the tour costs around $600 per person.
This is the bubble you actually sleep in at the Aurora Borealis Buubble hotel in Iceland.
If you wanted to replicate the experience, minus the Aurora Borealis, you could just buy the bubble tent from Amazon and set it up in your garden. According to the website, the bubble is inflated in just a few minutes.