Winter is coming and hot damn is it cold. But not so cold that you should let it deter you from visiting Iceland in the winter. Quite the opposite actually. Iceland is a winter dreamland that is oozing of so much natural beauty that it will satisfy your inner wilderness warrior while leaving you feeling all warm and fuzzy inside (or was that the wine and whisky?). Nevertheless, if Old Man Winter gave out awards, Iceland would surely win in a landslide. This breathtaking natural phenomena of a country will turn winter-haters into believers, practically begging them to savor every inch of its dramatic terrain, one Patagonia vest at a time.
HERE ARE MY TOP 10 REASONS WHY YOU SHOULD GO TO ICELAND IN THE WINTER:
EINN (#1): SEEING THE NORTHERN LIGHTS
There are few things in this world that can rival the astonishing light show that is the Northern Lights (Aurelius Borealis for all you fancy people out there who believe in science, and whatnot). Seeing these mesmerizing lights dance across the sky, not once but twice, was pure magic. While there’s certainly no guarantee of a sighting, visiting in the winter drastically increases your chances.
How to see them:
- You can check some Aurora forecast websites, such as Vedur.
- Regularly check the radars that are at many restaurants and inns for tracking and weather reports.
- Leave the city – darkness is your best friend here. The clearer the sky is, the better chance of seeing the lights.
- Dress warmly, be patient and be willing to chase the lights at anytime. You might need to stay outside for a long time, so be prepared. Lights can unexpectedly appear and just as suddenly vanish any time during the night.
TVEIR (#2): ICE CAVING & GLACIER EXPLORING
You know what you can’t do during the spring and summer in Iceland? Go ice caving! You guys. It’s freaking other-worldly down there. Upon descending into one of the largest natural ice caves in the world, you feel as if you’ve entered an endless piercing blue ocean abyss. Crawling through the ice cave’s interior is so enthralling–it leaves you invigorated and absolutely spellbound. I’ve never seen or experienced anything like it.
An organized tour is pretty much a must here, given the cave’s instability and propensity to collapse due to melting. For safety reasons, tours only run from November to March; our ice cave tour was on March 30th, which was the second to last day of the season. Because of the short season and popularity of the caves, tours tend to book up rather quickly, so consider booking sooner than later.
Clearly practicing mindfulness and staying present in the moment.
TFW when you’ve completed your ice cave tour without it collapsing on you.
PRIR (#3): THE BLUE LAGOON IS ALL THE MORE INVITING
I’m pretty sure that if you looked up the word euphoria in a dictionary, you would find a photo of someone (maybe even me) dipping in the warm geothermal water of the Blue Lagoon on a blistery winter day. Parts of the lagoon are warmer than others, and when you find those glorious hot pockets, it’s going to take a lot of convincing for you to want to move.
I’ve heard some say that they didn’t love the Blue Lagoon because of the swarms of people. Well, guess what? If you go in the winter, it’s considerably less crowded than in the summer!
And if you’re still freezing, drinking beer and starting a train dance party with complete strangers is another surefire way to warm up…
Things to know:
- The Blue Lagoon is located around 40 minutes from Reykjavik and 20 minutes from Keflavik airport.
- Pre-book your online Blue Lagoon tickets here.
- Everything is operated with and paid for using a wristband, this way you don’t need to worry about carrying cash near the water. Just be careful to keep a close guard of it as there is a fine for losing it.
- When you leave the locker room, RUN DON’T WALK into the lagoon. It’s freezing out there!
FJORIR (#4): ISN’T IT WONDERFALL? FOSS YEAH!
Free-flowing stunning waterfalls around every corner (well, not quite around every corner…but there sure are a lot of them!)? Yes, please! The waterfalls all dressed up for winter along with the intricate ice patterns on the surrounding rocks make waterfall-chasing all the more exhilarating.
Be prepared to freeze your foss off next to those waterfalls–the gusting winds at Gullfoss made for a super cold and short visit!
Need more Iceland waterfalls in your life? Of course you do. Read my extensive waterfalls post here.
FIMM (#5): WALKING THROUGH A WINTER WONDERLAND
Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon
There’s no shortage of magical landscapes in Iceland and being blanketed in snow accentuates their unrivaled beauty even more. There’s a reason that so many compare Iceland to being on another planet. Iceland’s topography is so dazzling, so captivating, so transcendent, that it will make you feel as if you’ve been transported to a whimsical fairyland that can’t possibly be of this world. How can such a relatively small country contain so much natural raw beauty?
SEX (#6) (No, I’m talking dirty. This is how you say six in Icelandic, which after a week in Iceland, I’m pretty sure I’m nearly fluent in):
LIFE’S A BEACH. EVEN WHEN IT’S COLD AS HELL.
Let’s be real here. I am by no means suggesting spending the day at the beach on a frigid and blustery day is better than one with endless sunshine and bright blue skies. Not.Even.Close. But let’s be honest. As amazing as a beautiful beach on a gloriously warm day is, it does tend to lose a bit of its luster after a while. Oh stop. You know I’m kinda right. But being surrounded by sparkling icebergs on a rare black sand beach? I mean, how often does that happen? Um, like practically never, amiright?
An experience that’s as unique as it is memorable.
Diamond Beach near Jökulsárlón Glacial Lagoon
SJO (#7): MONEY CAN’T BUY HAPPINESS, BUT IT CAN BUY YOU ANOTHER TRIP
Make no mistake: Iceland is not exactly what you would a call a budget-friendly destination. In fact, Iceland is pretty freaking expensive. But there is some good news: visiting in the winter is, you guessed it, more affordable in comparison to the summer season. Flights, accommodations, tours, and car rentals are all typically much cheaper in the winter. You know what you can do with all of that money you saved? Book another trip!
Things to know:
- Our March flights (direct out of Newark) were less than $600/person.
- We rented our car from Blue Car Rental, which is located right outside of the airport.
At Pingvellir practicing gratitude for all of the money we saved by traveling in the winter.
Just kidding. I was totally posing for the photo op.
ATTA (#8): MORE PLACES TO REST YOUR PRETTY LITTLE HEAD
You can drive for hours in Iceland without seeing a house, inn, gas station, hell, civilization. While there are many accommodation choices in Reykjavik, options are much more limited out in the countryside, where you will most likely be spending the majority of your time. Traveling in the wintertime almost guarantees less tourists and crowds (although Iceland is increasingly becoming more and more popular and the country can barely keep up with the surging tourism). Less tourists = more places to rest your pretty little head after hours of hiking glaciers and crawling through those ice caves.
With the exception of staying at the City Center Hotel in Reykjavik, we primarily stayed at inns and B&Bs using sites like Airbnb and Booking.com.
Hanging with our gracious host at our guest house in Hvolsvollir
We stayed at Brunnholl Country Guesthouse, a simple and comfortable inn in Southern Iceland.
NIU (#9): YES IT’S COLD. PUT ON AN ANOTHER LAYER AND GET OVER IT.
So, umm, yeah, it’s cold. I mean, it is the winter, so there’s that. BUT there are times when it’s not I-can’t-feel-my-limbs-and-I-might-die-of-hypothermia cold and surely that’s a huge compelling win, right?
Dress in layers and bring ski clothes. And be okay with wearing 1,000 layers and not looking cute and looking like the abominable snow man for the majority of your trip. Once I got over that and accepted my uncuteness (totally a word) for the week, I was fine. Hell. I even felt liberated. No heels, minimal makeup, and wearing a hat every single day and not having to do my hair? I was practically in casual-minimalistic-cold-as-hell heaven.
Look! Not wearing a coat! I’m practically sweating over here!
Am I in the tropics? I am burning up out here!
Like it might as well be August it’s so hot here. NO COAT YO.
And then this happened. Over a 4 km hike each way to this plane crash in what must have been 40-50mph gusting winds with black lava sand whipping across our faces. The weather conditions were absolutely brutal. Pretty sure this is the coldest we’ve ever been.
TIU (#10) LESS CROWDS:
Traveling in the winter equates to less crowds which ultimately equates to higher spirits and better photos. Winning and more winning.
See? No-one’s here.
Totally desolate. Not a soul in sight.
The open road all to yourself! Woohooo!
P.S. These photos are slightly misleading, but you get the point.
And a bonus…although this has nothing to do with traveling in the winter. I just thought I’d share and be nice…
WHERE TO EAT
Iceland isn’t exactly known as a culinary destination, and because of the language barrier, I can’t remember the names of a fair amount of restaurants we dined at. Just know that you can find some amazing fish here, arguably some of the freshest in the world. Similar to the accommodations situation, one challenge while traveling through the countryside is the lack of dining options. Restaurants aren’t exactly prevalent, so when you come across one, you might want to stop and check it out.
Fiskfelagid is a delicious and beautiful restaurant in the heart of the city that serves outstanding local seafood. We enjoyed a fabulous lunch here.
Sjavargrillid is an awesome grill in the city where we enjoyed a wonderful dinner. If possible, ask for a table downstairs where it’s especially intimate and charming. We were so lucky to meet up with dear friends not only for lunch, but for dinner, too!
With Abby, one of my besties, who’s also semi-fluent in Icelandic.
Have I mentioned that we’re both brilliant?
The Golden Circle:
It may sound strange but the restaurant at the Geysir Center is fantastic. Not even kidding. Yes, it’s adjacent to a gift shop in a tourist center but it is so surprisingly good. With that said, it’s also expensive as foss. Case in point: T’s bottle of beer was nearly $25 USD. So enjoy at your own risk!
Located in Hofn, Humarhofnin is an adorable eatery that specializes in langoustines. The langoustines are ridiculously good and are definitely in the running for the best I’ve ever had. So good we returned for a second night of feasting and pure gluttony.
The Old Cowhouse is a delightful family-style restaurant located on a farm in southern Iceland. This cozy establishment serves typical Icelandic comfort food, which is exactly what you want after spending a day outside in frigid temps!
Do as the locals do and try hakari (fermented shark). It’s absolutely disgusting and smells even worst, but is kind of a must when visiting. Tip: have a large glass of wine nearby to wash it down and mask its repulsiveness.
Bottom line: It’s true that there certainly is never a bad time to visit in Iceland, but if you are looking for an awesome winter getaway, Iceland should definitely be on your shortlist. So bring out those sweaters, face masks. hats, long johns, and whisky flasks, because the enchanting land of fire and ice awaits!