Iceland is a true adventurer’s playground with seemingly infinite glacial waterfalls, boundless black sand beaches, powerful active geysers, and unpredictable dancing northern lights. While many travelers travel to Iceland in the warmer months, experiencing Iceland in the winter was a magical experience.
I will detail each point below in further detail throughout this post but here are a few key points on why you should feel comfortable considering visiting Iceland in the winter:
- The northern lights are highly active
- Cheaper flights and smaller crowds
- You will appreciate the geothermal baths / hot springs that much more
- It’s actually warmer/more temperate than you’d think
- Winter wonderland like you’ve never seen before
- The highways are traversable by car
Northern Lights in Iceland
It’s during the winter where you’ll be able to the see the northern lights in Iceland, come the other months, you may have a difficult time catching them. While daylight is a rarer commodity during the winter (plan your itinerary for daytime activities intelligently), you will have nearly 16 hours of darkness each night to catch a glimpse of the dancing light shows the northern lights presents its pensive audience. Enough cannot be said about seeing them for the first time.
To our surprise, we caught one of the rare light shows from the window of our plane en route to Iceland as we soared over Greenland from New York. It was my first time seeing the lights and truly a sight I’ll cherish forever. It was a redeye flight and I was a bit groggy after taking some sleeping pills but once I caught a glimmer of the lights, I was hooked and powered through the medication to watch this majestic feat of Mother Nature.
Cheaper Flights and Smaller Crowds
As we debated escaping the cold winter of New York to the Caribbean, we stumbled upon a flight to Europe for under $350. HOW MUCH??? This was my reaction as well. We found a round-trip, direct flight to Reykjavik for $340 listed by Wow Air, an Icelandic airline company. I was as floored by this discovery as you are reading this. We decided to book a flight and stay for 5 days at the end of January.
Upon arriving in Iceland, we were surprised by the lack of lines and competition to see some of the most iconic sites. Since winter is the “off season” to visit Iceland, you will not have many tourists to compete with. This was a true delight as we were able to appreciate attractions for extended periods of time without being rushed.
Geothermal baths (thermal pools) and weather
Ever jumped into a hot shower after being out in the frigid cold for hours? Nice right? As I mentioned, the geothermal baths will be open across the country and you will not have to fight the crowds. Our favorite was the Secret Lagoon located off of the Golden Circle near Flúðir. It was secluded, welcoming, and peaceful.
There is of course, the Blue Lagoon, located approximately 30 minutes from Keflavik International Airport as well. I recommend not missing this attraction. While it is touristy, it is worth the hype. Additionally, we had luck renting an Airbnb on an Icelandic horse ranch inclusive of a hot tub near the town of Selfoss off of the Golden Circle. This was arguably the best decision we made in our trip planning. We realized this as we sat in the steaming tub under the endless stars and Northern Lights.
Driving in Iceland
Driving in Iceland in the winter? Are you insane? My exact thoughts when I read this thought on another travel blog. Not in a million years I thought to myself. As I read more, I was comforted by the fact that the weather is actually somewhat temperate in the winter and main highways are cleared regularly. This is not to say, extreme caution should be used while driving as the roads can and will get icy, however, it’s certainly not as daunting as it sounds. That being said, we rented a 4-wheel drive, all terrain SUV with winter tires that gripped the road very well. I recommend this course of action. We had little to no mishaps for the 3 days we drove around the Golden Circle, down to Vik, and on to Reykjavik.
A Few Essential Packing List Items
I noticed many travelers and photographers using camera-equipped drones to capture stunning footage and images of their trip. There are a few quality drones out there. So I recommend the ones below above all others for flight time, quality of images and handling:
You will certainly be inclined to do some hiking whether it’s to the glaciers, seeking that thermal spa in a valley, or along the black sand beaches. Therefore, I recommend purchasing or bringing a quality pair of hiking boots to get you through the trip to avoid any slipping on ice and strong grip for the volcanic rock. See the products I recommend below:
Sample Iceland Itinerary
- Day 1 – Golden Circle: Thingvillar National Park, Strokkur Geysir, Gulfoss, Secret Lagoon, Airbnb on Icelandic Horse Ranch near Selfoss
- Day 2 – Southern Coast: Seljalandsfoss, Vik, Black sand beach, Dyrholeay
- Day 3 – Drive to explore Reykjavik: Skogafoss, Solheimajokull Glacier, Eyjafjallajökull Volcano site, Blue Lagoon
- Day 4 – Reykjavik: Hallgrímskirkja Catherdral, The Sun Voyager, Harpa Concert Hall, Phallic Museum, exploring the Nightlife (http://travel.cnn.com/11-reykjaviks-coolest-bars-872221/)
- Day 5 – Departure back to New York
Iceland’s Majestic Waterfalls
Keep your eyes peeled for an upcoming post with the 5 most iconic and picturesque waterfalls in Iceland!