Visiting Iceland during the winter is a magical experience and a totally different one than visiting this magical place during any other season. As you could expect, the winter season is dark and cold, you have just a few hours of daylight and you might face some snow blizzards. I know all of this sounds terrible, but it's actually not. There are several advantages of coming during this time of the year.
- Less tourists.
- You can see the northern lights.
- You can see a winter wonderland.
- You can visit ice caves and hike in glaciers.
If you're brave enough to come during winter, there are a couple of things you have to keep in mind if you want to take the most out of it, read along to learn more about it.
There are tons of magical places in Iceland, you could spend months exploring them all if you wanted to. Probably, just like me, most of the people that go to Iceland don't have an infinite amount of time there and want to pack as many things as possible in their itinerary.
In my 10 days there, I got to see quite a lot and I had the feeling that the time was well spent, but I do want to go back to explore the rest of the island.
Reykjavik is the world's northernmost capital city. It's located just below the Arctic Circle, making it the perfect spot to witness some incredible natural phenomena like the Northern Lights!
There are a lot of nice restaurants in Reykjavik, charming streets and a particular church called Hallgrímskirkja. I would also recommend you to visit Perlan, a nature museum where you can learn a lot about Iceland's flora and fauna and the glaciers. There's even an artificial ice cave inside.
Iceland is the country of waterfalls, while there's no official record, estimates say there may be as many as 10,000 waterfalls in Iceland. You'll have plenty of choices when it comes to visiting waterfalls. Some of the most popular ones are:
- Gullfoss - This one is more impressive, in my opinion.
- Skógafoss - You can get closer to this one and is closer to Reykjavik
Visit an Ice Cave
Ice caves are formed when water seeps into cracks in glaciers and freezes. Over time, the water expands and carves out the cave. The result is a stunningly beautiful natural formation that is unlike anything else you will see.
They are constantly changing, they melt and refreez constantly. This means that no two visits to an ice cave will be the same. You never know what you might see around the next corner.
It is important to go with a guide who knows the caves and can help you stay safe!
Ice caves can only be visited during the cold months (with some exceptions) This is because the ice is thicker and more stable during this time.
Visit a Glacier
Visiting a glacier was one of the most magical experience I've ever had in my life. I had the time to visit two different glaciers: Fjallsjökull and Sólheimajökull but there are plenty more. There are precisely 269 named glaciers in Iceland, so you will have a lot of choice. Just make sure to include them into your list.
To visit a glacier you will have to either just see it from the distance, or do a hike/walk with a certified tour guide. It can be dangerous to go on your own.
The most shocking thing I learned from my trip to Iceland is that the glaciers are shrinking at a dramatic speed. At some point we won't be able to admire the beauty of them. If you want to learn more about it read this article: How long will iceland's majestic glaciers be around?.
Kirkjufell & Snaefellsnes Peninsula
Kirkjufell, also known as "Church Mountain", is a distinctively shaped peak found on the north shore of Iceland's Snæfellsnes Peninsula. It is often called the "most photographed mountain in Iceland" due to its dramatic formation and perfect coastal location.
Klifatindur is a mountain located in the southeastern part of Iceland, a few kilometres east of the town of Höfn. It is the highest of eight peaks that jut out on a small peninsula, and is known for its dramatic steep cliffs and stunning views of the surrounding area.
Klifatindur is not as popular as some of the other hiking destinations in Iceland, so you are likely to have the trails to yourself. This is a great place to escape the crowds and enjoy the peace and quiet of nature.
Many people don't know is that there's a hidden Viking village located just a short distance from the summit. This abandoned village was built in 2010 as a movie set for a project that was never completed. However, it has since become a popular tourist destination, thanks to its unique setting and fascinating history.
Useful websites / apps:
- Use hello-aurora to check the Aurora forecast!
- Use Safe Travel App to check road status every time you get going!
Things to consider
- You definitely need a car to move around.
- The roads can get slippery or the path can be blocked due to snow blizzards.
- Everytime you're about to go somewhere check the status of the road using the Safe Travel app and don't head to places where it says that there might be a blizzard happening, it can get really scary.
- Get a 4WD car, I saw at least 7 cars that got stuck in the snow and they had to call the car rental company and pay for a tow truck to get them out.
- It can be very expensive, unless you come from Norway, the US or Switzerland.
- Pay for the insurance that covers you against breaking your windshield. There are a lot of roads that habe little pebbles and sometimes when you have a car in front of you the tires can throw them directly to your windshield and break it. It's pretty common.
Things to pack
This part is a little bit subjective, it depends how well you tolerate the cold. In my case, I'm quite good with cold weather, but my girlfriend suffers a lot from it. So, in terms of clothing, consider how you deal with cold and base on that decide whether to buy warmer clothes or not.
The weather in Iceland during the winter is super unpredictible, I had sunny days, rainy days, windy days, and everything in between. It can get cold as f**ck or even a bit warm and get sunburnt. So the best way is to wear layers.
Iceland has a very popular brand for winter clothing called 66°North, it is quite expensive but the products have great quality. There are cheaper brands for winter clothing that you can find in Reykjavik, but you'll probably save money buying stuff before arrival.
- Snow Grips / Crampons (Amazon) - A must, it can be really slippery in a lot of places. You'll thank me for this ones.
- Thick waterproof Gloves
- Warm socks - Wool Crew Socks
- A base layer - Base layer tops / Base layer pants
- A middle layer
- Windproof & waterproof shell layer
Iceland is a very expensive country compared to the rest of the world. I think only Switzerland, Norway and the US compete with Iceland in terms of prices, so be prepared to spend a lot of money.