It comes as no surprise that Iceland is at the top of most people’s bucket lists. With otherworldly landscapes dotted all around the country, unique experiences, and friendly locals, it is the place to be winter and summer alike.
Although most visitors tend to visit the island when the weather gets warmer and the days get longer, a winter trip up North might be just what you need. Needless to say the scenery during the cold part of the year is just as captivating, if not even more than during summer.
Wondering why visit Iceland in winter? Here’s why:
Flights and accommodation are cheaper
As of January 2022, there are around 40 daily departures and arrivals into Keflavik International Airport. A dozen of international carriers offer both non-stop and connecting flights to Iceland and prices start as low as 15 euros (if booked in advance). A quick Google Flights search shows that return flights to Iceland in the winter months costs 30% less than those operating during summer. In addition, accommodation in Iceland is more easily found and tends to be much cheaper during the cold months, which is pretty much a win-win situation.
It’s not as cold as you think
If you come from Paris or New York, you know too well the dip in temperature come mid-November. Well, surprisingly enough, in Iceland the temperature doesn’t fall too low below 0 degrees Celsius. Of course, this really depends on where you find yourself in the country but chances of you getting frostbit in the middle of Reykjavík are slim to none. The wind is a whole different story. As Iceland is in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean and the cities do not have high enough buildings to protect from high winds, getting blown away is a possibility; a very faint one, but nevertheless still possible. When heading out it’s always worth checking the wind forecast as well to prevent any unpleasant surprises.
The landscape changes
Snow-filled Iceland has a particular charm that cannot be seen during any other season but winter. Yes, the weather is a tad more unpredictable and to some extent inconvenient however, during the colder months, the island becomes a true winter wonderland. Imagine walking on Reynisfjara with snow idyllically contrasting the dark-charcoal colored stretch of endless black sand, or taking a snowmobile ride on Vatnajökull – Iceland’s biggest glacier, being surrounded by nothing but mountains and snow.
Although Iceland tends to be a year-round destination, the cold weather brings in fewer crowds. If you don’t like the idea of queuing up to see your favorite waterfall or driving endless miles in search of a hotel vacancy then it’s best to visit during wintertime. The roads will be less busy and the wait at gas stations will be cut in half. You’ll not only be able to experience Reykjavík at a slower pace but all of Iceland’s natural landscapes as well.
High chance of Northern lights
The Northern Lights or Aurora Borealis come out to play in between September and March. Their brightness directly depends on solar weather. Although it happens all the time, solar weather simply cannot be seen when it’s bright outside. This is the reason why the Northern Lights are best spotted when the day gets darker and the night gets longer. If you’re wondering how to go about hunting for the Northern Lights, a good start would be to drive out of the city on a cold, cloudless winter night after checking the Aurora forecast and waiting for them to appear. Your camera will see the aurora way before you do so it’s always a good idea to snap a few shots into the darkness to make sure they’re not dancing in front of you.
Sweater weather doesn’t only sound good, but looks good too! With the drop of temperature, the right clothing not only comes recommended but is essential. There’s nothing better than putting on a locally made traditional Icelandic sweater, known as a ‘lopapeysa’, strapping on your hiking boots, and going for a winter walk in wonderland. Apart from their distinctive patterns, lopapeysa’s are made from 100% Icelandic sheep wool making them perfectly warm yet breathable and water-resistant! If there’s one thing you ought to buy in Iceland, it is with no doubt a lopapeysa!
With around 100.000 horses found on its territory, it’s safe to say that Iceland is pretty much a horse’s haven. Known for being small in size yet extremely hardy, the Icelandic horse is one of the only 5-gaited horses worldwide. Apart from the walk, trot, canter, and gallop, they also have a four-beat lateral gait ‘tölt’ making them quite unique. These friendly furry creatures can be found pretty much over the whole island! If you’re road tripping around the country, it’s safe to say that you’ll be stopping numerous times to talk, pet, and take a photo (or a few hundred to be precise) of these entertaining animals. As they are turned out during winter and only go back in during heavy storms, their fur becomes more fluffy and full to protect them better from the harsh weather conditions. There’s truly nothing better than cuddling a fluffy horse! Never a pony, always a horse!
The colder weather also brings along a plethora of exciting activities. In fact, it is the only season where you can come up close and personal with Iceland’s most fabulous and much admired Ice Caves. Guided Tours operate a couple of times per day, and safely take you to the wonders of the underworld. For most, you’ll need to take a 20-30 minute walk on even terrain to reach the entrance of the cave itself before strapping on your crampons for a fun-filled hour of exploration. The Crystal Ice Cave or the Blue Ice Cave is definitely a top favorite when visiting the Jökulsárlón region.
Skiing and Snowboarding
Although skiing and snowboarding aren’t as popular in Iceland compared to the rest of Europe, there are a few resorts in the North and Southwest of the country that is worth dropping by. The season starts from mid-November and ends around May, depending on the snowfall. The slopes aren’t many, but are well lit, priced fairly, and are the perfect place to learn to ski/snowboard. If you don’t want to carry your gear around, there are plenty of shops where you can rent skis/boards as well as winter apparel. If you’re into extreme sports, then Iceland is the perfect place to try your hand at cat or heli-skiing. There’s nothing better than being able to ski right down to the Atlantic Ocean!
Hot pots and Pools
There’s nothing better than soaking in geothermally heated water with the northern lights dancing above you! Sounds like a dream, but Iceland truly makes your dreams a reality. Whether it be the Blue Lagoon or something more off-the-beaten-path, such as Hrunalaug Hot Springs, winter is the best time to experience the country’s prominent bathing culture! If you want to learn more about Iceland’s hot pots and their location around the island, take a look at our blog for some ideas and advice. Once you’ve dipped your toes in Iceland’s hot pots, chances are you won’t want to go home.
Have you really been to Iceland if you’ve never experienced a winter storm? Winters in Iceland come hand in hand with snowstorms, icy roads, and lots and lots of wind. There’s nothing better than curling up on the sofa somewhere in the middle of Iceland and watching the storm unfold outdoors. It’s also fun to explore your surrounding area during milder blizzards as the natural landscape can entirely change in a flash. Of course, it’s always essential to know your limits and stay safe whilst enjoying the storms.
Endless sunrises and sunsets
Iceland’s high latitude makes for darker and longer winters. During the winter solstice or the darkest day of the month, the island only gets a mere two to three hours of daylight in between sunrise and sunset. Although it might not sound appealing at first, this unique phenomenon has its positives. As the sun never goes beyond the horizon, sunrises and sunsets take much longer to occur, giving the allusion of endlessness. They can in fact take hours to happen, allowing you to enjoy their exclusive colors a tad longer than during the summer months. Who doesn’t love longer sunsets!
Thinking of visiting Iceland in winter? Why not take a look at our 5-Day Winter Magic Guided Tour!