Text by: Agata Ryszkowska
The flight tickets get way cheaper over winter (January-March) so it’s often tempting to take up the chance. But then comes the hesitant moment… does Iceland offer enough entertainment during that period of time? Am I ready for the cold? Is the weather harsh? Will it be worth spending all the money? Let me introduce you some of my favorite ways of spending time in Iceland over winter, which can help you decide for yourself ❄️
Winter in Iceland – the reality
It does get cold but it’s relatively warm for the altitude of the island. The weather depends on the area though. The capital region and the South are usually warmer (avg. 0°C) than the rest of the country thanks to the Gulf Stream. You have to be ready for strong winds with low temperatures, which means that you need multiple layers of good quality clothing. The absolutely lowest temperatures range from −25 to −30°C (−13 to −22°F) but it won’t happen until you decide to go on a hike on one of the glaciers. Sturdy boots, thermal underwear, waterproof and windproof trousers, woolen sweaters, thick fleece and obviously a good quality winter jacket are a must. Don’t be afraid though, it’s not as bad as the name of the country suggests. Remember about layering your clothing and just be prepared for any type of weather!
As you probably happen to know, Iceland doesn’t get much sunlight during winter. The shortest day takes place on 21/22 December and it depends on the area how long it lasts but it’s usually around 4-3 hours. The days start to get longer after Christmas so it gives the opportunity to see and explore more while the island is still wintery.
Top activities to do in Iceland during winter
The aim of this short guide is just to give you an idea what Iceland has to offer during the winter time, not to give you exact information when and where you should book your tour. Its goal is to help you decide whether the colder months in a country that is already cold is something you’d enjoy 🙂
- Bathing in hot springs
It’s absolutely a must! Iceland is famous for its geothermal energy which is also used for recreational activities. It doesn’t get much better than quickly taking your clothes off and rushing through the snow to the hot pot which warms you inside out. It gets even better when you can watch aurora at the same time!
If you’d prefer to bathe in a more formalized way, there’s plenty of swimming pools that offer saunas, jacuzzis and ponds with various temperatures of water. Just remember to thoroughly wash yourself before splashing into any of the hot pots!
- Whale watching
The honor of being the capital of whale watching in Iceland belongs to Húsavík. It’s located far in the North but it’s absolutely worth the drive, as the journey itself through the snowy mountains ridges is a huge attraction. Whereas the town of Húsavík can guarantee you the highest probability of seeing some whales, you can still have the opportunity to try it in Reykjavik. There are multiple companies that offer tours and if your first sail happens to be unsuccessful, the next one you get for free. Don’t worry about the clothing too much – you’ll be equipped in everything that you need in such harsh environment.
- Aurora hunting
As the days get shorter once winter is approaching, the possibility of seeing aurora gets increased. You can either book a tour, go outside the city yourself or just take a longer walk to Grótta lighthouse located on the Seltjarnarnes Peninsula right next to Reykjavik. It’s a perfect spot to watch aurora as the sky isn’t much polluted with light but it’s still very close to the city. There’s nothing else like watching this jaw-dropping show of rapidly moving vivid colors.
- Horseback riding
Horses with the size of ponies are an inherent element of the Icelandic landscapes. They get even cuter during winter time thanks to the extra fluff they grow. There are multiple farms located all around the island and a large number of them are perfectly children-friendly. It’s best to book your ride with an advance to be sure there’s a place for you. It’s a wonderful way to spend your time. It doesn’t get much better than a guided horseback riding tour through lava fields when everything around you is white and snowy.
It just doesn’t get much cooler than this! Book a tour and just let yourself sink into the raw, untouched wintery nature. Snowmobiling opportunities are usually 2-4 hours away from Reykjavik, so it’s best to combine in with an extra activity, so you don’t lose your precious time.
- Ice caving
It’s something that can be done only during winter as the caves melt down during the summer months. A regular caving is usually an emotional experience, but what if the cave is made of ice? It leaves you speechless with the multiple shades of blue. It’s absolutely necessary to book a tour with an experienced guide as ice caving for unexperienced tourist without proper equipment can be very dangerous. It’s also best to combine in with different activities because it takes a lot of time to get to the desired location. Most of the ice caved are located in the Vatnajökull glacier.
- Glacier hiking
There’s something almost spiritual in walking on ice that has been there for thousands of years. Especially now, when almost every glacier is in recession due to the climate change. It’s best to adjust the difficulty of your hike to your fitness level. Most of the tours offer the equipment that’s necessary on a glacier hike, including ours. It’s worth to invest in such activity not only for the unforgettable experience but also for the inner self. It makes you think how delicate the environment is and motivates you to treat it with more respect.
- Road tripping
The landscapes around Iceland are huge attraction themselves and you don’t have to go deep into the country to experience breathtaking views. Thanks to the fact that you don’t get much sunlight during the wintery days, it often feels like your days consist of constant sunrises and sunsets. It is truly stunning, the light is just magical and seeing snowy mountains lighten up with all shades of pink and orange colors really add up to the whole scene.
It really depends on you what you’d be up to. You can either road trip the whole country taking the route number 1 or you could just have a drive around Snæfellsnes Peninsula, which is basically the miniature of Iceland. There’s another blog post about that area that you could be interested in reading.
- Skiing and snowboarding
It’s not the most common thing (although growing!) to do amongst Icelanders mainly because of the harsh conditions that aren’t unusual in this country. But there are plenty of ski resorts that offer multiple ways of enjoying the winter time. They’re usually well lit up because of the limited light hours. The most popular one around Reykjavik is the Bláfjöll ski resort, just 30 minutes drive outside the city. It will satisfy the average skier but if you’d like some more exciting experience, it’s most recommended to go North.
- Winter hiking
It’s a whole different story to do hiking in Iceland during winter. It’s just as stunning as during summer, if not more! There’s something magical about hiking through vast valleys surrounded by snowy mountains, it makes you think how little and fragile we are. It’s best to to it with a guide to prevent any undesirable danger. We offer many hiking tours, which you can check out here 🙂
- Exploring the capital
Reykjavik has a lot to offer! It’s adorable all year round with its narrow streets with colorful old houses and numerous coffee shops. It’s even cuter during winter, when the roads are covered in snow and multiple streets and buildings are illuminated with thousands of fairy lights. There are many museums to visit, concerts to go and restaurants to eat at. You can’t go wrong with Reykjavik!