A Winter Travel Guide to Iceland
Iceland: the land of awe-inspiring glaciers, rushing waterfalls, and vast lava fields. This sparsely populated country is home to some of the most impressive and diverse landscapes in the world, making it the perfect place for adventure-lovers. It’s also taking a lot of tourists away from other destinations in Western Europe. So what can make this thrill-filled destination even better? Visiting during the low-season: Winter.
Although the idea of Iceland in the winter may sound a bit intimidating, the weather is actually not quite as extreme as many imagine. With an average lowland temperature of 0 °C (32 °F) - it gets a bit colder in the highlands and northern regions - a thick coat and good pair of boots is really all you need to enjoy Iceland’s exciting winter sights. So for winter travelers looking to take advantage of Iceland’s low-season, which means cheaper prices, even less crowded attractions, a chance to see the Northern Lights, and all the magnificent scenery and unique culture you’d expect year-round, read on. We’ve compiled a complete guide of what to do, eat, and drink, and where to stay to get the most out of Iceland’s winter wonderland.
What to Do and See in Iceland:
Skaftafell - South Iceland
Scenic nature, favorable weather conditions and a network of hiking trails make Skaftafell an ideal destination to enjoy outdoor activities in Icelandic nature. Short and easy trails lead to the stunning Svartifoss waterfall and Skaftafellsjökull glacier.
Gullfoss - South Iceland
Gullfoss is actually two separate waterfalls, the upper one has a drop of 11 meters and the lower one 21 meters. The rock of the river bed was formed during an interglacial period.
Lake Mývatn - North Iceland
Mývatn is the 4th largest lake in Iceland, 37 km2 in area. Its shores are indented with many coves and inlets and its surface is dotted with around 50 small islets and skerries. The lake itself is very shallow, and the rays of the sun reach the lake bed over its entire surface.
Akureyri Town - North Iceland
Whatever the time of year, Akureyri is a lively and energetic town, and home to around 20,000 inhabitants. It is by far the most densely populated community outside the Reykjavík area, and is the center of trade, culture and services for the north of Iceland.
Northern Lights - Reykjavik
Iceland is renowned for its otherworldly illuminations, and this particular phenomenon can be experienced during the winter months only. Look for a clear, crisp night, and the skies will light up with amazing shades of milky green.
Silfra - Reykjavik
This unique freshwater rift is one of the world’s most beautiful, interesting and easily accessible for recreational divers and snorkelers. Silfra’s visibility exceeds 100m, making it some of the clearest water in the world, and divers and snorkelers dive and float between the American and Eurasian continental plates..
Blue Lagoon - Reykjavik
First formed in 1976, the Blue Lagoon is famous for its unique water and silica mud, which bathers can slather on their skin. Over the years, the Blue Lagoon has been innovative in harnessing this gift of nature to develop different spa services and products. Today, it is recognized as one of the wonders of the world.
Note: Temporary road closures can be common during winter months. Be sure to check road conditions and weather with the Icelandic Road Administration before setting out on any day trips.
Where to Stay in Iceland:
This beautiful historic building in downtown Reykjavik allows guests to be transported into Iceland’s past. Just steps from the Parliament and Old Downtown Church, Kvosin was recently renovated and provides travelers with a cozy space to rest their head at night.
Hotel Rangá (luxe)
As the premier place to stay in South Iceland, Hotel Rangá has luxurious themed rooms, at a variety of prices, making it a great home base for travelers venturing out into the Icelandic countryside.
Hotel Husafell (luxe)
Surrounded by stunning natural wonders, Hotel Husafell is found in West Iceland. Featuring a delicious restaurant and year-round pool, you’ll enjoy your time on the hotel grounds just as much as your days exploring its breathtaking surroundings.
Where and What to Eat in Iceland:
Grillmarkadurinn (Reykjavik, $$$$) - Modern, classic, and quintessentially Icelandic.
Sæta Svinið (Reykjavik, $$$) - Great food and drinks at reasonable prices (for Iceland).
Snaps Bistro Bar (Reykjavik, $$) - Decent prices, loud, fun, and great cuisine.
Baejarins Beztu Pylsur (Reykjavik, $) - Great Icelandic hot dogs (with a long wait).
Skyr - Unique Icelandic dairy product eaten at breakfast, as a snack, or pretty much any time of the day.
Hardfiskur - One of the country’s most traditional treats, made by air-drying fish which is eventually softened with a meat mallet.
Hangikjöt (smoked lamb) - with more than enough countryside to roam freely, Icelandic lamb is among the most delicious in the world and considered a gourmet meat.
Where and What to Drink in Iceland:
Laugavegur Street - Downtown area in Rekjavic where most of the bars and pubs are located - all just a short walk from one another allowing you to bar hop late into the evening.
Mikkeller & Friends (Reykjavik, $$$) - Top of the line craft beer and spirits.
Slippbarinn (Reykjavik, $$) - Come to this quirky joint for some of the best cocktails in town.
Kaffibarinn (Reykjavik, $$) - A local favorite for after-dark fun.
Hurra (Reykjavik, $$) - Awesome spot to enjoy live music and an upbeat local scene.
Brennivih - Also known as the black death, this is Iceland’s signature drink, and is made from fermented potato mash and caraway seeds.
With so much to see, do, and experience, Iceland should be on every nature-lovers bucket list, and exploring this enchanting destination in the winter months is guaranteed to make it even more magical.
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