Are You Ready for Winter in Iceland?
For the last month or so, I bet you guys were wondering the same thing: did Blond Wayfarer enjoy winter in Iceland?
Okay, maybe you were more concerned about your job, social life, or family instead of fretting over my impulsive international trips, but who’s keeping track? Frankly, for the last week or so, I’ve been worried about submitting my semester grades on time. Ugh, I had forgotten just how much grading 9th grade papers is not my favorite activity.
Anyway, regardless of whether or not you thought about my beautiful face, the answer to the above question is an incredibly loud and joyful: yes, yes, yes, Iceland in winter was absolutely awesome and you should book your ticket right now!
I’m gonna be totally honest: On the day I was due to fly to Reykjavik, I felt a little nervous about 24 hour darkness, frigid temperatures, and utter isolation at my hostel. And the flight, of course.
You know me, I worry about everything.
I’m glad to report, though, that my fears were all for nothing (as usual! anxious people, take note).
Turns out, Iceland is a great winter trip especially for solo anxious travelers who may need a kick out their heavy wooden door. Trust me, it’s a very safe and easy destination, and if you hate to fly, then the flight from the eastern coast of the USA and Canada isn’t hellishly long, only 5 – 6 hours.
Let’s talk about some of the highlights of spending the winter in Iceland.
1. Reykjavik is buzzing even in the winter months and especially New Years.
Iceland’s capital city is colorful and quirky, and random adventures can be found on every street. In winter, you may expect the entire place to shut down and hibernate, considering day light only hangs in the sky from 11:30 – 3:30/4:00.
Nothing could be further from the truth! In Reykjavik, everyone is out and about conducting daily business, and all the main attractions are open for sightseers to enjoy. For example, I went to the National Museum of Iceland on New Years Eve. Closed down? Nah! Not here.
Speaking of which New Years Eve is incredible. Fireworks everywhere, I’m not kidding.
On a shallow note, Reykjavik in winter is stunningly beautiful. You’ll feel as if Santa Claus lives right around the corner!
2. The main attractions are still open, even the hot springs.
The Blue Lagoon in winter is awesome! As I’ve said, Iceland doesn’t shut down simply because the wind chill sucks and snow lies on the ground. Icelanders don’t hide in their houses (like people from NJ) if snow strikes. Sure, some roads may be closed and you need to be careful walking on frozen sidewalks, but the national wonders around Reykjavik are still in full swing and ready for tourists.
So, yes, you can bathe in the hot springs in January in Iceland. Although it’s cold stepping outside, the hot water will feel amazing on your limbs and the ambiance of the snow and dim sunlight makes the experience. Prior to my departure, I made a stop at the Blue Lagoon and didn’t notice the cold very much. Worth it!
3. The Northern Lights are elusive.
Don’t necessarily expect to see the Northern Lights on your winter excursion to Iceland. The green and purple spectacle in the sky is not a guarantee. And if any tour company promises a sighting? They’re lying. Full stop.
The Northern Lights don’t care that you’re traveling in the colder months. Their visibility depends on both the level of activity and cloud coverage.
On my trip, there was activity in the skies, but as for the cloud coverage? It killed any chances of me seeing the lights. We occasionally caught a hole in the clouds but the lights refused to come out and play. Then the clouds would roll back in.
Sorry to say but 100% clear skies are required for a perfect show. I attempted to see the lights twice and failed. My advice? Pay a bit extra for a tour that has an off-roading jeep. Then you’ll have a better chance of finding holes in the clouds and taking advantage of fewer tourists. I booked my trip through a company called Sterna and in retrospect, I wish I had booked a small bus instead of a multiple big bus coach tour.
4. Tours may be canceled due to weather.
Originally I had booked a glacier tour through Extreme Iceland. I was sooo excited, because the guide actually took you inside Glacier Langjokull. However, dangerous gale winds and other stormy conditions caused the company to cancel my tour for safety reasons. I had to rebook a completely different tour – which included both horseback riding and lava caving – fill in my empty slot.
Iceland’s winter is unpredictable. The weather can change in five minutes. Still, if you travel during Christmas/New Years, you will have to book ahead because shockingly enough, tours do sell out. Just take the chance.
Ultimately no one can control the weather, so there’s no point getting angry or snarky with the tour companies about cancellations. They are great about issuing refunds and offering to rebook you on different trips. Iceland’s winter months seem to be more “dangerous” weather-wise so please stay flexible about your itinerary.
5. The limited day light is beautiful.
Since the sun never reaches the highest point in the sky, winter travelers to Iceland are blessed with sunrises and sunsets that lasts for hours on end.
The sky’s quiet glow makes photography opportunities wonderful and abundant; my camera and iPhone both had a workout on this trip. Plus the soft pink and orange hues are beautiful to simply look at. Sure, it was hard to wake up in pitch blackness at 9 in the morning, but the daylight hours, despite being limited, are lovely to experience in person.
Iceland is not a bleak destination in the winter, I promise.
6. Fall in love with Iceland’s natural wonders.
Spending winter in Iceland gives you a chance to experience “otherworldly” landscapes. Although I’m sure Iceland’s epic natural beauty is incredible in the summer, it was so cool seeing the snow covered entrance to the lava cave and the chilled black sand beaches at Vik. I honestly felt as if I left earth and fell deep into the pages of a snowy fantasy novel.
The Golden Circle is the most popular tourist route. Plenty of tours run in the winter. Make sure to do whatever you can to see Iceland’s Golden Circle without the crowds. It’s absolutely worth it!
It’s very difficult for me to summarize Iceland’s natural beauty into words, so I’ll simply bombard you with random photos instead!
More Information About Iceland
Hitting up Iceland this winter? Check out these posts for more information.
Have you ever visited Iceland in winter? How about the summer? Should I revisit in summer (yes, obviously)? What winter destinations are on your bucket list? Make sure to pack your guide and go! As always, thanks for supporting Blond Wayfarer and please subscribe to my mailing list to never miss an update!
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