Winter In Iceland: Travel Guide
At the end of 2017, Alex and I went on our honeymoon and finally took a dream trip to Iceland. And we must say, the second we were there we immediately knew we wanted to go back. And so we did last November. It was just as magical as the first time we went.
Although the country seemed to be made up of about 90% tourists, it still held its charm flawlessly. Although Reykjavik provided a feel of a quaint city life, you could travel ten minutes out of the city and feel like you were on a completely separate planet all by yourself. Iceland has been hyped on social media the past few years and if you're worried that it won't meet your expectations, fear not. It will meet all of your expectations and raise over them.
Iceland is a place that, when you see it, you will actually start to believe in magic. I’m talking like, l’m not totally sure that trolls aren’t a thing, because they probably totally live there.
As we drove around the Southern part of Iceland, we wanted to stop every other minute. Every turn in the road holds new sights and beauties. So, make sure you keep that in mind when you’re planning your trip. A two-hour car ride can quickly turn into a five-hour one.
I wanted to share a little guide to traveling to Iceland in the wintertime. Hopefully in the future, I can share a summer one with you as well ;)
Places To See
Because we traveled in winter both times we’ve been to Iceland, we’ve had to travel to the southern part of the island. The northern part of Iceland can become quickly inaccessible due to extreme weather conditions. So unless you have a hefty adventure mobile, you won’t be able to go there in the winter.
Black Sand Beach
I highly recommend checking out the Black Sand Beach, which is near Vik. We decided to go there to watch a sunrise and it was a great choice. The colors are outstanding and the light plays maginificenlty off of the volcanic rocks and sand.
It is relatively crowded, but you can definitely find nooks to enjoy without crowds.
Jökulsárlón (Glacier Lagoon)
This is probably the most magical place I have ever experienced in my entire life. Truly. The lagoon houses break-offs of a glacier, so the whole lagoon is filled with giant pieces of ice. You know all of those photos you see online where it’s unbelievably blue? Yeah. That’s not the work of filters. That’s real.
Because it is so beautiful, you will run into tour buses, so I would advise getting there early in the morning or right before sunset to escape the majority of the crowds.
Gullfoss Waterfall is one of the most popular natural beauties that attract tourists in Iceland. You can get there by bus or car (we recommend car). The waterfall is located in a canyon in Southeast Iceland. It’s size is awe-inspiring and the colors were simply glorious.
This is probably the place where we encountered the most tourists. Although it is crowded, it is definitely worth it to see the first geyser ever known. In the Southwestern part of Iceland, it's also surrounded by sulfuric rocks and hot springs.
Thingvellir National Park
This national park is a mere half an hour ride out of Reykjavik and is full of the most beautiful sights we have ever seen. The park is full of mountain peaks, frozen tundra, and sprawling lakes. Along the way, and throughout the park, there are small villages and Icelandic horses lining the roads. It's the most beautiful drive we've ever taken.
The Northern Lights
Although it's not guaranteed that you'll see the Northern Lights while you're in Iceland, it is highly likely, especially if you're traveling in the winter months. The further you are away from city lights, the higher the chance you have of witnessing vibrant Northern Lights. We used the app My Aurora to see our chances of seeing the Northern Lights each night and where the best locations were.
Places To Eat
We waited about a half an hour in line to eat at one of the most famous hot dog stands in the world. And it was so worth it--it was seriously the best hot dogs we've ever had in our life. They dressed their hotdogs in ketchup, mustard, remoulade, fried onion, and raw onions. And now we can't eat any hot dogs without fried onions. Truly genius.
This little and eclectically decorated bakery in the heart of Reykjavik was adorable and served fresh bread and pastries. One of these pastries, their cinnamon buns, were some of the best cinnamon buns we've ever had---and we've had a lot.
Gas Station Hot Dogs
If your’e on the road, trust us, stop at a gas station and get a hot dog. Or two, or three. Seriously, they’re best hot dogs you will ever eat in your entire life. I crave them constantly.
If you’re looking for a nicer dining experience, we can’t recommend Rok enough. Located across the street of Hallgrímskirkja, this restaurant is gorgeous in a black building with a roof of grass. The building is representative of the clean and authentic food.
RENT A CAR! When researching our trip, we read so many travel blogs that said renting a car in Iceland was expensive. However, we found this not to be the case whatsoever. We rented through Sixt and ended up paying about $150 total to rent a car for four days. We found renting a car to be so important to us because we were able to do the things we wanted to do on our own timeline. Some of the best moments of our trip happened when we just pulled over on the side of the road to look at something beautiful. If we were on a bus tour, we would not have been able to do that.
No matter what time of year you're traveling to Iceland, definitely bring all of your layers. Although the temperatures are not the most extreme (we live in Wisconsin, we're used to it), the wind is intense. Iceland is one of the windiest places in the world that people actually inhabit, so the windchill was often 20-30 degrees colder than the actual air temperature. Scarves and layers are your best friends here.
Budget for food. Due to the fact that Iceland has to important nearly all of its food, food is quite expensive here. Expect to pay 2-3 more times for a meal than you would back home. You can cook your own meals to save money, but in the end, it will still be expensive.
Be prepared to have a lot or a little sunlight. In the winter months, Iceland gets about 4 hours of sunlight a day and in the summer, Iceland gets about 4 hours of dark in a day. This can be an extreme adjustment, especially for your sleep schedule. Just be prepared to be a little confused about what time it is.
Stop and pet the Icelandic horses. There will be lots of points where horses are chilling near the side of road. Go say, “hi” and make some new friends. They’re the sweetest souls.
Stay in Airbnbs. We had such incredible experiences at the Airbnb’s we stayed at. In the countryside, we stayed at two farms, which was absolutely magical. It truly gave the whole trip an intimidate feel and turned a place we were staying into an experience. Here are two places we stayed at that we highly recommend. Both of them are in Southern Iceland.