WHAT TO DO IN ICELAND – BEST WINTER ACTIVITIES
- 1 WHAT TO DO IN ICELAND – BEST WINTER ACTIVITIES
- 2 TRAVEL TIPS FOR ICELAND IN THE WINTER
- 3 BEST THINGS TO DO IN ICELAND IN THE WINTER MONTHS
- 4 CONCLUSION: WHAT TO DO IN ICELAND IN WINTER
If you are planning your Iceland winter trip, you might be wondering about what to do in Iceland – and this post will help you to find out about the best things to do in Iceland in winter, and you’ll also find some travel tips for your trip to Iceland in winter.
Is there any travel destination hotter than Iceland right now? I doubt it, though literally, Iceland is anything but hot. This little island in the northern part of Europe has become one of the must-visit countries. I visited Iceland in December/January and summer, and I think it is a great destination to visit throughout the year. However, I probably liked it better in winter (not 100% sure yet).
While I was super active in Iceland – and did quite a lot in 10 days – I did not get to see everything, and so I have asked other travel bloggers to name their favorite thing to do in Iceland in winter.
So, here is what they have told us about the best Iceland winter activities – but you will also find my personal favorite activities to do in Iceland in the winter.
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TRAVEL TIPS FOR ICELAND IN THE WINTER
I have written a very detailed post on visiting Iceland in December – where I have spoken about the very mixed feelings I have about the visit during the time.
It is magical and amazing – but there was some ugly.
However, if you visit in the winter months, check out these winter travel tips for Iceland.
WEATHER IN WINTER IN ICELAND
In general, Iceland is quite cold. It does not get really hot. Surprisingly though, winter in Iceland is pretty mild and only a bit colder than in Western European countries.
Temperatures in Iceland´s capital, Reykjavík, ranges from about -10 °C – almost 10 °C. The average temperature is just above freezing which is surely bearable if you dress appropriately.
It does get colder in the North of Iceland.
However, when I visited Iceland in December/January, I was surprised to see how often it actually rains. Though I was told that the amount of rain is not typical, be prepared for a lot of rain – especially in Reykjavik.
The winter season is quite long – and lasts from November until March.
Daylight in these months is…rare. So, short days mean less amount of time to do proper sightseeing in December (so keep that in mind when planning your itinerary). In December sun rises after 11 am, and the sun sets at around 3:30 pm…Yes, it is that bad.
WHAT TO PACK FOR ICELAND IN THE WINTER
Though Iceland in the winter is not as bad as many think, it is still important to dress warmly. Or better to dress in layers.
Coat – Warm And Waterproof: A warm, waterproof jacket should be one of the first items you think to pack. Avoid choosing a bulky jacket that takes up a lot of space. This can make you feel uncomfortable when you have layers underneath. Instead, opt for a lightweight trench raincoat that will keep you warm, dry, and comfortable.
Hat: A knitted beanie is a perfect solution for keeping the warmth in while you venture out. A hat will keep you toasty warm wherever you are.
Gloves: A pair of gloves can do wonders for your mobility, dexterity, and comfort. When selecting your options, it’s worth investing in a pair that can dry quickly and are touch-screen compatible.
Scarf Or Turtleneck: A warm scarf and/or turtleneck sweater are key items for keeping your neck covered. A turtleneck sweater is perfect as a garment to wear underneath your jacket, while the scarf can be removed easily.
Leggings: Leggings are an essential item to pack as you can dress them up or down. You can even wear them underneath your denim as an extra layer of warmth.
Socks: When it comes to packing socks for your Iceland trip – the thicker, the better. The chances are that you’ll be spending a lot of time outdoors in the snow, and you’ll want your feet to be warm and cozy.
Thermals: My favorite winter clothes are thermals. A quality set of thermals is your key to enjoying the winter weather in Iceland. You have to wear them on a cold day to believe what a wonderful invention it is!
Comfortable Walking Shoes: If you can only pack one pair of shoes, make sure they are a trusty pair of waterproof snowshoes. You’ll want your shoes to be as versatile as possible. Snowshoes allow you to enjoy a variety of activities while keeping your feet warm and dry.
Crampers: I bought my crampers in Iceland – I thought I could make it without crampers, but I was wrong. If you want to walk and see places from different angles, you will need crampers. They were a lifesaver, and while I fell many times on my first day, I didn’t fall after I got them (and only got to see other people falling) because they help walking on ice.
For a full guide on what to wear in Iceland, check out this post.
HOW TO GET AROUND IN ICELAND IN WINTER
While road tripping is surely an amazing way to discover the country, driving in winter is challenging. I did a lot of research and decided against driving myself – so, if you are not an experienced winter driver (plus mountain driver), think twice – booking tours might be the best option.
Public transportation in Iceland is not amazing, and you basically have two options: driving yourself or booking guided tours. My advice: opt for the second one.
WHERE TO STAY IN WINTER
Most activities listed here are in or near Reykjavik – you can visit most places here if you do day tours from Reykjavik. So, I recommend making Reykjavik your base and then head to most destinations.
However, you can also do a road trip and stay overnight in other areas.
Check out the best places to stay in Iceland.
BEST THINGS TO DO IN ICELAND IN THE WINTER MONTHS
So, here are the best activities for the winter months in Iceland.
Chill at The Blue Lagoon
Visiting the Blue Lagoon is one of the best places to visit in Iceland during the winter. And thus it can be busy (I highly recommend booking your experience in advance).
It is the perfect place to visit at the end of your trip – when you can relax in the steamy hot mineral water. There’s no better way to enjoy a break from the cold temperatures in winter while being warm.
There is a swim-up bar – so grab your drink and wander to the outer edges of the Lagoon.
The Blue Lagoon is only about 30 minutes from the airport, so it makes sense to visit after you land or on your last day before heading to the airport. Give yourself plenty of time – I spent about 4 hours there, but if I had company, I probably would have stayed all day. Some buses will take to from the airport to the lagoon, or you can rent a car and drive yourself. This part is quite easy to drive – even in the winter. Check out the latest bus going to the airport because they do not run late.
Check out Prices for a Day Trip from Reykjavik to the Blue Lagoon
See Iceland’s Vik Beach
Recommended by Talek from Travels with Talek
Iceland’s Vik Beach is otherworldly and mysterious in the winter – and one of the best tourist attractions in Iceland.
The village it is named for is the southernmost town in Iceland, about a 110 miles (180 km) drive southeast of the capital city Reykjavik. The easiest and most efficient way to get there is by car or tour bus from Reykjavik. Even though it has a small population, Vik is the biggest town in the area and an important stopping point mostly due to its amazing beach with its black sand.
The sand is black in Vik Beach due to the volcanic eruptions that have deposited lava and ash over the centuries. In the winter, the black sand and the white ice make for an eerie combination. Are you on earth or a distant moon in a frigid and forbidding galaxy?
The otherworldly aspect of Vik Beach in winter is exacerbated by the ocean’s reputation for rushing up on the shore, grabbing unsuspecting visitors, and dragging them into the cold waters of the North Atlantic. The nearby basalt rock formations and caves complete the picture of a ghostly yet beautiful landscape.
Iceland’s Vik Beach in winter is not a place you visit. It is a place you experience and one of the top places to see in Iceland.
Go Horseback Riding in Iceland
Recommended by Natascha and Cameron from The World Pursuit
We recently went horseback riding in Iceland and consider it one of the top things to do in Iceland.
While you’re driving around Iceland, you will more than likely see hundreds and hundreds of horses everywhere you look. These Icelandic horses are a special breed that can only be found in Iceland. What’s so special about them? Well, for one, they are much smaller than a regular horse, and many people confuse them for ponies – they are not.
They also have a very distinctive gait style called the Tolt. The Tolt is a natural and fluid gait that is decently fast, and one foot is always touching the ground.
We decided we had to try horseback riding in the wild Icelandic countryside near Vamahlid to see what this Tolt was all about. For two whole hours, we were gallivanting through meadows, rivers, and even near some glaciers, which were magical.
Of course, you can do this activity in the summer, but I prefer to go in the winter as you start to feel like you are really in ICE-Land and it is much less crowded! You can find horse riding stables all over the county.
Check out Prices for Horseback Riding in Iceland
Visit the Mývatn Nature Baths
Recommended by Siddharth and Shruti from Siddharth and Shruti
Iceland is truly a winter wonderland, and we are so glad that we visited in winter. One of Iceland’s best experiences in winter is to get into a geothermal pool at the end of the day.
It is not just soothing those sore muscles, but it is also healing. Instead of the famous blue lagoon, we decided to try some alternate geothermal pools in Iceland, and we narrowed it down to Mývatn Nature Baths. After a day’s hike, we cannot begin to explain how amazing it felt to dip into the toasty 36 – 40°C pools.
There are two pools here. One is warmer than the other. If you are visiting in the summer, you can try the cooler one.
There is also a smaller hot tub nearby for that extra warm water that may make you want to stay there for hours. The Mývatn Nature Baths are located in a geothermal area east of the Grjotagja (Game of Thrones fans will probably know this cave thanks to Jon and Ygritte) and west of Namafjall.
It is marked correctly on Google Maps, so reaching there is a breeze. There is parking within the premises.
You need to know beforehand that, like most geothermal baths in Iceland, there are separate shower rooms for men and women. You are expected to take a shower naked in the communal shower. If you are a bit shy, be mentally prepared for people strutting around naked without a care in the shower rooms.
There are lockers for your valuables, and there is also a small restaurant if you feel peckish after your soak.
Mývatn Nature Baths was a fantastic experience, and if you are super lucky, you might even catch the northern lights while you are there in the winter!
Check out Prices for a Day Trip to Lake Mývatn And The Nature Baths
See the Northern Lights
Recommended by Hélène from Flight to Somewhere
Iceland is a great place to go hunting for the Northern Lights between September and mid-April.
There are a few different ways you can do that – bus tour, boat tour, staying in a rural hotel with the option of a Northern Lights wakeup call, or renting a car and going out on your own.
One of the key prerequisites needed for a display of Northern Lights is clear dark skies, which means that the tours take place at night and are weather-dependent – they will get canceled if the cloud cover is too thick.
You will also have to get away from the populated areas due to the light pollution they produce. If you want to book one of the tours, my recommendation would be to get a date at the beginning of your trip to rebook if you don’t see anything – most of the tours allow you to go again for free in that case.
Tip: Do not plan anything for very early the next day as you are unlikely to get back to the hotel before midnight.
Finally, if you are going in winter, dress warm – standing outside in the snow at night got very cold very quickly! If you are planning to explore on your own, make sure to check the Aurora forecast from Iceland’s Met Office before you set out, which will show you the cloud cover and the activity level.
Recommended by Kay from Jet Farer
One of the most spectacular geothermal swimming pools in the world is tucked away between the mountains in Southern Iceland and if you are asking yourself where to go in Iceland, then visiting this place is your answer.
Seljavallalaug, this hot mountain spring, is surrounded almost entirely by mountains and is a beautiful place to go for a warm dip. Although it’s open year-round, the best time to go is the fall, since it’s outside of peak tourist season but still has good weather and sunny days.
I went in November and enjoyed spending a bit of time finding this hidden place, dipping my feet in, and soaking in the surrounding mountain views. Because it requires straying a bit from the main Ring Road and hiking for a few minutes, this hideaway is significantly less tourist-filled than the nearby waterfalls or the Blue Lagoon.
While there, you can relax in the warm geothermal waters or just dip your feet in and explore around some of the nearby hiking trails. Either way, Seljavallalaug is worth visiting for the sheer beauty and seclusion of this unique swimming pool. Located within a few hours from Reykjavik, it’s an easy day trip from the city or a nice stop on your Ring Road itinerary in Iceland.
To get to Seljavallalaug from Reykjavik, drive east on the Ring Road past Seljalandsfoss and Skogafoss. Turn onto road 242 – Raufarfell. Drive into that road for a few minutes until you see a gated pool area and a parking lot marked Seljavellir (this is not the pool). From the parking lot, hike on the dirt path towards the mountains for about 20 minutes until you see the pool.
Swimming in Seljavallalaug is free of charge.
Experience ATV at the Black Lava Sand Beach
Recommended by Laura from The Down Lo
Called the “Land of Fire and Ice” for its glaciers and geysers, one example of Iceland’s fiery landscape is the black lava sand beaches.
Reynisfjara Black Sand Beach is the most famous and one of the “Game of Thrones” filming locations. Located off Ring Road in South Iceland near the town of Vik, it’s about 110 miles from Reykjavik.
Not a beach to feel the sand between your toes. The ground is quite rocky, made of hardened basalt lava. In fact, the landscape looks more like the moon than paradise.
Giant angular columns called Gardar guard the cliffside like jagged walls, reminiscent of the Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland, and there are two notable freestanding rock monoliths called Reynisdrangar that jut out from the sea.
Legend has it. They’re trolls that got caught in daylight and were turned to stone.
You can visit the area on your own, but one of the best ways to explore is on an ATV-Quad safari. It’s a heart-pumping, bumpy ride that’s quite wild at times but definitely an unforgettable, otherworldly adventure.
One of my extreme outdoor challenges as part of a weeklong tour to become a Certified Viking is truly a unique thing to do in Iceland.
CONCLUSION: WHAT TO DO IN ICELAND IN WINTER
Iceland surely is a winter wonderland – and yet so different than other winter wonderlands like Switzerland.
Okay, guys, these are the top things to do in Iceland in winter. I hope you have found enough reasons to add Iceland to your bucket list and got a good idea of what to do in Iceland and the best places to visit.