Best Things to Do in Iceland in Winter

WHAT TO DO IN ICELAND – BEST WINTER ACTIVITIES

If you are planning your Iceland winter trip, you might be wondering about what to do in Iceland. 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.

I visited Iceland in December/January and again in summer! I think it is a great destination to visit throughout the year. However, I probably liked it better in winter (I am not 100% sure yet).

While I was super active in Iceland – and did quite a lot in 12 days – I did not get to see everything. Winter days are just very, very short in Iceland. With just a few hours of daylight in the cold months, seeing a lot is not possible. So I have asked other travel bloggers to name their favorite thing to do in Iceland in winter.

Beautiful Iceland scenery 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 speak about the very mixed feelings I have about the visit during the time.

It is magical and amazing – but there was some ugly (but not literally).

However, if you visit in the winter months, check out the following winter travel tips for Iceland.

WEATHER IN WINTER IN ICELAND

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.

Surprisingly though, the winter in Iceland is pretty mild and only a bit colder than in Western European countries. At least this can be said for the southern part of the country. It does get colder in the North of Iceland. Most visitors focus on the south and west of Iceland, so that really does not affect many.

  • 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.

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.

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.

  • A warm and 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. 
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 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. 
  • 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. 
  • 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!
  • 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. 
  • I bought my crampons in Iceland. I thought I could make it without them, but I was wrong. If you want to walk and see places from different angles, you will need crampons. 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

Public transportation in Iceland is not amazing, in Reykjavik you can use it to get to some main attractions but you basically have two options: driving yourself or booking guided tours. My advice: opt for the second one in winter.

While road tripping in summer 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. If you are not an experienced winter driver (plus mountain driver), think twice! In Reykjavik and the southern coast of Iceland driving is quite “easy” and the roads are cleared! The northern coast of Iceland is, however, a bit more problematic with extremely heavy snowfalls and roads that do not get cleared.

Booking tours might be the best option. While I road-tripped Iceland in summer, I only booked tours for my winter trip.

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. 

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. So, do not be surprised that it can be busy.

  • I highly recommend booking your experience in advance.
Top Things to do in Iceland The Blue Lagoon geothermal spa is one of the best places to visit in Iceland in winter
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The Blue Lagoon is the perfect place to visit at the end of your trip – relax in the steamy hot mineral water after a few cold days. 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.

Give yourself plenty of time – I spent about 3 or 4 hours there, but if I had company, I probably would have stayed all day.

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. Some buses will take to from the airport to the lagoon. Check out the latest bus going to the airport because they do not run late.

Or rent a car and drive yourself. This part is quite easy to drive – even in the winter. 

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 to see in the winter months.

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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. 

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 is 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.

  • The easiest and most efficient way to get there is by car or tour bus from Reykjavik. While driving in some parts of Iceland can be difficult in winter, the southern part is quite accessible.

Go Horseback Riding in Iceland

Recommended by Natascha and Cameron from The World Pursuit

Horseback riding in Iceland in winter is an incredible experience.

Places to visit in Iceland
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While you’re getting 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.

You can find horse riding stables all over the county – so in the wild Icelandic countryside near Vamahlid. For two whole hours, you can gallivanter through meadows, rivers, and even near some glaciers, which is just magical.

Of course, you can do this activity in the summer. But in the winter you start to feel like you are really in ICE-Land and it is much less crowded!

Visit the Mývatn Nature Baths

Recommended by Siddharth and Shruti from Siddharth and Shruti

One of Iceland’s best experiences in winter is to get into a geothermal pool at the end of the day. We have learned about Blue Lagoon already but here is another amazing pool to check out: Mývatn Nature Baths. 

Iceland places to visit, Myvatn Naturebaths, a geothermal hot lagoon in Northeast Iceland. Places to see in Iceland
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After a cold day, nothing feels as amazing as it felt to dip into the toasty 36 – 40°C pools. There are two pools here. One is warmer than the other.

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. 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!

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.

Top 10 things to do in Iceland - Mountain Kirkjufell and Aurora in Iceland
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There are a few different ways you can do that – bus or boat tour, staying in a rural hotel with the option of a Northern Lights wake-up 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.

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.

If you want to book one of the tours, make it at the beginning of your trip! You can 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.

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.

Safe Travels, Arzo
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