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ULTIMATE PACKING LIST FOR EUROPE IN WINTER

What to pack for Europe in winter

WHAT TO PACK FOR WINTER IN EUROPE

If you want to find out what to pack for Europe in winter, then this post is for you. While you might have to think about which places to visit in Europe in winter, you will also need to plan what to pack for the cold winter months in Europe.

Europe might not be the biggest continent, but weather conditions strongly vary. It does make a big difference whether you visit Northern countries like Iceland or Norway, Central Europe like Switzerland or France, or Southern Europe with places like Valencia in Spain. If you head to Southern Spain, you will not need all the super warm winter clothes – some warm pullovers and jeans might be the warmest clothes you will need. In Nordic countries, you will definitely need to pack differently.

In this post, you will find one general part of what to pack in Europe for winter. You will find out what to pack for warmer countries like Spain or Malta, but also what to pack if you visit “cold” countries like Switzerland, Estonia, or Iceland in winter.

First ski experience in Verbier, Switzerland what to pack in winter

Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links which means I might earn a small commission when you buy a product/service via my link (at no extra cost to you). More about it here.

Winter Weather in Europe

Before talking about what to bring to Europe in winter, we should talk about the weather in Europe in winter. Your packing list depends on where you visit.

Southern Europe is much milder and warmer than Eastern Europe or Northern Europe. While you could wear a light jacket in Southern Spain in the winter months, you surely have to dress very warmly in countries like Norway or Iceland.

If you come to Europe in winter – come prepared. Be advised that the average temperature can reach as low as -10° degree Celsius in countries like Iceland and Norway and while it gets up to 15° degree Celsius in other countries.

Climate change has led to a much warmer climate in many countries. I remember the years – as a little child – when we had many days with freezing temperatures in Germany. And a lot of snow – but nowadays, snow is no longer the rule for many parts of Europe. But it can be.

What to do in Alicante, Costa Blanca

What to Bring to Europe in Winter – General Items

So, the first part of the post is a general packing list. Then you will find an additional packing list for winter.

Luggage for Europe

Here is what luggage/bags you might need for your winter Europe trip.

  • Suitcase: Though it depends on where exactly and for how long you travel, I recommend taking a good, light, and quality suitcase with you where all your clothes and most of your toiletries fit in.
  • Carry-On: If you visit for longer and aren’t a minimalist, then you might need extra carry-on luggage.
  • Laundry bags: They are great if you travel for longer and don’t want your dirty and clean clothes to mix up. I prefer them over plastic bags.
  • Packing Cubes: They are the new must-items when it comes to traveling, they are convenient, and they also come in cool colors. I recommend using packing cubes because it makes packing and organizing easier.
  • I choose a cross-body handbag with a zipper (to be safe) and several extra pockets for my handbag. My tip: The size of the handbag is important: do you carry a camera with you? A water bottle? Keep that in mind when you decide on one handbag.
  • Passport Holder: since I have become more minimalistic, I prefer not to use a passport holder, but if you need a passport (and an ID is not enough), you might want to have one.
  • I recommend a beach bag or a cotton bag for a day at the hotel pool or some shopping. Plastic bags – fortunately – do cost money in many parts of Europe…and plastic sucks anyway, so with a cotton bag you use for years, you do the environment a favor. And it looks much better than carrying your shopping in a plastic or paper bag.

Toiletries to Pack for Europe in Winter

Lately, I have reduced the care products. Less is better if you ask me. However, in winter, our skin is also subject to stress. You will find a detailed list – even if I do not use all products below throughout the year, you might use more products.

If I travel for 10 days or shorter, I take travel-sized toiletries, which I refill with my natural and organic beauty products from home. To pack light, shampoo, conditioner, hair masks, cleaning water, and cleansing milk are all in small bottles.

Of course, you could buy toiletries in Europe as well, but if you do not want to waste your time in drug stores or supermarkets, use this checklist for Europe.

  • (TSA Approved Clear) Travel Toiletry Bag (if you fly)
  • Sunscreen (even in winter – depending on where you travel to. If you go for a ski trip, then take it, but you most likely will not need it for most other winter trips).
  • Travel bottles to refill – I refill them with my own organic products that I normally use (I do not use shampoo & conditioner provided by hotels)
  • Electric Hair Removal Epilator (only if you stay longer than a week or if you remove your body hair with it) – otherwise, a razor or whatever you prefer.
  • Face cream – (which I also use as a hand cream, so I do not have to take another cream).
  • Refillable Travel Size Perfume Bottle
  • Toothbrush and toothpaste and mouthwash plus Dental floss
  • Tissues
  • Deodorant
  • Magnifying make-up mirror
  • Nail polish and nail polish remover + glass nail file
  • My favorite hairbrush (especially for longer hair) – or if you have less space, take a comb
  • Hair ties
  • A small cosmetic bag with the following items: Mascara / Rouge / Eyebrow powder (Taming & Shaping Kit For Brows) / Tweezer / Eyeliner and Eye Shadow / Make-up brushes/ Cotton swabs

Here are a few more items that I personally do hardly use but which might be important to you, so I added them here: hair spray, hand cream, foundation, powder, lipstick, sanitizer

Tech Stuff to Pack for Europe

  • I have my laptop with me whenever I fly – however, I do work online while traveling, and I also watch Netflix on it.
  • My phone is, without a doubt, one of my most useful and important (travel) items.
  • My camera is a must – because Europe has so many great spots that need to be photographed.
  • I have to admit that I still don’t have a kindle, so a “real” book is often an essential
  • Power Charger – how long does your phone battery last? Not long? Neither does mine, so this  is an essential
  • Do you need an adapter? It depends on where you travel to Europe, so please check if you need one for your destination.

Random Things to Pack for Europe

  • Umbrella (in many countries, like Germany, Switzerland, or England is can still rain quite a lot in the winter)
  • Guides
  • Medicine (headache pills etc.)
Cycling in London in winter

Clothes to Pack for Europe in Winter

The key is dressing in layers for Europe in winter. The temperature can reach freezing levels, and yet the sun can be deceptively strong. Dressing in layers allows you to keep warm without compromising on comfort. 

Also, it really depends on where exactly you travel. As I mentioned before, Southern Europe has mild weather in winter where you will not need a super warm jacket and gloves plus a hat.

Depending on where you travel, the wind might make you feel much colder than the temperature actually says. In the worst-case scenario, hypothermia and frostbite will result if you’re wet and not appropriately dressed. Your items should be versatile in function. For example, pack a jacket that is both waterproof and warm. Also, comfortable walking shoes are essential.

December in Iceland, Golden Circle with Arzo Travels

Everyday Attire Essentials For Europe In Winter

At the top of your Europe winter packing list should be the following versatile, essential items. Using these items to dress in layers will keep you both stylish and warm. 

  • Coat – Warm And Waterproof: A warm, waterproof jacket should be one of the very first items that 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: Science tells us that we lose up to 10% of our body heat through our heads, meaning that it’s essential to keep this area warm. A knitted beanie is a perfect solution for keeping the warmth in while you venture out.  A hat will keep you toasty warm whether you’re on the slopes, sipping coffee, or exploring the sights. 
  • Gloves: Have you ever tried to use your phone with frozen fingers? It’s a nearly impossible task. A pair of gloves can do wonders for your mobility, dexterity, and comfort. This makes it one of the most important items on your Switzerland packing list. 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. Not only do these items keep you warm, but they also prevent you from getting ill (and thereby ruining the fun). A turtleneck sweater is perfect as a garment to wear underneath your jacket, while the scarf can be removed easily. 
  • Leggings: There’s a reason that almost every woman owns a pair of leggings. They are both comfortable and snug. Leggings are an essential item to pack as you can dress them up or down. You can even wear them underneath your denims as an extra layer of warmth. 
  • Socks: When it comes to packing socks for your Switzerland trip – the thicker the better. 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. If you plan on hitting the slopes at any stage, then you’ll want your socks to be extra-thick or padded for increased comfort. 
  • Thermals: A quality set of thermals is your key to enjoying the winter weather in Switzerland. They provide the extra layer of heat that will allow you to spend an extra hour on the slopes, or to pack fewer items on your road trip instead of excess clothing.
  • Comfortable Walking Shoes: If you can only pack one pair of shoes, then make sure that 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. 
Verbier in Switzerland in the winter

Winter Sports Clothes to Pack

One of the best top reasons to visit e.g. Switzerland during the winter months is winter sports opportunities. While most ski resorts will offer rental equipment, there are a few essentials to pack for yourself. 

  • Ski Jacket: When choosing the perfect ski jacket, you need to consider warmth, level of waterproofing, and freedom of movement. A jacket that is adjustable in fit seals effectively and dries quickly is the perfect apparel for snowboarding, skiing, and other winter outdoor sports.
  • Ski Pants: A trusty pair of insulated ski pants are the next essential item for all winter sports fans. Make sure that your choice of pants is breathable, warm, and waterproof. These details will keep you dry, warm, and comfortable on the slopes.  
  • Winter Protection: There are a few items that will make your winter vacation all the more comfortable. The last thing you want is to be soaked on your first day or get a migraine from snow blindness. 
  • Umbrella: Regardless of what time of year you visit Switzerland, it’s always a smart move to pack a foldable umbrella. The nifty item doesn’t take up too much space. It can be the difference between a stroll in the city streets and getting caught in a flu-inspired downpour. 
  • Chapstick: Visiting Switzerland in winter will most likely find you spending hours of fun on the snow-covered slopes. This can quickly dry out your lips and burn your skin. In this instance, you’re going to be grateful that you’ve packed your moisturizing stick of Chapstick. 
  • Sunglasses: The best days on the slopes are the ones accompanied by clear, sunny skies and good conditions. These circumstances also increase the sun’s glare on the white snow, making it close to unbearable for your eyes. A pair of polarized sunglasses or ski goggles can protect your eyes from the wind and bright light.

CONCLUSION: WHAT TO PACK FOR EUROPE IN WINTER

Europe in winter is a fantastic travel destination. Whether you come for a ski trip in Switzerland, explore the Christmas markets in London or want to have a weekend trip to a warmer place like Valencia – Europe is so diverse and has something for every taste.

Just be aware of what to pack for Europe in winter, and you can enjoy a fantastic time in Europe.

Stay safe and enjoy!

Safe Travels, Arzo

Things to do in Reykjavik in Winter + Travel Tips

Best things to do in Reykjavik in winter

WHAT TO DO IN WINTER IN REYKJAVIK

Reykjavik in winter is a great time to visit – Iceland is magical and Reykjavik is a great place to base yourself. From there you can easily do some fun day trips and explore other parts of the country. So, plan in some time for Iceland´s capital and check out these unique things to do in Reykjavik in winter. 

Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links. This means I might earn a small commission when you buy a product/service via my link (at no extra cost to you). More about it here.

TIPS FOR VISITING REYKJAVIK IN WINTER

This post is about what to do in Reykjavik in winter – including some travel tips for your trip.

Weather in Reykjavik in Winter

Reykjavik in winter is not perfection. I actually struggled quite a bit. Especially the weather was a problem for me – and I do not mean that it was cold. Reykjavik is quite rainy in the winter months. I stayed 12 nights in Reykjavik and it rained on – probably – 6 or 7 out of 12 days. So, keep that in mind.

Apart from the rain, winter in Reykjavik is not as bad as you might think. Temperatures are similar to Central Europe – often ranging between 3° / -2° degrees Celsius. Not too old, I´d say. Snow in Reykjavik is common, though it doesn’t stay for long. To experience winter wonderland, I highly suggest doing a few day trips from Reykjavik.

Also, the days are extremely short in the winter months. You only have 4-5 hours of daylight. This was my main problem with visiting Reykjavik in winter. It is not really weather related but I still want to mention it here.

How to Get Around in Winter

  • Public transportation in Reykjavik is okay. It is just okay if you want to use it for a few stops. I used it a few times to get around but mostly I walked to most attractions. 
  • Though public transportation is not great, you can explore many places via guided tours. If you book guided tours, you normally will be picked up from your hotel or from a pick-up station near your hotel.
  • So, renting a car is not essential for the winter months. However, if you rent one you can quite easily get around via car. Driving in Reykjavik in winter is better than driving in other parts of Iceland. If you rent a car and plan to visit areas outside of Reykjavik, be aware that driving can be quite tricky and dangerous if you are not used to these bad weather conditions with a lot of snow and ice (especially in the Northern parts or in the Highlands).

Reykjavik in winter, Iceland, Arzo Travels

BEST THINGS TO DO IN REYKJAVIK IN WINTER

It is time to talk about the best things to do in Reykjavik in winter – check out what to do in December, January, or February.

Experience Flyover Iceland

Let´s start with one of my favorite activities in Reykjavik. Flyover Iceland is so much more than a 4D movie. It’s a passion project that celebrates the unique beauty of Iceland and its history. 

In the simulation, you’ll fly over Iceland’s mountainous landscape and rough coastline, feeling the wind in your hair, and the twists and turns. It was designed to feel like mankind’s greatest dream fulfilled; to feel like you’re flying. With over 200 hours of aerial videography, and years of work put into it, I’d say it was successful! 

You’ll also learn about how Iceland was formed, its long history, and Icelandic culture. So not only is it a great deal of fun – but you’ll also go away with a much better understanding of your surroundings and the Icelandic people.

It was one of my most favorite activities – it made me feel happy. I was excited and fell in love before I had seen much of Iceland in real life. However, some other people I talked to criticized the short movie and the quite high price. The “flight” is just 10 minutes – the rest of the time you´ll watch short movies and get some information. Not really spectacular – but the flight was great! For me, it was worth the money.

Also, this is the perfect thing to do on a very cold day in Reykjavik in winter as it is indoors (once you book your tickets, email them and agree on a time slot). Check out prices and more here.

Marvel at Hallgrímskirkja Church

A trip to Reykjavik would be incomplete without a visit to its most recognizable building – Hallgrimskirkja Church.

HALLGRÍMSKIRKJA CHURCH in winter one of the top things to do in Reykjavik

This Lutheran parish church is one of the tallest buildings in the whole country. It’s striking and unusual, totally different from churches you’ll find anywhere else in the world.  The church has a truly massive organ and an austerely beautiful interior. Be sure to venture in for the full experience, and admire the immense effort put into this structure.

View from HALLGRÍMSKIRKJA CHURCH in Reykajvik in winter

From here, you also have some of the best views in Reykjavik from the church tower.

  • Entry to the church is free.
  • To get to the church tower, there is an entry fee of 1000 ISK (around 7€). You can buy the tickets at the church. No worries, you do not have to climb all the stairs up but can take an elevator.
  • Opening hours: From October to April, the church opens at 9 a.m. and closes at 5 p.m. The tower closes at 4:30 p.m. From May to September, the church opens at 9 a.m. and closes at 9 p.m. The tower closes at 8:30 p.m.

Bathe in Geothermal Pools

Iceland in December and the winter months can be daunting. But the locals have been making it comfortable for a long time now. The country is famous for its geothermal pools. These warm outdoor pools have long since been a large part of the culture in Reykjavik. Particularly in winter when the water contrasts so strongly with the frigid air. You’ll even find locals chatting away in a rainstorm.

Geothermal pools are fed by underground hot springs. You can laze in the naturally warm waters of the main pool, before tiptoeing across to the hot tubs to luxuriate in even warmer conditions.  

When you visit, be sure to follow etiquette, and shower with soap before getting into the water. This helps them keep the pools clean with minimal chlorine. And feel free to hop into a sauna before or after your swim, to really round out the experience. No matter the weather around you, you’ll feel snug for hours after leaving the pools. 

See the Iconic Northern Lights

Because Reykjavik is a city, it has more light pollution than the Icelandic countryside. This means you’ll see the aurora more vibrantly far outside the city, where the Northern Lights is the only thing brightening the sky.

If you’re lucky, you don’t even need to leave Reykjavik to catch a glimpse of the iconically beautiful Northern Lights. If the aurora is active and the sky is clear, you should be able to see it. HOWEVER, it is better to leave the city for better views.

Northern Lights in Iceland in winter
@shutterstock

If you’re trying to spot the Northern Lights within the city, head down to the coast. There’s less light pollution in this part of the city, and no buildings obstructing your view. You can simply stroll along the coast and admire the fantastical display. Alternatively, you can set sail on a 2-hour boat tour off the coast.

Even though I stayed in Iceland for about 12 nights in winter, I did not get to see the Northern Lights. Neither in Reykjavik nor when I did Northern Lights tours as they do not appear that often. I just got to see a glimpse of it but it was not what I expected or hoped for.

You can take a half-day tour from Reykjavik for a better chance at this once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Visit Harpa Center

One of the best things to do during Reykjavik’s winter months is to see a performance at Harpa. 

Harpa Center in Reykjavik in winter

This unique landmark is a concert hall where you’ll see some of Iceland’s top musical performances. It is also a massive sculpture reflecting everything around it – including the gorgeous views of the surrounding mountains and ocean. Even if there are no performances during your visit to Reykjavik, Harpa Center is well worth a visit. One alternative option is to enjoy a meal at one of the Harpa restaurants, where the center’s innovation is applied to Icelandic ingredients and exciting cuisine. 

Spot Street Art

The streets of Reykjavik are full of impressive social and political commentary, as well as just fun art. The Old Harbor area boasts some of the city’s best work. You can also find some street art in the town center.

Street art is one of the best things to do in Reykjavik in winter

Spend a few daylight hours (between about 10 am and 4 pm) strolling through the streets and spotting as many of the artworks as you can. It’s like an outdoor museum, full of exhibitions and open to interpretation.

Go Ice Skating on Tjörnin

Ice skating on lake Tjörnin is a Reykjavik tradition. It’s referred to as a pond by the locals because it’s so shallow. Thankfully, this means the water quickly freezes over in winter and can be safely enjoyed throughout the season.

If you’re not really into ice skating (read: keep falling on your butt every time you try), it’s still a lovely place to spend a few hours. You can watch locals and foreigners gliding on the ice, and even see an ice hockey or football match. 

Unfortunately, there are not any ice skate rentals around the pond, as it’s geared towards locals. So you’ll have to either bring along your own skates, or take to the ice in your boots for a clumsy but fun time. 

Reykjavik also has some indoor skating rinks, where you can actually rent out ice skates. Some favorites are Egilshöll and Ice Rink Laugardalur.

See the Stars at the Perlan Planetarium

Reykjavik’s Perlan Planetarium is another fun experience. This world-class planetarium allows you to witness the Northern Lights and Iceland’s other wonders. All while snug and warm in the city.

The Perlan Planetarium show runs every hour and is thankfully in English. So you’ll have an opportunity to learn about the science behind the aurora borealis and much much more while you’re awed by the beauty.

Perlan Puffins

Ice Cave in Perlan in Reykjavik in winter

View of Reykjavik in Perlan

You can also explore a man-made indoor ice cave and enjoy a 360° panorama of Reykjavík from the viewing deck.

I enjoyed the Perlan Planetarium a lot (though FlyOver Iceland was my highlight) – especially because I “got to see the Northern Lights”. I actually met a few people who said, this was their favorite indoor activity in Reykjavik.

Taste Reykjavik’s cuisine

Reykjavik combines traditional cuisine with modern twists and global fusions. Icelandic food is famous for being pure, with natural ingredients, often locally sourced.

While they’re well-known for many of their meat dishes, you’ll find the city surprisingly vegan-friendly. I really was in vegan heaven – who would have thought?

Amazing vegan burger in Reykjavik

A recent cultural and ideological shift has made veganism popular among younger Icelanders. This shift means you’ll find some fantastic, creative food, from noodle soup and vegan burgers to gazpacho.

Visit the cafe Ecstasy’s Heart-Garden for some tasty vegan and vegetarian treats, or splurge on fine dining at Burro.  

Explore the National Museum of Iceland

Leave the chill outside chill for a few hours and head into Iceland’s National Museum. You’ll learn about the country’s fascinating history, from Viking settlements to contemporary civilization. The museum hosts some wonderful historic artifacts and medieval engravings. You can stroll through the exhibitions, and marvel at the strength and perseverance of a culture that developed here, long before aircon made the chill more manageable!

  • Just a note: the museum is closed on Mondays during winter, so plan your itinerary accordingly.

Go on an Icelandic Horseriding Tour

Icelandic horses are they are not as gracious as Arabic horses but these chubby little animals are one of a kind.

Icelandic horses - horse back riding in Reykjavik in winter
@Shutterstock

Icelandic horses are short and stocky, with long shaggy hair. They’re a great joy to ride for all ages. But more excitingly, the area around Reykjavik is an incredible place to explore on horseback.

Spend a few hours riding through lava fields and along the startling green (or white) hillside. It’s one of the best things to do in Iceland, and totally unique to the country.  In addition to the actual riding, horseback riding tours include rubber boots, helmets, rainwear or warm clothes if needed, and a guide. You can even request transport there if you’d prefer.

I am allergic to horses and so I stay away from them, but Icelandic horses are really iconic!

Do Day Trips

Reykjavik in winter is a beautiful place and as you can see, there are fun things to do in the winter months in and near Reykjavik. However, you really want to get out and see what else Iceland has to offer. Check out my post on the best day trips to take in winter.

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Reykjavik in winter is an interesting place to visit. It is far away from being the perfect winter city destination in Europe, yet it offers quite some beautiful places and fun activities. So, if you plan a trip to the city, then you have something to really look forward to! Stay safe and enjoy!

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Things to do in REYKJAVIK in winter, Iceland, ARZO TRAVELS

Safe Travels, Arzo

Visit Stunning Hraunfossar Waterfalls and Barnafoss in Iceland

Hraunfossar and barnafosss waterfalls in Iceland, Arzo Travels

How to See Hraunfossar Waterfalls and Barnafoss

Let’s talk about two beautiful waterfalls in Iceland that are often overlooked in a country full of waterfalls – Hraunfossar Waterfalls and Barnafoss Waterfalls. There are apparently around 10,000 waterfalls in Iceland. So, how can a waterfall stand out?  Dettifoss is the most powerful waterfall in Iceland (in terms of volume of water). Seljalandsfoss is famous as you can walk behind the waterfall. The highest waterfall in Iceland is Glymur. Brúarfoss has the “most beautiful watercolor”, and then there is this hidden waterfall

So, why are Barnafoss and Hraunfossar Waterfalls special? Why should someone visit Barnafoss and Hraunfossar Waterfalls?  Hraunfossar Waterfalls is a relatively small yet overly beautiful waterfall that can stand up to the gigantic competition. It looks absolutely pretty and is easily accessible at any time of the year. And Barnafoss…well, it is just next to Hraunfossar, so why not visit it, too?

TRAVEL TIPS FOR HRAUNFOSSAR AND BARNAFOSS WATERFALLS

Here are some tips: why visit Hraunfossar and Barnafoss, how to get there, what to do and see near the waterfalls, and a few more tips for your visit.

Disclaimer: This post might contain affiliate links. This means I might earn a small commission when you buy a product (at no extra cost to you) after clicking on my link. More about it here.

HOW TO GET TO BARNAFOSS / HRAUNFOSSAR

The waterfalls are located in Borgarfjörður in the West of Iceland about 120km away from Reykjavík.

There is a parking spot and from there the waterfalls are easy to access. Parking is free but limited, so during the high season, get here early or later in the day. Once you park, you just have to walk a few meters, and you will see the waterfalls already. If you road trip Iceland, it is very easy to visit yourself. If you do guided day tours from Reykjavik, check out this tour (I did this, or a similar, tour that included a trip to Hraunfossar and the lava cave).

THINGS TO KNOW BEFORE VISITING

  • There is no hiking required. The walking path around the waterfalls are well marked.
  • Please stay on the path and do not leave it.
  • As everywhere, but especially in nature, do not leave any trash behind and take everything with you.
  • In the summer months, there is a cafe at the waterfalls. 
  • Wear appropriate footwear in winter (crampons are my tip).
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BEST TIME TO VISIT HRAUNFOSSAR WATERFALLS

WINTER: I visited in early January and experienced beautiful scenery – the watercolor looked amazing and so did the waterfalls themselves. I had booked a guided tour (definitely did not want to drive in winter in Iceland) and chose a tour that focused on the lesser-visited areas like these waterfalls. Our bus was the only bus around – and it was cold. Really cold. But it was worth it. Most people in my group just looked at the Hraunfossar and quickly went back to the bus. I was probably the only one who made it to Barnafoss. During the winter months, you cannot do much around the area. It was worth it. I loved winter wonderland at Hraunfossar in January.

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SUMMER: The second time I visited was in July. And it looked gorgeous. Meadows surround the waterfalls with many flowers, and the contrast of green, yellow flowers, and blue waterfalls looked pretty. It gets busier in the summer months, but it was still not overly crowded. You cannot do a lot of hikes around the waterfalls – not even in summer. Some paths are closed to protect nature and to protect ourselves. However, given its beauty, I think also summer is the perfect time to visit the waterfalls.

Hraunfossar Waterfalls in Iceland

SPRING/FALL: Normally, fall is a good time to spend outdoors. But as you might know, there are hardly any trees in Iceland (you can count the trees you will see!) and so, the fall foliage is not as impressive as in other countries. I have not visited in fall myself but looked up images from fall and spring and it looks beautiful in spring and fall, too.

However, I believe that summer and winter are the best times to visit. But it is a good attraction in Iceland to visit all year round. If you are wondering about the best time to visit Iceland in general, check out my comparison guide: Winter or summer trip to Iceland.

HRAUNFOSSAR WATERFALLS

Actually, Hraunfossar consists of numerous springs that emerge under the edge of the lava field Hallmundarhraun. Hallmundarhraun, however, consists of pillow lava and was probably created in 800 AD.

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The water is from Langjökull Glacier, the second-largest glacier in Iceland. You might know that the famous Gullfoss waterfall is also fed from the same glacier. The water running between the lava layers created the Hraunfossar Waterfalls (hraun= lava and fossar= waterfalls), which are almost 1000 meters wide. THIS (and the watercolor) make Hraunfoosar a special Icelandic waterfall. From there, the water flows into the Hvita River.

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It really depends on when you visit Hraunfossar – the watercolor can change. After rainy days, it does not look as clear and beautiful as in the pictures here. I visited in summer and winter, and both times, the watercolor was incredible.

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From there, head to Barnafoss.

BARNAFOSS WATERFALLS

Above Hraunfossar, there is another waterfall – Barnafoss. It is just a 2-minute walk max. Despite its proximity to Hraunfossar, it is completely different. Hraunfossar is an elegant, lovely waterfall, while Barnafoss is a wild, fast and powerful waterfall. Its average flow rate is 80m3/s, but there were times it has reached 500m3/sec (then the area gets flooded).

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Here is where the channel of the Hvita river narrows – the river carved out stone bridges and arches with its power. It is best known for its dark history in folklore – and its name derives from it (Children’s Fall). There are several versions, so I stick with the one I read on a sign at the waterfall.

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On Christmas Day, the parents of several children left home for church one morning. Two kids were to stay home. But the children decided to follow their parents, but they took a shortcut to the church via a stone bridge that arched over the nearby rapid waterfall. And to make it short: They fell into the water and died! Apparently, the parents were devastated. The grieving mom then had the stone bridge destroyed to prevent further death.

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So, there are different story versions, but while many myths and legends often are very…adventurous to say the least, this story might even be true.

These days, the natural bridge is gone and there is a pedestrian bridge across the river from the year 1891, which was renovated in the late 20th century.

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IS HRAUNFOSSAR AND BARNAFOSS WATERFALLS WORTH VISITING?

I visited the waterfalls for the first time in winter – and it was one of the highlights of my winter trip. I revisited in the summer and was worried to be disappointed. But I was not. Hraunfossar and Barnafoss look beautiful in summer and winter. Given its accessibility and other attractions close by, like Husafell or Víðgelmir Cave, and Deildartunguhver Hot Spring, it makes a perfect day trip from Reykjavik or stops for an Iceland road trip.

Check out my guide for the best day trips from Reykjavik in winter.

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VISIT ICELAND IN DECEMBER – WHAT TO KNOW FOR AN EPIC TRIP

Visiting Iceland in December

DECEMBER IN ICELAND – A GOOD IDEA?

Iceland in December is… interesting! Iceland is probably one of the most stunning countries in the world – with scenery so unique-looking that it’s hard to find its equal. In summer as in winter. However, December in Iceland also comes with some problems. I don’t say visiting in December is – per se – a bad idea. There are a just few things to know before planning a trip in December. There are many amazing things to do in winter, but I also want to mention the bad and the ugly.

As a teacher, I cannot choose my holidays. Yes, we have about 12 weeks of holidays, but we are not really flexible. I wanted to visit Iceland in winter and had to travel during my school holidays in December, and here is what I realized.

So, first I will talk about general tips for your December trip before talking about the best activities in December and more.

Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links. This means I might earn a small commission when you buy a product/service via my link (at no extra cost to you). More about it here.
December in Iceland, Golden Circle with Arzo Travels P.S. The images in this post are not necessarily related to my written content 🙂

WHAT TO PACK FOR YOUR DECEMBER TRIP TO ICELAND

Though Iceland in December is not as bad as many think – at least not in Reykjavik and South Iceland with temperatures around and above freezing during the day – it is still important to dress warmly. Or better, to dress in layers.

  • 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. 
  • 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 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!
  • Make sure you have 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. They are traction devices you attach to your shoes so you can walk even on ice. 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). 
  • Check out my post on “what to wear in Iceland in winter” for more tips.

Aurora / Northern Lights in December 

Aurora is a natural light display in the Earth´s sky – mostly seen in the high-latitude regions. Iceland is one of the countries where Aurora shows quite well. In countries like Iceland, you can normally see them from late August to the beginning of April. 

Aurora, also known as the Northern Lights, do happen, and they are not a myth. However… 

Mountain Kirkjufell and Aurora in Iceland Northern Lights in Iceland
@shutterstock

Though I stayed in Iceland for 12 nights, I never REALLY saw them. I booked a Northern Lights tour in Iceland that was canceled several times because the sky was not clear enough, and the chances of seeing them were very low. And when I finally went, I just saw greenish stripes – known as the Northern Lights.

So, I saw the Northern Light but I did not really see them. 

And since I am a very chatty person, I kept asking people in Iceland if they happened to see them. NONE really saw the Northern Lights – unless they were locals or people who had been staying in Iceland for a while.

Do you know who saw the lights? People´s cameras. Yep, the camera is much better at spotting and REALLY seeing the lights than our naked eyes. The Northern Lights always look much better on camera than in real life.

It does not mean you cannot see them at all, but they have to be very strong to see them – especially if you expect them “dance in the sky.”

So, visit Iceland in December but don’t expect to REALLY see the Northern Lights. Though the lights can never be really predicted – that is the beauty of nature – there are better months to visit Iceland (probably September or late March/early April) or even better countries to experience the northern lights.

Places to see in December

Driving in December

Road tripping in Iceland is probably one of the best ways to experience the country. However, driving in Iceland in winter can be tricky.

The Ring Road is one of the best road trips to take. In the summer. Not so much in the winter. Driving in December in Iceland

The Ring Road (or Route 1) is a national road in Iceland that runs around the island. It connects most of the inhabited parts of the country and has a length of about 1,332 kilometers. Along the way, you will pass many of the main attractions in Iceland – and also get to see the lesser visited places in the north and east of the country. 

Most of the road is paved (with few exceptions where you only have gravel). So, it’s really perfect for anyone who likes to travel independently and see a lot of this country. But in winter, the Ring Road might be difficult to drive. No one really knows whether you can drive it or not. It all depends. It depends on the weather, the east route, the day, your car, your driving skills, your courage, and it depends on many other things.

Then we have the “F Roads” – which are not part of the Ring Road that goes through the country’s highland – in which you are only allowed to drive with 4×4 vehicles in the summer months.  BUT, these F-Roads are closed in the winter months for us regular people.

I have hardly ever done as much research for a trip as I did for my Iceland winter trip. I read different opinions on whether you should/can drive the Ring Road or not.

As an experienced mountain driver myself (read about an amazing Switzerland road trip here) – with little experience with driving in snow – I was still determined to drive before being warned that it could be hazardous. Could.

And that is the thing with the extreme weather conditions in Iceland. While the area around Reykjavik and the Golden Circle (plus South Coast) are mostly fine to drive in December, it is hard to predict whether the streets of the Ring Road will be open in December or not.

Heavy snowfall can also happen in other winter months, but December is probably one of the worst months to drive yourself around in Iceland.

So, 10 days before my arrival, there was a very heavy snowstorm, which cut many places in the North of Iceland off from the rest of the country. Roads were completely closed, and there was no way of moving at all. If you drive yourself, you might end up stuck.

Driving in the capital and the south of Iceland is normally fine. But for the rest of the country, be aware that sticking to a schedule might be impossible because you might get stuck.Hot pools in December in Iceland

Tours and Activities in December

Iceland is very touristy in the form of tours and activities, and you can basically do any tour to any place you want. Golden Circle Tour? South Coast of Iceland, including the Diamond Beach? Secret Lagoon in winter? Everything is possible. Theoretically. Snow covered on glacier in December

If you don’t drive yourself, you should book lots of activities because Reykjavik is interesting but surely NOT the best place to see in Iceland. So, make sure to check out great Reykjavik day tours in winter.

And, since I only did guided tours myself and did not drive, I have gotten my share of experiences with tours in Iceland. 

The good news: all the companies I used were pretty good, and everything went smoothly. I was allowed to reschedule tours – often very spontaneously – change pick-up locations, and more.  I can’t complain here. BUT….

Book all the tours you are interested in, but be prepared that they will be canceled. Not only was the Northern Lights tour canceled a few times (because the sky was not very clear and the prediction of seeing them was low), but also other activities were canceled.

Snowmobiling on a glacier was like a big dream that I paid a fortune for. Has that dream come true?  We went all the way up to the glacier, but once at the glacier, the weather conditions got so bad that there was no way of doing the trip.

So, if you do come to Iceland in December, be prepared that not all tours will take place – especially the more “exotic“ ones. 

You could do yourself a favor and plan in one or two free days at the end of your trip.  So, if any tours get canceled, you can rebook them and do it on those spare days.

Don´t worry about money, though. If tours are canceled, you will be reimbursed. Only with Northern Lights tours I made a different experience – you will normally be offered a chance to do another tour the next day or get a voucher which is valid for 2 or 3 years (which most of us will probably not end up using, so it would be wasted money).

Crowds in December

Like me, many people get off during Christmas, and that is good for them. And it does not get any more romantic than spending a cozy night in a snow-covered little hut and taking long strolls in a winter wonderland, right?! Wrong! Iceland in winter, Arzo TravelsSince many people somehow have the idea to visit Iceland in December, especially around Christmas, it gets busy. It is not comparable to the crowds in the summer months, but if you visit the main attractions, like Gullfoss Waterfall or Black Sand Beach, you will meet the crowds.

The good news is that many people don’t walk around a lot, as often there is some ice and places get extremely slippery. So, if you walk a few extra meters (crampons are the answer) you will have the place to yourself. If you don’t walk the extra steps, well, then you have to share the place with many others.

The number of visitors quickly drops after New Year’s Eve and in the other winter months, so if you don’t like crowds, don’t come in December.Things to dknow about visiting Iceland in December

Iceland in December is Expensive 

Iceland is such a beautiful country and so budget-friendly. Said no one ever. Iceland is surely one of the most expensive countries in Europe.

A taxi ride from the International Airport in Reykjavik to the city center can easily cost up to 200€ for 50 km – and that is no scam.

  • Food = expensive.
  • Tours = expensive
  • Peeing = expensive (oh, of course, you can “pee for free,“ but if you use paid toilets, you have to pay a fee – around 1.50€)
  • Souvenirs = expensive
  • Renting cars = expensive
  • Dining out = expensive
  • Oh, let´s not forget accommodations, which are…of course, also expensive.

So, you get my point. Iceland is an expensive country, but guess what? December is the most expensive winter month in which to visit. West of Iceland in DecemberWith the crowds, the prices increase – I probably don’t have to explain too much about that here. But if you can visit in November or January, you will automatically save quite a bit (or a lot) on accommodations and rental cars, too.

Weather in December

None of us expects bikini weather in Iceland in December. Good news: many people actually wear bikinis and swimwear even in December because it gets really hot. At least in the hot pools, which are all over Iceland and popular at any time of the year.

But of course, we have the rightful expectation of cold weather (probably with some snow and ice) in December.  So, expect snow and ice in the Icelandic winter months.

And I must say that the weather in December is actually more pleasant than I expected it to be. It was cold (around 0 degrees Celsius), but not freezing cold. At least, not for Reykjavik. And not compared to winters in Canada, for example. Weather in December in IcelandAt times, we had -8 degrees celsius plus cold wind – BUT even that was okay.

Just be prepared that it CAN be freezing in December (locals told me that they had had -20 degrees a few days before my visit).

And with the cold, there also came storms and a lot of wind. Especially if you are in front of a standing waterfall or at the coast, it can be pretty tough, so make sure to dress warmly. And since icy streets and icy paths are common, I highly recommend the crampons I mentioned before.

So, a day in the hot pool is definitely one of the best things to do in Iceland.

However, what I did not expect was THAT much rain. It rained without much break for several days. It is quite uncommon to have that much rain in Iceland (it felt more like a British winter).

Though rain can happen at any time of the year, cold combined with a lot of rain is quite frustrating and something I did not expect. But that was not actually the worst….

Waterfalls in December in Iceland with Arzo Travels

Daylight in December in Iceland

From now on, I will forever, forever, and ever cherish and appreciate daylight! Because daylight is something you will hardly come across during Icelandic winter days.

And this was the biggest struggle for me… I did my research. I knew that days are short in December – but I didn´t know that days in December are short!

December is the month with the shortest days, and the shortest of all is the 21st of December. But unless you have visited a country with days THAT short, you don’t really know what to expect.

Again, I did my research, and yet I was shocked by HOW short the days are. So, what does it mean in terms of traveling to Iceland in December? 

When you wake up, it is dark. I assume you wake up all before 11 am, right? It slowly gets lighter before 11 am, but sunrise is normally around 11:30 am.

Reykjavik in December before sunrise
Reykjavik at 10:40….not pm but 10:40 AM

So, this means that if you do a tour (or drive yourself), you will miss out on all the amazing scenery Iceland has to offer. Tours often start around 8 or 9 pm, and though I always stared out of the bus window, I could not see anything. I mean, I definitely deserve an award for trying, but I still failed very badly actually at seeing something. 

Most people took a nap on the bus, and I can’t blame them. Because there is not much else you can do. Often, it takes 2 or 3 hours to get from Reykjavik to the main attractions (Golden Circle, Vik, etc.). So, you are sitting in the dark, and you know there is something amazing out there – and yet you still miss out on the amazing scenery.

And normally, by the time you arrive at the sights, daylight is there. Yes – daylight does not completely skip Iceland in December! But you have to be quick to see some of the places because the sun makes only short appearances. 

So, are you a slow traveler? Then December is surely not the time for you. You have to squeeze in as much as possible to see at least a bit of the country. I mean, where is the fun of seeing the mountains or waterfalls if it is dark? 

Then, on the way back, it is dark again because the sun sets around 3:30 pm, and after 4 pm, the sun has set again. So, once again, you can look out of the window, but you won’t see much.

TIP: If you do bus tours, try to sit in the front seat, so at least you can see a bit, thanks to spotlights. Sunrise in Iceland in winterIf you plan to stay for more than 3 or 4 days, it can actually become depressing if you are not used to it.

So, of all the above-mentioned December problems, this was the hardest to deal with. With 1 or 2 more hours of daylight, my perception of Iceland and the scenery would probably be even better.

So, make sure to see as much as you can and make sure to bring your Vitamin D pills because that is surely something your body will need.Winter in Iceland at suunrise

WHERE TO STAY FOR WINTER IN ICELAND

For your December vacation, I recommend making Reykjavik your base and going on day trips. Here are some accommodations:

Tower Suites Reykjavik: The most luxurious option for staying in Reykjavik are the Tower Suites. Known to house celebrities on vacation and have some of the best views from their high levels rooms, this is the perfect option if you like to stay in luxury on your travels.

The location is right on the waterfront but still within walking distance to the center of town.  They have organic breakfast complimentary each morning, and their amazing concierge service will help get you dinner reservations at all the best spots in town!

Reykjavik Centrum in Reykjavik: Just like the name suggests, this is right in central Reykjavik! This is the perfect location to walk around and explore, and you can easily do day tours from Reykjavik.

The rooms are simple standard hotel rooms, but it’s all about location here. Lovely spot downtown, a cobblestone street with plenty of dining options, and nearby the hop-on and hop-off bus stop. The hotel itself also houses its own bar and café for those nights when you feel like taking it easy or staying in.

Radisson Blu 1919 in Reykjavik: The Radisson Blu is also located in central Reykjavik, with their restaurant 1919 on-site serving locally sourced foods. This is another great option for travelers looking for a mid-range option with walking distance sights, shops, and restaurants.

Close to the national art gallery and old harbor. They have a fitness center on the property if you like to keep in shape while traveling! They also have a convenient app that displays hotel specials as well as must-see nearby spots.

Hotel Fron in Reykjavík: This is a great central option for “budget travelers (if you can call it that). Reasonable pricing without sacrificing a good walkable location! They are simple apartment-style lodging rooms with daily breakfast served and free wifi. They also have a Scandinavian restaurant and bar on-site and parking available, which is perfect if you plan to take a road trip and continue exploring the country after Reykjavik.

IS ICELAND IN DECEMBER WORTH VISITING?

While I still am amazed by Iceland – and think that my December winter trip to Iceland was one of my most special trips, I do not recommend visiting Iceland in December.

There are always pros and cons for each month! It is about how well you can handle certain aspects. If it weren’t for the short days, I would not have minded all the other issues traveling in Iceland in December brought along.

As far as I can tell, the scenery was amazing – but so it is in other winter months, so make sure to visit at the right time for you! So, why not visit Iceland in November or February? If you are unsure about the best time to visit Iceland – check out my detailed post on when to visit Iceland.

If you are still looking for the perfect place to stay in Iceland, check out this accommodation guide.Safe Travels, Arzo

WHAT TO WEAR IN ICELAND IN WINTER

What to wear in Iceland in winter

PACKING LIST: HOW TO DRESS IN WINTER IN ICELAND

Iceland in winter is a magical time – a real Winter Wonderland. The scenery is one of the world’s most extraordinary at any time of the year – and the snow-capped mountains and hills, plus frozen waterfalls, make this country even more beautiful.

Winter weather in Iceland is – surprisingly – not as cold as many might think. Yes, there is a lot of snow and ice. But it isn’t the coldest country in Europe and especially in Reykjavik or the South Coast have quite mild climates – much milder than other Nordic countries. This is partly because of the Gulf Stream which flows along the West and South of Iceland and brings warmth all the way from the Caribbean.

However, the mild Atlantic air gets mixed with the cold Arctic air coming from the north – this leads to sudden and frequent changes in the weather.

This also means, that there is a lot of wind and stormy weather in the country and that the south part of the country gets more rainfall than the north. The north, however, is much colder, and heavy snowfalls might traveling to the north or Icelandic Westfjords difficult.

While I do not want to tell you to pack light skirts and dresses, I just want to say, that it is not necessarily freezing – at least if you do not visit central or northern Iceland.

In winter, the average temperature in Reykjavík, Iceland’s capital, is around 1-2°C (33-35°F) during the day – with quite a lot of rain.

  • For travel tips in summer, read this post.

DISCLAIMER: THIS POST CONTAINS AFFILIATE LINKS. THIS MEANS I MIGHT EARN A SMALL COMMISSION WHEN YOU BUY A PRODUCT/SERVICE (AT NO EXTRA COST TO YOU). MORE ABOUT IT HERE.

Places to visit in Iceland in winter - and what to wear

WHAT TO WEAR IN ICELAND IN WINTER

  • If you’re planning to travel to Iceland during the winter months, the key is dressing in layers. Dressing in layers allows you to keep warm without compromising on comfort. 
  • But your items should be versatile in function. For example, pack a jacket that is both waterproof and warm.
  • In addition, comfortable walking shoes are essential.

So, read on to find out what to wear in Iceland in winter.

Skógafoss Waterfall in winter in Iceland

Everyday Attire Essentials For Iceland In Winter

Here are a few items that you should pack – whether you visit Iceland in winter or summer.

  • Tops: If you dress in layers, tops are essential. If you do day trips from Reykjavik, buses can be really hot and thus you do not want to wear to warm clothes.
  • Cardigans: Perfect if you want to dress in layers – tops and cardigans are my way to go whenever weather conditions change during the day.
  • Warm Pullovers – Iceland is famous for its sweaters made 100% from Icelandic wool sheep. Personally, I avoid products from wool and recommend bringing your own warm pullovers. The Icelandic pullovers are very expensive but they are popular and they might keep you warm.
  • I brought some jeans with me and did not regret it. There were not the only pants I wore but they were the best option on a cold day when I wanted to “dress up”.
  • Sweatpants – for long days in the bus, plane, etc. – and yes, you can look great in sweatpants.
  • Footwear: Flip-flops are a must – yes, even in Iceland in winter. You will need them for the days in the geothermal pools.
  • Bikini: Iceland in winter is the perfect time to visit geothermal pools – so bring at least one.

So, after some more general things to pack for Iceland, here are items to wear in Iceland in winter.

At the top of your packing list should be the following versatile, essential items. Using these items to dress in layers will keep you both stylish and warm. 

  • Coat – warm And waterproof: A warm, waterproof jacket should be one of the very first items that you think to pack. I brought my super warm Wellensteyn jacket – bulky but warm and with many pockets. I did not need an extra scarf for most of the time. However, if you have a lightweight, trench raincoat that will keep you warm, dry, and comfortable better bring that because a bulky jacket can make you feel uncomfortable when you have layers underneath.
  • Hat: Apparently, we lose up to 10% of our body heat through our heads, meaning that it’s essential to keep this area warm. A knitted beanie will keep you toasty warm whether you’re outdoors sipping coffee, or exploring the sights. 
  • Gloves: Have you ever tried to use your phone with frozen fingers? Yes, it isn’t that easy. A pair of gloves can do wonders for your mobility, dexterity, and comfort. This makes it one of the most important items on your Iceland winter packing list. When selecting your options, it’s worth investing in a pair that can dry quickly and are touch-screen compatible.
  • Scarf: A warm scarf and/or turtleneck sweater are key items for keeping your neck covered. Not only do these items keep you warm, but they also prevent you from getting ill (and thereby ruining the fun). While my jacket was very warm and kept my neck warm, I still brought my scarf – especially on the bus or plane.
  • Turtleneck: A turtleneck sweater is perfect as a garment to wear underneath your jacket, while the scarf can be removed easily. 
  • Leggings: Leggings are perfect to wear underneath your jeans as an extra layer of warmth. Unless you really like cold, I do not recommend wearing them without any jeans or ski pants though. They are both comfortable and snug. 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 winter trip – the thicker the better. Chances are that you’ll be spending a lot of time outdoors in the snow and cold, and you’ll want your feet to be warm and cozy. I bought myself some pairs of ski socks and they were a great investment.
  • Thermals: BEST. INVENTION. EVER. A quality set of thermals is your key to enjoying the winter weather in Iceland. They provide an extra layer of heat that will allow you to spend an extra hour outside instead of excess clothing. If you asked me for my top 5 items to wear in Iceland in winter, then surely thermals are among them.
  • Comfortable Walking Shoes: If you can only pack one pair of shoes, then make sure that they are a trusty pair of waterproof snowshoes. Break them in before you visit Iceland for the first time. If you will do a lot of hiking and snowshoe walking, then consider buying snowshoes that allow you to enjoy a variety of activities while keeping your feet warm and dry. 
  • Crampons: I wore my hiking boots – and bought some for them while I was in Iceland. It will almost be impossible to stroll some sights without crampons because it is very icy in the winter months.
Crampers - What to wear in Iceland in winter, crampers

Winter Sportswear for Iceland in Winter

While Iceland is a winter wonderland, it is not known for offering the best winter sports opportunities. However, you can do some winter sports + winter sports clothes are just amazing to keep you warm while allowing you to be comfortable.

  • Ski Jacket: When choosing the perfect ski jacket, you need to consider warmth, level of waterproofing, and freedom of movement. A jacket that is adjustable in fit seals effectively, and dries quickly is the perfect apparel for snowboarding, skiing, and other winter outdoor sports.
  • Ski Pants: My best friend, next to my thermals, were my ski pants. They cost a fortune but a trusty pair of insulated ski pants are the next essential item to keep you warm. Make sure that your choice of pants is breathable, warm, and waterproof. These details will keep you dry, warm, and comfortable – whenever the weather forecast wasn’t too bad, I didn’t even wear thermals and just my beloved ski pants and they kept me more than war,  
  • Umbrella: Iceland in winter tends to be very rainy. Especially Reykjavik was very rainy – so pack a foldable umbrella. It can be the difference between a leisurely stroll in the city streets and getting caught in a flu-inspired downpour. 
  • Sunglasses: Sunglasses aren’t really essential in Iceland in winter – daylight and thus the sun is not “a big thing”. But I still packed a pair of polarized sunglasses – you never know!

So, if you dress appropriately and if you know what to wear in Iceland in winter, you can enjoy a fantastic trip to this unique country.

Waterfalls in Iceland Barnafoos in winter

CHECK OUT MORE ICELAND CONTENT:

Stay safe and enjoy!

BEST & EASY DAY TRIPS FROM REYKJAVIK IN WINTER

Best day trips in winter from Reykjavik Cover

EPIC WINTER DAY TRIPS FROM REYKJAVIK, ICELAND

Are you headed to Iceland in winter and wondering about the best and easy day trips from Reykjavik in winter? While Iceland in summer is also breathtaking, winter is a totally different world. Besides the short days (which wasn’t always easy on me, to be honest, though), Iceland in winter was just beyond magical.

I visited Iceland twice – in winter and summer. In winter, I based myself in Reykjavik and did quite a few day trips which I am happy to share with you. Besides my favorite Reykjavik winter day trips, you´ll also find some other tips for your trip. I did not rent a car because of the weather conditions. Instead, I just booked day tours from Reykjavik. And I must say, that was a smart decision. Booking tours in Iceland are easy – canceling is easy as rescheduling is (I had to reschedule a few times due to weather conditions). However, as already mentioned, the short days in Iceland in winter can be challenging. At least the short days were for me.

Beautiful Iceland scenery winter

TRAVEL TIPS FOR REYKJAVIK DAY TRIPS

Reykjavik day trips are a lot of fun. But make sure to bring a neck pillow and download some music or audiobooks on your phone you can enjoy. Because when you look out the window, you won’t see much except some darkness. However, once you arrive at the destination, there normally is daylight, and you should be fine exploring the places.

Though Iceland in winter is not as cold as many think, it is still important to dress warmly. Or better to dress in layers.

  • 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. 
  • 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 you can remove the scarf 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. 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 really 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.
  • Since you will sit on the bus for quite a while, I highly suggest getting yourself a neck pillow so you can sleep/relax on the bus.

PLACES TO VISIT NEAR REYKJAVIK IN WINTER

So, now, without further ado, here are my favorite winter day trips.

Snæfellsnes Peninsula 

If you ask me about my FAVORITE day trip from Reykjavik in winter, then this will be my answer: Snæfellsnes. Snæfellsnes has earned the nickname ‘Iceland in Miniature’ because it’s home to many of the country’s classic sights and attractions. It’s a narrow peninsula in the North Atlantic Ocean, filled with spectacular scenery.

West of Iceland in December

You’ll find gorges, waterfalls, lava fields, and black sand beaches. Along with the ancient and famous Snæfellsjökull volcano and a myriad of quaint Icelandic villages. Here you have everything. You’ll even come across some golden sand beaches – a rare sight in Iceland.

The area is gorgeous during Iceland’s frigid winters. Freshly fallen snow blankets the dramatic landscapes, while the sunsets are long and beautiful.

A typical day trip to Snæfellsnes Peninsula includes stops at a few charming fishing villages, such as Arnarstapi and Grundarfjordur. And often, visitors will stop to admire Djúpalónssandur’s black sand beaches.  A visit to Kirkjufell is also a popular choice. This 463-meter tall mountain is said to be the most photographed in the country, thanks to its striking and unique shape. It’s a particularly beautiful sight when capped with fresh winter snowfall.

Best day trips from Reykjavk, Iceland

Along the way, you’ll be able to take in stunning views of the surrounding fjords, cliffs, and lava fields. Making this a magical Icelandic day trip.

TIP: I was one of the very few in my group who was able to walk all the way to the waterfall. It was so icy and other people slipped before they even got there…Thanks to my crampons, I could carefully walk around and see more than most others.

BOOK TOURS FOR SNAFELLSNES PENINSULA

Hraunfossar Waterfall, Deildartunguhver, Lava Cave & Thermal Pools

The original tour I had booked got canceled and instead, I was offered this tour – and looking back, it was the best that could have happened because that day was one of my highlights. So, depending on what tour you book you could see all the places in one day.

Hraunfossar

Hraunfossar is a stunning waterfall a couple of hours’ drive northeast of Reykjavik. And it’s surrounded by a selection of other amazing attractions.

Hraunfossar waterfall tour from Reykjavik

A trip to the falls can comfortably be combined with stops at the Húsafell thermal pools, the Deildartunguhver hot spring, and the Lava Tunnel – Raufarholshellir.

The Hraunfossar is more like a series of smaller falls than one large one. The water flowing over them is glacial melt, pouring into the Hvita River. It’s a picturesque scene, and the striking azure of the water looks spectacular against the stark, black volcanic rock. In winter, the surrounding greenery turns to crisp white. Though it is not the most popular place – and surely not one of the most famous and most popular day trips – I loved it. Every second of it (at least when I had daylight). This is more of an Iceland off-the-beaten-path day trip in winter.

Thermal Pools and Hot Tubs of Húsafell

Nearby, you’ll find the outdoor thermal pools and hot tubs of Húsafell. Here, you can escape the winter chills by soaking in the wonderful, naturally heated waters.

Hot tubs of Húsafell

There are different tours offered – and most of my group decided on something else for this part of the day. So, I had all the pools there for myself. Seriously, no one was there in the wintertime (that, of course, isn’t guaranteed though).

Viðgelmir Lava

Then, head over to The Cave Vidgelmir which is the fourth-longest lava tube in Iceland.  Viðgelmir is the largest lava tube in Iceland at 1585 meters (5200 feet) long. This lava cave is just 15 minutes away –

Lava tunnel in West Iceland

The cave is the chance to witness the inner working of a volcanic eruption – you can walk the path that flowed an eruption more than 5,000 years ago. And the guided tour will allow you to learn about volcanic eruptions and their effect on the environment. Though this part wasn’t my highlight it was interesting because it was completely different from the rest of the day.

Depending on the exact itinerary, you might add another stop on that day.

Deildartunguhver

En route back to Reykjavik, you can stop at Deildartunguhver, which is considered to be Europe’s most powerful hot spring. It pumps out 97°C water at a rate of 180 liters/second and provides heating to a pair of Icelandic towns. Wooden walkways lead visitors around the springs and through the rising steam. This stop normally will be short – but it again shows how stunning the country is.

If you find this tour or a similar tour – go for it. It is a beautiful, lesser-known day trip from Reykjavik in winter even though it was breathtaking.

BOOKING TOURS IN WESTERN ICELAND

Golden Circle and Secret Lagoon

The Golden Circle is a sightseeing route that is deserving of its name. It’s among the most popular things to do in Iceland and easily one of the best day trips from Reykjavik. It’s basically a route that leads between 3 of Iceland’s most celebrated attractions, with some stunning scenery along the way. From Reykjavik, it winds east toward Thingvellir National Park, before continuing on to the Geysir Geothermal Area. And, finally, arriving at the Gullfoss Waterfall before completing the loop by heading back to Reykjavik.

The journey is roughly 230km in length, and can easily be done in one day from Reykjavik.

Thingvellir National Park

Thingvellir National Park is a stunning area that has earned UNESCO World Heritage Site status. The park combines spectacular natural scenery with a rich history. Its geography is unique, and it was the site where Iceland’s civilization began.

Thingvellir National Park at sunrise in Iceland_

Geysir

The next stop, Geysir, is a hot spring area. It’s home to roughly a dozen geysers that blast hot water and steam high into the air. In fact, this site is where the term ‘geyser’ originated. And it’s a classic Iceland experience and since they erupt every few minutes you will see its eruption.

Geysir Geothermal Area as a day trip in winter from Reykjavik

Gullfoss Waterfall

The next stop, Gullfoss, is a roaring waterfall that’s a sight to behold.

December in Iceland, Golden Circle with Arzo Travels

Though this is a very touristy tour, I think, it is a must in winter. You can’t visit Reykjavik and skip the Golden Circle in winter. Also, these tours are offered very often and the chances they might get canceled are very low.

Secret Lagoon

Some tours make some additional stops en route – I joined the one with the Secret Lagoon. After a wintery day of exploring, indulge in the gorgeous thermal pool at Secret Lagoon – the oldest of its kind in Iceland. I have to admit that I am not the biggest pool person though it was an interesting experience. Alternatively, you can choose a tour without an additional stop or other stops.

Secret Lagoon in Iceland - less crowded than Blue Lagoon

BOOK TOURS FOR GOLDEN CIRCLE

Let´s continue with a few more recommendations for day trips from Reykjavik in winter.

The South of Iceland

The area surrounding the southern coast of Iceland is a beautiful region that boasts a range of spectacular attractions. I guess, that the South of Iceland is almost as popular as the Golden Circle.

Black Sand Beach with Arzo Travels

Most of these tours are easily accessible from Reykjavik. On a day trip here, you can head to the ocean to see the black sand beaches and dramatic cliffs of the south coast.

Vik

While you’re there, pay a visit to Vik, the most southerly village in Iceland. It’s quaint and gorgeous, set to the backdrop of rugged coastal cliffs and rock formations.

Black Sand Beach in Vik, a day tour from Reykjavik

Skógafoss Waterfalls

There are also some spectacular waterfalls in the area. The amazing Skógafoss Falls are a popular sight, with a wide torrent of water pouring over a 60-meter cliff.

Skógafoss Waterfall in winter in Iceland

The Seljalandsfoss falls are equally impressive, but they also allow you to step into a cave behind the cascade of water – if it is not too icy. The raw power of the falls and the spray that rises make for quite an exhilarating experience!

Sólheimajökull Glacier

Another popular stop is the Sólheimajökull glacier, where you can explore a frozen wonderland made of white and blue ice. 

Solheimajökull in Iceland is one of the best day trips from Reykjavk

While touring the south of Iceland, you’ll undoubtedly pass a range of stunning mountains, rivers, waterfalls, and glaciers. So keep your eyes peeled. As mentioned, the South of Iceland is one of the most visited areas, and tours from Reykjavik are extremely popular. It gets busy.

BOOK TOURS FOR THE SOUTH OF ICELAND

Blue Lagoon

The Blue Lagoon is easily one of the most popular attractions in Iceland. It’s a naturally heated, geothermal lagoon, that’s renowned for its striking blue color – giving the attraction its name.

Blue Lagoon in Iceland, where to stay
@shutterstock

4 out of 5 tourists to Iceland flock to soak in the wonderfully warm waters that are filled with a range of minerals. And it’s just a 45-minute drive from Reykjavik, making it a crime to miss out on it. The blue water stands out perfectly against the dark volcanic rock that surrounds it. And the steam rising up from the surface just adds to the charm, making it a stunning scene and an otherworldly experience.

Winter is actually the best time to visit the lagoon, as that’s when it’s least crowded. The contrast of being in the silky, warm water with the icy winter conditions around you is an incredible experience, too. And you might even be fortunate enough to see the northern lights while you’re swimming if you go after dark (I didn’t but you might be one of the very few lucky people).

The lagoon even contains a swim-up bar area where you can get your fill of drinks right from the water. And all guests can make use of the silica mud masks that are included in the ticket price.

Just a side note: I did not see any real effect – after I spend time at the Dead Sea in Jordan my skin really glowed but here…not so much. I enjoyed my time at the Blue Lagoon but it was NOT The highlight of my trip. Often, it is fully booked several weeks in advance and so you need to book early. 

  • Prices are high – and the crowds are there, so keep that in mind when you plan your Iceland itinerary.

BOOKING TOURS FOR THE BLUE LAGOON

CONCLUSION: EASY DAY TRIPS FROM REYKJAVIK IN THE WINTER MONTHS

Iceland in winter is stunning – and while Reykjavik is a great city to explore, I highly recommend booking yourself a few day trips and discovering more of Iceland. And since I am not a fan of driving in the winter months (at least in a country like Iceland) a road trip was not an option and doing different day trips from Reykjavik in winter is the best way to explore the country. Stay safe and enjoy!

Safe Travels, Arzo

Where to Stay in Iceland – Best Areas For All Budgets

where to stay in Iceland

Best Places to Stay in Iceland for All Budgets

Are you heading to Iceland soon and wondering about where to stay in Iceland? Lucky you! Iceland has become incredibly popular and with all the country has to offer, it’s no wonder!

Winter months bring an ideal location to spot the Northern Lights, and during the summer months, you can explore the gorgeous green countryside and black sand beaches. Whether you visit Iceland in winter or Iceland in summer – you will surely have a unique experience.

Iceland can be pricey, but there are ways to travel for all budget types. Whether you like the city or the countryside, prefer luxury or need somewhere more simple to sleep at night there is a wide range of options of accommodation to choose from!

Iceland where to stay - best hotels in Iceland for all budgets

Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links. This means I might earn a small commission when you buy a product/service via my link (at no extra cost to you). More about it here.

Today, it is all about the best places to stay in Iceland – here are tips for your Iceland itinerary.

Luxury Hotels in Iceland

Let us start with some of the best luxury hotels in Iceland.

Hotel Ranga in Hella 

Hotel Ranga is about 1 ½ hours from Reykjavik. This is an option in Southern Iceland for those who are looking to spend more time in nature.

If you’re visiting to see the Northern Lights in December or spending time doing outdoor activities, this is the place for you. With the best of both worlds, you have access to the beautiful outdoors without having to rough it.

Mountain Kirkjufell and Aurora in Iceland Northern Lights in Iceland
@shutterstock

Renowned for their stargazing, they actually have a mini observatory on-site! Only 150 meters from the hotel, you can enjoy spectacular views from their telescopes.

Hotel Budir in Ólafsvík

This 5-star option lies about 2 ½ hours north of Reykjavik in the beautiful coastal countryside.

All rooms have a lovely view – whether it’s of the ocean, mountains, glaciers,s or lava fields. Their 5-star restaurant is all locally sourced fresh foods, and their rooms have a traditional style, so you truly feel immersed in Icelandic culture. Enjoy your outdoor excursions and beautiful night skies without sacrificing any luxuries.

They will assist you in booking excursions and provide a wake-up call during the night if the northern lights appear!

Read more: Looking for Iceland itineraries? Here is an Iceland itinerary with many great tips.

Tower Suites Reykjavik

The most luxurious option for staying in Reykjavik are the Tower Suites.

Known to house celebrities on vacation and have some of the best views from their high levels rooms, this is the perfect option if you like to stay in luxury on your travels. The location is right on the waterfront but still within walking distance to the center of town. 

They have organic breakfast complimentary each morning, and their amazing concierge service will help get you dinner reservations at all the best spots in town!

If you plan to drive throughout Iceland and explore other areas of the country on your trip, I recommend the Kea Hotels Chain as a good luxury option that has several properties spread throughout Iceland.

Boutique/Unique Luxury Option

Here are some very unique hotels in Iceland.

Hotel Silica

The famous Blue Lagoon of Iceland! Chances are you will be visiting here on your trip, so why not stay here?

where to stay in Iceland
@shutterstock Blue Lagoon

If the Blue Lagoon is on your Iceland itinerary, then Hotel Silica is a great choice.

Hotel Silica has its own private thermal pool, “Silica Lagoon,” for its guests with a poolside waiter. Your stay also includes a complimentary premium admission to Blue Lagoon (only a short walk from Silica Lagoon), a fitness center, and daily breakfast. This is the best way to experience the thermal pools of Iceland, hands down.

Mid-Range Hotels in Iceland

Here are some great mid-range hotels.

Reykjavik Centrum in Reykjavik 

Just like the name suggests, this is right in central Reykjavik! This is the perfect location to walk around and explore, and you can easily do day tours from Reykjavik.

The rooms are simple standard hotel rooms, but it’s all about location here. Lovely spot downtown, a cobblestone street with plenty of dining options, and nearby the hop-on and hop-off bus stop. The hotel itself also houses its own bar and café for those nights when you feel like taking it easy or staying in.

Radisson Blu 1919 in Reykjavik 

The Radisson Blu is also located in central Reykjavik, with their restaurant 1919 on-site serving locally sourced foods.

This is another great option for travelers looking for a mid-range option with walking distance sights, shops, and restaurants. Close to the national art gallery and old harbor. They have a fitness center on the property if you like to keep in shape while traveling! They also have a convenient app that displays hotel specials as well as must-see nearby spots.

Hotel Laxnes in Mosfellsbaer

Their motto is “Enjoy the Best of Both Worlds,” located only about 20 minutes from Reykjavik, you are close enough to enjoy but also far enough to have some more seclusion, quiet and better viewing of night skies.

They have an outdoor hot tub perfect for relaxing under the night sky and free parking on-site, making it a good starting point for an Iceland road trip. They serve breakfast daily and have a bar on the property as well.

Laxnes also offers their own day tours to explore the area and night tours to go out and hunt for the Northern lights.

EXTRA:

If you plan to drive throughout Iceland and explore other areas of the country on your trip, I would recommend the Iceland Air Hotels Chain as a good mid-range option with several properties spread throughout Iceland.

Boutique/Unique Moderate in Iceland

Here is a boutique hotel in Iceland for the mid-range hotel.

Ion Adventure Hotel in Nesjavellir

This property is perched about 1 hour east of Reykjavik. This is a stunning and uniquely designed hotel.

Even the drive there will have some beautiful scenery to enjoy along the way. This is a great spot to enjoy nature’s beauties and the northern lights if you go over the winter season.

The hotel is done in a modern design, and they have a restaurant with great food, too. It’s the perfect way to enjoy the outdoors and seclusion of Iceland without being terrible far from Reykjavik’s drive making it a nice stop after spending some time in the city. They also have a lovely spa on site where you can enjoy facials and massages using Icelandic herbs.

5 Million Star Hotel – Buubble Stays 

Known as the “5 Million Star Hotel,” Buubble is a unique inflatable igloo-style accommodation in the great outdoors.

This gives you an amazing view of the night skies during winter. You can lay under the Northern Lights with completely unobstructed views watching from the bed or in the summer under a star-filled sky.

These are set up as a single-night stay at the end of a full-day tour (either Golden Circle or Southern Coast). What an amazing and fun way to spend the night after a day of visiting gorgeous sights in Iceland!

Tip: Do you know what to pack for Iceland? Find this comprehensive Iceland packing list.

Mountain Kirkjufell and Aurora in Iceland Northern Lights in Iceland
@shutterstock

Budget Hotels in Iceland

Here are some budget hotels in Iceland.

Hotel Fron in Reykjavík

This is a great central option for budget travelers. Reasonable pricing without sacrificing a good walkable location!

They are simple apartment-style lodging rooms with daily breakfast served and free wifi. They also have a Scandinavian restaurant and bar on-site and parking available, which is perfect if you plan to take a road trip and continue exploring the country after Reykjavik.

Arctic Comfort Vik in Reykjavík

This option is a little farther- just outside of Reykjavik but only a 5-minute walk to the bus stop for easy transportation in and out of the city.

Walkable distance to several restaurants and a food market as well. Arctic Comfort Vik also has free parking, free wifi, and a daily breakfast buffet making it convenient and having all the necessities available.

Unique Stays in Iceland

Here is an amazing and unique place to stay on a budget.

Kuku Campers

The best way to see Iceland outside of Reykjavik on a budget is camping. Kuku Campers is an awesome option offering campers (so you don’t need to completely rough it), and you can explore the country freely.

They also provide their own hand-drawn maps so you can see where you need to stop on your way around Iceland! Perfect pairing with is a “Camping Card Iceland” this is a card that gives you entry and access to tons of campgrounds throughout the country so you can stop and relax at night and have showers etc., all available to you.

It is very popular to travel this way in Iceland, and you’ll meet plenty of fellow travelers along the way enjoying the gorgeous nature Iceland has to offer!

Hopefully, this post has helped you find the perfect accommodations for your trip to Iceland! Have a wonderful time in this unique place!

About the Author: Cassandra is a US-female travel addict who loves traveling the world and works as a tour operator. She is a freelance writer for Arzo Travels, where she shares her expertise.

Follow Cassandra on Instagram

Safe Travels, Arzo

Best Things to Do in Iceland in Winter

Things to do in Iceland in the winter months, Arzo Travels

WHAT TO DO IN ICELAND – BEST WINTER ACTIVITIES

If you are planning your Iceland itinerary, 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 during my winter trip to 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 the winter months. Most of the activities can also be done in the summer months in Iceland – but some you can only do during the winter months.

Beautiful Iceland scenery winter

Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links. This means I might earn a small commission when you buy a product/service via my link (at no extra cost to you). More about it here.

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

WEATHER IN WINTER

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, range 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.

Winter in Iceland activities, Arzo Travels

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

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 heading 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
@Shutterstock

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

Iceland’s Vik Beach is otherworldly and mysterious in the winter – and one of the best tourist attractions in Iceland.

@Shutterstock

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 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

Horseback riding in Iceland in winter is an incredible experience.

Places to visit in Iceland
@shutterstock

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

One of Iceland’s best experiences in winter is getting into a geothermal pool at the end of the day. The Blue Lagoon might be the most famous pool, but not the only amazing one to check out: Mývatn Nature Baths. 

Iceland places to visit, Myvatn Naturebaths, a geothermal hot lagoon in Northeast Iceland. Places to see in Iceland
@shutterstock

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.

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!

There are lockers for your valuables, and there is also a small restaurant if you feel peckish after your soak.

See the Northern Lights

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
@shutterstock

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

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.

Photograph the Kirkjufell Mountain

Then, it is time to visit one of the most famous sights in the country: Kirkjufell Mountain, which is a 463-meter-high mountain on the north coast of Iceland’s Snæfellsnes Peninsula. I have seen it in the winter and in the summer, and I think it was more fun and interesting in the winter months when there was snow.

Places to see in December

Along the way, you’ll be able to take in stunning views of the surrounding fjords, cliffs, and lava fields. Making this a magical Icelandic day trip.

There is not much hiking to do in the winter months and it can be extremely icy and slippery. But you can walk around the waterfall and enjoy the scenery. Make sure to take some crampons and put them on your shoes with you so you can walk all the way to the waterfall.

Enjoy the Hot Pools at Húsafell Hotel

Add Húsafell Hotel – with its hot pools – to your winter itinerary. The more famous pools might be able to accommodate more people, but I was lucky enough to enjoy an hour by myself – here in the west of Iceland.

Hot pools in December in Iceland

The pools at Husafell Hotel are beautiful – visiting in winter, I was the only one there, though it is probably much busier in summer. Here, you can escape the winter chills by soaking in the wonderful, naturally heated waters. What a perfect place to end the day!

  • There is an entrance fee, parking is free.

GUIDED DAY TRIPS FROM REYKJAVIK

  • If you plan to do a guided tour, this one offers a stop at almost all the attractions mentioned above. It does not stop at Husafell Hotel – and the day tour I did is not offered anymore, so this day trip sounds like the best option.

Admire Hraunfossar Waterfalls

There are apparently around 10,000 waterfalls in Iceland. So, how can a waterfall stand out? Hraunfossar Waterfalls is a relatively small yet overly beautiful waterfall that can stand up to the gigantic competition. It looks absolutely pretty and is easily accessible at any time of the year

Hraunfossar Waterfalls in Iceland in winter

The waterfalls are located in Borgarfjörður in the West of Iceland about 120km away from Reykjavík. It is not the main sight as it is neither located within the Ring Road nor the Golden Circle and – yet it is worth a visit. 

Hraunfossar consists of numerous springs that emerge under the edge of the lava field Hallmundarhraun. Hallmundarhraun, however, consists of pillow lava and was probably created in 800 AD.

in winter Hraunfossar Waterfalls in Iceland

The water is from Langjökull Glacier, the second-largest glacier in Iceland. The water running between the lava layers created the Hraunfossar Waterfalls (hraun= lava and fossar= waterfalls), which are almost 1000 meters wide.

THIS (and the watercolor) make Hraunfoosar a special Icelandic waterfall. From there, the water flows into the Hvita River.

I visited in early January and experienced beautiful scenery – the watercolor looked amazing and so did the waterfalls themselves. I had booked a guided tour (definitely did not want to drive in winter in Iceland) and chose a tour that focused on the lesser-visited areas like these waterfalls.

Our bus was the only bus around – and it was cold. Really cold. But it was worth it. Most people in my group just looked at the Hraunfossar and quickly went back to the bus. I was probably the only one who made it to Barnafoss – a waterfall just a stone’s throw away from Hraunfossar.

During the winter months, you cannot do much around the area. It was worth it. I loved the winter wonderland at Hraunfossar in January more than I liked it in the summer actually.

See Iceland From Above – FlyOver Iceland

Iceland is best explored outdoors – not surprising given its extremely stunning scenery. However, spending some time indoors – especially on a rainy or very cold day, is not a bad idea, either.  Here is one of my favorite winter activities in Reykjavik.

Flyover Iceland is so much more than a 4D movie. It’s a passion project that celebrates the unique beauty of Iceland and its history. 

In the simulation, you’ll fly over Iceland’s mountainous landscape and rough coastline, feeling the wind in your hair, and the twists and turns. It was designed to feel like mankind’s greatest dream fulfilled; to feel like you’re flying. With over 200 hours of aerial videography, and years of work put into it, I’d say it was successful! 

You’ll also learn about how Iceland was formed, its long history, and Icelandic culture. So not only is it a great deal of fun – but you’ll also go away with a much better understanding of your surroundings and the Icelandic people.

I was excited and fell in love before I had seen much of Iceland in real life. However, some other people I talked to criticized the short movie and the quite high price. The “flight” is just 10 minutes – the rest of the time you´ll watch short movies and get some information. Not really spectacular – but the flight was great! For me, it was worth the money.

Also, this is the perfect thing to do on a very cold day in Reykjavik in winter as it is indoors (once you book your tickets, email them and agree on a time slot).

See the Stars at the Perlan Planetarium

Reykjavik’s Perlan Planetarium is another fun experience you can experience indoors in Reykjavik. This world-class planetarium allows you to witness the Northern Lights and Iceland’s other wonders. All while snug and warm in the city.

The Perlan Planetarium show runs every hour and is in English. So you’ll have an opportunity to learn about the science behind the aurora borealis and much much more while you’re awed by the beauty.

Perlan Puffins

You can also explore a man-made indoor ice cave and enjoy a 360° panorama of Reykjavík from the viewing deck.

View of Reykjavik in Perlan

I enjoyed the Perlan Planetarium a lot (though FlyOver Iceland was my highlight) – especially because I “got to see the Northern Lights”. I actually met a few people who said, this was their favorite indoor activity in Reykjavik.

See a Lava Tunnel – Viðgelmir Lava

The Cave Vidgelmir is the fourth-longest lava tube in Iceland and is very close to the Hot pools at Husafell Hotel and Hraunfossar Waterfalls.  Viðgelmir is the largest lava tube in Iceland at 1585 meters (5200 feet) long. This lava cave is just 15 minutes away –

Lava tunnel in West Iceland

The cave is the chance to witness the inner working of a volcanic eruption – you can walk the path that flowed during an eruption more than 5,000 years ago. And the guided tour will allow you to learn about volcanic eruptions and their effect on the environment.

Though this part wasn’t my highlight it was interesting because it was completely different from the rest of the day.

Visit Gullfoss Waterfall

Gullfoss is a roaring waterfall and a sight to behold. It is one of the most popular tourist attractions and it is for a reason – accessible at any time of the year, I liked it better in the winter months.

December in Iceland, Golden Circle with Arzo Travels

The waterfall is located in the canyon of the Hvítá river in southwest Iceland and is part of the famous Golden Circle.

The water cascades down in two stages, one 11 meters (36 feet) high, and the other 21 meters (69 feet), into the 2,5 km (1.6 miles) long crevasse below. This crevasse was created by flood waves created by the end of the Ice Age. 

You can’t visit Reykjavik and skip the Golden Circle in winter – especially since this waterfall is a must-see and so the Golden Circle Tours are some of the most popular tours offered. 

CONCLUSION: BEST ICELAND WINTER ACTIVITIES

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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