Iceland’s popularity has been on the rise for a few years, but despite offering an unforgettable experience in every season many people still promote the country as “best during summer” destination. After visiting Iceland in January I’m here to tell you why, while any trip to Iceland guarantees the adventure of a lifetime, there’s something even more special about visiting the land of fire and ice during winter.
A once in a lifetime experience and an item on most travelers’ bucket lists, seeing the northern lights (a.k.a. Aurora Borealis) should really be considered a bonus to your trip to avoid disappointment. In order to see them the stars must align and gift you with a clear night, pitch-black darkness and intense solar activity.
Your best chances are between September and April, but even during the darkest winter months seeing one of nature’s most beautiful spectacle is not guaranteed. To maximize your chances of seeing the northern lights a one-week stay in Iceland is recommended, but if (like me!) you’re not lucky enough to see them, there is plenty to enjoy in the country during winter – starting with this stunning landscape!
The Icelandic landscape is what dreams are made of. Contemplating the beauty of its volcanoes, glaciers, black sand beaches, waterfalls and lava fields as far as the eye can see will somehow transport you to another planet and deepen your connection with ours all at the same time. This island will dazzle you with its beauty no matter when you choose to visit, but winter takes things to a whole new level.
From frozen waterfalls to snow covered lava fields, glaciers so blue that they look hand painted and lakes complete with icebergs floating about, winter in Iceland is nothing short of a fairy tale. The days might be shorter and the weather colder, but if you’re lucky enough to find yourself in Iceland after a snowstorm you won’t even remember why you considered traveling in summer in the first place.
Famous for being one of the most expensive countries in the world, planning a trip to Iceland on a budget at first might seem like an impossible task. But because the country isn’t as popular in the darker months as it is during summer, traveling in winter makes saving money a lot easier.
There are amazing travel deals to be found between November and February, with most hotels offering discounted rates, special wintertime prices on tours, plenty of low cost flights available and companies like Icelandair and WOW air even offer complimentary stopovers. It won’t ever be a cheap trip, let’s face it, but choosing winter over summer will help make your money go a long way.
Bonus point: fewer tourists around means smaller tour groups, more time to talk to the guides, learn some secrets about the country and even take better photos. Can anyone deny the natural landscape looks even more immaculate without a soul in sight?
While you can (and should!) visit Icelandic glaciers during the spring or summer months, it’s only during winter that they reveal their most beautiful facets. For a few months every year the water that flows inside the glacier freezes, creating temporary caves with strikingly beautiful blue walls and an otherworldly atmosphere.
Please note that visiting a glacier on your own is extremely dangerous, as you won’t know which parts of the ice are safe to step on and the cave walls can collapse if the temperature rises. To visit the glacier ice caves in Vatnajökull book a tour with a qualified guide - walking inside the glacier ice caves is worth every penny and something you won’t ever forget.
There are hundreds of geothermal pools in Iceland thanks to the country’s intense volcanic activity. They are accessible all year round, but I don’t think there’s a better time to enjoy the warm water than during the winter months. Floating in the hot springs is the perfect way of defrosting and relaxing your legs after a day out hiking and visiting all the sights, and there are hot bath options to fit every budget.
The most famous hot bath in Iceland is the Blue Lagoon and I’d strongly recommend spending a few hours there before taking your flight home. The complex also includes a spa, restaurant and even a bar inside the lagoon, and floating in the middle of a lava field is worth every penny! But if you prefer something more private you can opt for the Secret Lagoon instead, or visit one of the dozens of hot springs found in the country.
Most people know that in Iceland the days are super short during winter, with an average of 4-5 hours of light, but not many people know that these hours will give you the best photos you’ve ever taken. Since the sun stays relatively low throughout the day it’s like you’re living in a permanent golden hour, where sunrises and sunsets last forever.
Don’t forget to bring some extra SD cards and batteries, because on a winter trip to Iceland you won’t be short of perfect moments to photograph!
Last but not least, winter is an amazing time to visit Iceland because, really, it’s not that cold! Seeing the country so high up on the globe, right beside the Arctic Circle, might send you shopping for -30 degrees gear, but the truth is the temperature is much warmer than the country's name would suggest.
During winter the temperature stays around 0 degrees Celsius and only hovers a few degrees above and below that, so while it’s a lot colder if you’re coming from Florida, it’s not quite Siberia.
Yes, it’s colder, darker and you need to stay longer in order to see everything you want, but exploring Iceland during winter truly is a magical experience. Layer up, stay dry and plan your itinerary wisely - you won’t regret it.
Have you ever been to Iceland during winter? Do you prefer to visit popular destinations during the high or low season?