Highlights from 7 Days in Iceland in Winter

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When I started telling people that I was going back to Iceland for a second time in the winter, someone asked what I had against the Land of Fire and Ice in summer. And, the truth is, I have nothing against Iceland in the summer – in fact, I have dreams of driving the Ring Road under the midnight sun, chasing puffins, and not having to wear multiple layers when going outside. Iceland in summer would be fantastic.

But Iceland is pretty awesome in the winter, too.

Iceland

Sure, the daylight doesn't last very long (especially during December and January), and the temperatures drop to around freezing. The weather often isn't the greatest, either – rain, snow, and sleet alternate with fitful bouts of sunlight, especially in November.

But there are things to do in Iceland in winter that you just can't do other times of the year. Like explore ice caves and snowmobile on glaciers and search for the Northern Lights.

And so I was tempted into a second winter trip to Iceland, and decided to drag Elliot along with me.

RELATED: A 10-Day Itinerary for Iceland in Winter (Without Renting a Car)

Amanda and Elliot at Skogafoss

As it turns out, I STILL have not seen the Northern Lights in Iceland, and my dreams of spelunking in brilliant blue ice caves didn't quite come to fruition, either. But you know what? My second winter trip to Iceland was still amazing enough that I'm already plotting a third in my head.

Here's what Elliot and I got up to in a week in Iceland.

7 days in Iceland in winter

Blue Lagoon

Yes, it's super touristy. And no, it's not even natural. But damn if the Blue Lagoon isn't awesome. This spa between Keflavik Airport and Reykjavik is one of the top attractions in Iceland, and Elliot and I went straight from the airport to the Blue Lagoon for a few hours of relaxing in the hot water after our overnight flight from Boston. This ended up being the most brilliant idea – we wouldn't have been able to check into our apartment in Reykjavik anyway, and this way we were able to relax and stretch our stiff limbs as we watched the sun rise over the lava fields.

Sunrise at the Blue Lagoon in Iceland
Blue Lagoon at sunrise in winter

Blue Lagoon in Iceland

Visiting the Blue Lagoon on the way to/from the airport is easy to do – you can get a bus ticket that includes a stop at the Lagoon, and they even have on-site luggage storage.

Blue Lagoon in Iceland

Read more about the Blue Lagoon here.

Snaefellsnes Peninsula

After kicking jetlag's butt, we were picked up on Day 2 in Iceland by Extreme Iceland for two days of exploring the Snaefellsnes Peninsula north of Reykjavik. The first day of this trip included stops at viewpoints along a fjord, one of the most powerful hot springs in the world (that can literally burn your face off), and Hraunfossar – a series of waterfalls that flow out from beneath a lava field.

Whale Fjord, Iceland

Hraunfossar in Iceland
Hraunfossar

We ended the day by watching a pretty spectacular sunset from the Gerðuberg basalt columns.

Sunset at Gerðuberg basalt columns in Iceland
Sunset at Gerðuberg basalt columns

The second day was spent on the peninsula and included a bit of light hiking. First, we climbed into “the Crack,” also known as Rauðfeldsgjá Gorge, as the sun rose and lit up the surrounding mountains and lava fields in an unreal shade of orange.

Rauðfeldsgjá Gorge
Rauðfeldsgjá Gorge

Iceland landscape

Next we headed to the small fishing village of Arnarstapi and walked the 2.5-kilometer coastal path to Hellnar. Filled with epic views of the coast and a few scrambles over lava rocks, this may have been the highlight of this trip to Iceland for me. (The great weather didn't hurt, either.)

Arnarstapi on the Snaefellsnes Peninsula in Iceland
Arnarstapi
Gatklettur arch in Iceland
Gatklettur arch

We then made a stop at Vatnshellir lava cave in Snæfellsjökull National Park for some cave exploring, followed by a stop at Djúpalónssandur, a black sand beach.

Djúpalónssandur Beach in Iceland
Djúpalónssandur Beach

The sightseeing was supposed to end with a stop at Kirkjufell, a very famous mountain on the north side of the Snaefellsnes Peninsula, but the weather caught up with us and the mountain was shrouded in sleet and clouds by the time we got there. After everything we'd seen and done on the peninsula, though, I was much less disappointed than I expected to be!

Snorkeling Silfra

The next day, I somehow convinced Elliot put on four layers and a dry suit and jump into 37-degree water with me. Crazy? Probably. Awesome? You bet.

Snorkeling Silfra in Iceland

You see, there's an incredibly unique formation in Iceland's Þingvellir National Park. Here, two of earth's tectonic plates (The North American and European plates) are slowly drifting apart. Part of this drift is happening beneath the surface of a lake, and you can actually go snorkeling or diving IN that rift, called Silfra.

Snorkeling Silfra in Iceland

This was something I didn't do on my first trip to Iceland, and I knew I HAD to do it this time. It was cold, yes, but it was also incredible to see that clear blue water and know that we were swimming between tectonic plates. SO COOL. We went with DIVE.IS, who I would highly recommend – their crew was so fun and friendly.

Read more about Snorkeling Silfra here.

South Shore adventure

One of the reasons we (okay, I) decided to go to Iceland in November was because I really wanted to see the ice caves that form beneath Vatnajökull, Iceland's largest glacier. In the winter months, you can often explore these gigantic caves filled with blue ice. So we booked a two-day trip with Goecco, a small tour company based in Reykjavik.

Seljalandsfoss waterfall in Iceland
Seljalandsfoss

The trip was fraught with mishaps, from a blown tire to a freak windstorm that caused us to have to change accommodations in order to not have to drive across the volcanic desert in 60mph winds, but I was super impressed with our guides and how they handled it all (more on this later).

Since we had more time on the South Shore than usual, we stopped to see ALL the waterfalls (including Seljalandsfoss, Gljufurarfoss, and Skogafoss), a plane crash site, and a black sand beach just before dusk.

Gljúfrabúi Waterfall in Iceland
Gljúfrabúi Waterfall
Behind Seljalandsfoss waterfall in Iceland
Behind Seljalandsfoss
Plane crash on Sólheimasandur beach in Iceland
Plane crash on Sólheimasandur beach
Reynisfjara beach in Iceland
Reynisfjara beach

The next day, we began at Jokulsarlon, the famous glacial lagoon with Vatnajökull in the background.

Jokulsarlon in Iceland
Jokulsarlon
Glacier ice beach in Iceland
Diamond Beach

The plan after that was to visit one of the ice caves beneath the glacier. The cave that is the most accessible (and possibly the most beautiful) was sadly still filled with water, and it took us a couple of tries to find another one that everyone in our group could access by walking across the top of the glacier.

Ice cave beneath Vatnajokull glacier

The glacier walk and climbing down into a small black ice cave was certainly cool, don't get me wrong, but I'll be forever dreaming of that big blue ice cave until I go back someday!

Vatnajokull ice cave
Vatnajokull ice cave

Exploring Reykjavik

Lastly, Elliot and I spent some time wandering around Reykjavik. The great thing about this city is that the downtown area is totally walkable. So walk we did.

We walked along the shore to the Sun Voyager sculpture as hints of sunrise still colored the sky. We walked to Hallgrímskirkja and went to its bell tower for a great view out over Reykjavik. We walked down to the Harpa opera house to see the sun glinting off its glass panes. We walked to the frozen lake to laugh at the swans trying to walk on the ice. And we just walked the streets, looking for street art and friendly kitties and good coffee and hot dogs.

Sun Voyager sculpture in Reykjavik
Sun Voyager sculpture
Hallgrimskirkja in Reykjavik, Iceland
Hallgrimskirkja
View from Hallgrimskirkja in Reykjavik, Iceland
View from Hallgrimskirkja
Inside the Harpa opera house in Reykjavik
Inside the Harpa opera house

Reykjavik is a great city to spend a weekend in – check out this post about it!

Reykjavik, Iceland

Once again, I was really sad to wave goodbye to Iceland. The Land of Fire and Ice has definitely become a country that I will keep returning to.

Ice caves and Northern Lights… I'll be back!

Want a more detailed itinerary? Check out this post: A 10-Day Itinerary for Iceland in Winter (Without Renting a Car)

PRACTICAL INFO

Thinking of planning your own winter trip to Iceland? Here are a few tips:

How to get there: Iceland is just a 4-hour flight from the East Coast of the US, or about 3 hours from the UK. There are multiple airlines that fly there, with Iceland Air and WOW being two of the most popular (and often the most affordable).

Where to stay: Reykjavik is the best base in the winter, since most tours start and end there. I recommend the Rey Apartments for both location and coziness (plus, having a small kitchen helps cut down on food costs!).



Booking.com

What to pack: Essentials include silk leggings and a thermal shirt, warm socks like Heat Holders, a waterproof outer layer (I like my Columbia ski pants), and some winter hiking boots. Check out my complete Iceland packing list for more suggestions!

Which part of this Iceland trip would you most like to read more about?

 

 

*Note: This post was brought to you by Guide to Iceland.

"It's a dangerous business, going out your door. You step onto the road, and, if you don't keep your feet, there's no telling where you might get swept off to." - JRR Tolkien

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85 Comments on “Highlights from 7 Days in Iceland in Winter

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  1. I’ve wanted to visit Iceland for a while now, but have always pictured my trip in summer. You’ve given me some great reasons to consider winter though!

      I eventually want to visit in the summer, too, but I must admit that I really love Iceland in winter! I have no doubt I’ll be back again in the winter to try to tackle those ice caves again (and maybe finally see the Northern Lights!).

    Woaah amazing pictures!! It really makes me miss Iceland, I was there last year in November! Didn’t see as much as you did though. The pictures are just amazing 🙂

      Thank you so much! I had a lot of fun with my camera on this trip. 🙂

    Iceland is the number one country that I dream of visiting. Your photos are stunning and it looks like you had such an amazing time.
    Sorry you didn’t get to see the Northern Lights. The chance to see the Northern Lights is the main reason I want to go to Iceland in winter.
    http://www.justbeingbrooklyn.com

      Catching the Northern Lights in Iceland can be tricky! I’ve been in November and March and had no luck either time. Luckily, there’s so much more to see and do in Iceland!

        Were they just not visible where you were or does it just not happen some days?

          They don’t always show, and there are different strengths of the Lights, too. Our problem was it was just too cloudy. The Lights appear in the upper atmosphere, so if it’s too cloudy you won’t see them.

        Amanda I just stumbled upon this post. I’ve done Iceland as well the last two winters and highly recommend it. Still have not seen the northern lights either!

          The Northern Lights are so tricky! I’ll see them in Iceland some day.

    I visited in the summer but now you definitely have me eyeing it as a possible winter trip! Your photos are gorgeous, especially the sunset by the basalt columns.

    I agree with you about the Blue Lagoon too, yes touristy and man made, but still a must do and you leave feeling amazingly relaxed.

      Especially going to the Blue Lagoon right after our flight – it was pure bliss!

      You should definitely consider a winter trip to Iceland someday. 🙂

    Iceland, has slowly but surely been climbing on my list of places I MUST go. It seems like tourism there has really taken off in the last 3-5 years. Your pictures look amazing. I’m looking forward to hearing more!

      Yup, even just comparing it this time to when I was first in Iceland in early 2012, I can see a huge difference in tourism (lots more tour companies, and more people wanting to visit). BUT that means it’s much more affordable than it used to be. You should definitely plan a trip!

        I so agree. Tourism has gotten much easier. I’ve been there twice. February 2012 and then July 2015 and I want to go back again and again. I didn’t see the northern lights either, but I loved it so much I had to return in summer. We rented a truck and did the ring road with lots of detours off route 1, all in 8 nights. Such an awesome trip. I would SO recommend this trip for anyone’s bucket list.

          I know I’ll definitely be going back to Iceland, too! Such a cool country. I definitely need to do a trip in the summer!

    Stellar photos Amanda and it makes me desperately want to go to Iceland ASAP! Hraunfossar is mind-blowing. Though I don’t think I can pronounce any of those places on here, I’ll end to check them all out. Maybe 2016 will be a year to hit Iceland. It just looks so otherworldly.

      Haha, don’t worry, I can’t really pronounce anything either! But luckily you don’t have to in order to enjoy the wild beauty of Iceland!

    You must have had so much fun taking these stunning pictures! I got lost in all of them and now I so want want to go to Iceland!!!

    Please, upload soon some other stunning pictures!

      Don’t worry – plenty more Iceland posts to come in the next month or two!

    Great post Iceland is on our list for next year! Cant wait so many adventures to do in Iceland!

      Yes, Iceland would be perfect for you guys – SO many adventures to have!

    Did you catch Aurora? I did not see its picture in your post. I am hunting it in Norway and so far clouds have been hiding it from me.

      Nope, sadly the nights were always too cloudy for us to see any Northern Lights. 🙁

    Your pictures are amazing! I am not surprised you’d like to go back to Iceland.

      Thanks, Liz! There are a handful of places in the world (like New Zealand, Scotland, and Iceland) that I never ever tire of and always want to return to as soon as I leave!

    Thanks for this beautiful post, Amanda! We are planning to visit Iceland next year, but we want to see it in the summer/spring first. 🙂

    What do you think how easy it could be to rent a car and just drive around the island ourselves? Usually what we prefer is doing our research and explore on our own with our own pace and with all the random ideas we got on the way. But we are not sure if we could do this for example at the glaciers. We would be interested in your practical tips about travelling to Iceland.

      If you go in the spring/summer, it’s definitely feasible to rent a car and explore on your own (just beware who you rent from – many companies won’t cover you and may even fine you if you leave the paved main roads). You can do this in the winter, too, except that many of the roads in the highlands literally disappear and it’s not really safe to drive on them unless you’re familiar with Iceland. But if you’re going when the weather is better, then self-driving is definitely an option.

    Absolutely gorgeous photos! I went to Iceland the summer after graduating high school but it’s one of the places I’ve been that I most want to go back to, and I definitely want to visit in winter sometime to see the Northern Lights.

      I need to go in the summer eventually… but the winter for some reason just keeps pulling me back!

    I’ve always wondered when would be best to visit Iceland, if it really mattered what time of year. It’s nice to see that both summer and winter are good times to go!

      Yup! Iceland is so epic that it doesn’t really matter when you go!

    Wow! From your pix, wouldn’t it be cool if some of the action in “Game of Thrones” was shot in Iceland?

      Surprise! It totally was! They shot a lot of the scenes “north of the Wall” in Iceland. 😉

    Oh wow those photos are absolutely incredible! What kind of camera do you use? I hate the cold but I would be willing to throw on a wetsuit for that snorkelling!

    Thank you so much for this post! I am planning to go to Island in 2016 and put all the spots you mentioned on the itinerary. Diving in the Silfra sounds amazing. Cold, but amazing:-)

      Awesome! Stay tuned, because I’ll be writing a lot more about Iceland in the coming weeks!

        Will do, looking forward to reading those! Hope you’ll add loads of pictures;-)

    Those blue colors are just incredible! And straight from the airport to a hot spring? Fantastic! I haven’t been to Iceland yet, but with any luck, I will someday!

      Yup, the bus from the airport to downtown Reykjavik offers an option for a stop at the Blue Lagoon – genius on their part, really!

    Gorgeous pictures! And to watch the sun rise from the lava fields, what an incredible experience!

      We didn’t see any Northern Lights, but those couple sunrises and sunsets made up for it!

    Your photos are AMAZING! I would’ve never thought to visit Iceland in the winter before this post

      Thank you! And yay! Glad I’m changing some minds on Iceland in winter!

    Absolutely stunning pictures! I always thought Iceland would be a no-go in winter, but you’ve proven the opposite. Especially the sunny skies make me excited to plan a trip to Iceland next year 🙂

      Well, don’t count on the sunny skies! We did have a couple of nice days, but the weather can be really fickle in Iceland. We actually had more clouds than sun! BUT, it’s just such an amazing country that the lack of sun doesn’t really matter!

    ‘Lovely! Lovely! Lovely! I love the cold and ice so write about all of it! It’s pleasing to see more of the Northern Hemisphere but I sure hope to see the Northern Lights for myself one day. I’ve been to Denmark & Finland but I haven’t yet been that far North lol!

      I don’t necessarily love the cold, and yet I find myself taking more and more cold-weather trips! Iceland is definitely one of my favorites.

    I have just come back from 6 days in Iceland and I absolutely loved it. I agree regarding the charm of the place in this season which makes it an eerie and dreamy moonscape to explore.

      It really is a great destination for any season!

    Thanks for supporting my argument that we should go to Iceland in winter! My husband and I are planning a trip and we cannot agree on time of year. Although really I think we should just go twice, once in winter and once in summer. 😉

      I think twice sounds like a pretty good compromise. 😉

    Gorgeous photos! I cannot believe that you went snorkeling in a dry suit. Gack! I like to think that I would just toughen up and do it, but sometimes getting into water that is below 70 degrees makes me want to cry… I tried to convince Tom that we should jump over to Iceland for 10 days before we flew to Hawaii this year, but he was not having two 14 hour flights that close together! Iceland will happen one day, and it looks like it will be beautiful.

      It definitely will be beautiful, dry suit snorkeling or not! 😉

    Iceland has the most fantastic landscape, and I’d especially love to see more of your photos of the ice chunks on black sand!

    PS – nice work going to the spa straight from the airport! I’ve read about other people stopping in before their flight home, but this way makes much more sense. 🙂

      Plenty more photos to come! 🙂

      And yes, I did the Blue Lagoon on the way home last time, but going straight from the airport on arrival is better in my opinion!

    I went to Iceland more years ago than I care to admit. Reyjavik has obviously changed a lot since then but the countryside remains stunning. To me the obvious advantage of travelling in winter is that you get fabulous light for your photographs.

      Reykjavik has changed even in just the last three years since my first trip there! But yes, the rest of Iceland is just as wild and rugged as ever. 🙂

    Your photos are seriously stunning. I am examining them and I’m in awe, not kidding. The quality is A+, you are a def a talented photog 🙂

    Wow, those are some amazing locations to visit in Iceland. The Blue Lagoon and the Cascade look very nice and those alone would make a visit to Iceland worth it.

    But then you have the black beaches near the ice…. I’ve also read on another blog about icelandic horses, I would love to see those in person.

    So Iceland: definitely on my list (maybe not in the winter, but surely next year).

      Icelandic horses are also very cool! I rode one on my first trip to Iceland – they are great!

    I seriously need to move to Iceland, because a week will not be long enough, I think a life time might be….

      Haha, I feel that way about New Zealand! But yeah, I know what you mean!

    Sounds like a brilliant trip! We are heading to Iceland next week as it was cheaper to fly via Iceland than direct to New York. We were wondering if you had booked your entire stay based from Reykjavik or just the first night? Did the tour company include accomodation for the trips that you did?

      We booked our entire stay based in Reykjavik, yes, but the tour companies DID provide accommodation for the overnight trips.

    Brilliant, will look into booking our trips and splitting the accomodation if we can. Thanks for all of the info! Very excited!

    Hi Amanda, Your photos look amazing and it makes me want to travel to Iceland more.

    Which month did you go in your blog during winter? Do you have any tour companies/tours recommendations?

    Many thanks in advance.

      Thanks, Teresa! I’ve been to Iceland in both November and March, which are both wintery months in Iceland. I’ve mostly done day trips/overnight trips from Reykjavik. I really liked my 2-day tour with Goecco, and also have had good experiences with Extreme Iceland.

    Amanda!! Your blog gave me hope! Help! We are going December 23 through the 29th, and we read a blog that said that we should not Rent-A-Car to drive up to the peninsula because it’s so dangerous to drive. We were totally bummed, but we are from Michigan so we know all about icy slippery roads. Tonight I was just canceling our hotels and focusing on staying in the capital, but now you’re making me think we can do it! Do you think it’s worth driving up? Do you think we can do it? Even though there is not a lot of sunlight, will it still be pretty for the drive? Any advice you can give me would be so appreciated! If you think we can do this trip that you did in The month of December, we will literally do this trip! SOS!

      I actually didn’t rent a car at all in Iceland, because I know how fickle the weather can be. And roads there sometimes just disappear entirely in the winter, so it’s a little different than at home (I’m from Ohio). My boyfriend and I instead booked a couple of overnight tours to places that we wanted to go but didn’t want to drive.

      The roads up to the Snaefellsnes peninsula are paved (if I remember correctly), and probably would be fine as long as you don’t hit bad weather. But that’s something you need to decide for yourself! Personally, I didn’t want to stress about the driving. 🙂

    Hey! I’m just now reading this post and I was wondering where you guys stayed overnight? Did you change hotels every day? I’m planning a seven day trip in December and I’d love some feedback!

      Hey Jael! We actually booked an apartment in Reykjavik for our entire trip. Even though we did two overnight trips, it just made sense to book one place for our whole stay (and that way we could leave most of our luggage at our apartment when we went on those overnight trips!). You can read about where we stayed in this post: https://www.dangerous-business.com/2016/01/48-hours-in-reykjavik-iceland/

    Did you have to rent a car at all during your trip? On your tours where they pick you up, are they multiple days with lodging?

      I’ve never rented a car in Iceland! All day trips from Reykjavik offer transport and usually pick up from your hotel, and the two overnight trips I did included pickup, transport, and overnight accommodation (just not food).

    Such a great blog. Thank you. My wife and I are heading to iceland for our honeymoon in two weeks and still confused about our accomodation and where to stay. We reach Keflavik 4 am on Day 1 and leave 7 am from same airport on Day 7.

    We definitely would like to enjoy golden circle, black sand beach, do some snorkeling. I know its a big ask but can you help with itinerary. We plan to drive around although we in states drive left hand. Also, do you recommend staying in Reykvajik for all 7 days. We also would prefer going to blue lagoon last day but only thing which is putting doubt in our head is 4am reach on Keflavik and what to do for rest of the day.

    We would like to soak in all what we can during this trip.

    Thank you.

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