Guest Post: 5 Things I Learned from Traveling to Iceland in Winter

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Today's guest post was written by Jade Johnston, who blogs about all things travel at She likes to write helpful guides for the places she visits to help others realize their travel dreams – on a budget. All this while navigating international travel with a baby. You can also connect with her on social media. Take your pick of Facebook, Twitter @our_oyster, Pinterest, or Google+.

This year we were lucky enough to travel through twelve countries, and yet the one which surprised me the most was Iceland. Iceland surprised me with its beauty. I always knew Iceland would be beautiful, but I didn't know it could be that beautiful. It also surprised me with the cost of travel. As you will see below, it wasn't any more expensive than travel in Australia or Canada, and certainly didn't live up to it's reputation as a super expensive travel destination. It even surprised me with just how accessible it was – only a four hour flight from Toronto or a two hour flight from London. It surprised me with just how much I want to go back.


Reykjavik is one of Europe's coolest little capitals

When you first arrive in Reykjavik, you might wonder how you will be able to spend much time there. I mean, it is a very small city, and the city center itself is particularly small. But once you start exploring, the fun quirky details will start to appear. Graffiti that teaches you how to tie a tie. Cafe walls papered with maps. Boutique brew bars and bookstore cafes. The cafe culture here is particularly strong, so find yourself a cozy corner, sit back, and people-watch some of Europe's most stylish people.

Everything is photo worthy – not just the standard attractions

We planned a driving tour. Before setting, out we checked the driving times on Google Maps, and marked down the attractions we wanted to stop at. We thought we would have plenty of time. Wrong. The thing about Iceland is that everything is beautiful – the way the sun reflects off the snow, a frozen lake, Icelandic horses with clumps of ice clinging to their thick manes. We ended up making so many random photo stops that we ended up arriving at our final destination well after the sun had set.


Driving can be trickier than you think

We thought we were prepared. Our rental car had winter tires. We were planning to only stick to the major ring road that circles Iceland. We thought the drive would be easy. Wrong again! The road conditions in Iceland are as changeable as its famous weather. One moment we would be driving on black gritty asphalt, and the next moment we would be sliding along ice two inches thick.

Despite the winter tires, the roads defeated us. Suddenly the back end of the car swung one direction, before quickly skidding out in the other. Time seemed to slow to a crawl, and yet it all passed by in a second, and we suddenly found ourselves careening off the road.


If you plan to do much driving in the winter we would recommend renting a 4wd or at least a car with studded tires. But that being said, immediately after we were towed out of the ditch, a 4wd crashed into the ditch in the exact same spot we had been pulled from.

Yet even though we had a few pretty scary moments while driving in Iceland in the winter, our little road trip was still the absolute highlight of our visit. It's worth the hectic driving (but next time we will get studded tires).

Iceland isn't as expensive as you think

Iceland is supposed to be one of the most expensive countries to travel in, right? That's what everyone has been telling me for years. It's a Scandinavian country AND it is extremely isolated, so we were prepared to burn a hole in our wallets.

And yes, Iceland is more expensive than travel in some other parts of Europe… like say… Greece. But it was actually significantly cheaper than travel in Canada or Australia.


We found that accommodation and car rental was actually cheaper in Iceland than in either Canada or Australia, and that eating out was comparable with eating out in Australia. Although it is by no means a cheap country, it isn't as prohibitively expensive as some may make you think.

Traveling to Iceland in the winter certainly helped keep our expenses down as well, as many guest houses and hotels have significantly cheaper winter prices.

You will leave wanting more

Usually when I visit a country, I see as much as I can see and then check that country off my list. But that's impossible to do with Iceland. If you visit in summer, you will need to come back in winter. Nothing beats Iceland in winter – frozen waterfalls, sunrises reflecting off the snow covered ground, frozen lakes and glacier lagoons – seeing Iceland in the winter is an absolute must. If you visit Iceland in the winter, you will need to come back in summer. Imagine being able to camp your way around Iceland, waking up first thing in the morning to a view of mountains, volcanoes and waterfalls. It's pretty much a camping ultimate.

No matter when you visit Iceland, you will need to prepare to want to visit it again and again.


Is Iceland on YOUR bucket list?

"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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16 Comments on “Guest Post: 5 Things I Learned from Traveling to Iceland in Winter

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  1. Those are incredible photos! I’m jealous. Always wanted to get to Iceland.

    Ahhhh!! Reading this makes me wanna go to Iceland for a third time!!! Until then, I guess I’m stuck watching the Secret Life of Walter Mitty for the fifth time… :p

    I admit, Iceland is not on my obvious bucket-list, but I’d like to visit it if given a chance. As you say, it’s not very expensive and everything is beautiful out there, I think it would be a unique experience traveling there.

    Absolutely, it’s on my list! To me it’s one of the ultimate destinations that offers visits so much. I can’t wait to get there, hopefully next year.

    I’d love to go to Iceland…some friends went recently and ended up getting engaged! I’m glad to hear it’s not as expensive as you think as that was my main concern. Great pics!

    this is just the post I need, I was in Iceland a month ago and me and my friends are already thinking of going there this winter for the northern lights + ice caves and all those icy glory. 🙂 Good tip on the car btw, didn’t think of that.

    Those pictures are just amazing….. :O I haven’t seen anything like that before! I’d definitely love to visit Iceland! I wish I did that while I was still living relatively nearby, now am on the other side of the planet 😀

    Iceland is on my “would be nice to go” bucket list. I have no official plans, but I’d like to make a trip there sometime soon-ish. Those pictures are definitely tipping my hand towards sooner rather than later. Very beautiful!

    Just got back from Iceland a few weeks ago and I can already tell that I will need to visit in the winter in order to get the full picture. Iceland is SO different in winter! And much less expensive since it’s not high tourist season.

    Aside from the cold, I absolutely adore Iceland!

    It was pricey but not as bad as I expected; I think Switzerland was worse.

    Intriguing that you thought Greece was pricey – I found it a very cheap country by western European standards.

    I have been dying to go to Iceland. I am very happy to hear it is not as expensive as I imagined although I am sure still tough on the budget but more doable. I think I want to go in the summer, but I did love Norway and Sweden in the winter so maybe I will have to do both… hmmm. The struggle!

    Iceland has been a the top of my list for a long time. I jut never seem to get there. I didn’t realize it would be such a short rip from Toronto. That helps. And I have worried about the expense. But someday I’m going to get there. Even if it means volunteering to throw myself into a volcano. (The only one who would take me up on that offer is my husband. 😉

    This post is incredibly helpful, Jade! I’m visiting Iceland for the first time in the end of August and we are doing 12 days around the country. Your photos are making me so excited for Iceland’s natural beauty. Everyone keeps talking about it, but I cannot wait to experience it firsthand. It is good to know that it is not as expensive as rumored, I was a little nervous about what 12 days would do to our wallets. Your winter photos are exquisite!

    We chose the “Iceland winter escape” 3 day tour package, and it was fantastic. The first day was mainly sight seeing, but also included an exploration of a lava cave. The second day was a glacial hike, and the third day was a trip to the blue lagoon.

    Booking was very easy, and they promptly responded to all questions. Our guide was Dori and he was very friendly and very knowledgeable. A knowledgeable guide is very important as Iceland is not “american style” safe. The glacial hike, for example, would have been very dangerous without a proper guide (think large slippery holes that lead to a 20 meter drop).

    I am so excited about all things Iceland, since it’s my next [international] trip! I can’t wait to go 🙂

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