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10 Reasons to Visit Iceland in Winter

Iceland in Winter - Mount Kirkjufell covered in Snow with the sunrise behind

I’ve wanted to go to Iceland for years, and when Geena from BeyondtheBucketlist.co offered to write this guest post about visiting Iceland in winter it made me want to visit even more!  Iceland is an incredible country at any time of year, but read on to see why winter is the best time to visit. 

When December rolls around most people are desperate to hit the tropics. Day-dreaming of endless sunshine and white sand beaches. But what if this winter you chose something a little off-the-beaten-path? Like visiting Iceland in winter.

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Now hear me out, I know snow and ice may be the last thing on your mind this time of year but visiting Iceland in the wintertime has some real benefits. There are some attractions only available to the intrepid souls who brave Iceland’s harsher climate. I went & I’m no snow-bunny. In fact, I moved from Washington to Los Angeles to escape the snow. 

But here’s why I fell in love with Iceland in the winter and you will too!  These are just 10 reasons why you should visit Iceland in winter, although there are plenty more these should be enough to get you excited! 

Why Winter is the Best Time to Visit Iceland

A Chance to Glimpse the Northern Lights in Iceland. 

The Aurora Borealis. One of the great natural wonders of the world. To witness this phenomenon, you need darkness and clear cloudless skies. Two things not often coinciding if you visit outside the winter months. 

From November to February seeing the Northern Lights in Iceland is practically guaranteed. All you need to do is drive out of town & look up.  Although short days in December in Iceland mean fewer hours of daylight, you get more time to enjoy the magical night-time show. (This website showing exactly where and when the Northern Lights should be active is useful as well) 

I spent every evening tucked into a borrowed guesthouse blanket with a styrofoam cup of hot cocoa staring up at the stars. Even on the nights I didn’t see the glowing green apparitions, it was an unparalleled look at the starry sky. 

Green Glow of the Northern Lights above snowy hills - Visiting Iceland in Winter means a good chance of seeing the Northern Lights
Visiting Iceland in Winter means a good chance of seeing the Northern Lights

Winter Has Far Fewer Tourists

This is the big one for me. Iceland is the king of stunning sprawling landscapes and filled with natural wonders. The more tourists I have to share the views with the less magical the experience feels. 

Over 2 million tourists visit Iceland annually, but nearly 50% of those visit Iceland in the summertime. If you visit Iceland in summer, you will experience eternal sunshine or close to 24 hours of it. But with the daylight comes droves of tourists all crowding into the same waterfall parking lots and spilling onto the busy streets of Reykjavik. Not my cup of tea. Visit Iceland during the winter season and you’ll see far fewer tourists and get to experience Iceland without the crowds.

READ MORE: 12 Unique Activities in Iceland

Try Your Hand at Ice Climbing or Ice Caving

My favorite day in Iceland was spent hiking across the largest glacier in Europe, the Vatnajokull glacier.  Only possible in the wintertime when the glacier is still firmly frozen and not slick with ice melt, climbing the Vatnajokull glacier is an absolute must-do if you visit Iceland in winter.

You have to visit the glacier with a guide (inexperienced solo-climbers go missing or fall into crevasse semi-regularly). Some tours include ice climbing lessons or going inside the glacier. Stepping into one of the glowing blue caves formed by the howling winds is like stepping into another world, and one of the best things to do in Iceland in winter.

A Blue Ice Cave - Have the Chance to Visit Ice Cave in Iceland in Winter
Have the Chance to Visit Ice Cave in Iceland in Winter | Credit: Beyond the Bucketlist

There’s Nothing More Relaxing than A Hot Spring Soak on A Cold Winter Day

We’ve all heard of the world-famous Blue Lagoon (or Bláa Lónið in Icelandic). Hot Springs are a way of life in the colder regions of our planet and there is nothing better than a hot soak on a freezing cold day. Whether you choose one of the more natural hot springs scattered throughout the country or the infamous idyllic teal waters of Blue Lagoon, the experience is made more magical with a coating of white snow on the surrounding landscape. 

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Winter Still Offers Plenty of Wildlife Viewing Opportunities

Orcas, snow-white arctic foxes, harbor seals, sea birds, & of course reindeer can be found all throughout the winter months in Iceland. Wildlife in Iceland is impressive year-round, but this is the single best time to spot orcas off the icy island’s coastline. It’s also your only chance of seeing the brilliant white coats of the arctic foxes before they darken to brown.

If you time your visit to Iceland in the late winter (think February or even early March), there will be an abundance of wildlife roaming about. The animals will also be easy to spot in the open tundra and calm lagoons.  And don’t get me started on Icelandic horses. You can see those shaggy short ponies any time of year. 

Icelandic Horses are cute at any time of year - Brown Icelandic Pony with a long shaggy mane
Icelandic Horses are cute at any time of year! | Credit: Beyond the Bucketlist

Marvel at Stunning Snow-Covered Landscapes

Iceland is a winter wonderland.  At least for four months of the year it is. Whether it’s just a sprinkling of powder from last night’s flurries or several feet of heavy snowfall, the landscape in Iceland is dreamiest when covered in a coat of white.  Just come prepared with warm clothes and you can enjoy Iceland in winter whatever the weather throws at you!

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Wander Around Frozen or Semi-Frozen Waterfalls 

Iceland is famous for its hundreds of cascading waterfalls. In the summertime that is. During the colder months, many of these falls freeze over which creates a completely different kind of beauty. Only during these colder months can you wander behind the falls or even try your hand at ice climbing! 

Waterfall in Iceland - Things to do in Iceland in Winter
A Waterfall in Iceland – Things to do in Iceland in Winter | Credit: Beyond the Bucketlist

You Can Go Skiing in Iceland

Are you an avid skier or snowboarder? Hlíðarfjall Ski Resort near Akureyri, Iceland boats 7 chair lifts and plenty of snow-covered slopes to shred for extreme-sport enthusiasts. It’s a great way to get your exercise in after spending the bulk of your days in a car. 

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Immerse Yourself in the Real Iceland

Iceland is a cold country. & yes, it’s a beautiful place to visit in the spring and summer once the landscapes start to thaw. But understanding how the locals survive through the long hard winters & their hearty Viking heritage gives you a whole new perspective on the country and its people. 

It’s More Budget Friendly. 

Iceland is an expensive destination. But for those of us that prefer to travel on a shoestring, visiting Iceland in the wintertime is infinitely more affordable. I visited the country in early February, & managed to spend less than $80 total per day staying in the off-season discounted guesthouses throughout the country. 

Clear Blue Ice on a Beach in Iceland - Diamond Beach - Winter in Iceland
Diamond Beach – Winter in Iceland | Credit: Beyond the Bucketlist

Where to Go in Iceland in the Winter

Everywhere! One of the best parts of travel in Iceland is that it’s easy. There is one paved road that circles around the island called the Ring Road. This allows you to explore the entire island safely even in the wintertime. The Westfjords are the only region that will be near impassable during the winter months. 

My favorite places to visit in Iceland in winter include: 

Reykjavik

The only ‘city’ to be found in Iceland. 

Vik

Black Sand beaches

Höfn

Glaciers and stunning frozen beaches. 

Akureyri

Great food & friendly locals. 

Snæfellsnes Peninsula

Most dramatic Landscapes

Lake Myvatn

Mars-like landscapes. You’ve got to see it to believe it. 

Viking Ship Statue in Reykjavik
Viking Ship Statue in Reykjavik

Should I Spend New Years & Christmas in Iceland? 

You definitely can! 

Travel to Iceland over the holidays and you’re practically guaranteed a white Christmas.  But if you’re looking for festivities rivaling Europes’ Christmas markets you might not find it. Don’t get me wrong Iceland celebrates Christmas, but outside of Reykjavik, the celebrations will be underwhelming at best. 

Try to time your holiday celebration with a night or two in Reykjavik instead, where Christmas decorations have lit the streets since the beginning of November & there’s plenty of restaurants (& bars) to celebrate in. 

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Why Visit Iceland in Winter?

Iceland is one of those countries that you kinda have to visit twice. Once in the winter to get the snowy winter wonderland experience and once in the summer, just to witness the transformation firsthand. When compared season to season, Iceland really could be two completely different countries. Both are beautiful, but I came home from my snowy vacation LOVING Iceland.  And if you visit Iceland in winter, chances are that you will too. 

About the Author

Geena is a long-term budget traveler determined to scout out the very best every destination has to offer. Traveling the world on $30 a day, she shares budget travel tips and advice on her blog Beyond the Bucketlist, to help you find off-the-beaten-path attractions even in the most traveled places & give you the confidence to visit any destination that piques your curiosity. You can also find her on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

If you’re looking for travel insurance for your trip to Iceland, get a quote now from World Nomads.

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Last updated: October 31, 2020

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