When I started to organize the trip to Iceland in winter, I had some difficulty finding petty information in Spanish on how to best plan my tour in the Land of Ice and Fire this season of the year.
So I thought it would be useful to give some info on how, in the weeks before departure, I have organized (if you are leaving for Iceland especially in a season like winter it is better to organize well) this trip, the tools I they were useful and the many activities that can be done.
Plan a trip to Iceland in winter
- Climate in Iceland in winter
- Low cost flights to Iceland
- How to get around and road conditions
- What to pack
- Useful travel apps
- What to do in Iceland in winter
- West Iceland, Best in Travel 2016 by Lonely Planet!
If you travel to Iceland in winter, always take out travel insurance: I recommend Heymondo and if book from this link you have an exclusive 10% discount for the readers of this blog.
Climate in Iceland in winter
Although the Gulf Stream makes the climate in Iceland during the winter not as terrible as you might think, this does not mean that the Land of Ice (first rule: do not be scared by the name!) and of Fire is a kind of tropical paradise, far from it.
When I asked the locals what the weather will be like during our trip they just said they don't know! In fact, one of the most popular sayings in Iceland is “If you don't like the weather, wait 5 minutes” referring to the fact that weather conditions can change very quickly.
The fact is that the weather in Iceland in winter is really schizophrenic, that is, it is not possible to predict with too much certainty whether it will be a winter characterized by continuous snow storms or not. It depends on the vintage: dressing in layers is the winning solution and leave prepared for anything, whether the weather is good or not. In short, it could rain, snow or there could even be a warm sun ... and all within the same day!
Low cost flights to Iceland
The Northern Lights “on board” an Iceland Air Boeing 757
There are unfortunately low cost airlines that operate direct flights between Spain and Iceland, but above all Iceland Air, the national airline, does flights between Milan and Reykjavik, the capital, only in the summer season (with good prices among other things).
We found a good combination from Milan with SAS and Iceland Air and a stopover in Stockholm for about 480 euros return: we preferred it over other cheaper ones for one reason only: checked baggage.
In Iceland, even if less cold than one might think thanks to the Gulf Stream, the temperatures in winter are still quite rigid and at the end of February they average around -2 °.
For this and especially if you want to hunt for aurora borealis, it is better not to underestimate the cold and leave with heavy stuff. Impossible to think of going only with hand luggage, or at least not advisable.
Therefore, by loading the costs of checked baggage on the fare of low cost airlines, the price went up a lot, counting that we would have to check it both on the outward and return journeys. In addition, as there are no direct flights, we would have had to board it twice because the tickets were separate.
The cheapest combination I found however was AirBerlin + Norwegian at around 350 euros.
How to get around and the condition of the roads
The CamperIceland Adventure camper
In winter, the roads in Iceland are not exactly all safe: for example, there may be problems with ice and snow in some points of the Ring Road and almost all of the West Fjords it is impassable or inaccessible (many roads are closed).
This is not a reason that should make people desist from organizing a trip, but it is better to be cautious, especially in choosing the car that should undoubtedly be a vehicle suitable for the season and the unexpected, that is a 4 × 4.
Said this, we will travel by camper (if not that adventure travel would be?). After a long search on Rentalcars we chose the CamperIceland rental company as it was the only one I found that could provide us with such a vehicle suitable for the season (4 × 4 and with heating).
The roads in Iceland in winter they are icy or snowy, it is necessary, even in the case of car rental, to make sure that the vehicle provided has snow tires.
For the condition of the roads we will use a website that was recommended to me by the Icelandic tourism board: Vegagerdin and shows the condition of the roads (whether they are open, closed, accessible or difficult) depending on the weather conditions and through which it is possible, thanks to the webcams, to check the roads even in real time.
Other useful information on how to drive safely in Iceland can be found in this article!
A screenshot of the Vegagerdin website with the condition of the roads in real time
What to pack
The journey in Swedish Lapland taught me that winter in the north can be really cold, better to pack something more rather than something less: the winning solution is dressing up like onion!
Certainly technical clothing is the most suitable, ski pants and a very heavy jacket (I bought a very technical down jacket from Montura, I looked a bit like the Michelin man but thank goodness I had it), to be combined with wool and thermal sweaters.
It is very important to cover your feet and hands well, wool socks over silk socks are a good choice. Keep in mind that putting too many socks and squeezing your foot in your shoes risks blocking circulation. For the hands, mittens are generally warmer and can be worn under a pair of woolen mittens.
Shoes are very important, they must be warm and comfortable, without squeezing the foot: it is better to opt for heavy boots that are impermeable to water and snow like these you find on Amazon.
Since theIceland has a capricious climate and it can often rain (or snow) and it is very windy, it is essential to pack a waterproof cape as well.
RELATED ARTICLE: How to dress in Iceland in winter, the essential clothing
Islanda in inverno Moyan Brenn on Flickr
Useful travel apps
When I started traveling, technology didn't help me much: booking hotels was difficult, making itineraries as well, in short, all that practical information was missing. organize a do-it-yourself trip which today, on the other hand, are so easily found on the net.
I still remember, with a little nostalgia I admit, the queues at the payphone booth to call home and the "collect calls".
Fortunately, today this is no longer the case and technology helps us a lot (even if a bit of magic has been lost): with smartphones, wi-fi, social networks, communicating has become extremely easier.
But not only.
Smartphones provide us with a lot of very useful tools, that is, the travel app.
At the moment I have downloaded 6 which I think are really useful:
- 112 Iceland: official app for the emergency service in Iceland. Hoping it won't help, it is better to have it installed anyway.
- My Aurora Forecast: forecasts on aurora borealis and on the intensity of the phenomenon. You find it HERE for IOS e HERE for ANDROID.
- Reykjavik Appy Hour: this is truly a brilliant gem, an app that tells you the best places to start your evening and where they are the cheapest beers in Reykjavik! You find it here for iOS e here for ANDROID
- Locomotive: the best app for weather forecast in Iceland. You find it HERE for iOS e HERE for Android.
Appy Hour, the app that tells you where to find the cheapest beer!
These are the apps that I downloaded to organize my trip but there are so many others: apps with the advice of those who live there in Iceland, app with public transport timetables, apps to find photo walks and various and many activities other!
What to do in Iceland in winter
One might think that winter is not a good season to visit Iceland, on the contrary it is absolutely not the case: in fact, the Northern Lights are not the only and only protagonists of an adventure trip like this, but there are many things that can be they can do.
Here are the best things to do in Iceland in winter.
1 – Whale Watching
Il Whale Watching in Islanda offers endless opportunities for sighting not only whales, but also the most fascinating and mysterious creatures of the sea: the orche marine. The English name already speaks volumes, “killer whales”, that is balene assassinates.
Perfectly organized and deadly, killer whales hunt in groups and are considered predators at the top of the food pyramid, thanks also to their large size: the male can reach 10 tons of weight for a length of about 9 meters and can swim at the speed of about 55 km per hour.
But there is no need to worry, although there have been attacks by orcas kept in captivity (the 2013 documentary film Blackfish by Gabriela Cowperthwaite is very interesting), in their natural environment, killer whales are not considered a threat to humans.
2 – Ice Caving
Ice caving @ExtremeIceland
The "ice caves" are natural caverns or caves that are formed by water flow or by geothermal heat under the glaciers: in practice ice caves. L' ice caving, that is, exploring inside these ice tunnels is a unique sight, one of the must-do things to have adrenaline guaranteed.
Those that can be visited in Iceland have been made safe by the man who, with a skilful play of LED lights on the ice walls, managed to give the effect of being immersed in the deepest blue.
3 – Snorkelling e Diving
I admit, I too struggled to believe it at first, but in Iceland in winter it is possible to snorkel or dive. Obviously not everywhere, we are in the Arctic, but where the American and Auro-Asian tectonic plates meet there is a place called Silfra: it is little more than a narrow crack in which the water is warm enough, about 2 degrees, and imagine the emotion of swim and dive exactly between two continents!
In short, those who love adventure can't really miss something like that!
Trekking, Northern Lights and much more!
But the adventures in winter do not end there, there are many opportunities to do trekking in the midst of parks and nature, horseback riding, tour to observe the northern lights, helicopter rides up to the peaks of the mountains and then throw yourself down on an adrenaline-pumping ski ride. In short, Iceland also at this time of year has much more to offer than you can imagine!
Learn more: what to see and what to do in Reykjavik
- Related reading: Where to sleep in Reykjavik, best areas and hotels
4 - See the Northern Lights
In Iceland, the winter period is the darkest time of the year.
Watch the Northern Lights lighting up the sky above you is an unforgettable and almost otherworldly experience that you will not forget. It's even better when you're in Iceland, as you can combine nocturnal aurora hikes with daytime adventures to see the country's famous landscapes.
Although sightings of the Northern Lights are never guaranteed, being a natural phenomenon, you have more chances to witness them between October and April. Guided tours to look for them are a must in Iceland in winter.
5 - Try snow activities
Since it is winter, you will probably want to make the most of the fact that it is full of snow: if you are an active person, here you will find activities to do that you will probably remember for a lifetime.
For example, how about a snowmobile ride on a glacier? Don't get lost then Langjökull: on a clear day, you can also enjoy the view of the mountains on the horizon.
In winter you can also ski, snowboard or snowshoe. These are just some of the many ways to enjoy the snow in Iceland.
6 - Go see Frozen waterfalls and lakes
Iceland's waterfalls, of which there are thousands, are beautiful no matter what time of year you visit. The same can be said for the country's glacial lagoons, where icebergs float on crystal clear waters.
But if you come in winter you will observe incredible colors: shades of blue and light blue of all shades.
Don't miss out on some of Iceland's best waterfalls, like seljalandsfoss e Skogafoss south, or Dettifoss e Goðafoss North. Watch as the cascade of water plummets dramatically from towering heights, sometimes even freezing into icicles.
Be sure to visit Iceland's glacial lagoons as well. Absolutely not to be missed Jökulsárlón in southern Iceland, e Fjallsárlón. Both of these lagoons are fed by the mighty glacier Vatnajökull, the largest ice cap in the country.
7 - Relax in the hot thermal springs
Iceland as I wrote before, is called the Land of Ice and Fire, thanks to its numerous volcanoes.
It goes without saying that scattered around the country you will find hot springs that have become famous all over the world (for example the world-famous Blue Lagoon)
Soaking in the warm, steamy water is just what you need at the end of a chilly winter day, to relax and unwind after running back and forth like crazy to see Iceland's wonders.
There are tons of hot springs and geothermal pools in Iceland to choose from. Among the most famous are the natural baths Mývatn in the north of Iceland and the aforementioned blue Lagoon or the Secret Lagoon, both accessible from Reykjavík.
Our trip is West Iceland, Best in Travel 2016 by Lonely Planet!
Best in Travel 2016 – Ovest Islanda
Clearly, having only one week of time available, I had to make a choice on the itinerary to follow and I decided to focus onWest Iceland which was named among i Best in Travel 2016 da Lonely Planet and which has still remained one of the areas less traveled by tourism and one of the most fascinating of all.
This small microcosm, geographically close to the capital Rejkjavik and therefore easily accessible even in winter, can boast breathtaking panoramas and views (Jules Verne's famous book, "Journey to the Center of the Earth" was inspired by this small part of Iceland), a strong regional culture, made up of ancient Viking sagas and legends, and some of the most hospitable people on the island.
In short, I leave you a photograph, just to understand what I'm talking about!
Kirkjufell, the symbolic mountain of West Iceland
For me as an improviser, planning this trip to Iceland was not easy: I spent days reading and informing myself, asking on blogs and writing endless emails, but with my heart I tell you that I am absolutely sure that in the end it will be worth it at least 10 times.