In the winter, Iceland’s gorgeous mountainous landscape is transformed into a snow-filled wonderland. Iceland is the perfect winter destination if you love hiking, skiing, or simply just relaxing in a hot spring. If you’re thinking of heading to Iceland this winter, here are some things to keep in mind.
Seeing the Northern Lights
Many people travel to Iceland in the winter solely for a chance to see the northern lights. But unfortunately, seeing this natural phenomenon requires a bit of luck. To see the northern lights, there has to be both a clear sky and high aurora activity. You’ll also have a better chance of seeing them if you head away from the light pollution of Reykjavik.
Because Iceland’s icy roads can be tough to drive at night, many people choose to take a northern lights tour. The tour companies will often take you out into the countryside, where they’ll keep driving until they’ve found a spot where you can hopefully see the aurora borealis. If you do decide to take a tour, be sure to book it for one of the first days of your trip. If you don’t see any northern lights on your first tour, many of the big companies will allow you to rebook for free on another day.
In the past few years, Iceland has experienced a huge growth in tourism. This year, there are expected to be about two million visitors in the country, a 30 percent increase from last year! There are also many more tourists coming to Iceland in the winter now. Because of this, you can expect to see crowds and parking lots full tour buses at most of the natural sights on the Golden Circle—the area around Reykjavik that’s home to waterfalls and spouting geysers. Even with the crowds, these beautiful sights are worth seeing. If you want to get a more intimate experience, skip the tours that use huge buses and instead go for a minibus tour. These tours will only include about ten to twelve other people, and they’re usually about the same price as the classic bus tours.
Be Cautious Driving
Renting a car is a great way to explore off-the-beaten path destinations around Iceland. The country is easy to navigate—there’s one main road that goes around the whole island, and many of the country’s most famous sights are just off this road. But in winter, you’ll need to take a few extra precautions. The weather can change quickly in Iceland, and the roads are often icy. Make sure to rent a car that has studded tires to help with traction. Also, if you have internet access on your phone, periodically check the website road.is. This site includes real-time maps of Iceland’s roads, and they’ll warn you if the route you’re planning on driving is icy or covered in snow.
If you’re uncomfortable driving in icy conditions, it’s very easy to explore Iceland without renting a car. Base yourself in Reykjavik, and take day tours with different companies to sights around the island.
Plan Some Indoor Activities
Iceland is famous for its tempestuous weather, and there’s a good chance that a day or two of your trip will be filled with snow, rain, or a combination of the two. But don’t let the gloomy weather get you down—use the rainy day as a chance to explore Reykjavik’s fascinating museums and galleries.
To see a stunning example of Iceland’s Viking past, check out the Settlement Exhibition, where you’ll get to view different Viking artifacts and remnants of a Viking house from the 10th century. If you’re an art lover, head to the National Gallery of Iceland to see exhibitions on some of the country’s most well-known painters and sculptors. For an in-depth overview of Iceland’s history, check out the National Museum of Iceland, where you can see more than 2000 artifacts. No matter what you’re interested in, you’re sure to a find great museum in Reykjavik.
From the jaw-dropping northern lights to the gorgeous glaciers on the South Coast, winter in Iceland is full of can’t-miss sights. These tips will help you put together the perfect winter trip in the Land of Fire and Ice.