If you are considering visiting Iceland in winter, get ready for the experience of a lifetime! Winter is one of the best times to go to Iceland because flights are cheaper, it is less crowded, hotels are more affordable, and there is a much higher possibility that you can see the Northern Lights in Iceland! Many people are tentative about visiting Iceland in winter, but that may very well be because they have a fear of the unknown.
We are here to tell you that with the proper planning and research, you will truly enjoy a winter trip to Iceland. Before you pack your balaclava and start planning your Iceland itinerary, there are a few things you need to know so you can be better prepared for what to expect from an Iceland winter.
5 Things To Know Before Visiting Iceland In Winter
#1 Pack Properly For Winter In Iceland Or Else You Will Be Sorry [And Cold!]
We know this sounds like a super obvious tip for visiting Iceland in winter and you may think it shouldn’t make this list, but packing for winter in Iceland should be taken seriously. We have been to Iceland when it was winter/snowing twice and you wouldn’t believe the number of people walking around icy waterfalls or snowy beaches wearing Converse or comparable canvas shoes. There are also people walking around in very thin jackets or falling down and getting their bums or hands soaked because their clothing isn’t waterproof.
We are from Florida so 65*F means breaking out the boots and scarves. Our first trip to Iceland was in winter and we did our research and took packing seriously and we are so glad we did! To help you save time, we put together a packing list for Iceland in Winter so you can cut to the chase and pack quality winter gear.
The three most important things we invested in for our first Iceland winter was a waterproof and windproof winter jacket, waterproof winter pants, and waterproof snow boots certified to keep your feet warm on ground up to -25*F. Want to stand on a glacier in Iceland? No big deal! If you don’t want to shell out a ton of money for new gear, ask around with your friends and family to see if they have any items you can borrow. If your budget for Iceland is tight, we urge you not to skimp on snow boots/shoes and a good jacket.
We buy a lot of our winter gear on sale at our local Columbia outlet store or from Amazon so it ends up being a lot more affordable if you are hoping to travel to Iceland on a budget. If you already have quality gear that will hold up to an Iceland winter, consider packing a balaclava. Balaclavas are super affordable and you will thank us when Iceland’s winter wind doesn’t hit your face!
The key to enjoying Iceland in winter is to stay warm and dry and that isn’t hard to do when you are prepared with a winter packing list for Iceland. After all, there is nothing worse than having wet feet during the winter!
#2 Iceland Winter Weather Really Isn’t All That Fridgid
Compared to many places in the United States and Canada [and the world!], winter weather in Iceland really isn’t all that bad! The temperatures in Iceland tend to hover around 20-35*F [0 to -5C] throughout the coldest winter months. Compared to places such as Minnesota, New York, or the Rocky Mountains, Iceland experiences quite pleasant winter weather. This isn’t to say that Iceland doesn’t get snow storms like everywhere else, the country just doesn’t see sub-zero temperatures all that often.
Why is winter in Iceland so “warm” comparatively speaking? Although Iceland is situated in the Arctic, it is located right on the Gulfstream. This warm water keeps Iceland nice and reasonable pretty much all year round! Some cities in Alaska or Canada with similar geographical coordinates average -15*F highs during the winter while Iceland sees temperatures in the 20-30 range.
This isn’t to say that Iceland in winter isn’t cold. It is winter and it is the arctic but it truly isn’t that bad! New York City and certainly Chicago experience colder weather than Iceland in winter on a more consistent basis. We are Floridians and we have experienced winter in Iceland twice and loved every second of it. If we can do it, you surely can!
#3. There Is No Guarantee You Will See The Northern Lights When Visiting Iceland In Winter
People choose to visit Iceland in winter because of the high chance of seeing the Northern Lights. Having a chance to experience the Northern Lights in Iceland is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for many people. If you choose to visit Iceland in December through March [or even September-April], there is a great chance you will get to see the Northern Lights.
Winter is the best time to see the Northern Lights in Iceland because it stays dark for so long. That being said, we want to warn you in advance that there is no guarantee you will see the Northern Lights in Iceland. Perhaps it will be cloudy every night of your trip or it may rain or the Northern Lights may simply not be very strong on the days you are traveling to Iceland.
If you are hoping to spot the Northern Lights in Iceland, you are going to need to have a car and be in a dark area on a clear night that the Aurora is forecasted to be strong. Even if you are staying in Reykjavik, you can drive less than 25 minutes outside of the city and be in enough darkness to see the Northern Lights on a lovely Iceland winter night. Alternatively, if you don’t want to drive or find a specific spot, you can take a Northern Lights tour. There are so many different kinds to fit every budget and need!
Winter in Iceland is your best chance at seeing the Northern Lights so there is certainly a high possibility and we don’t want to scare you away from heading to the country during the off-season. We simply urge you to go into your winter trip to Iceland with an open mind regarding possible Northern Lights sightings.
#4. Not All Roads Will Be Open During Winter In Iceland And That Won’t Impact Your Trip
If you are dreaming of taking an epic Iceland road trip, you can still do so during the winter with no problem! Our Iceland road trip itinerary was the exact drive we did in Iceland in February and in November and the same route many other readers have followed as well.
Certain roads such as F Roads and H Roads will be closed and off limits during winter in Iceland. As a result, you do not have to spend more money to get a 4×4 car as a 2 wheel drive car will handle the roads during an Iceland winter just fine.
The Ring Road in Iceland is the main highway that circumnavigates the entire island. It is always open during winter unless otherwise specified [check online!] but it is a good idea to stay away from north Iceland during winter if the weather is forecasted to be too bad. This Iceland road trip itinerary covers a lot of fantastic sites and can be done during winter in Iceland.
Stay away from “The Highlands” and any F or H roads and stick to the Ring Road or the Golden Circle when road tripping Iceland in winter and you will be just fine. You won’t even know the roads are closed because you will be too busy visiting so many spectacular natural landscapes off of Iceland’s Ring Road.
#5 You Can Still See All The Stunning Iceland Landscapes And The Snow Makes It A True Winter Wonderland
Instead of burying the landscape, snow from an Iceland winter actually accentuates it! If you are worried about traveling to Iceland in winter because you won’t be able to see all the sights, think again! All the beautiful places, from The Blue Lagoon to majestic waterfalls are doing their natural thing 24/7/365! Sure, waterfalls in Iceland may look a little different during the winter when cloaked with icicles, but they are no less impressive or beautiful to behold!
Visiting Iceland in winter doesn’t mean you will be stuck inside looking at snow. Instead, you will have the opportunity to walk inside an ice cave [can’t do that during the summer], or photograph endless white mountains, or watch the Northern Lights dance over a partially frozen waterfall. Winter in Iceland is a truly magical experience and you won’t sacrifice any fun by choosing to travel during this time of year.
Bonus points for traveling to Iceland in winter include the fantastic “golden hour” light that seems to be ever present! Having sunset all day to accent the snowy landscape is pretty surreal!
Have we convinced you to travel to Iceland in winter? Have you ever experienced winter in Iceland? What did you think about it? Let us know in the comments!
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