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! If you want more tips on packing for winter in Iceland, head to the bottom of this post!
#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!
What To Pack For Iceland In Winter
Although we discussed it above for a little, packing for Iceland in winter should be done carefully! This is not the trip to skimp on buying new clothing as you want to be warm and dry instead of cold and sorry! Whether you are hiking in Iceland or just taking a road trip, packing the proper clothes for your trip is essential, especially in winter. When it comes to packing for Iceland in winter, understand that you should be going for comfort over style. Winter weather in Iceland is not to be taken lightly, so dressing properly is a must.These are some of our tried and true favorite suggestions when traveling to Iceland in the winter.
- A balaclava. Balaclavas are the perfect winter accessory because they don’t take up a lot of space yet they keep you super warm! Balaclavas will not be swept away by the winds during Iceland in winter and stay snug around your neck. Make sure to throw one in your backpack or suitcase and thank us later!
- Filtered water bottle. We swear by our Bobble Water Bottles and they have seen multiple trips to Iceland. If you plan to drink the water in Iceland, you can drink it straight from the tap, but we suggest a filtered water bottle because everyone reacts to different bacteria differently. Plus, they don’t cost all that much! If you are planning a trip to Iceland in winter, you can even leave the bottle outside for a chill before you fill it!
- Ski/Snow Pants. If you are heading to Iceland in winter, please make sure to pack a pair of snow pants. You will not regret it! Iceland will be blanketed in snow having waterproof pants is a must. If you want to kneel down or sit in the snow or lay on the ground to get the perfect shot, you are going to want your pants to stay dry. Waterproof winter pants are also windproof which will be useful to protect you from the wind in Iceland!
- Winter Boots/Waterproof Shoes. Whatever you do, make sure to pack some waterproof boots for Iceland. We think that packing the correct boots for Iceland is so important that we even wrote this post about it to help you out! We highly recommend in investing in winter boots for Iceland, as they will be in charge of keeping you dry and warm the whole trip. Make sure the soles are certified to keep your feet warm to temperatures below 0*F to ensure you are purchasing a good pair. We love Columbia brand like these for winter boots.
- A Solid Winter Jacket. There are winter jackets for Iceland that are only okay, and then there are good quality jackets like this one from Columbia. Like the boots above, we think picking the right winter jacket for Iceland was so important, we wrote an entire post on it which you can read here. We recommend bringing a jacket for Iceland in winter that has an omni-tech base layer and a waterproof shell. Along with shoes, we highly recommend investing in a high-quality jacket for Iceland in winter.
- A Swimsuit. Yes, believe it or not, you do need to pack a swimsuit when you are traveling to Iceland in winter! Hot springs in Iceland are warm all year round, so you want to make sure you have a swimsuit so you can take a dip! Hot springs are the perfect way to warm up after a day exploring Iceland in winter.
- Waterproof Gloves. As you can see, waterproof is a trend for surviving winter in Iceland! Make sure that you buy a pair of waterproof gloves or else your hands will be soaked the second you touch something covered in snow or ice [which is a lot of things during winter in Iceland!] A solid pair of gloves doesn’t have to break the bank, just make sure they are waterproof and made for winter!
- Fleece-Lined Leggings. We do not care if you are male or female, you need to pack a pair of fleece-lined leggings. We recommend this pair for women and this pair for men. They are a lifesaver and will keep your legs insulated from the elements that are so common during Iceland in winter. Fleece-lined leggings are so affordable but they make all the difference during your trip!
- Polarized Sunglasses. Sunglasses are one of those things you would never think to pack for Iceland, especially during winter. This is not the case because the sun is very strong during the winter in Iceland and it reflects off of the white ice and snow which can be very harmful to your eyes. Protect your eyes by packing sunglasses like these unisex ones! Polarized sunglasses add an additional layer of protection that normal sunglasses do not offer.
- Knit Hat. Make sure to pack a knit hat for your trip to Iceland in winter. Bonus points if the hat is made out of wool! This isn’t the time to be fashionable, so pick a functional and affordable hat. Packing for Iceland in winter is meant to keep you warm, so don’t pick something flimsy!
We promise that traveling to Iceland in the winter really isn’t as scary or daunting as it seems. You don’t even have to do much to “survive” winter in Iceland other than plan ahead and prepare a little. Going in with an open mind and a sense of adventure to experience the great places that Iceland has to offer will ensure that you are off to having a great trip!
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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