Winter is Coming: Tips for Traveling Iceland in the Winter

Interested in traveling to Iceland in the low season? Use this to guide your planning!

Interested in traveling to Iceland in the low season? Use this to guide your planning!

Itinerary Suggestions

After doing my research prior to our winter trip to Iceland, I had narrowed down the areas of Iceland that are still easy to reach during the winter. I'm sure there are other areas of the country that you could find tours to, but this is based off of our 5 day trip in order to maximize what we were able to see and do. 

  • Snæfellsnes Peninsula - Steep mountains, endless beaches, moss covered lava fields, impressive craters and bizarre coastal cliffs. . . no I am not listing the set for a sci-fi movie, this is all present on the Peninsula. Our Troll guide, Maggie, told us many of the tales and legends of the Peninsula as well. If you know me, you know that I love folklore, so this was one of the attractions for me to come to this part of Iceland. It really did have a magical feeling and the strolls along the cliffs and beaches were breathtaking, to say the least. One of the most popular photographs you will see of all of Iceland is of the majestic volcano Snæfellsjökull which was immortalized in the book “Journey to the Center of the Earth” by Jules Verne.
  • Golden Circle - We actually didn't do this "touristy" route on our first trip to Iceland. We decided that it was a must-see this time around. The route features near the top of almost every list of things to do in the country and is listed as a sightseeing tour on nearly every tour provider's website. We opted for self-driving because it is such a popular route, the road conditions are usually well-kept. The Golden Circle consists of three equally stunning locations in southwest Iceland: Þingvellir National Park, the Geysir Geothermal Area, and Gullfoss waterfall. The Golden Circle is not a far drive away from Reykjavik, and while it was still busy, I am sure it is overwhelmingly busy in the high season, so I would recommend this for your winter itinerary. We also made a pit stop at the geothermal area of Fludir to enjoy the Secret Lagoon, definitely would recommend! 
  • Reykjavik - Obviously spending time in the northernmost capital of the world while you are in Iceland is a must, any time of year. Here you will find a detailed guide on what I recommend for you to see, do and eat during your time in the city! 
  • South Coast - We started off from Reykjavik early in the morning, using Saga Travel as our tour company. They have a western South Coast tour that drops you off at glacier walking or you can opt to continue on to the popular black sand beach, Reynisfjara. This is also something that you could pretty easily self-drive as long as you are a confident winter weather driver and the weather forecast is looking good for the day. Skógafoss  is everything that you want in a waterfall; tall and wide, with straight lines and even flow of water, it looks like it was taken from the pages of a book. It’s surrounded by cliffs, covered in soft moss that’s often covered in icicles. I must say that I prefer this waterfall in the winter! 
  • Glacier Walking and Ice Climbing - This is obviously something very popular in the wintertime in Iceland. You can really only do ice caving in the winter season! This is something that you will need to budget for, as you cannot do it on your own and will need the proper guides and the proper equipment. I never thought that I would have the opportunity to walk on (and eat) a glacier, but it will be something that I remember for a lifetime. We climbed Sólheimajökull which is one of the more accessible glaciers. 
Iceland in winter is truly magical and otherworldly, and totally different from how it is in the warmer months. 

Iceland in winter is truly magical and otherworldly, and totally different from how it is in the warmer months. 

To Drive or Not to Drive? 

Should you rent a car and drive yourself around Iceland in winter? Should you opt to book with tour companies that pick you up and drive you around? Should you do a little of both? 

While we were in Iceland during winter, we opted to do a little of both. We rented a car for the well-maintained city streets and the Golden Circle Route (after we checked the weather and road cameras) and opted for booking tours for the things we wanted to do and see that were further away from Reykjavik. We used Troll Expeditions for Snaefellsnes and we used Saga Travel for the South Coast Glacier Walk

  • Renting a Car
    • Pros - With renting a car, you are totally in control of your itinerary and how long you stay at each spot along your route. It is also nice to have a car if you are not staying in downtown Reykjavik. You can park downtown with ease and not have to worry about relying on public transportation. Renting a car is also critical if you plan on traveling the entire Ring Road, which I would not recommend in winter. I would recommend renting a car while you are in Iceland if you (or someone you are traveling with) are a confident driver and will be in the country for more than a couple of days. You can price compare, but this is potentially your cheaper and more budget friendly option if you are traveling outside of winter.
    • Cons - During winter, Iceland's weather is more unpredictable than ever. If you are not used to driving in these conditions, it can get very dangerous very quickly. We saw small rentals stranded on the side of the road multiple times. If you are not a confident driver, do not rent a car in a foreign country. They have different traffic patterns and road signs than what you may be used to so either do your research or just trust an Icelander to drive you around! If you are driving, you don't get to enjoy the scenery quite as much. I found that using the tour companies was much less stressful and more enjoyable for Danny (who otherwise would have been driving). In winter, you really need a 4x4 vehicle with winter tires. 
  • Booking Tours
    • Pros - You have the ability to do high adventure activities that you wouldn't otherwise get to do, like climbing a glacier or ice caving! Transportation from Reykjavik is usually included, so you don't have to worry about renting a car, buying gas, finding food stops etc. You can also find multi-day tours which could be an option for you. These tours are usually operated by an Icelander, so you are able to hear more about the history and culture of the country. 
    • Cons - You are on their time and their schedule. If there was something you wanted to see that was not on the itinerary, you can ask, but odds are, you will have to miss it. Tours can be pricey so if you are on a budget, compare the tours you want to book with renting a car and self-driving to the locations you want to see. 
The majesty of Snaefellsnes beaches. 

The majesty of Snaefellsnes beaches. 

What to Pack? 

I go super in-depth about what to pack for your trip to Iceland here on my blog.

If you are traveling from October to March, you are basically traveling in the Icelandic winter. The Gulf Stream keeps temperatures pretty mild so while the wind chill can be below freezing, it is not as frigid as you might be imagining. It was above freezing during the day the whole time we were there. Layering is so majorly important, so pack base layers such as quick dry tops and bottoms, thermal or long johns, fleece jackets, sweaters, and of course the critical waterproof outer layer such as rain pants and a warm waterproof coat. Staying dry is one of the most important things about traveling in Iceland. I plan on packing some of those heat packs to put inside of my gloves and shoes to keep my extremities extra warm and toasty. I would suggest that you consider buying and bringing Crampons to fit onto your hiking boots so that you won't be sliding all over the ice, especially if you plan on self-driving. Don't forget your swimsuit! 

Snæfellsjökull was immortalized in the book “Journey to the Center of the Earth” by Jules Verne

Snæfellsjökull was immortalized in the book “Journey to the Center of the Earth” by Jules Verne

K8CanRelate's Guide to Reykjavík, Iceland

All of the best things to do and see in Reykjavik, Iceland

All of the best things to do and see in Reykjavik, Iceland

As many of you may know, Iceland has quickly become one of my favorite travel destinations. There is something truly magical about Iceland. Its remoteness, its incredible landscapes, its culture, the people, and its food all make this small but fascinating country one of the world’s most popular tourist destinations. For a good reason. I have now been to Iceland on two separate trips.

Reykjavik is the northernmost capital of the world but has surprisingly mild weather thanks to the Gulf Stream. Below you will find my recommendations for things to see, eat and do. This guide is great both if you have lots of time or limited time in the city. You will find that Reykjavik is relatively small and easy to navigate. Happy trails!


What to See

Hallgrímskirkja in Reykjavik

Hallgrímskirkja in Reykjavik

Hallgrímskirkja church - Hallgrímskirkja is a Lutheran parish church in Reykjavík, Iceland. This is a pretty hard one to miss, honestly. It is the tallest structure in the city and one of the best-known landmarks in Iceland. Leif Eriksson is situated outside of the church. You can go up to the top to overlook the city which I have yet to do. You can go inside for free which I would recommend as the architecture is quite different from traditional churches; the organ is quite impressive in and of itself. 

Harpa Concert Hall and Conference Center

Harpa Concert Hall and Conference Center

Harpa Concert Hall - Harpa is quite beautiful to look at from both the outside and the inside. The geometric framework is stunning. You can walk around inside as there are gift shops and cafes but I would suggest going in just to see the windows. You can also check the schedule and see if the orchestra is playing while you are in town. 

The Sun Voyager sculpture

The Sun Voyager sculpture

Solfar (The Sun Voyager) sculpture - Solfar is situated on the waterfront just down from Harpa. This waterfront is one of my favorite views in the city. The artist intended this sculpture to convey the promise of undiscovered territory, a dream of hope, progress and freedom.

One of many street art installations in Reykjavik

One of many street art installations in Reykjavik

Graffiti Art - As visitors to Iceland are sure to have noticed, several large and elaborate murals adorn the walls of buildings in and around Reykjavík’s center. These pieces are intricate, beautiful and well worth taking the time to see. There are murals on every street, some small and some elaborate. Most of the street art you will see is commissioned art but there are also tags and bubble graffiti around as well. You could spend an entire day just strolling the city looking for street art! 


What to Eat

If you are a vegan that will be traveling Iceland soon, read my blog post about all of our favorite restaurants and tips to save money. It includes restaurants that we found while traveling Ring Road. 

The only 100% vegan restaurant in Iceland. They spin vinyl on the weekends!

The only 100% vegan restaurant in Iceland. They spin vinyl on the weekends!

Kaffi Vínyl - We had their sandwiches last time we were in town which were amazing! This time, we opted for the soup of the day (sweet potato) as well as the nachos and the breads & spreads appetizer. I have to admit I was kind of disappointed in the nachos. They were good, but not great. The breads & spreads were pretty amazing though! As was the soup. I would also highly recommend their house kefir (kind of like kombucha). 

Gló - We visited this restaurant twice on our last trip to Iceland. It is a great choice for vegan options. They have at least two locations, one is centrally located downtown and the other is on the outskirts of the city. They have a great lunch special where you can get an option with 3 of their salad sides. The lasagna is amazing!

Passion Reykjavik - I don't have any photos from the inside of Passion, but take my word for it that it is worth stopping by if you have a sweet tooth. They have a small selection of vegan pastries but I would highly suggest that you stop in to sample one of each. It was quite busy with locals stopping in for their morning pastry and coffee, but the wait time was not bad. It is decorated quite elegantly and the pastries speak for themselves.  

Quite possibly the best vegan cheese bread in the world. Yeah, I said it.

Quite possibly the best vegan cheese bread in the world. Yeah, I said it.

Íslenska Flatbakan - I dreamed of these cheesy bread sticks since the last time that I was in Iceland. This is a small chain pizza restaurant that serve up craft pizzas and beer. Danny and I both would absolutely recommend you stop in, especially if you are a pizza lover. They have a handful of vegan options to choose from, as well as the vegan cheese sticks. This last time I also got the spicy vegan pizza and unless you absolutely LOVE spicy things, avoid this one! My mouth was dying and I could barely taste the pizza itself. They have a pretty decent selection of Icelandic beer as well. 

Reykjavik Roasters is a great centrally located coffee shop!

Reykjavik Roasters is a great centrally located coffee shop!

Reykjavik Roasters - This is a well-known coffee spot very centrally located in downtown Reykjavik. It seems that there are equal parts locals and tourists every time I have stopped in. All of Reykjavik has a very hipster vibe and Reykjavik Roasters is no exception. It feels more like a large living room than an establishment. It is quite cozy, eclectic and the staff are always warm and friendly. 


What to Do

Erró, is without a doubt the best known contemporary artist of Iceland. His work is currently on exhibition at Reykjavik Art Musem

Erró, is without a doubt the best known contemporary artist of Iceland. His work is currently on exhibition at Reykjavik Art Musem

Visit Reykjavik's Museums - There are many museums throughout the city! Admittedly, I have spent more time wandering around searching for street art and setting out into the countryside than I have in the museums. Just another excuse to go back, right? This past trip we visited Reykjavik Art Museum. The cost of admission actually gets your entrance into two other art museums in the city, but we didn't have enough time to make it to those. If you do plan to visit museums while you are in the city, consider getting the City Card to save yourself some money. From Maritime museums, art museums to Icelandic history, you are sure to find at least one museum that suits your fancy. There is even a phallological museum, yep that means penis. Next on my list is the Reykjavik Museum of Photography

One of the many murals in Reykjavik!

One of the many murals in Reykjavik!

Self-Guided Walking Tour - Truthfully, Reykjavík is a city that is best enjoyed by foot. You could pay someone to take you on a walking tour, or you could save yourself the money and and do it yourself. The parking for Reykjavik is split into 3 levels. P1 is the most centrally located parking and will cost you the most and is followed by P2 and P3 parking. Find a spot to park and start walking! You can't really get lost in this city and you are sure to find cultural and historically significant locations at every turn. 

Kirkjufell mountain in west Iceland

Kirkjufell mountain in west Iceland

Opt for a Day Tour - There are many, many tour companies to choose from in Iceland. Most of these offer free pickup in Reykjavik. If you will be spending more than a day or two in the city, you might want to consider booking a day tour! We used Tröll Expeditions for a day tour to Snæfellsnes Peninsula. One of the stops is at Kirkjufell mountain which was the site of a couple of Game of Thrones episodes as well as the inspiration for Journey to the Center of the Earth. Troll picked us up near our Airbnb and we spent a full day exploring this beautiful western part of the country. We had Maggie as our tour guide and I could sing her praises all day. The Peninsula is not as "touristy" or as well-known as the Golden Circle or the South Coast of Iceland. Tröll has day tours to see those areas as well, and their South Coast tour is very well reviewed on Trip Advisor. I can't tell you which I would choose if I could only choose to see one. Iceland's landscapes are so different and vast that honestly you need to see them all. This is (one of the reasons) why I keep going back. 

The Unknown Bureaucrat statue found near Tjornin Pond

The Unknown Bureaucrat statue found near Tjornin Pond

Relax by Tjörnin Pond - Tjörnin Pond is a tranquil area right near the City Hall. The lake is alive with swans, ducks and a variety of other birds and is great for people watching. This past time, we enjoyed watching teenagers try to make it across the ice to the little island in the middle of the pond. 

Enjoy the Nightlife - What makes partying in Iceland different to anywhere else in the world? I can't exactly tell you, but I can tell you that the nightlife in Reykjavik is not to be missed. The nightlife is all centered in one place, all within easy walking distance from another, and rarely require an entrance fee. You will want to leave your hiking boots at the hotel and opt instead for a nicer outfit. You will find that there isn't much of a dress code but Reykjavik is a metropolitan city and they dress as such. I have never felt scared or threatened while in Iceland so no worries about safety! There are many bars and events and I could probably do an entire blog post just about our favorite spots. (If you would be interested in that, drop a comment!) I would recommend checking Gaukurinn's page for events while you are in town, having a specialty cocktail at Slipbarinn and grabbing a flight or two of Icelandic beer at Micro Bar