Apparently, Iceland is an exciting place to be during the holidays – every hotel bed in Reykjavík is booked over Christmas and New Year’s Eve! It’s no wonder, really, Iceland’s winter wonderland landscapes, underneath some stunning northern lights, make for the picture-perfect Instagram posts. If you’re lucky, you might even spot a wild reindeer! If you’re one of the lucky few who’ve managed to snag a room in Reykjavík for the holidays, there’s nothing left to do but plan your dream trip. Here are a few tips and suggestions to get you started.
Kids have been skating on the frozen surface of the Reykjavík Pond in the city centre since forever. It’s a classic wintery Christmas activity but the conditions aren’t always great, and you have to have your own skates. Luckily, for the month of December, Ingólfstorg square is transformed into a skating ring, where you can rent skates.
Ride an Icelandic horse
Icelandic horses are short and stout, but don’t you dare call them ponies! For centuries, these creatures were known as man’s most needed servant and although we don’t have to rely on horses for transportation anymore, a riding tour over icy plains and lava fields is always enjoyable. The friendly horses are perfect for first-timers but experienced riders will enjoy trying out the tölt, a gait unique to the Icelandic horse.
Visit a Christmas market
There’s nothing better than strolling through a Christmas market with a warm cup of mulled wine or hot chocolate in your hand, stopping occasionally to enjoy some Christmas carols or other entertainment. The Christmas market in Hafnarfjörður, (about 20 minutes’ drive from the city centre or a ride on bus no 1) is especially popular. You can even get a ride in a horse-drawn carriage!
Get your adrenaline going
If you’re looking for a little more action, try taking a buggy ride! The adrenaline-filled ride will provide thrills galore but no less exciting is seeing Icelandic nature up close, as you climb hills and ford streams on your way.
Get to know the Yule Lads
Even though you might see some guys in red suits around Christmas, Icelanders don’t believe in Santa Claus. Instead, we have the thirteen Yule Lads, scruffy pranksters of troll origin who live in a cave in the mountains and only come down around Christmas. You might see them projected on the walls of buildings in the city centre or if you drop by the National Museum around noon.
Art by Elín Elísabet Einarsdóttir
Go hiking on a glacier
Even though it isn’t always covered in snow, Iceland does have its name for a reason. Some of Europe’s biggest glaciers cover parts of the highlands and if you want to get your króna’s worth, you’ll use this trip to take a hike on a glacier! From afar they look like untouched fields of snow but when you get up close, you’ll see that glaciers come in every colour, white, blue, grey, and even black, as glaciers sometimes show the effects of past eruptions locked into the ice.
Eat some fermented skate
This one’s not for the faint of heart, but believe it or not, eating fermented skate on Dec 23rd is a popular tradition, so you better reserve a table in advance. We don’t recommend cooking it at home as you’ll have a hard time getting the odour out. Apparently, the flavour is milder than the smell, so if you can get it close to your mouth without breathing in, that should help! This should make the Christmas feast taste a lot better in comparison the following day but you can also just stick to eating buttered laufabrauð and Christmas cookies.
The Golden Circle and snowmobiling
The Golden Circle is the most popular tourist attraction in Iceland. The circle itself refers to a loop of road taking you between the three stops on the way, Þingvellir national park, Gullfoss waterfall and the eruption hot spring Geysir. The Golden circle is highly recommended but if you want to make your day even more special, throw in a ride on a snowmobile on a glacier!
Celebrate New Year’s Eve with fire and explosions
A centuries-old tradition in Iceland claims that in order to start a new year with a clean slate, you have to burn away the old year. You don’t have to tell the locals twice, as every year, they blow up more than five hundred tonnes’ worth of fireworks! Also, most towns in Iceland host a bonfire and Reykjavík, being the biggest city, has ten of them, all over the city. You can find the bonfires on your own or take a tour with a local guide, ready to explain the peculiar tradition.
Go see the northern lights
If you’re coming to Iceland in the dead of winter, chances are you’re hoping to see the northern lights. The Aurora borealis is a stunning natural phenomenon and will surely make your holidays in Iceland memorable. Since they are a natural phenomenon, they can’t be relied upon to be on display but you’ll maximize your chances of seeing them by following these tips and tricks.
Take a Christmas bath
Ever since Viking times, Icelanders have taken advantage of the ready supply of geothermal water for hot baths. Whether you want to swim in a natural hot spring or a luxurious swimming pool, you can’t forget to bring your bathing suit for a trip to Iceland. We suggest going swimming after dark, there’s nothing like soaking in hot water underneath a starry sky.