In Iceland, winter starts at the end of October, following the old Norse calendar. This calendar only has two seasons, winter and summer, both consisting of 26 weeks. Northern lights, glaciers, and ice caves are the biggest winter attractions, and all are truly magical. An added benefit is that spending some time in Iceland in winter can be cheaper than coming in summertime, and it’s a bit less crowded. Let us tell you about the dos and don’ts during your stay in Iceland this winter.
Check the weather forecast
Icelandic winter is pretty mild and only a bit colder than countries in Western Europe. Temperatures in Reykjavík can drop down to about -10 °C, with a high of almost 10 °C. The average temperature is just above freezing. In North Iceland, it’s usually a bit colder in winter and a bit warmer in summer. In general, there is quite a bit of snowfall in wintertime. Some towns can be snowed in for a while, making them only accessible by air travel. Even though the temperatures are mild, the weather is fickle, and especially the wind can throw a spanner in the works. Always be prepared for changeable weather and pay close attention to the weather forecast and road conditions.
Be prepared for icy and slippery roads if you decide to rent a car. If you end up on a slippery road, don’t make sudden changes, braking, turning and accelerating should be smooth. You will need to increase your braking distance on icy roads. It will take you much longer to brake, up to ten times longer than in non-icy conditions. Slow down when necessary. Heavy snow and icy roads can be very dangerous if you don’t adjust your speed to the circumstances. Always check the weather forecast and road conditions before you head out. Don’t let yourself be surprised by bad weather conditions or closed roads. If you’re not comfortable driving in these conditions, you probably shouldn’t rent a car in winter. This is not a problem, as there are many tours you can take instead.
Go to a swimming pool
We know how cold it is, but believe us, going to an outside pool is one of the best things you can do in winter. It’s the perfect way to warm up in the middle of winter. The thermal pools usually keep a temperature of 30°C, perfect for swimming. But the best part are the hot tubs, with temperatures ranging between 36°C and 44°C. Icelanders love soaking in hot tubs while chatting, discussing, or arguing about daily life. The most famous pool is the Blue Lagoon, but Reykjavík also has some great thermal pools.
You might have heard the old saying: “There’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothes.” To stay warm and dry, you have to layer your clothing. Keep the three-layer method in mind: wear an inner layer, a middle layer and an outer layer. The inner layer, preferably polyester, wool, or silk, is worn directly on your skin. These fabrics breathe and manage moisture well. The middle layer usually consists of a jacket or sweater and thermal underwear. These insulate heat and maximise warmth. And lastly, the outer layer protects against wind and rain. Also, shoes! Hiking boots are essential for Iceland’s rugged terrain.
Make use of the daylight
At the start of winter in October, sunrise is at 08:55 and sunset is at 17:25. So, there are roughly 8,5 hours of daylight. Days are then getting shorter rapidly, though, with December as the darkest month. Until December 21, days are getting shorter every day. On that day, sunrise is at 11:20 and sunset is at 15:30. The shortest day is only four hours long, so if you want to explore Iceland, make sure you are out and about when the sun is shining.
Explore an ice cave with a guide
Ice caves are a natural wonder only accessible in winter. If you want to go to an ice cave, never head out alone, always go with a certified tour operator. From Reykjavík, several spectacular day tours are organised to ice caves on the south coast and in the southeast of Iceland. If you venture out to an ice cave, remember to dress warmly, wear proper waterproof outdoor clothing and bring hiking boots. But most importantly, enjoy this unique experience.
Book this tour if you’re interested in going to an ice cave!
Warm up in a café
If you’ve had it with freezing cold temperatures and snow, head to one of Reykjavík’s cosy cafés. Icelanders love a good cup of coffee, and the many coffeehouses downtown are proof for this. Inside, comfy chairs and sofas and hot beverages are waiting for you. A break at one of these coffeehouses will warm you up in no time.
Go northern lights hunting
You are in luck, you can see the northern lights all winter long and Iceland is one of the best countries in the world to spot them. The season runs from September until mid-April. Sometimes you can even see them as soon as August. To be able to enjoy the northern lights, you need dark and cold nights, and clear skies. Snow or rain can seriously interfere with the visibility of the lights. There is, unfortunately, no guarantee that you will see this natural phenomenon, but keeping a close eye on the weather forecast and the aurora forecast will help you determine the right moment to go out.
Keep your plans flexible
The weather in Iceland is fickle and the most important thing is to stay safe. By all means, make plans, but be prepared to change them if the weather is acting up. Check the weather forecast before you set off and don’t risk driving far if the weather is bad. If you’re not used to driving in wintry conditions, or feel uncomfortable, take a guided tour instead.