Are you coming to Iceland this winter? You’re probably looking for some fun and exciting activities! Winter in Iceland is surprisingly mild. In the south, the average temperature is about -2 to 0 °C. It can be windy and snowy, though, particularly in January and February when there are occasional storms. Tours that are heavily dependent on the weather (such as glacier hikes and northern lights tours) can be booked some time in advance, but until the weather forecast is up, it’s best to remain flexible. With this in mind, read our top 5 winter activities!
1) Spot the northern lights
You can only see the northern lights when it’s dark, so mostly in the winter. The northern lights tours run from late August or early September, until mid-April. Northern lights can be seen everywhere in Iceland (you don’t need to go up north, despite the name), but in order to get a good look at them, you need to be far away from the city lights dimming your view. Northern lights tours take you away from the city and (whenever possible) towards wherever there are no clouds, on a night when the auroras are active. Also, there’s something called the aurora forecast, published by the Icelandic Meteorological Office. It’s not infallible but it can give you an idea of what to expect. If the northern nights don’t cooperate on the night you booked your tour, you can usually try again the next day for free.
2) Go spelunking
A great winter activity is joining a tour to visit ice caves. Natural ice caves are only approachable in wintertime since they are unsafe in summertime. Iceland is home to many of these natural wonders. You will find ice caves in different areas of Iceland, even (a man-made one) in Reykjavík! If you venture out to an ice cave, remember to dress warmly, wear proper waterproof outdoor clothing and bring hiking boots. Don’t head out alone, always go with a certified tour operator. The longest man-made ice tunnel in the world is available any time of year. It’s dug through Langjökull glacier and offers a special glimpse of what it looks like deep inside a glacier!
3) Take a walk on the ice side
On a clear day, glacier hiking is one of the most amazing things you can do in wintry Iceland! The glacial tongue Sólheimajökull offers excellent options for short, easy and beautiful hikes, with a breathtaking view over the glacier and the south coast of Iceland. You might think that walking on a glacier is just like having a walk through the snow but in reality, it’s much different. The ice is not white-coloured like a fresh blanket of snow, but is icy blue with streaks of black ash. The glaciers look smooth from far away but when you’re up close, they are dissected with vicious-looking crevasses, and the edges are cracked with ice caves. While these caves and crevasses look like they’re there to stay, they are in fact only temporary. Glaciers are beautiful but tricky, that’s why it’s only safe to go on a hike with an experienced guide!
4) Go skiing
Even though Iceland doesn’t have high mountains like Switzerland, it is a ski paradise – if you know where to go. Bláfjöll is a popular ski area, conveniently situated just half an hour outside of Reykjavík. It’s the largest ski resort in Iceland, with runs of varying difficulty levels covering a total of 15 kilometres. In North Iceland lies Hlíðarfjall, Akureyri’s top-notch ski resort. It’s located just a few kilometres outside of town, with breathtaking views over the fjord Eyjafjörður. Using natural snow and snow machines, the resort prides itself on its high-quality snow. Floodlit slopes guarantee skiing in the dark winter months, and ski and snowboard lessons are offered onsite. Iceland also has a lot to offer for cross-country skiing enthusiasts. Both Bláfjöll and Hlíðarfjall offer several cross-country tracks. If you’re looking for something more exclusive, go heli-skiing. The best spot for heli-skiing is the Trollaskagi peninsula, in North Iceland. Different companies offer adventure skiing tours there, ranging from two to seven days.
5) Check out a museum
In Iceland it’s always good to have a couple of back-up options in case your tour got cancelled because of bad weather. Going to a museum is a fun and educational way to spend your day! If you want to learn about the Icelandic nation and its history, a visit to the National Museum is essential. The museum has exhibitions telling the story of Iceland from the medieval days of Viking settlements to contemporary culture. Feeling artsy? You can get a great deal when visiting art museums Hafnarhús, Kjarvalsstaðir and Ásmundur Sveinsson Sculpture Museum. You only have to buy one ticket, which is valid for 24 hours for all three museums!