Iceland has long been described as only having two seasons: Summer and the seemingly never-ending winter. While we recently enjoyed a few “typical” autumn days, the temperatures are now set to slowly drop and winter is firmly rolling in with its first storm of the season. But that is no reason to weep for summer and stop traveling around. Icelandic winters are the epitome of winter wonderlands, offering a new range of activities and mystical landscapes!
Hunting for Aurora Borealis in Iceland
Seeing the northern lights is on many people’s ultimate bucket list! Icelandic winters are prominently quite dark. While this fact might seem depressing at first, it also offers the possibility for a new kind of light in the darkness – you guessed it right: The Northern Lights! The days are continuously getting darker until reaching the minimum of daylight on December 21, leaving lots of hours of darkness to discover the wonders of Aurora Borealis.
The number one thing for a successful northern lights hunt is a cloud-free sky. Even with the most skyrocketing KP-Index (which indicates the strength of the northern lights from level 0 to 9), you won’t have any luck seeing the Aurora Borealis if the sky is completely overcast. So the best option for you is to visit the website of the Icelandic Met Office and check their cloud forecast here. Don’t make the beginner’s mistake of confusing the green-colored areas for the northern lights though, they represent the clouds – so the less green, the better!
One option for you is to go hunt for the northern lights yourself! The rule of thumb here is to always look for a dark, possibly low-light-polluted area around you. Naturally, the Icelandic countryside is perfect for this, but Reykjavík is still a great location to observe some mind-boggling northern lights! Another option is to book one of many northern lights tours, then you don’t need to worry about finding the right location, the right weather conditions, and also the best camera settings. Guides can help you out with all of that and you can simply lean back while enjoying the northern lights dance right above your head!
Wintersports with a view: Skiing in Iceland
While most people would probably not connect Iceland with skiing and snowboarding, the abundance of snow makes Iceland a great place to indulge in just that! Generally, there are two main skiing resorts in Iceland. Hlíðarfjall in the North of Iceland is just about 8 kilometers west of Akureyri. Bláfjöll on the other hand is the biggest skiing resort in Iceland offering a total of 15 kilometres of slopes and is just about 30 minutes from Reykjavík. Hlíðarfjall with its 10 skiing lifts intends to open in mid-December until approximately the end of April. Bláfjöll has not set an opening day yet but will try to open the slopes for a few days in December according to snow levels and certainly opens at the beginning of January. If you’re used to skiing in the Alps, everything in Iceland will naturally be a bit smaller with slopes not as long – but the breathtaking scenery from the mountains and view will not disappoint!
If you’re more of an adrenaline junkie and regular skiing is too simple for your needs, there is also something on stock for you! Luckily, Iceland has enough glaciers and mountains to ascend and race your way back down on skis as a reward for the exhausting hike. There are lots of alpine skiing tours available, for example, a multiple-day tour in the Icelandic highlands or a tour up Snæfellsjökull – the infamous Vernesque entrance to the center of the earth.
Warming up in Iceland’s natural lagoons
There is no better feeling than to sit in a geothermal hotpot while warming up your cold and tired bones, after a long and freezing journey during a gloomy Icelandic winter day. Luckily, there are plenty of options to choose from. From luxurious spas like the Blue Lagoon, Sky Lagoon, and Hvammsvík in Hvalfjörður, to the local pools scattered around the whole island, and the rustic natural hot springs amid beautiful winter landscapes – the possibilities are endless.
One of the closest and most popular natural hot springs is Reykjadalur in Hveragerði, approximately 30 minutes from Reykjavík. After a fairly easy one-hour hike through a stunning multi-colored valley with numerous steaming hot springs, you reach a wooden path leading to the hot river and some changing areas. Please remember to always check safetravel.is before your journey for the current status on the hiking path, as it can become icy during the winter, and make sure to leave nothing but footprints!
Wintertime calls for a “kósý-kvöld”
Winter is THE time of the year to unwind and regain new energy for the upcoming summer with all of its daylight and endless things to do around Iceland. There is a reason why so many animals hibernate. In some form, Icelanders also do tend to find their own form of hibernation and crawl back into their cozy, candle-lit living rooms while grabbing their favorite books to have a so-called “kósý-kvöld”, a cozy evening. Do it like the locals, find a snug little coffeehouse downtown Reykjavík, and sip on a steaming hot chocolate while indulging in some gloomy Icelandic noirs.