Tips on Traveling to Iceland in Winter

Iceland might not be the first place that comes to mind when you’re researching your next winter destination, but it actually makes a lot of sense. Summer is the high season in Iceland, and accommodations in urban and rural areas are in high demand. Hundreds of thousands of tourists  flock to the small island in summer and it can be a bit daunting to locate accommodation. Here’s some tips that should help you get started planning your winter getaway!

Book an Airbnb or Accommodations With a Kitchen

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Our first breakfast in Iceland

The best accommodations tend to fill up quickly as some of the better Airbnb’s in Reykjavik are booked solid for 7 to 8 months in advance. Going in winter certainly increases your odds of finding affordable and ideal accommodation, but also other forms of transportation such as car rentals and tours. I would suggest that booking an Airbnb is the most ideal form of accommodation in Iceland, as eating out is about fifty dollars per person on average in Canadian dollars for a mid range restaurant per person. This doesn’t include drinks or appetizers. There are deals or cheaper restaurants, especially in Reykjavik, but they are few and far between. The further you go out from the city, the less options are there, especially if you have dietary restrictions. We’d recommend checking out the Noodle Station, if you’re looking for a cheaper lunch ($20 per person for an entrée). If you rent a car, you can always rely on gas stations to have hot dogs. Eating hot dogs has become ubiquitous with many budget travellers who choose to travel around the island. My partner is a vegetarian and she had no issues locating food, though we did cook a good portion of our own meals. If you’re looking for a budget friendly place to shop checkout Bonus.  Bonus had great deals and prices that were comparable to many grocery stores across Canada.

Photo Courtesy of Aegir

It’s Not As Cold As You Think, But It’s Still Cold

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Crazy morning at The Black Sand Beach in Reynisfjara

Iceland has mild winters in comparison to the countries geography, but they are unpredictable. I flew out of Pearson International in Toronto  in early December when the city was seeing temperatures of -5 to -10. When I landed in Reykjavik it was 1 or 2 degrees. I did some research before I left for my vacation and discovered that Iceland has mild winters. In February it ins’t uncommon for Toronto to to experience temperatures of -10. In the past we have had stints where the weather stayed at -20 or lower for weeks. In comparison Iceland hovers around -2, and will likely hover from around 5 degrees to -5. The vast openness provides little shelter from the wind, and driving through mountains creates wind tunnels that can shake your vehicle rapidly. I brought comfortable snow pants, and various sweaters to layer myself. If you’re curious on how to pack, Iceland Academy has a great video on how to dress while in Iceland.

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Jokulsarlon Lagoon

Consider Booking a Tour

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Felt Like a Graveyard of Ice in Jokulsarlon

Even though I live and work in a Northern country I would have been weary to drive in Iceland. Much of the countries roads are treacherous around winter time. We opted to go with a tour and I’m glad we did. A friend of ours was travelling to Iceland around the same time we were and decided to rent a car as opposed to going with a tour. The vehicle we were traveling with was equipped with winter tries that had metal studs on them, and also snow chains that we ended up using on our way back to Reykjavik. Our friends were leaving a day after us and got stuck just outside of Reykjavik as the roads were closed due to a storm. The next day they attempted to leave the city and got stuck half way to Vatnajokull to meet us to do the Ice Caves as another storm rolled in. Disappointed our friends had to once again turn around and head back to Reykjavik. I know this sounds like a worst case scenario but going with a multi day tour provided us the flexibility to skip the Golden Circle Tour, which is traditionally done on the first day of the tour and head straight towards the Jokulsarlon Ice Lagoon. Had we booked a car and tried to save money, we likely wouldn’t have seen much. The tours aren’t cheap, you can expect to spend upwards of $800-900 (USD) per person for a 3 day tour. The tour included all activities, transportation, and accommodations. We chose to go with Extreme Iceland and had an amazing guide who was extremely knowledgeable and helpful. Some of the highlights included hiking on a glacier, exploring an ice cave, and chasing the northern lights at night.

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Hiking on a Glacier in Skaftafell
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Hunting The Northern Lights in Reykjavik
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Exploring an Ice Cave in Vatnajökull

Visit The Baths and Crank Up The Heat!

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Rebecca Loving The Blue Lagoon

Iceland is blessed with having inexpensive electricity as the country uses geothermal technology to power their homes, work places, and even pavements. We were fortunate to have accommodation that included hot water radiant heat in both the room and floors, which is standard in most homes on the island. If you live in a cold country, you may live in a home that has forced air. It’s the standard form of heating in North America. Forced air causes issues like dryness, and irritates our skin, throat, and nasal passages. I can’t remember a time when my skin felt better, especially after a day of soaking in the warm silica baths at the Blue Lagoon to relaxing in our flat with heated floors. One of the main tourist attractions in Iceland is the Blue Lagoon, which is a geothermal spa that renews itself every two days. I would recommend as many others have to visit other spas as well, or even local community centers that are equipped with spa like facilities. There is a plethora of facilities located across Reykjavik and Iceland that charge a nominal fee. While we were in Reykjavik we managed to visit a pool every day. Our favorite was Laugardalslaug, which had an amazing Olympic size pool and various outdoor hot tubs. It is best to check the times on the City of Reykjavik’s Website, as we found information through a third party websites that were outdated.

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Early morning at The Blue Lagoon
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