10 Secrets About Visiting Iceland in Winter

Hello from Iceland! As I write this post, I sit in a cozy café by a window overlooking Laugavegur, the main shopping street in Reykjavík, one of the few cities in the world that I find myself falling in love with a little more each day, maybe because it looks nothing like the image that I’ve come to associate with the word ‘city’ (skyscrapers, concrete structures, metro- you get the idea). I look out to see people walk by the ochre building across the tiny street and feel grateful for the rush of inspiration that flows through my mind like electricity- a feeling I have missed and craved, and one I find is crucial to my ability to write anything that’s worth reading.

I’ve been based here for most of my days during my two-week trip to Iceland so far, and with less than a week left until I fly home to Dubai, I am already beginning to dread no longer having the magnificent Hallgrímskirkja Church to look up to and stare in wonder at as I walk out my front door. It’s strange how quickly things that at first seem new can begin to feel natural and places that were meant to be a fling can leave you longing for more. I didn’t expect to feel this way about Reykjavík, or Iceland in general- I thought visiting in winter might leave me longing for warmer days in Dubai, but that feeling has not kicked in- at least not yet.

Visiting Iceland in Winter

Hallgrimska Church, Reykjavik

Over the past week, I’ve spent a few days exploring Reykjavík, the Snæfellsnes peninsula, Golden Circle and South Coast and have been incredibly fortunate to have my one of my closest friends in the world, who happens to be an Icelander (just my luck!) take me around popular spots and secret off-the-beaten-path places that I most definitely would not see if I were traveling any other way. The plan is to see as much of the country as possible without rushing- I hope to return in the summer of this year or the next to explore the remote Westfjords and East Iceland. Most people who have Iceland on their travel wishlist intend to visit it during the summer- and that’s understandable as places can be a lot easier to get to in summer, but there’s an unexplainable quality about Iceland in winter and I’m so glad I chose to visit it during this time. For the first of many posts about this beautiful country, I bring to you a few secrets about visiting Iceland in winter.

It’s way too cold (obviously) but you do get used to it.

As someone who lives in Dubai, has only ever lived in warm places and owned almost no real winter clothes before this trip, it’s not surprising that I was not overly enthusiastic about arriving in Reykjavík to wet snowfall and gray skies. Luckily, the weather since has been a lot better with days of plenty of sunshine-which meant I got to see a lot of places and make full use of precious daylight. On my first evening, as I experienced my first real snowfall (yes, 28 years later it finally happened), I felt like my woolen gloves did nothing for me and my fingers would freeze anyway. After two days, I felt a lot better about taking them off for a few minutes to work my camera, and put on one less layer under my North Face winter coat. For the last two days, I completely forgot about the warm buff that I’d packed to wear around my neck. I guess what I’m trying to say is that as long as you have adequate layers and a good winter coat, you get used to the weather and it gets easier.

Visiting Iceland in Winter

It’s never too cold if you’re dressed well

Iceland in winter is unbelievable.

Sure, Iceland in summer conjures up images of gorgeous flowing waterfalls, myriad greens and browns as you drive around the country and the warmth of the extra long days of sunshine. But winter in Iceland has its own charm- think snowy landscapes, beautiful frozen waterfalls, and grýlukerti– icicles that hang from cliffs and waterfalls, glitter in the sunlight, and are literally named to translate into ‘Grýla’s candles’, Grýla being a mythical ogress who lived in the mountains of Iceland. For someone like me who’d never seen a winter wonderland before and had barely even seen snow, there couldn’t have been a better place to fall in love with the feeling of snowflakes landing on my face.

Visiting Iceland in Winter

Thingvellir National Park

Watching the Aurora Borealis is magic. For real.

Here’s a little secret and I promise I have not turned stark raving mad- magic is for real in Iceland. As strange as I feel about admitting that I do believe the stories I hear and read about elves and trolls and other such hidden folk, I’m not surprised I feel this way- there’s something about being here and seeing for yourself a place with such surreal landscapes and other phenomena that can make you slowly begin to believe that some places might have a certain unexplainable element that is beyond your realm of understanding.

And then there is the Aurora Borealis of course, the famed Northern Lights that feature on many bucket lists. Of course, there is a scientific explanation behind the phenomenon, but when you see the green lights swirling and dancing across the sky, it’s easy to forget what you know and believe instead that you’re getting to witness something truly magical. I saw the Northern Lights for the first time on my second evening in Iceland and was far too mesmerized to be able to remember clearly what I’d tried to learn about photographing them, to the point that my friend had to remind me to calm down. Though I don’t have the best photos from that evening, I do have an invaluable memory that will last a lifetime.

Visiting Iceland in Winter

Watching the Northern Lights in Iceland

Iceland in winter has just the right amount of tourists.

With over 2 million tourists expected in 2017, Iceland is not exactly a secret anymore. More and more people are now drawn to the idea of visiting the country, and that unfortunately means finding that most places are full of large groups disembarking from big tour buses, armed with selfie sticks (I have nothing against them- I own one too), and a checklist of ‘must-see spots in Iceland’, and this is especially true in summer, when more people are drawn to the more comfortable temperatures and longer daylight hours.

This means that the few moments of solitude you’re cherishing on that picturesque cliff won’t last very long and as selfish as it sounds, sometimes you just want to have to share some places with very few people. The good news is that if you agree with this thought, winter is a great time to visit because there are much fewer tourists, though this might change in a couple of years, seeing as tourism in general and winter tourism are both growing exponentially. My friend and I visited the Snæfellsnes peninsula on a long day trip and saw only one tour bus in one of the spots we stopped at- it was kind of amazing to have the other spots almost all to ourselves, for both the peace and great photos of places.

Visiting Iceland in Winter

Plane wreck site at Solheimasandur

Visiting Iceland in winter will not cost you a fortune.

It’s well-known that a trip to Iceland is not exactly cheap and this is not a trip you plan if your prime concern while traveling is a strict budget. For the summer months, guesthouses, hotels and hostels can get booked up months in advance and the prices everywhere are crazy expensive. But that is not the case in winter- I found a great guesthouse (private room with kitchenette and shared bathroom) for as low as 50 Euros a night (as of February 2016), right in the center of Reykjavík on a lovely street by the Hallgrímskirkja Church and close to nice restaurants, cafés, supermarkets, stores and the main shopping street.

I didn’t rent a car so I just walk everywhere around the city center and it’s an easy walk to all the attractions, sights, museums, Harpa Concert Hall and the Old Harbour. The prices for guesthouses and hostels in other towns such as those around the Golden Circle and the South Coast are also far more affordable in winter. So if you’re conscious about how much you’ll spend in Iceland, come visit in winter.

There’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing.

This is an oft-repeated statement in Iceland and it is completely true. If you’re visiting Iceland in winter, pack right and do not skimp on a solid winter coat, plenty of warm layers, gloves, socks, hat and other gear depending on the type of activities you’re planning on doing. If you’re too cold all the time, you won’t enjoy anything- and you most definitely won’t want to hike on a glacier, go into a lava tube or walk up to a slippery ledge behind a waterfall, and these are the things you kind of need to do to fully appreciate being in Iceland.

Secrets about Visiting Iceland in Winter

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While you can always buy gloves, a hat, buff, socks and other smaller items in Iceland (and the traditional sweater Lopapeysur that doesn’t come cheap but is super warm), buying a main winter coat here is definitely way more expensive than buying it elsewhere- so it’s a good idea to bring warm Merino base layers, socks, gloves, buff and a good winter coat (such as my North Face Suzanne TriClimate jacket). You’re also going to find yourself constantly slipping on the ice everywhere and after a while, it stops being fun and is just plain embarrassing- so I’d definitely recommend buying a pair of spikes that you can attach to your winter boots (which should be at least ankle-high and waterproof) so that you can go wherever, climb up to a lighthouse or waterfall or wherever with no risk of slipping. Trust me, slipping on ice with your camera in one hand and tripod in the other makes you feel ridiculous, at least until you see that you’re not the only one.

Here is a full packing list post for winter in Iceland if you’re looking for ideas to help you pack.

Driving around in winter is not a piece of cake.

After a week in Iceland, I’ve realized I made the right decision not to drive around on my own, especially since I have zero experience of driving in snowy, icy, windy and wet conditions. While I’m fortunate to have my friend take me pretty much everywhere, if this were not the case, I’d just take public buses and base myself in certain towns, and join day-trips (again considerably cheaper in winter) to explore the places around. Not all rental cars are suitable for many of the secondary roads that branch off from the Ring Road and definitely not when they are blanketed in a thick layer of snow.

Visiting Iceland in Winter

Seljalandsfoss Waterfall

Cars can and do easily slip on the ice and it takes a skilled driver to not panic and know what to do in that situation. It’s common to have low or almost no visibilty due to the misty layer of skafrenningur, or snow blowing onto the road with strong winds, and as fascinating it is to watch and imagine what it would be to drive through a cloud, it’s also dangerous, especially for someone who is not used to driving in such conditions. During our trips around Iceland, we saw a number of rental cars up in places where they definitely should not have been. If you do decide to rent a car in Iceland and drive around in winter, follow the weather forecasts and warning signs- don’t be that person who needs to be rescued because of an uninformed and foolish decision.

You get a real sense of perspective about your place in the world.

While this is not exclusive to visiting Iceland, or just in winter, I have to mention this because of how I felt when I looked across at the waves in Reynisfjara that were unbound in both their ferocity and beauty crashing against massive rocks (that are actually trolls) only to slip away into the ocean to leave behind a shiny black beach, when I stood behind the curtain of the powerful Seljalandsfoss waterfall,  when I felt the mighty wind at Dyrhólaey pushing me every way it fancied, and when I saw my first rainbow at Skógafoss. And finally, when I saw the Northern Lights dance all around the night sky above me, I was reminded that I’m only a tiny little insignificant dot on the face of the earth and incredibly fortunate to witness the unfettered forces of nature. Also when you really experience for yourself how the weather really can change every few minutes (from being caressed by the wind to being slapped in the face by a snowstorm), you cant help being filled with a different kind of respect for natural phenomena.

Visiting Iceland in Winter

Seeing my first rainbow at Skogafoss Waterfall.


Visiting Iceland in Winter

Kirkjufell, Iceland

Iceland in winter might be freezing but Icelanders are warm and super-friendly.

If the growing population of tourists has begun to annoy the locals, they do a great job of not making it obvious, because in my (limited) experience so far, I’ve found Icelanders to be a warm, friendly and open people. They speak excellent English and it’s easy to get by if you don’t speak any Icelandic. What also makes Icelanders one of the coolest people in the world (no pun intended), in my opinion, is that the local culture has its fundamental values right, you know the stuff that most people believe in or agree with- such as gender and race equality, respect for nature, general kindness and compassion, creating a life rather than a living (a lot of young people believe this), and pursuing varied interests rather than living in a box. Politicians are also poets, academicians are also musicians, finance execs are also mountaineers and former journalists are now tour guides. Why? Because so many of them truly believe that they should do what makes them happy- whether this means switching careers, becoming entrepreneurs or working harder during certain months of the year only to take time off to travel during others.


So have I convinced you to visit Iceland in winter yet? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below. Read my post about the beautiful landscapes on the Snaefellsnes Peninsula in West Iceland, how to do the South Coast in 2 Days, Why I Love Iceland as a Feminist, and my Lava Tube Cave adventure. For general info, check out my Iceland Travel Blog.



  • Mary Jane Strandberg says:

    Thank you for a great article! I can’t wait to go! I never heard of lava tubes before your blog, but this only makes Iceland more interesting to me!

  • Angela Cunnane says:

    Great article, made me even more excited for my trip to Iceland in December. My friend and I have always wanted to visit, and hopefully see the Northern Lights, so this is a dream trip for us. We are only doing a short trip, four days, so hopefully after we fall in love with the place, which I know we will, we can go next year for a longer visit.

    For me Iceland is somewhere you DO visit in Winter, it’s all about the ice and snow for me. We have booked a Northern Lights boat trip already and hope to do a Golden Circle tour and perhaps a day tour of Reykjavik itself, we are staying there, then if we are lucky enough to return we can see the South.
    Angela x

    • Natasha Amar says:

      I agree Angela. Iceland in winter is very different from summer so it’s totally worth it to go when the landscape is white and frozen. Enjoy your trip!

  • I do not believe this
    This is so beautiful

  • nick says:

    Love your Iceland blog entry. It is one of my dream country along with Norway and Greenland. May i know how much you roughly spend for your 2 weeks trip in Iceland?

    • Natasha Amar says:

      Thank you Nick! I spent about USD1500, but I ate at supermarkets and hot dog stands and found the cheapest accommodation everywhere I went.

  • Andrea says:

    Heading to Iceland when its icy seems appropriate … great post!

  • Sher says:

    i love your photo of the plane wreck site! so beautiful, the sky was capture perfectly.


  • celeste says:

    I can’t agree more! I visited Iceland last year December for the first time and loved it! I am debating between making another trip in summer and visiting “again” in winter…

  • Mar Pages says:

    You have definitely convinced me! The waterfall looks amazing, almost like falling mist. You look very much at home in the cold now too! The best part though to me is when the locals are warm and friendly, I definitely have to experience that for myself soon. 🙂

  • I spent last Sumer in Norway, and Iceland is so high on my list. Thank you for this. Beautiful photos too! What a contrast to where you live.

  • Lotte says:

    I hope to be one of the 2 million people expected to travel to Iceland, it looks totally gorgeous and yes, I have to admit seeing the Northern Lights is on my bucket list as well…
    Lotte recently posted…36 Hours In Hong KongMy Profile

  • Natalie says:

    Iceland is on my bucket list, and this is another article that makes me want to go even more. I am also from a sunny place (South Carolina), but I’m getting used to colder temperatures as I live in Germany. So, I definitely think I could handle a trip to Iceland in the winter, and you have given me a few good reasons why I should visit at that time 🙂

  • That is way too cold for me but you youngsters can tough it out. Nice to know it is much cheaper during that time of the year. Your trip looks like so much fun and I loved your pictures. Glad you had a great time.

  • Kathrin says:

    This article makes me want to travel to Iceland even more. I always thought I do want to go during summer but now I’m definitely re-considering, you’re raising some good points here! Especially love the part of the icelandic values, we should all start doing it like this! Thanks for sharing your experiences 🙂
    Kathrin recently posted…Kotor, Montenegro: A Mediterranean ParadiseMy Profile

    • Natasha Amar says:

      Thanks Kathrin! Iceland in winter is incredible and I can only say that maybe it is one of those countries that you’ll love equally in winter and summer.

  • Going to Iceland in Winter might not sound very enticing, but given the considerable amount of money you can save, I think it wouldn’t be too bad.

  • Iceland is a magical place, and each season is a great season to visit it 🙂
    Traveling Rockhopper recently posted…Turkey – PamukkaleMy Profile

  • Great post! I really wanted to Iceland this year, but left it too late to book flights, so we went to Norway instead. It was absolutely freezing over there too! Iceland is so stunning!

  • Sabrina says:

    I wish I’ll be able to make this epic trip next December and I’ll print this article and take it with me as a reminder! Thank you!!

  • Jen Joslin says:

    Wow! I had heard Iceland is incredible, but now I really want to go! Hadn’t considered visiting in winter, but your post has convinced me it would be a different kind of magical experience. Your pictures are amazing, especially the Aurora Borealis!

  • Inga says:

    Hey Natasha!
    Thank you for your sweet words about my country 🙂 It is truly wonderful that you had such a great time in Iceland. Hope you will come again and join the food-porn club with me and Sif!
    You’re a great pen (as we locals say) 😉


    • Natasha Amar says:

      Thank you for the nice words Inga! Iceland (and the people there) are wonderful, it’s hard not to fall in love with the place and the culture. I’m so joining this club the next time I’m there. 🙂

  • Jem says:

    Great post, Natasha. I like your boots. Living in the UK, I am not sure if I would consider visiting Iceland in winter but your post is convincing indeed. I need to be well prepared with my winter attire though.

    • Natasha Amar says:

      Thanks for the comment Jem! I did love those boots- took me everywhere from walking around in the city to hiking on a glacier and down a lava tube.

  • Marge Gavan says:

    Funny how it’s called Iceland but the accounts that I read from other blogs were taken during summer so there’s not really that much ice. If I remember it correctly, this is the first time I’ve read a post where there is actually snow on Iceland and I must say I love it. I came from a tropical country too and I get cold easily, so I’m not really sure if I would ever get used to their cold weather. But still I wanna experience snow, and see Iceland in the winter season. I’ve been dreaming of seeing the northern lights myself, like you I think it is magical.

  • Carol Colborn says:

    Oh I don ‘t know if I will be able to take the cold that time of the year but then it’s probably the time I will be able to see the Aurora Borealis and also see some unbelievable water spots!

  • Lisa S says:

    I live in the cold sooooo…I’ll wait until its warm…looks like a fun place

  • Anne says:

    This looks so amazing, I really want to go next winter, trying to save some money again after all the trips that I already got planned! For how long did you go or do you recommend going if you want to see a fair amount of the country?

    • Natasha Amar says:

      Hi Anne, I was there for 12 days in all and still didn’t see the whole country or go around the entire ring road. I prefer slow travel and I know I will go back soon to see more. I explored the South Coast all the way up to Vik, the Golden Circle, Snaefellsnes Peninsula and the North- including Myvatn, Akureyri and tons of other off-the-beaten-path places like Hrisey. If you spend 12-14 days you should be able to see a fair bit of the sights around the main ring road without constantly traveling and rushing. In a week you can explore Reykjavik and the South Coast. As always some people do more and some less in the same time, so it depends on how you travel and your budget.

  • Nita says:

    Great post! I visited Iceland a couple of years back during Summer. It was so beautiful and surreal. Would love to return soon in the winter to witness the Northern Lights and see the gorgeous landscapes covered in snow. Love the waterfall photos!

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