10 Secrets About Visiting Iceland in Winter

Last Updated on October 21, 2018 by Natasha Amar

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. This may be 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: Hallgrimskirkja is a beauty 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 from what I’d heard, the best time to visit Iceland is 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.

Secrets about Visiting Iceland in Winter: Why You Should Go To Iceland in Winter (Hint: It's way more affordable and absurdly beautiful and the Northern Lights, people, the Northern Lights!) #iceland #IcelandTravel #winterinIceland #wintertravel #Icelandinwinter
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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 Iceland winter daylight hours.

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.


Secrets about Visiting Iceland in Winter: Why You Should Go To Iceland in Winter (Hint: It's way more affordable and absurdly beautiful and the Northern Lights, people, the Northern Lights!)
It’s never too cold if you’re dressed well

Iceland in winter is unbelievable.

While planning my trip to Iceland in February weather was a huge question mark, at least in my mind, but once I saw what it looked like in winter I had zero regrets. 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 Iceland in winter 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.

Look for cheap flights to Iceland.


Secrets about Visiting Iceland in Winter: Why You Should Go To Iceland in Winter (Hint: It's way more affordable and absurdly beautiful and the Northern Lights, people, the Northern Lights!)
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.


By the way, don’t be that tourist, that supposedly asked a hotel receptionist in Iceland, “When do they turn on the Northern Lights?” I don’t know if that is true but at least it is part of modern day tourist-bashing folklore, but then again, I would not be surprised. The best time to see Northern Lights in Iceland is between November and March (but they’ve also been spotted in April).  The lights are more visible away from city light pollution and how clearly you see them also depends upon how strong the activity is. You can chase the lights based on forecasts available on the local Vedur (weather) website.

Secrets about Visiting Iceland in Winter: Why You Should Go To Iceland in Winter (Hint: It's way more affordable and absurdly beautiful and the Northern Lights, people, the Northern Lights!)
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.


Secrets about Visiting Iceland in Winter: Why You Should Go To Iceland in Winter (Hint: It's way more affordable and absurdly beautiful and the Northern Lights, people, the Northern Lights!)
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 also found and wrote up this list of places to eat at on a budget in Reykjavik.

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.

And Hot Springs and Thermal Pools Are More Fun in Winter

Hot springs and thermal pools in Iceland are all-weather bliss and a rightly popular social activity, but soaking yourself in their warm waters in (below freezing) Iceland winter temperatures is unbelievably rejuvenating. I literally do not have the words to describe the experience, it is just something you have got to do yourself. It doesn’t even matter if you can’t or don’t want to go to the Blue Lagoon (it is pricey and crowded), there are other pools and springs, and plenty of free and natural ones that only those in the know go to, so you can just find one of these as you’re driving across the country and relax for a few hours. Here’s a useful website to locate hot springs in Iceland, with a practical map.


Visiting Iceland in Winter: Don't miss the thermal baths
At the Myvatn Nature Baths in North Iceland and yes you can enjoy a beer in the pool

Admittedly, it takes all of your courage to step out in the freezing cold in your swimwear, more like you have to make a run for the pool as soon as you step out of the changing room, like your butt is on fire or something. But once you’re encircled in the warm water (45 degrees celsius or higher), you begin to look around at the gorgeous landscape, dreamy steam rising from the water, and if you’re lucky the sunset or the Northern Lights, and you begin to realize what a gift this is of nature to the Icelanders who endure its every wrath; volcanoes and earthquakes, and what not. It’s like nature saying, “Here take these amazing hot springs as a gift and enjoy them.”

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

This is an oft-repeated statement about the unpredictable winter weather in Iceland. 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.

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.

Secrets about Visiting Iceland in Winter: Why You Should Go To Iceland in Winter (Hint: It's way more affordable and absurdly beautiful and the Northern Lights, people, the Northern Lights!) #iceland #IcelandTravel #winterinIceland #wintertravel #Icelandinwinter
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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.

Secrets about Visiting Iceland in Winter: Why You Should Go To Iceland in Winter (Hint: It's way more affordable and absurdly beautiful and the Northern Lights, people, the Northern Lights!)
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’ll need sound travel insurance for your trip to Iceland because you will be doing tons of adventure activities- don’t leave home without it.

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.

Secrets about Visiting Iceland in Winter: Why You Should Go To Iceland in Winter (Hint: It's way more affordable and absurdly beautiful and the Northern Lights, people, the Northern Lights!)
Seeing my first rainbow at Skogafoss Waterfall.


Secrets about Visiting Iceland in Winter: Why You Should Go To Iceland in Winter (Hint: It's way more affordable and absurdly beautiful and the Northern Lights, people, the Northern Lights!)
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. My local friend tells me that Christmas is a magical time to be in Iceland, and based on what I’ve heard, I have added that to my bucket list.

Search for cheap flights to Iceland. Don’t forget travel insurance.

Read my post about the beautiful landscapes and Iceland tours 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.


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  1. says: Samar

    Thank you for this post. I have been planning to go to Iceland since 2014 but every year I had to change the plan.
    After this post definitely I’m going with no further delay.

  2. says: Tim

    Loved this post! After my trip just four (long) weeks ago, I finally find myself officially missing Iceland. This post helped me prepare so much, and really set the tone for the trip. I’ll be coming back in Summer and can’t wait to explore more. Cheers!

  3. says: Annellie


    Would you please tell me where you purchased your “ICELAND” pom pom hat?

    And, thank you!!!, for sharing your awesome adventures :)))

    1. says: Natasha Amar

      Hi Annellie! I purchased mine at the Eymundsson bookstore on Austurstraeti 18 from their souvenirs section. Enjoy your trip!

  4. says: Pavel

    Hey, Natasha!

    My name is Pavel and I’m editor on rove.me. Last week we launched a new functionality: find the best time to visit based on travel expert reviews. The first destination is Iceland: https://rove.me/to/iceland and we are glad to tell you that your blog post is featured here: https://rove.me/to/iceland/reviews

    Now it’s only a short teaser + link to your blog for reading more, and scores put by our editorial team. We would appreciate if you want to change scores or teaser text. Maybe you could also give some ideas and feedback.

    Thank you for your awesome blog,

  5. says: Martha

    Thank you! I’ve been scouring the internet wondering how Iceland is in winter (I’m visiting in November) and you’ve answered a lot of my questions. Thank you thank you!

  6. As local I must say it´s excellent post because I understand how you have prepared the trip and I can honestly give you 10 of 10 for that.
    You talk about the quality of your photos of Aurora Borealis. Number one I´m very happy that you see it because you can newer been 100% to see it. it´s a question of so many weather effect. And number 2, you photo is great! You can be proud of it because it´s very tricky to take good photos of it.
    One question, did you swim somewhere in the pools? I have a article about ideas for families travel with kids and one of the point I talk about is to go to swim. You can see it here but it´s awesome, it´s minus degrees but the water are hot and made nice smoke in the year: http://www.icelandinformationtravel.com/iceland-facts-for-kids
    I looking forward seeing your post about East Iceland and Westfjords when you go there. There are the mountains plus in North of Iceland (we call south Iceland flat 🙂 ) so the landscape are very different.

    1. says: Natasha Amar

      Thank you! I actually did go to swim on both trips, to the secret lagoon in Fludir, Seljavallalaug and the Myvatn Nature Baths and of course it looked magical in winter with the steam. I did go to the North but I am yet to see the east and the Westfjords. Hopefully next time 🙂

      1. Great to hear. Looking forward to see you story from the east and Westfjords. Hope you will lucky enough to see the reindeer when you go to the east. Beautiful animals.

        Keep going with your great site!

  7. says: Boundless Brooks

    Truly amazing post. I had the opportunity to travel to Iceland in January 2017 and found many of your comments to be right on point! 🙂

    Hope you enjoy!

    1. says: Boundless Brooks

      Again, thank you so much for this post, truly inspirational and I thought the pointers were very accurate. Keep up the great work 🙂

      I made a slight update to my post and wanted to share with you and others with curiosity on visiting Iceland in the winter. Thanks so much!

  8. says: Megan Smyth

    Hello! I love all of your articles on Iceland – thank you for the great tips and content! I am going to Iceland in October for a stopover on my way to London… and I’ll only have two days. I have to decide between the South Coast tour and the Golden Circle, and I’m having a really hard time deciding! The South Coast tour I’m looking at does both waterfalls, Vik, and the black sand beach. If you could only choose one.. which tour would you do? Help!

    Thanks so much!

  9. says: Mary Jane Strandberg

    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!

  10. says: Angela Cunnane

    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

    1. says: Natasha Amar

      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!

  11. says: nick

    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?

    1. says: Natasha Amar

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

  12. says: celeste

    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…

  13. says: Mar Pages

    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. 🙂

  14. says: Lotte

    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…

  15. says: Natalie

    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 🙂

  16. 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.

  17. says: Kathrin

    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 🙂

    1. says: Natasha Amar

      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.

  18. says: Jen Joslin

    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!

  19. says: Inga

    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) 😉


    1. says: Natasha Amar

      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. 🙂

  20. says: Jem

    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.

    1. says: Natasha Amar

      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.

  21. says: Marge Gavan

    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.

  22. says: Carol Colborn

    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!

  23. says: Anne

    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?

    1. says: Natasha Amar

      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.

  24. says: Nita

    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!