While Iceland is an incredible year-round travel destination with immeasurable beauty, I happen to believe that winter has to be one of the best times to visit Iceland. There are so many unique and amazing things to do in Iceland in winter including exploring ice caves, chasing northern lights, and viewing some of the world’s most beautiful natural wonders covered in perfect, white snow. It’s truly the ideal winter wonderland, but that winter wonderland comes with some of its own unique challenges. Iceland in winter, whether you go in December or January, or March, is going to be an entirely different experience than a summer vacation simply because their winter weather doesn’t joke around. So knowing that there is that specific challenge, here are my top 10 tips for visiting Iceland in winter.
The Short Version
The Long Version of 10 Tips for Visiting Iceland in Winter
Let’s dive into each of my 10 tips for visiting Iceland in winter and why I rate each of them so highly on my list of tips. Additionally, for reference, I did this winter trip as a full road trip, so while you don’t need to rent a car by any means to explore Iceland in winter, that is what we did. So if you’re comfortable with it, definitely take a look at rental cars and book yours early since an Iceland road trip is a very popular way to explore this beautiful country.
Rent an SUV via DiscoverCars.com
For an Iceland Winter Road Trip, You’ll 100% Need Winter Driving Experience
Driving in Iceland during winter is absolutely no joke and I really cannot stress that enough. You can go from perfect weather and clear roads to the windiest rain/sleet/snow combo driving on black ice in a matter of minutes. While your SUV will almost certainly have winter tires with metal studs on them (definitely make sure to ask when you’re booking that this is the case), you will still 100% need to have winter driving experience and a good amount of it. I cannot imagine going into our Iceland winter road trip without already knowing, and having had experienced, a good amount of winter weather driving in our lives.
However, all hope is not lost if you’re not familiar with driving in winter and therefore not comfortable driving (good choice, might I add). There are lots of tours to Iceland’s most beautiful wonders that you can go on that will take on the driving for you.
The Days Are Shorter, Yes, But Dawn & Dusk Are Longer
One thing I was fully prepared for, based on all my research, was that we would have incredibly short days with daylight limited to just four or so hours. And while, yes, that is technically true, what I didn’t anticipate was that dawn and dusk themselves are like, an hour or two each. So while we were there in late December/early January sunrise was around 11:30am every day. BUT… the sun started coming up around 10am every day and you got this amazing prolonged dawn with cotton candy skies for hours. And the same thing happened with sunset. If sunset was technically at 3:45pm, you were getting amazing sky colors until 5 or 5:30.
So what this means is you can probably safely add another item per day to your Ireland road trip itinerary, as long as it’s on the way. And also if you’re a photographer, you’re going to lose your mind at the consistently amazing lighting.
Pack & Dress in Layers
When packing for your Iceland winter trip, I cannot recommend wearing layers enough. Every single day I wore the following:
- Snow boots with crampons
- Trekking socks
- Leggings or polyester long johns
- Winter fleece pants
- A merino wool or smartwool baselayer
- Fleece zip up
- Waterproof parka OR a down coat + a raincoat over top
- Thick, waterproof gloves (ideally touchscreen capable)
- Hat with scarf and/or balaclava (something to cover your face)
The only areas on my body that ever got cold was my face, which was immediately resolved by pulling up my balaclava. Or my hands at Gulfoss; for whatever reason that waterfall stop was FREEZING.
Download Northern Lights Apps
Winter in Iceland, especially December and January, is one of the best places to see the Northern Lights. So if seeing these magical lights is on your bucket list, definitely consider visiting during winter.
You can see these in a few ways; either by hunting for them on your own or by joining a tour with expert guides.
If you’re going to hunt for them on your own, apps like Aurora, Aurora Forecast, and Aurora Fcast will be your best friends. They’ll tell you what the KP index is at, where the best place to view the lights is near you, and what the forecast looks like.
However, you may have better luck joining an official aurora borealis-oriented tour, and there are lots of those available as well!
Check the Weather & Roads Daily Before You Leave
Like I mentioned above, whether you’re driving or just dealing with Iceland weather in winter, it can be a challenge. So you’re going to need to make sure to check the weather and the road conditions every day – and probably throughout the day – during your winter trip to Iceland.
Vendur.is is the weather, and SafeTravel.is is the road closure service. SafeTravel also has an app I highly recommend you download; you can put in your starting location and end destination and it will tell you what roads along the way are closed, if any. This will help you determine what on your Iceland winter itinerary for the day can actually be accessed.
So there you go, my top 5 tips for traveling to Iceland in winter. Don’t let these things scare you, winter in Iceland is absolutely stunning and I loved every second, even the bad weather ones. The beautiful colored skies against the pristine, bright white snow is the most magical winter wonderland ever. I assure you, visiting Iceland in winter is amazing, and if you have any additional questions, comments, or concerns, as always please do not hesitate to reach out! In the meantime, I hope you have an amazing time planning your Iceland winter vacation!