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Happy Campers Travel Blog | May 25, 2019

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Traveling in Iceland During Winter – Good Idea?

Traveling in Iceland During Winter – Good Idea?
Thorsteinn Sverrisson (Thor)

It has been a very short (cold!) summer here in Iceland this year and hearing about how it’s supposed to snow in the north this weekend, we can’t help but start thinking about the upcoming winter months. We regularly get questions about whether it’s possible or even safe to travel in Iceland during the winter time. It seems as though people assume that Iceland is characterized by extreme and insufferable weather conditions; for all intents and purposes, that is a big misunderstanding. Of course there are some downsides to traveling in Iceland during the winter, too, but looking at the pros and cons, we’ve come to the conclusion that traveling in Iceland during wintertime might actually be an excellent idea for adventurous travelers and nature lovers!
The geyser Strokkur in winter time

The Good

Traveling in Iceland in the winter is much cheaper, simply because there are much fewer people who travel during the winter months. So if you want to see Iceland but you are on a tight budget, traveling during the “low season” should definitely be considered. Related to this is the fact that there are much fewer tourists in Iceland, so you can basically have Iceland all to yourself as you explore it.
Seeing the aurora borealis (norther lights) is a magnificent experience and can only be done during the winter time, when it’s dark enough for them to be observed. This should be especially exciting for photographers and cinematographers who can get some amazing footage.
Longer nights mean more nightlife. Iceland is known for crazy/fun nightlife so it should be a great destination for people who plan on having some fun. Iceland is known for hosting many great cultural events and you don’t have to look very hard to stumble upon one of the numerous music, film, literature, or art festivals being held here in Iceland. Even though there isn’t daylight 24/7 like in the summer, it’s very difficult to get bored in Reykjavík, Iceland’s capital city. What should we do today? How about checking out the Reykjavik City Museum?
As mentioned above, thinking that Iceland is extremely cold in the winter is somewhat of a misunderstanding. It’s actually not that cold. The cold season lasts from November 10 to April 3 with an average daily high temperature of 4°C (about 40°F). This is warmer than in New York and Helsinki and equal to Oslo’s average. Because of the warm ocean currents, Iceland doesn’t get extremely low temperatures along the coast. Furthermore, if there’s snow, the ring road is cleared every day to make sure people get around safely. Most car rental companies offer 4×4 vehicles (we have our Happy4) so driving the ring road is a breeze, with only rare exceptions.
In Iceland, there are a lot of geothermal pools and hot springs for when you’re cold. Check out the Blue Lagoon or the Myvatn Nature Baths or just one of the numerous pools around the country. It’s cheap, refreshing, and relaxing!
Experiencing New Years Eve in Iceland is truly unique. At midnight, a brilliant display of fireworks is unleashed. Iceland does not have restrictions on fireworks that many other countries do, so everybody in Reykjavik basically puts on their own firework show. The outcome is truly breathtaking. After midnight, people usually celebrate well into the morning.
The sky on fire on New Years Eve in Reykjavík
Seeing Iceland wearing its “winter coat” is very unique and much different from the experience one would get in the summer. It’s difficult to describe, but visiting Iceland in winter gives a more accurate picture of what life really is like here in Iceland. Visit the small fishing villages, have a warm cup of coffee, talk to the locals, and then relax in the local geothermal pool surrounded by the mystical and powerful Icelandic landscape. Sounds good? If it doesn’t, you are doing it wrong!

The Bad

Although we don’t like to dwell on negatives here at Happy Campers, we must point out the obvious downsides of traveling in Iceland in winter. First, even though temperatures are not extreme, it is definitely warmer in the summertime. Second, the service industry is in “hibernation mode” so a lot of services available during the high season, such as campgrounds, might not be open during the winter months. Third, the days are much shorter in the wintertime. Although all Icelanders are used to living with very little daylight in the winter, it might be something visitors would have to get used to. There are probably a couple of more minor negatives, but as I said, we don’t want to dwell on that too much 😉

In conclusion

Traveling in Iceland is amazing no matter when you decide to come. That means, contrary to what many believe, visiting Iceland in the winter months is truly a unique experience and has some definite positives. Even though it’s different and you might have to pack an extra winter coat, we think it’s definitely something every true adventurer should consider! Feel free to comment if you think of other reasons for/against traveling in Iceland in winter 🙂