Snowy, alien landscapes, dancing lights, and steaming blue lagoons…what isn’t there to love about Iceland in the winter months! Here are few of things I think you should do, whether you’re there for one of Icelander’s extended layovers or a long weekend!
Want to just see some quick tips? Click here.
Book a Glacier Tour – Day 1
I promise, you won’t regret it! We got off our plane at 0700, made it to our hotel, and got on a bus heading out towards Vík. Not only did we hike on a glacier, we saw 2 of Iceland’s most iconic waterfalls, the famous Black Sand Beach, and got to greet some of the cutest Icelandic ponies!
The icing on top of the tour? Our guide, Oskar, kept searching for those stunning Northern Lights way past any tour guide usually would. And guess what?
Northern Lights – Every Night You’re There If Possible
We saw them! We raced around the south of Iceland, chasing those magical lights. Out way past midnight, our guide didn’t stop until we got a glimpse. Most packages for Northern Lights will keep taking you out, day after day, if you’re there long enough. We were lucky that we saw them our first day, since the rest of the days we were there, it was cloudy. You can hire a car and search for them yourself, but be weary driving in Iceland in the winter – the weather can change drastically within minutes!
Spend a Day in Reykjavik – Day 2
I loved Reykjavik, don’t get me wrong, it’s pretty amazing! But it’s a bit small and you could probably get away spending a day, maybe two there before you’re ready to see more of Iceland’s open landscapes! Some of the hotspots are:
- Hallgrímskirkja – Amazing church that’ll make you think of Asgard! No? Not a nerd? Make sure you get to the top of the church to get a bird’s eye view of Reykjavik! There’s a small fee – bring cash!
- Tjörnin pond – it’s heated slightly with a little geothermal help, so there’s always a flock of swans and ducks! Don’t get too close…one nearly claimed my backpack when I set it down to take a few shots. Head towards Austurvöllur Park and head towards the water – that’s where the warmest spot is and where most of the swans stay around. Also, that area is a mecca for international food selections!
- Lebowski Bar – Dude…are you a fan? Get to this place for lunch while it’s less crowded! If you attempt to go at night? Good luck!
- Sculpture & Shore Walk – There’s a walking path along the ocean with beautiful sculptures. Start at the Harpa (amazing modern concert hall) and head east! The picture-worthy Sun Voyager is along this path.
- Talking about Harpa – if you have time, go see a concert here! If you don’t have time, walk around inside the building. It’s just as beautiful inside as it is out!
- Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur – Iceland’s famous hot dog stand! The first time I came to Iceland in 2014, it was a pretty easy find. When I was there this past May, it was hidden behind some construction.
- Just take a walk up and down the streets – it’s such a small town, that walking up and down the streets between the hot dog stand and the church, you’ll be in the main part of Reykjavik! Little hint, if you want an Icelandic sweater, find a second hand shop. One, you’ll get a more authentic one and for half the price!
- Main Streets to walk: Hverfisgata, Laugavegur, Skólavörðustígur
Drive the Golden Circle – Day 3
In all honesty, I was done with the city after exploring it for the day, and was ready for more of the Icelandic landscapes that is so prized there (oh and that they’re Game of Thrones locations had no appeal, at all). I decided to hire a car at 0700 and head out. We drove to the Golden Circle, saw the mighty Gullfoss, Geysir, and for a while…nothing. Be careful while you’re out there. I grew up driving in the snow, and safely got us through some heavy whiteouts. If unsure of your ability, take it extremely slow, turn on your flashers, and when you come upon a safe place to park, take it until the storm passes. Going too fast on new snow can cause fishtailing and sliding, so take your time. Add buffer time to any timetable you have (if you’ve got one), by at least half. If you think it’ll take you an hour, add 30 minutes.
Blue Lagoon – Before your flight home
This place has changed dramatically from my first visit to my last. It’s vastly more popular and crowded, however I’m impressed how they’ve kept up with the demand. My suggestion is the save this for last. It’s a great way to relax before saying goodbye to this amazing place.
Highlights + Tips
- Pre-Booking your Blue Lagoon tickets is now required! They sell out! As soon as you know which day you want to go, get your tickets! Here’s their website: Blue Lagoon
- Want to book the same tour as me? We used Extreme Iceland and had a blast with them! Here’s the tour: Sensational Iceland Day Tour
- Want to pick up an Icelandic Sweater, but don’t want to drop hundreds of dollars? Hit up some second hand shops!
Fatamarkaðurinn Second Hand Market – Laugavegur 126, 105 Reykjavík
Red Cross Shop – Laugavegur 12b, 101 Reykjavík
Spúútnik – Laugavegur 28, 101 Reykjavík
- Iceland is EXTREMELY expensive. If you want to save some cash on food, bring it with you from home. A loaf of bread, peanut butter & jelly, can go a really long way. We also brought granola bars, fruit snacks, etc that could easily put in a carry-on or even in your check bag. I know this sounds silly, but your wallet will thank me later. We would eat out for lunch, and have dinner in our Airbnb with what we brought from home.
- Use Airbnb to find cheaper accommodations – you may be on the outskirts of the city, but it’ll be cheaper to walk, take a cab, etc from your place than staying in a hotel in city center.
- Add a little bit of extra time to any driving. Whether due to weather or you might see something you want to do or photograph! And don’t speed…there’s cameras. I got a speeding ticket months after I got back and it, like everything else in Iceland, was expensive. Also, pay your ticket. You never know if you’ll ever go back to Iceland, but you don’t want to be stopped because you never paid your ticket. It was pretty painless! I even missed my window to have it reduced, but they kept it at the reduce price when I asked.
- Buy your liquor, wine, etc at the Duty-Free when you get off your plane! It’s way cheaper than drinking out, or at least will help by pre-gaming before you head out!
And as always, feel free to contact me with any questions!