The island of fire and ice not only offers an unforgettable vacation in summer but also in winter. There are numerous activities and highlights here where everyone gets their money's worth. In December there are only four to five hours of daylight, the shortest days in Iceland, but many streets and houses are decorated with colorful lights during the Christmas holidays. Moreover, winter is a travel time without the hustle and bustle of summer and you will be rewarded with northern lights and icy waterfalls.
The weather in Iceland can change rapidly and can be unpredictable at times. The average temperatures in the winter months in Iceland are -5 to 5°C, depending on where you are. In the southern regions, such as Reykjavik, it is usually somewhat warmer than in the northern areas, although one should not forget the wind, which blows strongly all year round and can lower the temperature. For this reason, it is recommended to pack enough warm clothing for the holiday, which is also rainproof in the best case. The two-piece look is particularly practical, as it allows you to put on or take off another piece of clothing without feeling uncomfortable.
Driving in winter
In contrast to the highlands, which are no longer usable from the beginning of September, the ring road is passable all year round and well-developed. Even small feeder roads, such as Dettifoss are usually closed in winter. When choosing a car, you should therefore opt for a car with four-wheel drive, otherwise many roads are impassable. Due to the low daylight, we recommend planning shorter daily stages in winter and to pack enough snacks for the tour.
Before the trip, we recommend getting information about driving in Iceland on the website www.drive.is. During the trip, you should pay attention to current weather information, current road conditions (www.road.is or tel. +354 1777) and travel warnings (www.safetravel.is and https://safetravel.is/driving). Also, before each trip, take a close look at the route to know where to go. If you have any questions about driving conditions, road conditions, or assessments of the weather, the Icelanders are happy to help; after all, they are used to the harsh winters and are in a good position to assess whether a trip can be made without hesitation.
Northern lights in Iceland
Northern Lights, also called Aurora Borealis, are caused by particles ejected into the atmosphere by the sun during solar explosions. These particles strike the atmosphere in the Earth's magnetic field and release energy that causes the sky to change color. Due to their charge, the particles are particularly attracted to the poles of the northern and southern hemispheres, since the Earth's magnetic field has openings here. The color of the northern lights depends on several factors, such as the height of the magnetic field or the type of atoms.
In general, northern lights are more likely to be seen in the darker months of the year, from September to April. To find out if there is a chance of seeing northern lights one must consider several factors: The time of sunrise, sunset, and moonrise, as well as the current cloud cover. For help, one can look at the Icelandic Meteorological Office site. The office collects all relevant data and provides a northern light forecast in scale form from 0 to 9, where 0 means calm and 9 means strong. If the night is particularly dark, a forecast of 3 is sufficient to see the magical lights. We have summarized more detailed information about the Northern Lights and how to photograph them here.
The question: "Where can you see Northern Lights in Iceland?" often comes up when planning a trip. In general, it is possible to observe the magical lights throughout Iceland if conditions are favorable, but some places are easier to reach and more appealing than others. Among the most famous places are probably Thingvellir National Park in the south, Asbyrgi Canyon in the north, and Kirkjufell Mountain in the west. There are also special boat tours that specialize in observing the Northern Lights.
Iceland's thermal springs
Iceland's numerous thermal springs are open to visitors all year round. This is because ever since geothermal energy has been used in Iceland, the tradition of public bathing has been deeply rooted in the local culture. For this reason, there are also hundreds of public baths throughout Iceland, with 16 of them in the greater Reykjavik area alone. Icelanders use the pools not only for health reasons but also for social reasons: They can relax there and socialize with friends at the same time.
Probably the most famous thermal spring is the Blue Lagoon, which is located about 5km north of the village of Grindavik and has been in operation since the late 1990s. Another source is the Myvatn Natural Bath, which is located in the north of Iceland on the route of the Diamond Circle near the ring road. Here you can even admire fantastic northern lights in winter when conditions are good. Another hot spring in the north is Geosea Thermal Bath in Husavik, where you can enjoy both the hot water and the view of the open sea.
Unlike ice cave tours, glacier walks are also possible in summer. The most popular places for glacier hiking are all located on the south coast of Iceland. These include:
- Solheimajokull Glacier Tongue is part of the Mýrdalsjökull Glacier and is one of the most popular options for glacier hiking due to its proximity to Reykjavik. On the way to the glacier, you will also pass some of the most beautiful sights of the south coast (Skogafoss waterfall, Vik beach, etc.).
- Svinafellsjokull glacier is located in Skaftafell National Park and is a glacier tongue of the huge Vatnajokull glacier.
Fascinating ice caves
In the winter months, when temperatures drop and remain permanently low, ice caves form in the Vatnajökull glacier and other glaciers, where meltwater flows under or through the glacier and causes the existing ice to thaw. This creates the unique hollow space of the cave. In summer, the spaces become unstable or even melt and collapse, which is why you can only visit them in winter. The thawing and refreezing in winter make the caves unique and special every year, and you always have a breathtaking experience. And even if a cave is not accessible the next winter due to instability, the local guides are looking forward to finding new ice caves in the new season. A visit to an ice cave can also be combined with a glacier hike.