Alright, before you ask, the answer is no. No, we are not crazy. We planned a trip to Iceland in the winter but to be real with you, its really not that bad. If you've experienced winter anywhere before, you'll be just fine. The name can be a little daunting (ICEland) when planning to head there in the winter months (or at all) but don't let that deter you. Iceland is a varied and beautiful country. But also to be real, it was winter, so yes it was still cold of course.
We ran into some GNARLY winds one night on our way back to Reykjavik where we couldn't see anything except the reflective road indicators on both sides of the road. We drove slow and careful through the whiteout of snow flying sideways and all was well. Besides that, we really had pretty normal winter conditions and even a few really sunny, really beautiful days. But if you are picturing igloos and penguins and frozen beards from just walking across a parking lot... you're wrong, at least sometimes. The weather is usually slightly less crazy...
Why winter instead of summer, you ask? Well...
Its not as crowded - Most people travel to Iceland in the summer months, and over the last 5 years or so it has become quite popular. It gets crowded and crazy and kind of hard to enjoy some beautiful nature spots because of everyone, everywhere, all the time.
- Everything is cheaper - since it is the "off-season" and theres not hoards of people snapping photos on their iPads from large tour buses, businesses have lower prices. If you're looking for a guide to hike on the glacier, go horseback riding, etc its about half the price as during the summer months. Hotels, rental cars, and even some restaurants are around half price.
- Some things are only visible in winter - Northern lights can be seen in late or early summer, but your chances are much higher during the colder months. Also, ice caves form every winter and you can hire a guide to explore around these vast, blue frozen forts made by mother nature herself.
- The hot springs just feel even better - while these are everywhere and always accessible, they're just so much more enjoyable when its freezing outside. Add northern lights to your night of soaking and its surely something you'll never forget.
- Flights get super cheap - Between this and the Northern Lights, you can probably guess why we packed our thermal underwear and headed to the Land of Ice and Fire. There are often decent sales to Iceland year round. Its also a great stopover point to/from Europe (look up Icelandair Stopover if you don't know about it). But in the winter months, they sell tickets for cheaper than you can fly across the United States from one side to the other. We bought our tickets for insanely cheap (like less than $240 roundtrip) and just couldn't pass that up! (CHECK OUT OUR CHEAP FLIGHT HACK)
We only had 7-8 days (more would be better) but here's how our trip went down:
Day 1 - Reykjavik
Our plane landed at 6:30am. We headed from the airport to the rental location in Reykjavik to pick up our campervan we had reserved weeks earlier. We booked our rental vans through CampEasy and honestly could go on forever about how good it was. The van was newer, smaller, and lighter than ours. Handled great, AWD came in plush a couple times with the snow, fuel efficient small diesel motor and, AND... it had an auxiliary diesel heater. If you don't get how important that is - it means you can be laying in bed toasty warm with the heater roaring (without having the car turned on) while its negative whatever degrees outside.
We spent the better part of that day getting situated in the van, eating some grub, and napping. HARD. We fell asleep for hours because Juniper didn't sleep on the flight at all, so we had to get caught up! We ended up heading to a beautiful hot spring that night about an hour away from the city and had an awesome time soaking in the warm waters before turning in for the night.
Day 2 - The Golden Circle
I'll be honest, we lost the SD card somewhere in our rental van (and never found it) that contained all the images of Day 2 and Day 3. So, we have limited photos of this, but will share what we have. This is the HEAVILY trafficked tourist area of Iceland. More than anything else. Even in the winter, there was just so many people and it wasn't really our scene, but they are beautiful spots. We kind of breezed through it, but did stop and take pictures just like everyone else.
We met up with some of our rad friends from Norway on this trip and visited Geysir to watch the boiling water explode out of the ground, couple waterfalls, and stopped and admired the Icelandic horses, but best of all... we stopped at this farm (Efstidalur) that has homemade ice cream. It was freaking delicious. And the little ice cream parlor was pretty rad! The cows are right there by you, just separated by large glass windows so you can enjoy teaching your kid how to make "moo" sounds while getting a tasty treat. We ended the night at the same hot spring from the night before. We witnessed the northern lights spanning all the way across the sky! The water was amazing (clear and not muddy or stinky like rotten eggs) and the lights were above us. It was so awesome!
Day 3 - Waterfalls and Reynisfjara Beach
We slept in. Catching up on some sleep and adjusting to the time difference. After waking up and eating, we all headed down to Seljalandsfoss waterfall. Again, all our photos from this day are lost so we are relying on others pictures. (we need to keep better track of our SD cards). After walking around the falls area, we headed to Skogafoss waterfall but to with the limited winter daylight hours and considering the fact we slept in, we didn't stay long and pushed on to the Black Sand beach near Vik. This place was rad! the rock near the water was basalt columns and it looked really interesting. It was also fun to climb on. The sand was black as black can get, kind of creepy but definitely very unique. The sunset from here was epic, definitely one of our favorite days visiting Iceland.
Day 4 - Vík
The weather on our fourth day turned pretty gnarly. There was a large storm that hit the whole southern coast and it was honestly the strongest winds I have ever witnessed. The ocean was super choppy, snow was blowing sideways, people were literally falling over from the force of the wind mixed with the slippery ice. We decided to drive to the highest point near us (stupid right?) because we figured it would clear up soon and we would have a great view. Well, it never cleared. It got worse. Our vans were shaking and we literally had to hold on to the side of the van when if we decided to go outside because the wind would push you if you weren't gripping tight. It was actually really fun haha. Needless to say, we didn't do too much the 4th day due to the weather conditions. (these photos were not that day...)
Day 5 - Jökulsárlón
This place is rad. Also, very touristy, also very cold, but still so beautiful. It is a glacier lagoon. Huge chunks of ice break off of the glacier and float around this bay. Some end up on the beach and others float out to the open ocean. The wind was ripping and for some reason (maybe because we were next to a glacier) it was extra cold. We packed hand warmers for this trip, because we are cold-weenies, and man we were glad we did. They're made by Zippo and are electric/rechargeable... game changer for sure. We took some family portraits using our little tripod and then promptly made some yummy Thai food back in our heated vans (remember I said CampEasy was a life saver? Diesel heaters...).
Day 6 - Fjaðrárgljúfur Canyon
We made the long drive back towards the direction of Reykjavik. A lot of this day was driving, but we did stop and enjoyed the warmest, most sun shiny day we had in the country while at the Fjaðrárgljúfur Canyon. This place is SO SWEET! What's awesome about it is that its right off the ring road and a good middle stop between Vik and Jokulsarlon but hardly anyone visits. We only say a handful of people there and we stuck around for hours! The weather was super nice so we pulled out the camping furniture and cooked outside, our own little picnic by the river at the mouth of the canyon.
Before the end of the day we saw some more horses (they're everywhere), and admired their long, beautiful hair. We went back to the Efstidalur Farm for more homemade ice cream and to let the kids see the baby calves again. THEN, we drove through the most gnarly whiteout, sideways wind, snow blowing storm I have ever seen (I am from Arizona, but don't let that discredit this thing, it was GNARLY). We have no photos of this because we were both freaking out and paying super close attention to the road.
Day 7 - Final Day - Friðheimar
We spent our final day close to the city. We had to return our van back to CampEasy before flying out back to the States. There was a restaurant (called Friðheimar) we had wanted to try all week but had been rushing around instead. We went in for lunch and this place was so unique. Its an active greenhouse. Tomatoes are their specialty and they have multiple facilities on site for growing various types. Everything is heated by geothermal (hot springs) heat through various pipes throughout the buildings. The food is insanely delicious and fresh. Same day fresh. It was unforgettable. We love food and can't wait to get back to Iceland to eat here once again!