visiting Iceland in winter
Planning a trip to Iceland in winter but not sure what to expect and how to prepare? In this blog post I have put together everything you need to know before a trip to Iceland in winter.
Spoiler: I highly recommend visiting Iceland in winter – it´s magical!
1. Driving in Iceland in winter
This can be quite adventurous and a main reason for some people rather visiting Iceland in summer instead. The weather in Iceland in winter is pretty unpredictable and wild. Weather conditions can change from one second to the other and it does happen quite often to get stuck in a snow storm or similar.
But it is also a great adventure that you will probably remember for the rest of your life.
Renting a car in Iceland
Most likely, you will arrive at Iceland´s International airport Keflavik. Ideally you should rent a car with pick-up at the airport. That way you can avoid heading to Reykjavik first by bus.
I usually compare rentals online on many different websites, mostly I end up booking on Billigermietwagen. They usually offer the best price and booking terms.
Depending on the price differences, I normally go for a third party, no-excess insurance.
This will require you to leave a (mostly quite high) deposit on your credit card when picking up the car.
Even though a 4×4 is recommended to drive around Iceland in winter, I only rented a front-wheel drive with proper winter tires and spikes and it was just fine.
Driving conditions in Iceland in winter
Weather changes really quickly in Iceland and is also not always predictable in advance. You might experience icy roads, snowy roads or even completey dry roads. I experienced all of it during my 2 ½ week ring road road trip.
Before heading out for the day, always be sure to check one or more of the following websites to see, if there are any weather warning, road closures or similar:
www.vedur.is (my favorite for wind predictions)
Wind is no joke in Iceland and sometimes it can be hard to actually keep your car on the road when it is super windy. So make sure to avoid driving in specific areas when there´s warnings in your area.
Also note that daylight hours in winter in Iceland are quite limited, when I visited in January, sunrise would be around 11 AM and sunset around 4 PM. You can count with about 1 hour twilight before sunrise and sunset.
F-roads are the dirt roads in the inner part of the island and are not accessible in winter.
Check out my blog post Iceland itinerary to help planning!
2. What to pack for your trip to Iceland in winter?
Winter in Iceland gets COLD and you will want to come prepared.
A list of what you should definitely pack for Iceland (in addition to many layers of clothes):
- Proper winter shoes (those are essential)
- Micro spikes or crampons (my biggest mistake was not bringing or buying any)
- Lip balm (the cold, dry air will make you want a lip balm 100%)
- Swim suit (you´re gonna want to check out some of those amazing hot springs Iceland has to offer)
- Winter accessories (such as hats, gloves, scarfs etc.)
I challenged myself and packed only a personal item (I got the cheapest flight with Wizzair and did not want to pay for additional luggage).
Note that I wore like 3 layers of clothing for the flight to fit everything into my bag haha.
Here is what I packed:
- 2 x winter jacket
- 1 x hat
- 2 x pairs of gloves
- 1 x sweater
- 4 x thermos long-arm shirt
- 2 x pullover
- 4 x thermos leggings
- 1 x sweatpants
- 1 x jeans
And of course stuff like underwear and socks.
I usually prefer traveling with less clothes and wash them once or twice during a trip in either a hostel or Airbnb.
In this case I did wash them twice during my trip.
In case you are interested, here are the electronics I am traveling with that always come on my trips:
- Macbook Air
- Canon EOS R6 + 2 lenses
- DJI Mini 3
- GoPro Hero Black 9
- I Phone 12 Pro Max
3. How many days should you plan for your trip?
That very much depends on how much you want to see and do on your trip to Iceland in winter. But if you want to do the whole ring road (basically all around the country), like I did, I suggest a minimum of two weeks.
I met some people along the way that were rushing to finish the whole ring road in one week. They ended up skipping a lot of places they actually wanted to visit, because they just did not have enough time.
Also some days you might not be able to travel at all due to weather conditions, so highly recommend adding some spare days – just in case.
If you only want to visit Reykjavik and the famous Blue Lagoon and maybe the Golden Circle, 5 days might be enough.
Most of the “famous” and easily accessible attractions are located in the South of Iceland, so you could also stick to that when you travel to Iceland in winter.
Personally, I would suggest that if you already make your way to Iceland, make the most out of it and stay at least two weeks and do the ring road and maybe additionally add the West Fjords and Golden circle.
Check out THIS blog post for a complete itinerary for your Iceland roadtrip.
4. How to budget for your trip?
The good news is, winter is low season in Iceland and prices are cheaper than in summer.
The bad news is, Iceland is still a very expensive country.
Even hostels are quite expensive here and traveling around Iceland on a budget is definitely a challenge.
Here are the average cost of things you need to consider for your trip to Iceland in winter:
price for a rental car in Iceland:
between 40-80 USD per day
price for a hostel per night in Iceland:
average of 40 USD per night for a bed in a dorm
price for a guest house per night in Iceland:
starting at about 50 USD in less touristy areas
price for a hotel per night in Iceland:
starting at about 100 USD going as high as 1000 USD per night and even more. Average for a nice hotel would be around 250-300 USD per night.
food prices in Iceland:
main course in a restaurant: 20-30 USD (lunch might be slightly cheaper than dinner at some restaurants)
price for groceries in Iceland:
10 USD ish per meal
price for a glass beer or wine in a restaurant/ bar:
10 USD per glass
price for gasoline per liter:
about 2 USD per liter/ 8 USD per gallon
Expensive, huh? Make sure to take these costs into consideration before booking your trip to Iceland. I personally stayed mostly in hostels and had good experiences in all of them. Sometimes in less populated areas, I booked guest houses, as hostels are mainly available near cities or bigger towns only.
5. useful apps and websites for your trip to Iceland in winter
While visiting Iceland in winter, you need to be sure to use most of the below apps on a daily basis. Not only will you see the current weather warnings but you will also be able to see road closures.
The Parka app will make your life easier, if you park in the cities of Reykjavik or Akureyri or also at some tourist attractions.
www.road.is – current road conditions, warnings and road closures
www.travelsafe.is – current road conditions, warnings and road closures
www.vedur.is – I used this site mainly for the forecasted wind as well as cloud coverage (cloud coverage for chasing the Northern Lights)
www.tunnel.is – pay for the usage of the tunnel near Akureyri, this can be done in advance or up to 3 hours after passing through the tunnel on this website)
www.googlemaps.com – my go-to for Navigation, always and everywhere.
6. How to chase the Northern Lights during your trip to Iceland in winter?
If you are planning a trip to Iceland in winter, one of the reasons probably are the chances of seeing the magical Aurora Borealis aka The Northern Lights.
I have been lucky enough to witness this natural spectacle multiple times during my trip to Iceland in January 2023.
Tips to increase your chanches of seeing the Northern Lights in Iceland
- Check the cloud coverage forecast
- Stay at a place with as little light pollution as possible
- Check the aurora activity forecast
- Go and chase the Northern Lights, even if the forecast is low
- Be prepared for cold weather
- Take a Northern Lights tour
Check out this blog post about Northern Lights in Iceland for more detailed information.
Fingers crossed for a Northern Lights sighting during your trip to Iceland in winter!
I hope this blog post helped you prepare for your trip to Iceland in winter!
I am sure you will have an amazing time and fall in love with this unique country.
Check out more Iceland blog posts to help plan your trip: