The land of fire and ice is dramatic coastlines, sky blue lagoons, steaming geysers shooting skywards and roaring volcanoes swathed in Viking legend. Scraping the edges of the Arctic Circle and with ice in its name, the winter months on this island brimming with natural marvels can be harsh to the tune of – 25ºc. Our list of the best things to do in Iceland in winter will entice you to wrap up and brave the freezing temperatures.
1. The Northern Lights
Witnessing these glowing curtains of jade and violet unfurling in the deep indigo skies, sits high on many a bucket list. These pulsating ribbons of glimmering lights occur when charged particles from the sun collide with atoms in the earth’s atmosphere, causing electrons in the atoms to move to a higher-energy state. When the electrons drop back to a lower energy state this Nordic lightshow fills the sky. In the capital city of Reykjavík, the night lasts for twenty hours in winter, but in the northernmost regions, it is closer to twenty-two. Head to the Westfjords or other parts of North Iceland to improve your chances of seeing the aurora borealis. Keep in mind that the longer you stay in Iceland the more likely you are to experience one of the best things Iceland has to offer.
2. Ice Caves
Enter these glassy lairs to literally walk into the heart of a glacier. Iceland’s vast landscape is dotted with these real life winter wonderlands inside Vatnajökull, the largest glacier in the whole of Europe. This mass of ice covers about 8% of the country’s surface, sprawling out from the centre to the southern part of the ring road. The meltwater from a glacier this size is truly astounding, and forever transforming with the climate and flow of this frozen river. The constant movement of this glacier has given birth to more and more ice caves every year.
The Crystal Ice Cave is a major celebrity of Iceland and undoubtedly one of the best things to do in Iceland. Access to its deep turquoise coloured corridors can be found in Breiðamerkurjökull.
3. Hot Springs
What better way to rid yourself of that Arctic chill then relaxing in steamy baths surrounded by the rolling tundra? Quintessentially Icelandic, a dip into geothermal waters is one of the many surreal experiences scattered across this volcanic island. The Blue Lagoon has fully embraced the tourism industry providing a fully stocked bar on the water, a gourmet restaurant, and a range of spa treatments: massages, silica mud treatments and steam caves. For those craving a more rustic experience, try the horse breeding farm of Leirubakki in Hekla, to bathe in their viking pool surrounded by breathtaking views of the Icelandic Highlands. Travellers on a quest to stretch their legs should traverse the Reykjadalur Hot Spring Hike, to follow a literal river of hot springs zigzagging through dramatic mountains blanketed in snow.
4. Jokulsarlon & Diamond Beach
Black as night sands strewn with glittering ice sculptures is overwhelming natural beauty a la iceland. The gigantic ice lagoon laying at the edge of Breiðamerkurjökull Glacier is filled with huge icebergs, these opalescent giants snap off the retreating glacier and are left to float in Jokulsarlon (meaning glacial river lagoon in Icelandic). Many smaller sky blue shards wash up on the dark sands creating a mind boggling juxtaposition of colours and textures.
5. Whale Watching Tours
The land of fire and ice boasts an extremely high success rate of witnessing these gigantic aquatic mammals, and has cemented its place as one of the premier destinations for whale watching. An array of marine life can be seen from the Icelandic coast, but chances are far higher if you join one of the many whale tours that specialise in these excursions. The low winter sun looming over glittering Atlantic waters, paints the skies an intense orangey pink, providing the perfect backdrop for these giants. Herring and Capelin being the main prey in Icelandic waters, attract humpback whales, killer whales/orcas, white-beaked dolphins and harbour porpoises to the chilly shores.
Little known today, but before the arrival of Bjork on the international scene, the orca who played Willy (in that’s right you guessed it) Free Willy, AKA Keiko, held the title as the most famous Icelander. The orca’s fame and international admiration led to a fortune being spent on efforts to return him to the wild. Although not completely successful, he called the Icelandic seas home before his death in 2003.
Our list of things to do in Iceland during winter is just the tip of the iceberg (sorry). Take a peek at our new website to get you packing those warm layers and heading for the land of fire and ice.