When visiting in winter (or really October through April), you’ll want to be conscious of two factors that can affect where you go: the weather and the shorter hours of daylight. You can easily get around in winter near Reykjavík without a 4WD vehicle, but some areas of the Ring Road will be more difficult to manage. Here’s our Itinerary Ideas: Iceland in Winter post!
You’ll also need to travel at a slower pace, especially when the days are at their shortest (around mid-December). Unless you plan to rent a 4WD vehicle, your best bet is probably to stay near the capital. Luckily, there is plenty to see and do in and around Reykjavik to keep you busy for 10 days.
Plan on 2-3 days for sightseeing and shopping around the city, then budget 4-6 days for day trips like cave exploring, ATV driving, glacier walking, snorkeling, horseback riding, dog sledding, and venturing as far as Vik.
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6 days trip in winter based in Reykjavík
Once you’ve settled in, I recommend you start by getting your bearings, and there’s no better way to do that than to head up to the observation deck of Hallgrimskirkja, or “the big white church” as many people refer to it. You’ll see it from nearly anywhere in town and as long as you can find your way from there to your hotel, you’ll never be lost in Reykjavik. You can go inside the church and take the elevator to the top for the best view in the city.
Afterwards, you can stroll down to the Solfar (Sun Voyager) sculpture on the waterfront and then continue down to the harbor, where you can have lunch at Icelandic Fish and Chips, or warm up with a hot bowl of lobster soup at Sægreifinn (Seabaron).
From there you can walk through the heart of downtown, past the Parliament building and around to the Radhus, the City Hall, to see a giant topographical map of Iceland. Swing around the Tjornin pond, past the Prime Minister’s office, and up Bankastraeti, which turns into Laugavegur, the main shopping street. If you wants to pick up something to make for dinner, stop at the Bonus grocery store.
Today is a great day to get in some outdoor activity. Arrange to go snorkeling in some of the clearest water in the world at Silfra in Thingvellir (wrapped up in a surprisingly warm dry suit to survive the frigid water temps) or go riding on an Icelandic horse
Tour companies will take care of all the details, including pick up and drop off, and many tours can be combined to maximize time. For example, you could arrange to go horseback riding and combine that with a trip to the Blue Lagoon
or to Geysir and Gullfoss
, two of the country’s most popular attractions.
If you’ve made some friends at your guesthouse or are traveling with a few other people, split the cost of a car rental and drive to the Golden Circle attractions
. With even one other person, the $100 US cost of renting an automatic transmission car (including insurance) would work out better than spending 9800 ISK (about $89 US) for a tour of the Golden Circle.
The roads along the route are fairly well-maintained and unless a storm comes up, the drive would be no worse than driving anywhere in the US in winter. Plus, a car allows the freedom to stop as often as you’d like and detour when you want.
After a day of exploring, treat yourself to a splurge dinner, before hitting some of the clubs for the Friday night runtur. I highly recommend Fishmarket, an upscale restaurant that serves Icelandic specialties with an Asian twist – I loved the grilled king crab claws with chili may (3900 ISK, about $35 US) or the 6900 ISK langoustine from Vestmannaeyjar. If that’s too rich for you, there are plenty of cheap eats, like Tapas Barinn, where you can sample smaller portions at smaller prices.
Assuming you stayed out a little late last night and want to take it easy on Saturday, you should stick around Reykjavik
. Relax in one of the public swimming pools, ride a bike around the city if the weather is nice, or do some shopping at the weekend Kolaportið flea market near the harbor.
If you are in the market for an Icelandic sweater, get one here for much cheaper than in the souvenir shops. If you have some cash to burn, stock up on stylish outdoor gear at 66° North or head to the Kringlan shopping center. If it’s Wednesday, today is the best day to visit the Culture House as there is no admission charge on Wednesdays.
You need to get a Car rental in Iceland
and drive to the Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon
. Jökulsárlón is today one of Iceland’s best known and most popular natural wonders, and for a good reason. A magnificent view welcomes you as you arrive there and it’s almost like stepping into a fairy tale landscape.
The lake has grown since then at varying rates because of melting of the Icelandic glaciers. The lagoon now stands 1.5 kilometres away from the ocean’s edge and covers an area of about 18 km2. It recently became the deepest lake in Iceland at over 248 metres depth as glacial retreat extended its boundaries.
Most flights back to the US leave between 3pm and 5pm; Keflavik Airport
is small and the security line moves pretty fast so you don’t need to get there much more than 90 minutes before your flight, which leaves plenty of time left in the morning to explore more of Reykjavik or schedule once last excursion. If you haven’t yet visited the Blue Lagoon
, go today on your way to the airport.
The Flybus picks up at the BSI bus terminal, an easy 10-15 minute walk from the city center, and goes right to the Blue Lagoon. If you takes the 11am bus to the Blue Lagoon, you’ll arrive by 11:45, and will have over two hours to soak before boarding the 2:15pm bus to Keflavik, which arrives with 2.5 hours to spare before a 5pm flight.
This leaves plenty of time to have a snack, turn in any receipts for duty-free shopping to get a tax refund, exchange any remaining kronur for dollars, and relax before the flight home.
Do not forget to search for the Northern Lights
The Northern Lights
appear from September to March, and though sightings are never guaranteed, there are many tour companies who will drive you to a viewing point and provide warm gear, hot drinks, and even dinner, while you wait for the lights to dance overhead. But you don’t have to pony up for a tour though
. In fact, sometimes you don’t even have to leave the city, as the lights can often be seen from Reykjavik.
Berglind Rós, Iceland24