Winter has increasingly become a popular time to take a trip to Iceland. Gone are the days when the tourists of summer leave and the island rests for most of the year. Winter travel in Iceland has gained traction due to a large number of factors. From less crowded attractions to lower prices and huge savings on everything from car rental to hotel, it’s no wonder that more and more people are flocking to Iceland during the off-season and low season. Let’s take a look at some winter travel tips for Iceland. You’ll need them, as this is a special time of year that presents unique challenges. Taking a road trip during Iceland’s cold-weather months requires a different type of planning then during peak season. I’m here to give you some tips and advice help you get the most out of your journey.
When is Winter in Iceland?
The first thing to know when planning a winter trip to Iceland is when exactly the winter months are. Given Iceland’s far northern latitude, it’s important to know that it gets cold and snowy here earlier in the year and frosty temperatures last through what would normally be considered spring in other parts of the world. For all intents and purposes, winter in Iceland starts in November and ends in March. September and October are transitional months as are April and May.
Winter Travel Tips: Driving in Iceland
One of the first and most important things to discuss while traveling in Iceland in winter is driving. Road conditions can already be much more dangerous then what are you still at home. Factor in high winds and heavy snow storms and you got a cocktail for difficult driving conditions. There are several things you need to do to prepare. The obvious ones like making sure your vehicle has snow tires are most likely already taken care of for you by the rental company. They know the dangers of black ice and low visibility and equip their vehicles accordingly.
It’s extremely important to regularly check the weather forecast in Iceland in the winter. And by regularly, I mean multiple times a day. I’m not exaggerating when I say this could save your life. Knowing when there’s a storm coming can spell the difference between inadvertently heading out into danger or delaying the next leg of your journey for a day or two. Travelers who have been caught unaware often find themselves and the dire situation of complete whiteout conditions, getting blown off the road, and in extreme cases, having the vehicle freeze to the ground. Yes, it gets that bad.
And of course, it goes without saying to never be in a rush when driving anywhere. Give yourself plenty of extra time to drive from point A to point B. When making extra stops along the way, always round up when estimating how long it will take. Having a contingency plan, such as pulling into the nearest campsite if things take a turn for the worse, is also highly advisable in case there’s an emergency.
Beware Sunset Times: Daylight Hours in Iceland in Winter
This is a piece of advice that’s also partially related to driving. Another aspect of Iceland being so far north is that a good very little light in the winter. On the shortest days, sunrise and sunset are only about 4 or 5 hours apart. That’s not really a whole lot of time to do outdoor activities like glacier hikes on Vatnajökull Or tracking to the plane crash site at Sólheimasandur beach. You’ll need to plan your days very carefully in the winter to make sure you don’t get caught in the dark. Consult sunrise and sunset times to know approximately how many hours of sunlight you’ll receive.
Luckily you can take advantage of civil twilight in order to maximize the amount of time you have to spend at your destination for the day. Civil Twilight is basically the time before sunrise and after sunset when there is light in the sky. So for example, maybe the sun officially sets at 4 pm, But it doesn’t get pitch black until an hour or so later. The same thing goes with starting your day. Maybe the sun doesn’t rise until 11 a.m., But you can start your day trip Golden Circle an hour beforehand. You’ll save time and squeeze out every second of daylight available to you.
Another Winter Travel Tip: What to Pack and Wear
I can’t stress enough how important it is to dress warmly in Iceland, especially in the winter. This can make or break your trip. If you’re not experienced dressing for cold weather, believe me, there’s a system. Novices may think that it’s all about bundling up and throwing on as many layers as possible until you look like an overstuffed onion. This couldn’t be further from the truth. You really only need four key layers to keep you warm and dry while traveling around the Nordic Island and experiencing its natural wonders. I wrote a full-length blog post about it here. The summary is that you need two high-quality base layers to trap body heat and wick moisture, an insulating layer to keep warmth in, and a waterproof shell layer to keep rain, snow, sleet, waterfall mist, and any other type of moisture out.
Winter Travel Tips for Iceland
Planning an Iceland winter vacation is quite different than planning one in the summer. It’s almost like visiting two different countries! Coming prepared and knowing what to expect are two of the best things you can do to make your trip run as smoothly as possible. There are lots of things to do during winter in Iceland, from ice cave treks to glacier hikes to snowmobiling and much more. Come see this enchanting winter wonderland for yourself, you won’t regret it!
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