Winter in Iceland comes with magical sights such as the Northern Lights, but there are a plethora of other activities to enjoy.
The winter in Iceland can be a challenging time, especially for those visiting from warmer climates. Winter comes with magical sights such as the Northern Lights, but there are a plethora of other activities to enjoy. After generations of coping with cold winters, Icelanders are experts when it comes to thriving in long winters, which last roughly between October and April.
Geothermal Hot Pots
The public geothermal swimming pools located all over Reykjavik can be your best friend during the winter months. Relaxing in the hot pots will leave your muscles soft and your mind calm. If you can manage to get out of the city and visit a natural hot pot, even better. Some of the swimming pools offer a sunlamp in the common area, which can be great for battling winter depression.
Northern Lights Gazing
The Northern Lights are definitely one of the best things about winter in Iceland. This incredible natural phenomenon can only be seen when the sky gets dark enough in the northern (or southern hemisphere) to display them. However, they occur spontaneously, so there is no guarantee of seeing them. Consulting the Aurora forecast can help you be in the right place at the right time. In Iceland, the Lights can be seen roughly from late August until April. Check out the shceduled day tours.
Skiing or Snowboarding
While extreme winter sports only rose to prominence in Iceland in the last few decades, there are already many established slopes around the island that are open from roughly November to April. A popular place for Reykjavik residents is Bláfjöll, located only 30 km from the city. In the northern city of Akureyri, the AK Extreme takes place in April each year. This four day festival of winter sports includes a big jump (made out of 15 shipping containers) and a downhill competition.
This invigorating activity has a social aspect in Iceland as it is usually done in small groups and often on New Years Day. A popular place in Reykjavik for sea swimming is Nautholsvík Geothermal Beach where a hot spring just off the shoreline warms the ocean water to a comfortable temperature, although most sea swimmers venture further out where the temperatures are hovering just above freezing. The geothermal hot tub and changing facilities make it an optimum place to warm up quickly after your swim.
With 11% of Iceland’s total land area covered by glacier, including Vatnajökull, the largest ice cap in Europe, winter is a great time for exploring many accessible glacial tongues. With ice crampons, an ice axe, helmets, guided tours, will take you safely on different glaciers in South East Iceland depending on the weather and the conditions of the season. Prepare to feel dwarfed next to the immensity of these natural phenomena and awed by the eerie blue tint of the ice.
Many music festivals take place in Iceland throughout the winter making it a season that can be just as active as the summertime. Reykjavik has the Iceland Airwaves music festival in November, Dark Music Days in January, and Sonar Reykjavik in March.
Every year the Christmas book flood arrives just on time for everyone to enjoy spending the long nights curled up with a newly released book. Although mostly in Icelandic, you can often find translations into many languages. Check out Eymundsson, a bookstore with many locations in Reykjavik and around Iceland, for classic Icelandic literature such as works by Halldór Laxness, Iceland’s only Nobel Prize laureate. Reykjavik is overflowing with cafes in which to curl up and read with something warm to drink.
The Art in Light Festival in February illuminates the town of Seyðisfjörður in East Fjords as the inhabitants are expecting the sun to peek over the mountains and reach the town with its glorious rays.