When you think of winter in a place called Iceland, you probably think of…well…ice, and lots of it – frozen tundra, frozen lakes and icy rivers, giant snowbanks, frequent blizzards, impassible roads and abominable temperatures. And Iceland, to some extent, delivers on that assumption. Despite that, it’s still a fantastic place to visit in winter.
Yes, days are cold and dark, with as little as four hours of daylight each day in January and average temps as low as -3°C or 26°F in the same month, but when compared to winter in Chicago or New York, you soon realize that this isn’t quite Siberia.
In fact, Iceland’s average winter temperatures are actually higher than New York and Chicago. When I visited for the first time, I went in March and found that it was actually warmer in Iceland than it was back home in Chicago. So if you’re dreaming of visiting Iceland but can’t afford the high summer price tag or can only come from November to March, you’ll be relived to know that off-season Iceland is more winter wonderland than frozen wasteland.
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Visitors who come to Iceland get to see a totally different (and in my opinion, just as magical) side of the country. The midnight sun may be exchanged for a few fleeting hours of daylight, but winter also sees the arrival of the beautiful Northern Lights, or Aurora Borealis. All of December is festive despite the cold, dark days, with thousands of fireworks lighting up the night sky on New Years Eve. In February, Icelanders celebrate the ancient Viking month of Thor, called Thorrablot, with food and festivities, and on March 1st, the country celebrates the repeal of the 75-year ban on beer.
Many of the summer outdoor activities are available in winter, and it’s easy to base yourself out of Reykjavik and schedule several day trips and tours to let someone else do the driving on icy roads. You can tour the Golden Circle, warm up in the steaming Blue Lagoon – even as it snows -, go horseback riding, skiing, glacier walking, caving, and even snorkeling. Plus there is plenty to see and do in the capital city of Reykjavik.
The biggest draw of visiting in winter season is the lower rates. Hotel rates drop by 30-40% (with discounts often given for longer stays) during winter and airfare to Iceland is much cheaper too. Frequent sales could allow you to fly from the east coast of the US to Iceland for under $350 round trip.
Photo by Trodel