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5 Essential Tips For Traveling to Iceland in Winter

iceland winter travel


Jet lag is real. Iceland is 5.5 hours ahead. We flew overnight and had ambitious plans to drive north to the west fjords. When we landed the island was under blizzard conditions with 60-90 mile winds, and there were avalanche warnings in the westfjords. No big deal. Even if the weather conditions were perfect I don’t think we could have made such an ambitious trek because we were drunk with exhaustion. If you are flying overnight do not plan on a long road trip. Travel somewhere close by and make sure your accommodations have early check-in. You’re going to need your rest.


Rent a car and make sure you get a 4-wheel drive vehicle. Get the good insurance. The weather in Iceland is capricious; it changes on a dime and you can very easily be caught in a snowstorm. It started to heavily snow as soon as we got to Vík cutting our time there very short. It’s a coastal city in the valley of a large range of mountains through which you have to travel to get there. On our way out the snow was coming down in blankets and a thick fog swept down the mountain where it met the road. We were in white out conditions. The car in front of us drove swerved across the highway and down into the left bank. We stopped to make sure they were ok, and when we found them laughing we kept on trucking. No sooner than a mile ahead we saw another smaller car in the right bank of the road. Once the white knuckle nightmare was over we were grateful we opted for the 4-wheel drive. Although we didn’t need it we felt the insurance gave us a sense of security should something have happened to the car.


Purchase the WIFI hotspot through the car rental company. If you plan on seeing the country on your own, not on a tour bus, you will need GPS. The hotspot got us everywhere we wanted to go without fail every time. Each Air B&B location offered WIFI, but it was nice to have a backup just in case. We also brought it with us each time we went on a hike, because you can never be too careful. Bring a car charger. I had one with double USB ports, so we were able to keep the hotspot and one of our phones charging all day. Buy one HERE.


We were nervous that the ice spikes wouldn’t make it past airport security. Moreover, we honestly didn’t think we would need them. We were wrong, and it became apparent on Day 3 while we were exploring West Iceland. We had driven an hour from Borgarnes to the Barnafoss Waterfall, where we parked in a small lot next to the short walk to the first fall. ALL ICE. Gingerly hopping form moss mound to whatever dry piece of land we could find it became apparent that we needed ice spikes to get anywhere. But as stubborn as we are we kept on and before we knew it John was sliding downhill on ice towards the large fall and he was sliding fast. The way he was falling I imagined he was skiing: knees bent, chest forward, arms at his side. He quickly sat down and caught the walkway rope. You’d think we would have learned our lesson at that point, but the next day we went Skogafoss and couldn’t hike the waterfall because it was too icy. We bought them before left Vík that afternoon. I’m still not sure if you can travel with them in a carry-on because we checked our bags on the way home.

Buy similar crampons HERE.


Iceland is a temperate climate zone, because of how it sits on the continental divide. The island is geothermically heated. But it still gets cold, even during the day. Your adventures are outside and the higher you ascend the more frigid it becomes. It rained, snowed or sleeted almost every day we were there, but that didn’t stop us from getting outside. We walked on the black sand beach in Vík in the snow, we walked around Deildartunguhver hot spring in the rain, and most everywhere we went we walked or hiked through inches of snow. One of our favorite experiences was the Gljúfrabúi waterfall, where you can carefully tiptoe on river rocks and wade through water inside the crag to see the waterfall in all its splendor and glory. I don’t if we would have done this without our waterproof insulated boots. Score! On sale now on the Keen site - buy them HERE.


We purchased our favorite Tito’s Vodka in Baltimore before we boarded the plane. They deliver it to your gate. Cool! When we landed in Keflavik we purchased four bottles of red wine. To give you an idea of how expensive it is to drink at the bars/pubs: we went to the Big Lebowski Bar in Reykjavík and got two classic White Russians = $50. We drank the bottle of Tito's and all four bottles of red wine throughout the week with the dinners we home made at the various Air B&B locations.


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