Iceland in winter! Ridiculous, right? Not at all! Iceland is very charming in winter and offers a unique scenery. And a very long night just in case you want to be a northern lights spectator! The low sun also sets the perfect canvas for every photographer: golden hour all day long!
Since we’ve only been for few days and due to the road conditions in combination with our car we stayed in the Reykjavík area. You can easily spend a day at the Blue Lagoon, especially if you care for some relaxation time. With a much tighter schedule you could still do Þingvellir (including Almannagjá), Geysir and Gullfoss (a.k.a. the golden circle) even on a short winter’s day. One easy day in Reykjavík and another one driving around Hvalfjörður completed our brief Iceland endeavor:
The Blue Lagoon is a popular destination for arriving or departing guests because of its proximity to the airport. Undoubtedly a mandatory item on your itinerary but be prepared for an exorbitant charge. Whereas the water itself, heated up by a lava stream and rich in minerals is a natural wonder, the Blue Lagoon is not–it’s manmade.
Reykjavík is a lovely little northern city with tons of bars and cafés that serve excellent freshly brewed coffee. The major landmarks are Akrafjall and Esja, two mountains north of the city that paint a wonderful panorama, especially when covered with snow. Other must-sees are the Lutheran church Hallgrimskirkja and the little bit over four year old concert hall Harpa, home of the Iceland Symphony Orchestra. Unfortunately the church was closed though otherwise announced.
Watching northern lights can be as convenient as looking out of the window or walking in front of your hotel. We were lucky two times and got an easy view! It pretty much comes down to sun activity and whether or not the sky is overcast but of course there is a more scientific approach to that as well. The good thing is you easily find out both: I’m sure you have a trusted weather site or app and concerning sun activity I point you towards aurora-service.eu. We sighted impressive northern lights every single clear night! Besides the easy view we also went for the classy experience and got out in the dark for the spectacular! Dress really warm and bring a blanket.
We only saw relatively little of the island but I still would say that the golden circle represents Iceland in a nutshell. Within a day you will easily be able to enjoy three highlights: Þingvellir national park is a place of historical, cultural and geological relevance; due to the shortness of daylight hours we focused solely on the geological aspect and walked through Almannagjá, the rift valley where Europe and North America part with a celerity of 2.5 centimeters per year.
Secondly, we went to see a few eruptions of Strokkur, a smaller geyser which is located right next to its eponym Geysir. Whereas Geysir is active only every now and then, Strokkur erupts approximately every ten minutes. Iceland is also known for its waterfalls so lastly we drove to the nearby Gullfoss. We only stayed for a few minutes because of the biting cold.
On our last day we were looking for an unhurried short trip and just decided to drive around Hvalfjörður, a fjord right north of Reykjavík. In Akranes, which we reached on scenic route 47, we wanted to hang out at a café for a while but even on the second day of Christmas everything was closed but a gas station. Going back to our hotel was a quick drive below the sea through Hvalfjörður tunnel.
If you plan a once in your lifetime trip, early October and late March are probably the best choices because you have an ample amount of dark hours for observing the aurora borealis and enough daylight to enjoy the land. Also the weather is supposed to be quite stable and it’s not that crowded. Plus driving is a lot easier on ice-free roads. Anyway, experiencing long nights and days is an experience on its own. So if you have the chance, go twice!
Check out the photo stream!
The cover photo shows the aurora borealis, the bright spot on the bottom left is Reykjavík’s light pollution and the Image Peace Tower which is the light beam escaping the city glow.