The Pros and Cons of Visiting Iceland in the Winter

March 28, 2019

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iceland winter travel should you travel to iceland in winter Pros and cons iceland in winter

I’ll start by saying this: visiting Iceland in the Winter is not for the faint of heart. Being Canadian, we are used to icy roads and long drives. However, we went into our trip naively assuming we could handle anything the Icelandic winter had in store for us.

We decided to take our chances and drive the Ring Road in March, despite warnings that the roads may close or conditions may be dicey. While we got incredibly lucky with sunny (albeit chilly) days for most of the trip, a few winter storms delayed our travels.

We narrowly missed a storm that blew through the East coast. It caught up to us when we reached Myvatn in Northern Iceland. We were stuck in the hotel for an extra day and night as hurricane force winds swirled outside. The hotel staff urged us to not even go outside to grab something from our car. Winter in Iceland is no joke.

A lot of people have been asking me whether or not it’s worth traveling to Iceland in the Winter. In my personal opinion, it is 100% worth it, but you need to be prepared. Below I’ve listed the pros and cons to give help you make a decision that’s best for you.

Glacier where they filmed Game of Thrones

The Pros of Travelling to Iceland in the Winter

Fewer Crowds

The storms and chilly temperatures were all worth it when we reached a waterfall or beach and found only a handful of other tourists enjoying the view. Traveling to Iceland in the summer, while beautiful, would no doubt lose a bit of its luster as you’ll have to elbow your way through cameras and Helly Hansen jackets just to get a full view of a spot.

For this reason, I highly recommend opting for shoulder months like September/October or the winter months like February/March to try your luck at a Northern Lights sighting!

Less Expensive

When you visit Iceland in the offseason, you are able to get discounts on everything from car rentals to hotels to tour prices. With Iceland being one of the most expensive destinations to travel to, this is incredibly helpful when planning on a budget.

More opportunity to go with the flow

Iceland welcomed an astonishing 7 visitors per resident last year. It’s no secret Iceland is becoming increasingly popular, forcing many people to plan ahead when booking accommodation, tours and rental cars. If you plan on visiting in the summer, you’ll need to plan far in advance and won’t have a ton of flexibility to change your itinerary as things book up. In the winter, it’s easy to alter your plans to create the ultimate itinerary as you go!

If you decide to visit in the winter, make sure you book flexible accommodation! We made sure our hotels offered cancelation all the way up until the morning of.

You see Authentic Iceland

Iceland is covered in snow and ice for 90% of the year. While it is beautiful when it’s in bloom and the greenery is out in full force, it’s nice to experience the country’s true climate. Howling winds, snowcapped mountains, icicles dangling from the waterfalls fingertips, foothills blanketed in snow, ice cave explorations. It really opens your eyes to how powerful nature can be.

A chance to see the Northern Lights

While we didn’t see them on our trip, a chance to see the Northern Lights is reason enough to explore Iceland between September-March. I was disappointed not to see them, but I went into the trip knowing it wasn’t a guarantee.  Iceland isn’t the best place to see the lights (head to Northern Canada or Norway for a better bet!) but it’s one of the prettiest settings to witness them when they do decide to light up the sky!

Ice Caves

Touring the epic ice caves in Iceland is one of the main tourist attractions the country has to offer. If this is high on your bucket list, definitely consider visiting in the winter!

Godafoss Waterfall in Winter

Cons of traveling to Iceland in the Winter

Trip Interruptions and Road Closures

If a bad storm comes, the roads will close.

The weather in Iceland is unpredictable any time of year. It’s common to experience all four seasons in a day, even a single hour. At Seljalandsfoss, we were caught in a rainstorm, hail storm, stunning sunshine and fierce winds all in about 30 minutes time.

I know it’s tempting to constantly check the weather before an upcoming trip. But with Iceland, consider the forecast pretty much useless. No matter what it says, it will always be a gamble driving in Iceland in the winter.

If you have a flexible itinerary, the weather should not deter you from visiting.  Even though we were snowed in for an extra night, we were able to make up the time with a longer driving day.

Note: locals warned us that sometimes people are stuck 3, even 5 days in one place due to road closures. Make sure you have travel insurance!

If you’re self-driving the ring road, consider the weather in each region to help you decide to drive clockwise or counter-clockwise.

To give you a sense of the weather we experienced, here it is in a nutshell:

  • Day 1: Cloudy and cold
  • Day 2: Sun, with random storms passing through every hour and crazy wind in the evening
  • Day 3: Sun, a few showers and storms but brief
  • Day 4: Sun and wind
  • Day 5: Fierce storms with hurricane force winds
  • Day 6: Sun and Snow
  • Day 7: Sun
  • Day 8: Crazy rainstorm
  • Day 9: Partly Cloudy and sunny periods

Download the Vedur app and constantly check Road.is for road updates!

Canceled Tours

I joined a few Facebook groups before and during my trip to Iceland (that I highly recommend checking out: ICELAND- Tips for travelers, and ICELAND – Backpacker/Traveler) and a few people were bummed about how all their thoughtful planning was rendered useless because the tours were canceled due to weather. It’s something to keep in mind if you have your heart set on a few experiences.

Covered in Snow and Ice

If you’ve begun planning your trip, you’ve likely mapped out all the must-see highlights you want to visit along the way. If you want to go to Iceland in the winter, I suggest googling the highlights you plan to see and typing “in winter” afterward.

Some waterfalls are frozen, and other popular spots are too covered in snow to see (like lakes or craters). If a place catches your eye because the pictures you’ve seen showcase beautiful green moss covering the rocks or mountains, be mindful it won’t look like that in the winter.

As it was my first trip to Iceland, I LOVED seeing everything covered in snow and experiencing a true Icelandic winter.

However, we skipped a few highlights because we wanted to save some sights better seen in the summer like the lush greenery of the Western Peninsula and hiking in the fjords.

Icelandic Horses in Arnarstapi

People often ask me when they should come to Vancouver.  I always say it depends on what you are looking for. It’s beautiful in the winter for a real Canadian experience with snow sports and cozy dimly lit restaurants. In turn, it’s absolute heaven when you can spend a sunny summer day on the seawall.  I think the same rings true for Iceland. It’s magical anytime of year, it just depends on what you are looking for!

READ NEXT: Check out 20 Photos to Inspire you to Visit Iceland in the Winter!

If you have any questions about visiting Iceland in the Winter, feel free to send me a DM on Instagram!

 

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