“The true allure of Iceland is that it’s like nowhere else on the planet, largely because of the way it has formed over time, both geographically and culturally. There’s a sense of adventure you get from arriving in a place that is perhaps more likely to remind you of your favourite science fiction novel than another country you’ve visited in the past. Not to mention, in this world where travellers have become increasingly obsessed with capturing and sharing their adventures, Iceland tends to be one of the most photogenic countries in the world, which makes it worth the visit.” – Christopher Mitchell, Travel Blogger
Welcome to Midgard Base Camp’s guide to winter in Iceland 2018!
In this guide, you will find plenty of answers to common questions about Iceland, quirky facts you never knew and all the events and activities you have to try during winter in Iceland!
In short, this guide will tell you everything you need to know before visiting Iceland in winter.
If there’s anything this guide doesn’t cover that you would like to know then feel free to get in touch and our friendly team of experts will be happy to help!
Enjoy reading and we hope to see you at Midgard Base Camp soon!
Table of Contents
Use the links below to navigate to the chapter you would like to read.
The Ultimate Guide to Iceland In Winter 2018
Chapter I: Why you should visit Iceland in winter!
“Iceland is a magical place to visit if you are interested in landscapes and photography. The key is to get out of the city of Reykjavik and get a real view of Mother Nature and what it has to offer the traveller. Powerful waterfalls, unique geothermal locations and the chance to see the Aurora Borealis in winter are the reasons to immerse yourself in this beautiful country. But getting away from the South Coast tourist routes and travelling with native and experienced guides is the key to give the traveller a different perspective of the country than those hopping on the tourist bus.” – Holly Higbee-Jansen
There’s a reason there are so many articles regarding why you should visit Iceland in winter – it’s because winter here is truly magical.
There are too many reasons why that’s the case and throughout this guide, you will get to hear most of them but to start we thought we would give you five reasons to visit us this winter!
Spectacular at any time of year, the Icelandic landscape looks particularly breathtaking with a blanket of snow covering it. Picture glaciers covered in snow under a night sky filled with stars and the magical northern lights, it is a moment that will stay with you forever.
There’s a reason so many films and TV shows choose to shoot in Iceland during winter and that’s because the landscapes are out of this world!
We’ve already mentioned them but it’s hard not to. The northern lights are one of nature’s greatest spectacles and they will mesmerise even the most hardened travellers.
They are even better when you can enjoy it from a rooftop hot tub like the one at Midgard Base Camp ;).
You’ve probably heard of the Blue Lagoon and the Secret Lagoon already.
So let’s set the scene, you’ve spent the day snowmobiling, hiking up glaciers, driving super jeeps, diving or snorkelling (yes it can be done in winter!) and after all that adventure you need to relax. It’s time to visit one of Iceland’s geothermal pools
You can swim in one of the pools at any time of the year but just imagine snow falling on your head whilst you enjoy beer or champagne in a deliciously warm pool – regardless of the outside temperature.
It’s also a real experience being brave enough to get out!
Ever skied down a glacier or enjoyed cross-country skiing? Iceland may not be the first choice for those looking for a straight skiing holiday but you can make it part of your itinerary should you choose to holiday here.
Get suited and booted in your best thermals and head out to enjoy some of the best whale watching on the planet during winter off the Icelandic coast. Orcas follow the route of herring around the Snaefellness Peninsula during winter and tourists can get an intimate look at these powerhouses from the safety of the tour boat.
Chapter II: Things you need to know before arriving in Iceland!
A lot of people have no idea what to expect when they come to Iceland, which can be really awesome. It means that everything’s totally new and every experience is a surprise! But not everyone likes surprises. If you’re someone who wants to know a bit about Iceland before you arrive, then we’re here to help you out. Who better to ask than the Midgard staff already living here?
Where is Iceland?
Let’s start with a basic question: where is Iceland?
Well, we’re a Nordic island next to the lower tip of Greenland, to the left of Norway and up from the United Kingdom. Now you can find us on a map and see exactly where you’re headed!
What’s the Weather Like?
Knowing what the weather’s like before travelling to a country is somewhat of a necessity. Unless you want to bring a wardrobe full of clothes, it helps to know the temperature at the very least!
What people often find surprising is that we’re actually quite a lot warmer than other countries in a similar position – there is a reason for this but it’s all science-y and we won’t get into it now. To be honest, we pretty much get every type of weather you can imagine, so it’s a great idea to check local forecasts for where you’re going and pack accordingly.
That said, in Iceland you can experience all four seasons in one day from sunshine to snow, so our best advice is to layer up, especially during winter if you’re going to be active as it’s great to remove a layer as you warm up or throw one on if the temperature drops.
You can usually bet on visiting some pretty chilly areas, so be sure to have your thermals packed and good, warm waterproofs. Not to mention some sturdy, durable walking boots and thick socks to keep your feet toasty!
Taking our capital city of Reykjavik as an example, the city’s about an hour from the Midgard Base Camp and, at the height of winter in January, will see temperatures of around 0C, though they can range from -10C to +10C.
Also check out our article on What To Pack For Your Icelandic Adventure to fill your suitcase like an expert adventurer!
To the typical Westerner, we don’t eat anything too ‘weird’ over here. So, don’t be worried! Chances are if you order something you don’t know you’re not going to be scared by what’s on your plate.
Our most common fast food is a hot dog or, as we call it, Pylsur. It’s super tasty – it’s really popular with tourists, so be sure to give one a try!
A lot of places will serve soups (particularly meat soup) which is hearty and just what you need when the weather gets a bit colder outside. We also have a lot of lamb, including our traditional Hangikjöt which is smoked and very popular, and fish, which is everywhere because it’s so easy to catch in our seas.
Skyr is probably the most popular Iceland exclusive – you’ll see it absolutely everywhere you go! It’s kind of like a yoghurt and you can get it either flavoured or unflavoured (most travellers prefer the sweeter flavoured Skyr, but give both a go!). Your trip to Iceland isn’t complete without at least one Skyr!
How Much Does It All Cost?
At the time of writing this (October 2017), the exchange rate from Icelandic Króna (ISK) to varying currencies is 141 ISK to 1 GBP (UK), 124 ISK to 1 EUR (Euro), 106 ISK to 1 USD (USA) and 83 ISK to 1 UAD (Australia). But be sure to check before you go!
A pint of beer (because, let’s face it, that’s what everyone wants to know first) is around 1,100 ISK. A mid-range meal for two with three courses costs around 12,000 ISK and a regular cappuccino costs around 532 ISK – just to give you an idea of prices.
You can check out a very extensive list on prices that’s updated frequently over at Numbeo – it’s super useful!
Chapter III: Answering the most searched questions on Google about Iceland
We thought we’d listen to the people and ask the questions you’re obviously all dying to know, so here are the answers to some of the most searched Google questions about Iceland. You’re welcome!
- Does Iceland have trees? – Great question. The Vikings cut a lot of trees down in Iceland for materials and firewood, then their grazing sheep and soil erosion made it difficult for trees to flourish. It left barren, ethereal looking landscapes but that was a long time ago and although we have fewer trees than other countries you would be surprised how many trees prosper on our sub-arctic island!
- What language does Iceland speak? – Icelandic. It’s pretty hard for most travellers to understand and pronounce, so luckily a lot of us speak English too.
- Why is Iceland’s crime rate so low? – Because we’re all lovely. Jokes aside (although we really are all lovely), we do have one of the lowest violent crime rates in the world and you can find out more in this BBC News article.
- Does Iceland have an army? – Nope! But with that low crime rate, we seem to be doing just fine without one!
- Why does Iceland have so many volcanoes? – We do, don’t we? It’s because we sit on the mid-Atlantic ridge, which is a diverging tectonic plate boundary.
- Why does Iceland not have McDonalds? – This one was followed by ‘Why does Iceland have McDonalds?’ which is when we lost trust in the most searched Google questions. But no, we don’t have McDonalds, not since we got rid of them all in 2009. But do you really want to travel to another country just to sit and eat a Big Mac? You might as well stay at home!
There you have it, that’s Iceland in a nutshell! Well, it’s not really. There’s so much to learn and discover here that we can’t wait to show you, but for now this is a great base of knowledge! At least you’ll have an idea of where you’re going and what it’s like.
If you want any more information or have any questions – no matter how silly you think they are! – feel free to chat to our team. Even if you’ve just got some pre-travel nerves and want reassurance, we’ll be happy to be there for you. Our main aim at Midgard is that every traveller who chooses us has the best possible experience, and part of that means that we’re always around to help you whenever you need.
Keep reading to discover the best activities and events to attend in Iceland this winter.
Chapter IV: Activities & Events – The Best Things to do in Iceland this Winter
Unlike other countries, where summer is usually more appealing, winter is a great time to visit Iceland! In winter, Iceland is magical, alluring and we want to share it all with you!
Our landscapes are beautiful all year round but winter is a truly mesmerising time to visit, with snow-capped peaks and endless landscapes creating captivating vistas. There’s a reason both Game of Thrones and Star Wars have filmed here – Iceland looks like a different planet!
It’s not just about the landscapes though. There are also a ton of events and activities going on during winter that you don’t want to miss out on and we’ve shared a few of them and some amazing winter activities in this chapter!
From natural wonders to food and music festivals this chapter has everything you need for a fantastic winter in Iceland!
Icelandic Events in the Winter Months
There are way too many events to mention them all here, so we’re just going to highlight a few of our favourites that make winter in Iceland awesome!
If you’re looking for something that’s not on this list feel free to ask us, we can talk for days and days about all the great things going on!
The Food and Fun Festival
We’ll start with The Food and Fun Festival which is amazing as it sounds. This takes place in Reykjavik, the easiest city to get to from base camp.
The Food and Fun Festival is essentially a chance to eat some of the most delicious food you’ll ever get to try! It’s a time when renowned chefs team up with restaurants to create sublime menus and, on the last day, there is a competition of three courses prepared by all the chefs taking part.
There’s then a huge party to finish it all off where you can dance and drink the night away with the chefs who cooked your meals! It’s great fun and a superb chance to try some real culinary delights.
A post shared by Food & Fun Reykjavik (@foodandfunreykjavik) on
Now, we can’t talk about Iceland’s winter without mentioning Jól, which is our Christmas (but we did it first, just so you know) and is officially celebrated on the 24th, though the whole season isn’t too be missed!
There’s so much to do including concerts and theatrical performances as well as taking a walk down the main street of Laugavegur in Reykjavik on the 24th to soak in the warm atmosphere and everything going on. There are a bunch of traditions that you’ll get to see, take part in and enjoy over this wonderful time.
Other winter events you should definitely check out include – but definitely aren’t limited to – the Winter Lights Festival, Iceland Airwaves Music Festival (right at the beginning of winter) and the mid-winter festival of Þorrablót.
Activities to Keep You Busy During Winter In Iceland
We can keep you entertained throughout winter with some incredible activities organised by our friends at Midgard Adventure.
Not only does this make it super simple for you (you literally just have to ask us and we can get it all arranged) but you know it’ll be awesome! Here are four different activities you might want to try.
Landmannalaugar offers one of the most breathtaking landscapes to be found anywhere on the planet. Sitting atop the Mid Atlantic Ridge, the area is blessed with natural hot springs and a colour palette that will make your inner-artist swoon thanks to the orange and cream (rhyolite) and blue and green mountains.
First, drive around the base of one of Europe’s most active volcanoes – Hekla. The route will then take you through captivating, contorted lava flows that have emerged from a myriad of different craters and fissures.
After enjoying the lava field hike, you can rest your weary feet in a hot spring bath!
South Coast Super Jeep Tour
Our next adventure takes you along the South Coast of Iceland, an area renowned for its breath-taking scenery and captivating views. We’ll take you in one of our impressive super jeeps and you’ll have the chance to experience waterfalls, ice caps, glaciers and the beautiful Icelandic coast. Bring your hiking boots, too – you didn’t think we’d let you stay in the jeep all day, did you?
Valley of Þórsmork Tour
Named after the mighty Nordic God, Thor, the valley of Þórsmork definitely deserves an overnight trip. We’ll hop into our super-jeep and take you to glaciers, volcanoes, water-cut canyons and so much more! We can’t explain how incredible the things you’re going to see on this trip are and we really urge you to do this. It’s a great opportunity to explore everything Þórsmork has to offer. We’ll even treat you to a traditional, tasty lamb dinner when we stay over! Don’t say we don’t treat our travellers right!
Winter In Iceland – Four Day Tour
You can’t come to Iceland during the winter without going on our Northern lights tour. You just can’t. For three nights and four days, we’ll take you on a trip that will stay with you for the rest of your life, showing you some of the most stunning scenery that, not only Iceland, but the world has to offer. You’ll be humbled by the wonders of nature.
We’ll take you to every must-see spot in the South including Þórsmörk, Skógafoss and Seljalandsfoss waterfalls, Reynisfjara for the black sand beach, Dyrhólaey island and Sólheimajökull Glacier for an ice walk. We’ll also give you plenty of time to sit back and relax in a rooftop hot tub and watch the unbeatable sight of the Northern lights. If you want to experience some of the most incredible things the natural world has to offer, you just have to do this trip!
So, what are you waiting for? It’s time to start booking! If you have any questions you need answering, then ask away. We’re always happy to help and, being Icelandic residents, have plenty of knowledge to share! Our main aim is to provide you with all the help you need to make yours the trip of a lifetime, so don’t be afraid to ask us anything at all!
Chapter V: What people say about Iceland
We’ll admit it, we’re rather biased.
We love Iceland, from the people, cuisine, activities and events through to the landscapes, volcanoes, glaciers and natural phenomena.
But we don’t want you to feel you haven’t got a full view of Iceland from this guide so we asked people who recently travelled here to share their thoughts on the country!
So check out what the general public have to say about Iceland!
“Iceland was the one country that I had no idea what to expect as a Millennial, Black traveler. However, Iceland has remained one of my most favorite countries. The untapped, pristine beauty is something that even the best photographers in the world couldn’t capture through a lens.
Not to mention the nightlife was one of my top 5 best experiences!
Imagine going into a bar on a Monday night and singing all of your favorite 90’s r&b jams until 3 am.
That is Iceland. Full of wonder, beauty, and surprises even the most novice and expert travelers would not expect.”
– Rachel Hill, Rachel Travels
Volcanoes & Ice Cream
“Iceland is a land of volcanoes and ice cream. It’s chock full of caves, glaciers and volcanoes you can explore. There’s an elevator that descends deep into Thrihnukagigur volcano and trekking through the caves in Europe‘s second largest glacier, Langjökull is like entering a real life ice palace. The food in Iceland is expensive, but incredible. Driving around the island you’ll bump into tons of local farms that serve homemade ice cream in quirky flavors like birch, dandelion and liquorice.”
– Krista Canfield McNish, founder and chief discoverer of FoodWaterShoes
Safe & Warm!
“You probably have 1 million emails already saying Iceland is great because it’s so beautiful but I think it’s fantastic for the following reasons:
– You can see the northern lights without having to be in temperatures all that far below zero thanks to the Gulf Stream. Most other places popular for the northern lights have that arctic weather and are damn cold! Think -30 Celsius at night to have clear skies.
– Also, it’s the been ranked the safest country by the center for economics and peace. People left their cars running with the keys inside while going to the grocery store. That’s how safe it is.”
– Kristin Addis, Be My Travel Muse
Gastronomy, Natural Wonders & Culture
“Iceland has long been known among adventure and nature-loving travelers as a destination that delights all the senses – from the healing geothermal waters of the Blue Lagoon, to the dramatic landscapes of the Ring Road. Here are four reasons why Iceland is the perfect destination to bump to the top of your bucket list now.
Gastronomy: Pescatarians and carnivores will enjoy Iceland’s unique offerings of super-fresh seafood straight out of the chilly northern Atlantic and abundance of fresh lamb. Ingredients like langoustine, cod, haddock and salmon are served up in a variety of ways. A must-try dish isKjötsúpa (lamb soup with root vegetables).
Natural Wonders: With no shortage of stunning natural scenery, Iceland boasts to satisfy the outdoorsy traveler throughout the year. Summertime ushers in the world’s largest puffin colonies and the start of the festival season. It’s also the ideal time for hiking in South Iceland and the Westfjords. Winter brings an otherworldly white backdrop that makes ice caving, glacier hikes and Northern Lights watching the most sought-after activities…
Culture: Iceland plays host to dozens of cultural events throughout the year including the Food and Fun Festival (March), Reykjavík ArtsFestival (June), Reykjavík International Film Festival (September) and the massive Iceland Airwaves Music Festival (November), among others. The country also has a fascinating history dating back to the 9th century. The National Museum of Iceland in Reykjavík boasts over 2,000 artefacts spanning centuries of Viking settlements and contemporary culture.”
– David Hoffman, David’s Been Here
“Iceland may be the closest you’ll come to visiting another planet. Its unique volcanic landscape offers a variety of experiences you can’t have anywhere else in the world. Need to unwind? Then take a dip in the healing waters of the Blue Lagoon. Looking for adventure? Then visit the Silfra Fissure to swim between two continents! Love chasing waterfalls? Iceland is filled with some of the most impressive in the world! It’s no wonder Iceland has become so popular!”
– Stephanie Miller, The Scenic Suitcase
“Iceland’s staggering array of dramatic natural wonders has produced an otherworldly landscape, and its volcanoes, thermal springs, glaciers, icebergs, moss-covered valleys, and black sand beaches are best explored in summer or winter. It’s little wonder Iceland is known as “the Land of Fire and Ice,” and with fascinating Viking history and creative cuisine to round out a trip to this beautiful country, it’s an unforgettable destination.”
–Deborah Tobey, Boundless Journeys
“Often referred to as ‘the land of fire and ice’, Iceland is home to many active volcanoes and vast glaciers and is the world’s youngest country. With nearly 80% of the country uninhabited, natural beauty prevails in the form of dramatic mountain peaks, icy glaciers, deep fjords, steaming lava fields and black sand beaches.
There is so much more to this country than just the Northern Lights. Travel in the summer months to horse ride over the fertile lowlands, whizz over glaciers by snowmobile, soar over waterfalls by paraglide, or peddle through Reykjavik’s streets by bicycle.”
– Alex Wix, Wix Squared
“I first saw the northern lights on my second trip to Iceland, nearly 10 years ago. They’re impressive enough in photographs, but witnessing them yourself for the first time is a truly life-defining moment. Watching the lights flicker and dance across the sky, swirling through a kaleidoscope of colour that illuminates the mountains and lava fields is an experience that stays with you for life.”
– Jenna Gottlieb, Author of The Northern Lights In Iceland
Thank you for reading our ultimate guide to Iceland in winter 2018! Please feel free to share it with your travel companions, friends, family and anyone who would be interested in learning more about Iceland!
If you are inspired to visit Iceland in winter why not get in touch with the team at Midgard Base Camp who can arrange your stay and offer expert advice on what to do while you’re here!
If you would like to know more about the MIdgard Base Camp read our article Why You Should Stay At Midgard Base Camp!