Reykjavik in the winter - our favorite activities during the cold months
When thinking about the Icelandic winter, a lot of people might feel discouraged to visit due to the darkness and harsh weather in the country. However, this should not stop anyone – there are plenty of activities to do, and some of them are only available during the winter months. You know the saying: there is no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing, so make sure to pack all the warm things you have. Lots of layers and water-resistant clothing are essential since it can be often windy and snowy outside, but you will definitely not regret it. There are a lot of awesome activities to do during the wintertime in Iceland, here is a list of our favorites.
Northern Lights hunt
The number one reason for anyone to visit Iceland in the winter is the mesmerizing Northern Lights. This phenomenon is only visible when it’s completely dark outside, so between September and April – the rest of the months are too bright because of the Midnight Sun. To see them, make sure you are far away from the city lights, the sky is clear from clouds and you have a good forecast. If you have a rental car, there you can hunt for the perfect spot yourself, just make sure to be safe on the dark roads, but you can also join a tour. There is a wide selection available ranging from coach-, minibus-, super jeep or even boat tours, so everyone will find what suits them the most. They usually provide their passengers with hot chocolate and sometimes you can even receive great tips on how to take the perfect pictures of the dancing lights.
Swimming pools and lagoons
There is nothing better than enjoying snowfall – or even the Aurora - from a warm pool. Luckily, Reykjavik has plenty of outside swimming pools and hot tubs, all heated with geothermal water. The adventurous ones can even try sea swimming at Nauthólsvík, a small beach popular with both swimmers and kayakers. You can also explore the various lagoons and spas close to Reykjavik. The famous Blue Lagoon is the most popular one, and it might be a good idea arrange tickets ahead of time, since it can be booked out quite quickly. The Secret Lagoon, Iceland’s oldest pool and the Laugarvatn Fontana spa are both situated along the Golden Circle route, which gives a good opportunity to jump into a pool of warm water during a whole day of exploring the Icelandic countryside.
Skiing and snowboarding
Not a lot of people consider Iceland as a ski destination, but the truth is, there are quite a few great ski areas in the country. Bláfjöll is the largest in the capital area and it only takes about half an hour to drive there from Reykjavik. There are slopes of various levels, and you can rent equipment at the resort. There’s no need to panic if you don’t have a car, there are public buses going to Bláfjöll every day.
Stepping into an ice cave can seem like stepping into another world, with its beautiful blue colors and strange shapes. If you want to discover them, you have several options to do so, starting with a man-made cave in Reykjavik, natural ice caves on the countryside or you can even visit the inside of a glacier. Some of these caves are only open during the winter, because the summer temperatures melt the ice and make the caves dangerous to visit.
Iceland is famous of its local sea life with over 10 types of whales in its waters. The cold weather should not scare you away from meeting these beautiful animals – companies provide warm overalls and blankets to wear above your clothes. If you are not that keen on joining a boat tour but still want to know more about whales, make sure to check out the Whales of Iceland exhibition in Reykjavik.
One thing is certain: if you come to Iceland in the winter, you will find snow. Snowmobiling is a great way to explore the highlands, which is otherwise not possible during the winter months due to the roads being closed. It can be good to combine snowmobiling with the Golden Circle, since a lot of tours start at the Gullfoss waterfall.
We already gave some tips on being on ice and in ice, now it’s time to climb it. Ice climbing tours are a lot of fun and they are only available during the winter months. These tours usually don’t require a lot of climbing experience, and you will surely warm up from the inside, so no need to worry about freezing off your fingers.
If you happen to visit Reykjavik in the middle of the storm, don’t worry, you will not get bored. There are plenty of museums to visit. For the lovers of sagas and history, we recommend the Saga Museum, the Settlement Exhibition or the National Museum of Iceland. If you’re curious about art, check out the Art Museum or the Museum of Design and Applied Art. Perlan has an indoors ice cave and an exhibition about the wonders of Iceland, which might be interesting for kids and if you’re looking for something different, check out the Icelandic Punk Museum. For a more active experience we recommend the ride at FlyOver Iceland, which lets you soar above the country by using a flight ride simulation.
Diving and snorkeling
For the lovers of ice-cold water, this is the place to be during the winter. Several companies organize snorkeling and diving trips in the clean water of the Silfra fissure, which can be found in the Thingvellir National Park on the Golden Circle route. To be able to take part in this activity, you need to know how to swim as well as fill out a basic health related questionnaire, then you are good to go to discover what is hiding under the surface.
Cafes and bars
Sipping coffee while there is a snowstorm raging outside can be very cozy, so can be sitting down for a drink after a long day of traveling and exploring. A lot of bars have happy hours in the evenings, and some of them host jazz evenings or open mic nights as well. Make sure to check them out after coming back from your day trip.
Check out all the tours mentioned and more on our Tourdesk. Thinking about renting a car? Our partner, Lagoon Car Rental has competitive prices and great customer service. If you're planning to drive around, keep an eye on the website of the Icelandic Road Administration and Safetravel.is. For weather-related news and Northern Lights forecast, follow the website of the Icelandic Met Office.