Iceland in Winter – What to see & Essentials you need

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I am used to traveling to tropical places or go somewhere warmer during winter months. Iceland has been in my travel list for a very long time to see the Northern Lights and it so happened as a coincidence this winter. One of the important highlight of this trip is travelling with 3 other amazing women who had similar interest to travel around the world. We formed a Women’s only travel group to explore and travel atleast once a year to chase every corner of the world. Iceland was our first Women’s only international trip to push our boundaries, take risks and be able to take some time off from our regular activities at home and work.I have covered our Iceland winter travel experiences in a series of posts and must-see places that you do not want to miss. Hope you enjoy the posts, feel free to reach out if you have any questions.

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February is definitely one of the coldest months in Iceland but the winter in Iceland is quite unpredictable. I have been following very closely the weather until the day of our travel and was little worried of the snow and rain forecasts. Thanks to mother nature, there were not much disruptions to our everyday travel and average temperatures were around -4 and 0 degrees Celsius.The chance of precipitation in February is quite high and it can come in any form, so be prepared for snow, rain, sleet, and, some sunshine too! You will see majority of Iceland with snow covered landscapes, icy roads but February is one of the best months to see Northern lights, Ice Cave exploration, Snowmobile activities and the geothermal pools. You get to visualize different part of Iceland in Winter that is beautiful, mesmerizing, picturesque and gives you whole new perspective of this beautiful country.

You can also expect strong winds, storms and sometimes blizzards with extremes of temperature that you can experience all of this in a single day.The weather is colder, darker and icier with more snow in the north than in the south of the country. When you plan to do a self-drive or book a tour please keep this in mind especially the daylight is going to be shorter in winter. We did majority of the tours as early as 8.30 AM.

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Things to know before visiting Iceland in February

  • Bathing in a geothermal pool is one of the best winter activity, so dont miss this action – Great Relaxation in winter!. Blue Lagoon is one of the most popular geothermal spa attraction for tourists.
  • Blue Lagoon has luggage drop/storage option for a nominal fee of 5$ – If you travel directly from airport to Blue Lagoon, you can make use of this option and is very well organized
  • Ice Caves are popular in winter – be sure to book in advance to secure a spot. You can read my post for more information
  • Northern light hunting – Plan on Day-1 of your trip, so you have plenty of time to travel on other days even if you miss seeing the lights
  • If you are adventurous, there are other winter activities like snowmobiling and glacier lagoon hike – you might want to book these tours in advance as well
  • Flybus Transportation – Extremely flexible airport transfers between Keflavik airport to Reykjavik city – Its fast and only 45 minute drive and free Wifi is available
  • Rental Cars: If you are not used to driving in ice and snow, highly recommend to take the local transportation for your tours. We did the fully guided tours due to the unpredictable weather conditions in February

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Winter Itinerary – 5 Day Trip Plan
I’m sharing our trip plan, feel free to move around based on your interests. I would also recommend doing Blue Lagoon on your last day if you want to relax and head to airport. Horse riding tours and lava tunnel are other tours that you can consider if you have more days to spend in Iceland.

Day-1 : Visit Blue Lagoon (Geothermal pool) from Airport (15 minute drive from airport before you hit the 1 hour drive to Reykjavik city)
Day-1 Evening: Northern Lights hunting
Day-2: Golden Circle & Kerid Crater
Day-2 Evening:-Keep it open for your Northern lights if you miss the first day
Day-3 & Day 4: South Coast Iceland & Blue Ice Cave(2 day-tour)
Day-5: Reykjavik City explore (Big Church Hallgrímskirkja, Perlan Museum)

Accommodations

Ocean view from the condo
Ocean view from the condo

Iceland is a popular tourist destination, so there are plenty of hotel choices that you can find in Reykjavik city. Most of the tours start from Reykjavik and several hotels and apartments have pick-up points that is convenient for travelers to hop on. If you are doing South Coast Iceland, you will be staying outside Reykjavik and is not recommended to come back to the city for your night stay. So when booking, plan your accommodation accordingly. We stayed in an Air B&B condominium that was close to the sea-side and outside the downtown. There are several local transportation options available and many of the places are less than 10 minutes drive. So if you get really good deals on your condos or apartments outside city, I would recommend to go for it as you have really good local transportation options.

Seaside right outside our apartment.
Seaside right outside our apartment.

Place we stayed: Ocean View Penthouse This house was indeed full of art pretty much full house and great views of the ocean. It was just 3 minute drive to Radisson Blue Saga hotel that is one of the pick up points for all your Iceland attractions.

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What to bring and wear in Winter
The weather can change so fast no matter what time of year you visit, so packing layers is always preferred. The most important things to bring are waterproof, windproof outerwear and winter hiking boots. There’s nothing worse than freezing and having cold hand and feet. Below was our packing list for Iceland trip:.If you are in the United States, you will find majority of the best brands in REI & Sports Authority stores.

  • Waterproof and windproof jacket If you’re going to Iceland in the winter, it’s worth investing in a reliable waterproof jacket. A ski jacket or a Northface parka is all you need. It just has to be waterproof and not water repellent. I carried REI’s windproof jacket that is Gortex, hard shell cover and water resistant. The wind can be so powerful in Iceland that it can push you really hard in the speed ranging 120 to 150mph. My visit to Gulfoss and Vatnajokull glacier rides was so windy where you can feel the wind pressure across all directions – These jackets really did help me to withstand the wind and be able to enjoy the moment.
  • Ski Pants Iceland is cold and windy, so it is a must to pack one to two pairs of Ski pants. Not only will they keep you warm, they’re also very comfortable to walk in the snow. I recently tried a new brand from Amazon that kept me warm during my stay in Iceland. Ski Pants
  • Waterproof hiking boots In Winter you will be spending most of your time walking on the glaciers, hiking snow/ice covered waterfalls and several slippery roads. There are many brands available but please make sure they are waterproof boots. I took the Merrell hiking boots and other brands like Salomen are some excellent choices for your boots.
  • Fleece-lined leggings Carry couple of warm leggings to layer up with your base layer pants that will keep you warm. Costco and REI carry good number of options for the leggings like the 32 degrees, patagonia etc.
  • Waterproof Gloves This is another must pack item in your bags – please make sure to get waterproof gloves as you will be in close proximity in snow and ice and important to keep your hands warm. If you can buy gloves that have touch screen capabilities, it will be ideal for your photo shoots. This is one of the toughest part for me as I was not feeling comfortable with my gloves and had to remove many times to capture some great shots.
  • Neck Warmers The material is very light weight, fleece lined and flexible one. It is also water resistant and you can wear in multiple waysMerino Wool Neck Warmers
  • Head/Ear protectors  In order to protect from strong winds that you’ll definitely experience in winter, do get a strong protected covers for your ears and head. There are warm beanies available but make sure it is extremely tight and protects from the wind.
  • Hand & Toe Warmers  Take a lot of hand and toe warmers – extremely helpful during late night hunting of the Northern lights and for your Glacier/Blue Ice Cave tours.
  • Crampons  This is highly recommended winter essential packing item – I found these to be super helpful and protective when walking on the ice sheets and glacier hikes. For tours like Blue Ice Cave, they provide you with crampons to walk inside the cave. However I found it extremely hard even in parking lots, hiking the waterfall areas where crampons are super helpful to give you the grip in walking. So please remember to take them with you.

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