Iceland, Travel
Comments 44

Winter in Iceland – Things I wish I knew

It is not by mistake that Iceland is sometimes called the Land of Fire and Ice: with both volcanoes and glaciers, it truly is a land of contrasts. For this reason, winter in Iceland has a lot to offer, with breath-taking snow-covered landscapes and stunning glaciers. But it is also necessary to take some precautions as winter there is really no joke, and the power of nature is truly humbling.

I talked last week about the best things about winter in Iceland, but there are also some things that I wish I knew before going there, and that would have saved me time while packing and feeling cold and a whole lot of stress and anxiety there!

Cold in Western Europe is different than cold in Iceland

I know I’ll seem pretty stupid with this point, and I see the ones living in cold countries rolling their eyes in the back, but if you’re like me, and you’re used to “mild” winters with little to no snow, don’t underestimate how cold it can be in Northern countries. Turns out, 2°C in Western Europe are very different than 2°C in the Icelandic countryside, and I almost arrived there with no scarf nor ski boots…

Don’t go cheap with your car rental

Roads can be very tricky and dangerous in winter: they can obviously be covered by a thick layer of ice, and there is always the risk of black ice, blizzards and snow piling up, creating a beautiful, but very slippery white cover on the road. Add to this the strong winds and black sand that can damage the car, and you now see all the different reasons to spend a little more money to be extra safe. What you lose in money you’ll gain in peace of mind during your trip.

For our trip, we had insurance for the rental car from my credit card and, once we got there, we upgraded our tyres – they are normal winter tyres by default – to have ones with a better grip on ice and snow. From the first evening, when we had to drive on a snow-covered road during a snow storm at night, we thanked ourselves for this upgrade as we felt a bit more confident and safe.

Check the road and weather conditions

The Icelandic weather is pretty unpredictable, and it can change very quickly in the span of a few hours. Also, after long and cold nights, the snow turns to ice, making the roads very dangerous. For this reason, the roads are constantly monitored for safety and sometimes blocked when they turn into a nice and slippery layer of pure ice. Thankfully, everyone can check the road conditions on a dedicated website that is updated in real time. So, before leaving in the morning or even before venturing further out in the afternoon, don’t forget to check the roads and weather to stay as safe as possible.

Don’t hesitate to call the “helpline”

Because the roads can be closed and dangerous, a specific number is available for anyone needing help or advice regarding the road conditions. By calling that specific number you can also get general information, for instance regarding the estimated time when the road  will be cleared. It proved to be extra useful not only to plan our itineraries in bad weather, but also when we found ourselves in  the middle of the snow storm with absolutely zero visibility of the road, and we didn’t know how to go back to our accommodation.

Your plans will change

For all the reasons mentioned above, it is better not to plan everything to the minute and have a flexible schedule that you can rearrange in case something doesn’t go as planned. Sometimes, you might also have to skip something just to be safe. That sucks and it can be pretty unmotivating, but that will just be a reason to go back! Also, if you want to book any type of tour (for instance to see the Northern lights), it can be cancelled because of bad weather, so try to find one that will offer you a second booking in case of adverse weather conditions.

It is better to stick to the South coast

In winter, the Northern part of the island is mostly covered in snow and the weather is even more unpredictable, whereas the Southern part of it, especially along the coast, is rarely blocked. The good news is that most of the main attractions are located on the Southern coast and on the Golden Circle near Reykjavik, so you won’t miss out on a lot! On our trip, we drove along the coast all the way to Höfn then came back, and we still saw so many things!

Some things might be inaccessible

The roads are not the only thing that might be inaccessible in winter, and there are certain things that you will have to miss if you go to Iceland in winter. Two things come to mind here: the first one are the waterfalls. While you can access a lot of them, you can’t always go behind them as the path is completely covered in snow. It can be fine for some of them (we went behind Kvernufoss for instance), but not all. The other thing are some hikes or walking paths, that are not recommended unless you have crampons. We managed easy ones to see the Skaftafell glacier and the Solheimasandur plane wreck but we were basically ice skating without skates and it worked out fine only because it was all flat.

The days are short

Be sure to check out the sunrise and especially sunset times before planning a full day of exploring, as you won’t be able to see much during the night, plus it’s also more dangerous to drive with low visibility. For this reason, I’d say that going there with winter in full swing is not the best solution if you want to explore a lot, but the longer the night, the more time you have to catch the Northern Lights!


I hope this didn’t discourage you to explore this beautiful country in the coldest season of the year, but if it did, don’t hesitate to refer back to my previous post to regain some motivation! I loved visiting in winter so much and the landscapes are made so much more epic at that time of the year!

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Hey, I'm Juliette! I'm starting this blog to keep a record of and share my adventures. I love everything sweet, sunny days, fluffy kittens and people who smile. When I don't work I like to discover new places and try to learn languages. I hope you will find something that you like in here! ☼

44 Comments

    • Yes, the key is to know what to expect and then you won’t be disappointed, and especially in winter it is important to be flexible! But most of the most popular sites are in the South so you don’t miss out on a lot! Thanks for reading!

      Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you!! Since the weather is so unpredictable, I feel like it’s always better to be aware of everything that can happen to avoid being disappointed once there! Also, some of those things were really so useful when we were there!

      Liked by 1 person

  1. Iceland is definitely on my list! Coming from a sub-tropical country, it is a bit intimidating how cold it is! But I wanna see the Northern Lights and Icelandic folklore is so interesting! this post will help me in the future when I travel there. Also, great photos!

    Happy Holidays! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, the cold and weather are both a bit intimidating, but it is really beautiful! I hope you’ll get to go one day! Thanks for stopping by! 😊😊

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  2. Thank you for this very informative article. I have not been to Iceland in winter, only in July with the long days, but already there are precautions to be taken due to the low population density and therefore low rescue. However, it can be a first step to get familiar with the country before coming back in winter.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Wow, it must have been amazing in July too! As you say, going in summer first can help to get familiar with the land and roads before seeing the country change entirely in winter! Thanks for reading 😊

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Your photos are spectacular 🙈🙈 wow! Even though you had to learn some things on the way, it was an incredible experience 😍 thank you for sharing it. ioana❤️🌍

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you! I was very anxious at the beginning too, but if they allow you to drive on it, then the road is not that bad, and special tyres really do make a difference! Thanks for stopping by!

      Liked by 1 person

    • Honestly when I see pictures of Iceland in summer it just looks very different so the snow definitely changes the landscape a lot! Some landscapres really looked like black and white pictures too, it was very impressive! Thanks for stopping by!

      Liked by 1 person

    • Woow, I’m so excited for you!! Definitely keep these things in mind then! If you have any questions feel free to ask them too. I also linked a useful website in my itinerary post (along with my itinerary ahah)! I can’t wait for you to experience this!

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  4. Wow, such beautiful winter photos, Juliette! Even with short days and cold weather, I would still very much love to visit Iceland in winter. And yes, you are right – knowing what to expect when travelling to a certain place as well as managing your expectations is key in travel preparations to ensure that your time abroad is a winner. This comes down to research, mindset, and commitment. Thanks for sharing and have a good day 🙂 Aiva xx

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  5. Traveling in Iceland during the wintertime is challenging, but also very rewarding! I would hesitate due to icy road conditions and short daytime hours, but I can see that the visit is still a lot of fun! Looks like you had a wonderful time– stay warm this holiday season!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, the roads can be a bit scary but it was never a full-on layer of ice: if the road is not closed it usually means that it can safely be driven on. The short days definitely force you to stop your explorations, but for us it wasn’t that much of a problem as in early March the days were not too short, so we did feel like we saw enough! Thanks for reading!

      Liked by 1 person

  6. These photos are amazing, especially the waterfall. It’s good to know that most of the attractions are located on the southern coast and still accessible in winter. However challenging and difficult it might be visiting Iceland in winter, it certainly seems worth all the trouble.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you so much! Yes, most of the main touristic spots are easily accessible also in winter (though it might be harder to reach them), so you don’t miss out on a lot! I really think it is worth it, though summer is probably amazing too!

      Liked by 1 person

    • Ahah, yes I feel you! Not being fond of cold weather it was also difficult for me, but the snow really creates a magical landscape! Luckily we had some sunny days too! Thanks for stopping by!

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  7. I wish I could say that I’ll have a use for these tips in the future, but Iceland might as well be the most inaccessible trip for me at the moment, especially seeing how I’d sooner focus on exploring the US first. But wow, would it be a real change of scenery to be in Iceland. Thanks for this post!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, Iceland is pretty inaccessible – especially from a financial point of view! I understand wanting to explore the US first too! The landscapes of Iceland are really unlike anything I had ever seen so, it was definitely a change of scenery! Thank for stopping by!

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  8. It sounds a lot of work, but for a place as beautiful as Iceland, I think I wouldn’t mind the extra preparations. I had no idea that some waterfalls are not completely frozen in wintertime over there — good to know this.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Yes, going in such a cold country in winter requires a lot of preparation, but the landscapes make it worth it! Some waterfalls are completely frozen, but others were not – maybe because it was towards the end of winter! Thanks for stopping by!

      Liked by 2 people

  9. well compared to any place in Europe the winter down here in Australia is mild! BUT – you soon adjust and find it cold none the less! However I have lived in Japan, northern Honshu, and would wake up and drive to work across snow and black ice when it was -13 degrees and boy that IS treacherous! Still, Iceland looks beautiful in your winter pics! great post Juliette!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ahahah yes, I have to say that sometimes I wish we had a more Australien winter here! -13 degrees is soooo cold! I tolerate it when I’m on holidays, but it must be so hard (and quite dangerous) to go to work everyday with these temperatures! Thanks for stopping by!

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    • Yes, the important thing is to be ready for it, but the beauty of the country itself really makes up for the small inconveniences! I hope you get to go there one day! Thanks for stopping by!

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