You WILL have an amazing time in Iceland in the winter – it comes down to timing and preparation.
Time of the Year
December through February-ish have the worst weather conditions. I went in January, it was challenging/near impossible to get north, and the western peninsula is completely off limits. March is 50-50 on the extreme weather scale.
*Important* You are not stronger than Mother Nature. Even if you have AWD/4WD, she doesn’t give a shit. I saw a lot of road closures due to weather, and saw a lot of news alerts about tourists getting rescued because they still went on them anyway.
September through November, and end of March going into May are great times to go – especially if you’re trying to see the Northern Lights. It’s outside of the busiest tourism season, but the weather is still manageable.
*No matter the time of year, it will always be very windy in Iceland. It is the third windiest place in the world.
Some upsides to visiting Iceland in April/May specifically, the Northern Lights + puffins return to the island for the summer – they leave by August. There is less people traffic when getting to more popular destinations, and absolutely nobody at lesser known destinations. Rentals, hotels, and flights are cheaper!
Some downsides to visiting outside of the busy season, there is no midnight sun (which is cool AF to experience) and there are certain campsites, restaurants, and other tourist destinations open only for the summer.
*Notes about the weather: Iceland is always windy, but not necessarily cold. It was warmer in Iceland in January than it was in NYC. What makes it feel freezing is that phenomenal arctic wind.
Since I’ve been to Iceland a few times, and have been there during different seasons, I think the best piece of advice I can give is to minimize how much planning/booking you do.
I apologize to my meticulous planners out there – but here me out first.
Excluding winter storms, the
day-to-day hour-to-hour weather in Iceland is not decently predictable so far out. I know a few people who have booked tours and planned hotel stays and it’s a crapshoot if it will work out.
I can hear it now, “Well Tabitha, that’s rather annoying… why should I bother to go?”
This is what makes visiting Iceland so unique – because it pushes us out of our comfort zones in different ways.
So – all this jabber aside, here is my ultimate booking recommendation:
Figure out your flight dates – book your ticket(s). Assuming you’re flying into Kelfavik Airport (KEF), book a night or two in advanced at the airport hotel, or in Reykjavik (maybe a 30 minute drive from the airport). And I highly recommend renting your own car for the entire trip and staying at hotels along the way. You can take your beautiful ass(es) wherever you want to go and create your own travel itinerary around the country.
Feeling more adventurous than that? Rent a camper for the entire journey, don’t worry about hotels, and park in designated areas on the side of the road or camp sites to sleep.
“WHAT? I’m not that free-spirited. You’re losing me, Tabitha! You’re losing me!”
OKAY. OKAY. I get it. Not everyone’s cup of tea.
Why I recommend renting your own vehicle is because there’s so much amazing stuff to see in Iceland everywhere, you can do it on your own time. Also – if you’re going to Iceland for the Northern Lights specifically – you can chase them however you want.
There are tour buses that go out at night for the Lights, and will take you out every night until you see them.
Or, you can use this website to chase them yourself. It also shows the weather, cloud cover, and the strength of the wind each day around the country.
Now – if you’re not a fan of driving around and want to rely on tours – no judgment here! My recommendation for that is, book some of your time based in Reykjavik, and book some of your time based in Akureyri. They are the two largest cities Iceland has to offer, but are at opposite sides of the country – this way, you can change what kind of tours you’re booking and get a little bit more out of your time there. A flight between Reykjavik and Akureyri isn’t terribly priced, and it’s a 45 minute flight.
This is where I provide a ton of links to most of what I’ve worn. My daily outfit breakdown:
- Hiking BootsThey’re from Merrell (my hiking boot of choice!). Warm, supportive, waterproof, good grip and I was able to walk on ice in certain areas. Their bottoms have different textured areas, almost feels like sand paper, that makes it a little easier to get through small ice patches.
- Wool SocksThese were a cheap buy for the pack, comfortable, and I was happy to wear them every day. The great thing about wool, is they also wick away moisture. I did not feel like I had swampy feet at all.
- Fleece Lined LeggingsThese are a one size fits all – I’m a size 12 roughly. And I did not feel comfortable wearing these just as they were out in public because I stretched them out. I did get them as an insulation layer under some windbreaker pants.
- Windbreaker PantsThese were super light, waterproof. They fit over my hiking boots with ease, and most definitely shielded me from the wind.
- Badass Red CoatBuilt in gloves, super windproof, waterproof, comfortable AF. It’s currently on sale for 50% of what I paid for it. From The North Face. FAUX FUR.
- I wore a random hoodie under my coat and some comfortable t-shirts with some spanx-esque tank tops for an extra layer, but also to help seal in some warmth around my chest. I have pretty bad asthma, so I was trying to keep that in check proactively.
Iceland is absolutely amazing to visit. If you do the Choose-Your-Own-Adventure option, please make safe decisions about your vehicle, and even safer choices while on the road.
I hope this serves as a great starting point for your adventure.
Feature photo taken in Hofn, Iceland. Canon 5D Mark IV, 24-70 mm lens.
Blue Lagoon Experience