Iceland Mag

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Iceland Mag


8 reasons you need to visit Iceland during winter

By Sara McMahon

  • Winter wonderland Winter often gets a bad rep, but the fact is, there are plenty of things to enjoy during the wintertide, from chunky sweaters to savoury foods. Photo/Vilhelm Gunnarsson

Winter often gets a bad rep, but the fact is, there are plenty of things to enjoy during the wintertide, from chunky sweaters to savoury foods. Here are eight reasons to visit Iceland during winter.

Norðurljós, northern lights, aurora, breiðamerkurjökull

The Northern Lights. Photo/Vilhelm Gunnarsson

1.The Northern Lights
Although modern science has explained the phenomenon that is the Aurora Borealis, the spectacle still stirs up feelings of awe and admiration in those who experience the otherworldly green curtain that dances lightly across the starry winter skies. The phenomenon occurs in Iceland all year around, given that the auroral zone is situated above the country. However, it can’t be seen between the months of May and September, because of the brightness of the summer sky.

Heitur pottur, Vesturbæjarlaug, sundlaug

Hot tub in Vesturbæjarlaug swimming pool.  Photo/Daníel Rúnarsson

2. Hot tubs and steam baths
Icelanders are known to be mad about their swimming pools; It‘s where people gather at the end of the day, all year round, to unwind and have a little tête-à-tête. A visit to the hot tubs during winter is a terrific experience. Sit outside in the warm water and enjoy some stargazing, and if you are lucky, the Northern Lights.

"Veður, weather, storm, snow, stormur, snjór, vetur"

Braving the elements. Photo/Stefán Karlsson

3. Chasing storms
Bad weather can mean good business for some! Tour operator Iceland Expeditions will bring the foolhardy on a special stormhike, a tour that lets guests brave the elements when every other organised tour has been cancelled due to severe weather.
The tour starts off with a visit to a local Search and Rescue station in Reykjavík where guests get to experience first-hand the specialized high-tech equipment, the custom fitted vehicles and facilities used on rescue missions. As a matter of fact, all the guides are members of local rescue teams, so guests are in very safe hands.

Snjókarl, vetur, fjölskylda, fólk, Ægisíða, snjór

Building a snowman Photo/Ernir Eyjólfsson

3. The snow
Playing in the snow is something that you're never too old to enjoy! Go sledding on Arnarhóll hill (in downtown Reykjavík), build a snowman, or create shapes in the snow with your young ones.
Or simply take a long, calming walk around town and enjoy listening to the faint marring sound the snow makes under your feet with each step you take.

Hallgrímskirkja, jól, snjór, winter, vetur

Hallgrímskirkja church Photo/GVA

4. The darkness  
The darkest days of winter can be very dark and very long. At the winter solstice, on the 21st of December, daylight lasts for only 4 hours and 8 minutes in Reykjavík.  Don’t let this discourage you from visiting Iceland during winter, because the limited daylight, the snow, and ice can give a completely different experience.

Þorrablót, Lopapeysan

Celebrating Þorrablót Photo/Valli

5. Þorrablót
In pre-Christian times Icelanders would celebrate the month of Þorri (which began on a Friday between the 19th and 25th of January) with a great mid-winter feast named Þorrablót. The tradition was lost soon after Icelanders converted to Christianity but was revived in 1873 by Icelandic students living in Copenhagen. By the 1960’s Þorrablót had become a popular part of Icelandic tradition and is still widely celebrated each year. A traditional Þorrablót buffet will include such delicacies as scorched sheep’s head, sour ram’s testicles, air dried fish, and fermented shark.

Hlíðarfjall, skíði, ski resort, Akureyri, winter, vetur

Hlíðarfjall ski area in Akureyri Photo/Vilhelm Gunnarsson

6. The winter sports
There are plenty of fun winter activities on offer in Iceland, be it skiing, hiking or dog sledding.
Eyjafjörður fjord, North Iceland, will leave you spoilt for choice when it comes to winter sport. A number of tour operators offer snowmobile tours in the area, while Inspiration Iceland offers wild and exciting dog sledding tours operated from Akureyri.


Kjötsúpa, meat soup

Warm meat soup Photo/GVA

7. Comfort food
All those rich soups, hearty stews, hot chocolates, and warm alcoholic beverages just taste better in winter.

Gamlárskvöld, flugeldar, New Year's Eve

Fireworks exploding over Reykjavík on New Year's Eve. Photo/Pjetur

8. New Year’s Eve
New Year’s Eve celebrations in Iceland are a bit mad, to say the least. The country’s rules and regulations regarding firework use are quite relaxed, giving the population the chance to let their inner pyromaniac loose in the most spectacular manner. On average, more than 500 tons of fireworks are shot into the sky on New Year‘s Eve,  around 1.5 kg (3 lbs.) per person. 

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