This vastly volcanic, geologically active country has recently become one of Instagram’s most tagged attractions. If you haven’t already made the journey up North, be prepared because Winter is coming! Not only is it always cold, but you might spot yourself some Jon Snow… mmm.
If you haven’t already been, we can bet it’s high on your bucket list for a few obvious reasons. Yes, there is more to Iceland than a landscape of ice and the Blue Lagoon, but damn is it all on the same level of absolute wonder with unbelievably vast scenes and the most picturesque barren landscape you can imagine. With Puffin’s, waterfalls, glaciers washed up on black sand beaches, active volcanos and, of course, the spectacular Aurora Borealis, there are simply not many places that compare.
Depending on what season you visit, you’ll get an extremely diverse landscape. It’s either a white wonderland in the winter months (yes, more GOT vibes), a rich green utopia in the summer months with their usual temp reaching a scorching 10-degrees Celsius, or something in between.
As you look out across the vast snowy expanse, it seems endless - a continuous white picture where both its beauty and its depth is deceptive. With short, frantic days trying to capture the light, and elongated nights that confuse your body clock, winter in Iceland is definitely not for the faint of heart. It’s an ancient land that attracts the most adventurous explorers, with brave surfers testing the rough winter waters and ice hikers seeking unforgettable sights. So, we have put together the ultimate guide so you can do Iceland like a pro.
Be prepared, it’s expensive!
Iceland is a country of visible affluence, meaning prices are high in this Nordic region. Be prepared and budget your bucks because there is so much to do and see! Rest easy knowing that all your money will go to the rare life-changing activity and, of course, food because most attractions of this striking country are free. If you’ve got money to spare, there is likely no location as worthy of your splurging for the ultimate romantic getaway. If you’re a bit tight on dosh but can’t surpass the opportunity to go, grab a few friends and turn it into a road trip. You will save heaps on car hire and accommodation.
Where to get your dosh
The best place to get money out is at the airport, trust us on this. You won't have to trawl the city and waste precious daylight looking for a bank and you’ll also be covered as soon as you leave the airport for wherever and whenever your hunger starts to emerge. With a range of delectable Icelandic treats scattered across the airport, you won’t have to look far. Avoid those sneaky international currency fees from your bank as you’re likely not going to be covered for Iceland Krona (ISK), and get yourself LOTS of cash. You’ll need it.
The only place to get your booze
Stock up on booze from duty-free. We can’t stress this one enough. Just like everything in Iceland alcohol is pricey! There is literally no cheaper or more convenient place to stock up on liquor than at duty-free. With grossly expensive price tags attached to the most basic beverages like Aussie Yellow Tail (which we know the true value of… $8), it will be your biggest regret not taking the time to booze up. Uh, we mean stock up!
Yes, you need them. This is not up for debate. For a tiny country, Iceland is vast in every sense of the word and nearly every major attraction (usually a waterfall) is a solid few hours’ drive in some direction. The Golden Circle is the most common route that is safest for all drivers and will lead you to the most enchanted places. A 4X4 is commonly noted as an essential in the icy winter months but you can probably survive without the extra wheels if the conditions are mild and you’re not venturing too far out.
Daylight. Changes. Everything.
Dramatic doesn’t begin to define the seasonal changes in Iceland. While the coldest months of October to February can have a scarce five hours of daylight, the warmer months of May to August are graced with nearly 24 hours of straight sunlight, where the sun sets for a mere three hours. The midnight sun is something that excites us and we’re wondering why Summer in Iceland isn’t more popular. Regardless, take note of these limited hours in winter when driving between waterfalls because navigating Iceland’s icy highways in the rain isn’t the best way to end a day-trip.
Where to stay
Get yourself an igloo. Yes, all those Pingu dreams can become a reality. It’s not quite a white Santorini cave but imagine a 360-degree bubble as you star gaze or happen to catch the Aura Borealis – you can tick off a few things off the bucket list at once!
What to do and where to go
Waterfall | Skógafoss
If you’ve ever wondered what it’s like looking down the length of a waterfall, here is the place to find out. Not only is the view from the bottom undeniably breathtaking but unlike most waterfalls, you can make the journey up the arduous steps to the top to gaze down the length of the cascading water. You can even walk the length of the earthy formations that lead to it – the perfect spot for photos bravely dangling off the edge of a chasm covered in icicles.
Tectonic Plate Floating | Silfra
Yes, you can get one more wear from your summer bikini, packed tightly in-between your thermals and scarves. You have the unbelievable chance to float between the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates in brisk winter waters. But don’t worry, it’s usually warmer in the water than out of it!
Natural Geothermal Hot Pools | Multiple Locations
These little natural gems are scattered all across Iceland, particularly up north. If you find one, stop there. You won’t be sorry you packed your ‘kini for a country that literally has the word ‘ice’ in it.
Waterfall | Ellioaárdalur Valley
This is one of the most remarkable waterfalls in Iceland and it’s surprisingly visited by few. This hidden gem is literally in the middle of Reykjavik and is an absolute wonder. You’ll feel like you’ve travelled at least an hour in some direction but following the path of the waterfall you’ll reach the loud hum of cars on the roads above you. Although small in height, it makes up for it in length.
Geothermal Spa | The Blue Lagoon
You know what it is, so we’re not going to bother explaining. We will, however, mention it is 100% worth the money and the travel time. Our top tip is not to be afraid to go when the sun goes down! Not everybody realises but this magical destination is open until 10pm (there is a discount after 6pm) providing an ethereal misty atmosphere when the sun goes down. Misty yellow lights surround the lagoon giving off some serious “wtf am I really here” vibes. While entry is expensive, there is no need to leave until you have fully soaked in the warm water, cleansed your pores with the free mud mask and bathed in relaxation. As for another sneaky tip, don’t pay for a towel because you can ask for a free one once you (reluctantly) leave the water. Pack your own lunch too for a cheaper option or indulge in cocktails you can wade to – ahh, bliss.
Waterfall | Gullfoss
It’s hard to explain the wonder of Gullfoss. With a dazzling tale of Sigriður,
the first Icelandic environmentalist striving to protect this natural wonder (that’s, you know, only larger than Niagara Falls), there are few words to describe the wonder and allure you feel overlooking the succession of waterfalls.
Reynisfjara Black Sand Beach | Vik
With thunderous Atlantic waves, colossal basalt stacks and treacherous winds, we’d recommend wearing your warmest water-proof coat. While walking itself is hard enough, look up to find yourself amidst a realm straight out of Lord of the Rings. Gazing up against the wind to enormous peaks shrouded in fog and encircled by birds, there is simply no place nor atmosphere like it.
From handmade goodies like Icelandic fish leather earrings at the local markets to incredible, authentic food: Braud Bakery – anything and everything and Reykjavik Fish Restaurant - the fish pie, Iceland has exceeded its reputation and surpassed all of our expectations.
If you can’t make it to Iceland yourself just yet (we get it, that smashed avo don’t pay for itself), the good news is you can experience the same winter conditions right here in BNE. Arctic by Customs House is back again this winter, meaning it’s time to embrace the cold! Bask under your own private, insulated igloo, sip on Belvedere vodka or one of the many winter-inspired cocktails and nibble on Polish-themed eats. Running Thursday - Sunday all winter long, it’s the perfect winter escape in our own city.
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