Iceland in winter…hmmm. As someone who hates the cold, this was the last place I thought I’d find myself. However when deciding where to go for my vacation over New Years, Iceland kept popping up. Amazing fireworks in Reykjavik, the Aurora Borealis, winter wonderland conditions. These things sounded pretty cool. That combined with a relatively short and inexpensive flight equals me freezing my tush off in Iceland.
There are many pros and cons to visiting Iceland in winter, which I will expound upon in a future post. The magical lighting and stunning scenery are definitely pros. People told me I was crazy to go in winter, that it would be dark all day. Yes, you have limited daylight hours, but the light is ethereal; it’s like a constant sunrise and sunset.
Here are some of my favorites.
The name means “Golden Falls” in Icelandic. This amazing two tiered waterfall is in the Golden Circle.
This national park is also in the Golden Circle. It is a UNESCO world heritage site because of its historical, cultural and geological significance. I’m about to completely dork out on you, are you ready? So, this area is a rift valley which means that two tectonic plates that were once connected, have moved apart. Iceland is a young country in geological terms so you can still see the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates, because they aren’t very far apart. Cool right?
Can we talk about this dreamy lighting? If the sun decides to come out, you get purple, pink, orange or all three at once. This was one of my favorite part of visiting Iceland in winter.
These pony sized, adorable horses are a breed developed in Iceland and known for unique gaits, sturdy builds and heavy coats. They are friendly and docile. These were in the Golden Circle and I had to pull over and play with them.
This cute city is even cuter decorated for the holidays and dusted with snow.
Jon Gunnar Arnatson designed this incredible sculpture to commemorate the 200th anniversary of Reykjavik. It represents a ship voyaging to undiscovered territories, always guided by the sun. I love the throw back to a viking past. It looks like reindeer antlers, doesn’t it?
Meaning “black falls’, this stunning waterfall is in Skaftafell in Vatnajökull National Park. It is approximately a thirty minute hike to reach it. The dark lava or basalt hexagonal columns around it are responsible for its name. It is truly a winter wonderland around this area.
I really have no idea where exactly these places are. Part of the fun of driving around Iceland is that you can stop anytime you feel like taking pictures. It’s just so freaking pretty everywhere that you end up stopping a ton! I took these pictures somewhere in the south between Selfoss and Vik.
I mean, this is just “random on the side of the road waterfall”. Maybe it’s more famous and I don’t know but nobody was stopping at it.
The black sand beaches of Vik are best at sunset, which is kind of all day in winter. I thought this looked like Mordor in Lord of the Rings, if it had a beach.
The name means “glacial river lagoon” and is a huge glacial lake in southeast Iceland, on the edge of Vatnajökull national park. Glacial melting formed this lake. I was awe-struck at these large chunks of glacial ice, floating around in the lagoon.
Again, these gorgeous pink and orange skies and blue ice, all typical of Iceland in winter.
Is winter in Iceland the only time you can hike on a glacier? No. Is it the same in summer? Hell no! First of all, if you are not so cold that you are shocked to come home with all your fingers and toes, than you are not getting the full experience! Secondly, it doesn’t look quite as icy in the summer, nor do you have the blue ice. Can I dork out again about why the ice is blue? Ok, so the density of the ice is higher in winter, resulting in less air bubbles, and less scattered light. This compactness of ice allows for light to penetrate. Absorption of all other colors happens while blue reflects to the human eye. Physics, my friends. Don’t you wish you paid attention in high school? (I had a cute physics teacher and definitely paid attention!)
Sólheimajökull is a mere tongue off of the massive Mýrdalsjökull glacier, which covers the big bad Katla Volcano. This volcano erupts every 60-80 years but it’s been 100 years since its last eruption. Kind of scary, considering the much smaller volcano, Eyjafjallajökull is the one that erupted in 2010, spewing ash and pumice and shutting down flights in Europe for a week! Also scary in terms of climate change, is that this glacier has shrunk a kilometer in the past decade.
In 1974 a US Navy DC plane ran out of fuel and crashed here. And it’s still here. It is a 45 min walk from the parking lot. I will be sharing more details about this in another post, but this striking place is a time-consuming venture and uncomfortable if the weather is not in your favor. I was lucky with sunrise lighting (at 11 am) and a dusting of snow, but the walk back was through a vicious hail storm that was not the least bit fun!
Also called “Ice Beach” or Breiðamerkursandur, this area is formed by fire and ice, like most things in Iceland. Volcanic black sand and ice chunks that glisten like diamond, especially at sunset. The glacier lagoon across the street sends glacial ice to the ocean where they wash up on shore.
The sky did that Iceland in winter cotton candy thing (this is around 3:30 pm, aka sunset in winter). I honestly didn’t mind the cold and could have stayed for hours.
Sadly, I can’t share Blue Lagoon or Northern Lights pics. I visited the Blue Lagoon, but had such bad weather that it was like night-time lighting conditions! The nights were only clear enough to see the Northern lights one night out of the entire week, but this happened to be New Years Eve. I had already consumed a bottle of champagne by nighttime so that’s that!