Visiting Iceland in winter, a crazy idea?

In December, my boyfriend and I had a week off together. A full week, I do not remember the last time it happened (I think I’m going out with a workaholic). And as we (I) wanted to take advantage of this week to go abroad, we began to search for the best place to spend the week and finally opted for Iceland.

Why Iceland? Firstly, because I had talked so much about my first trip there to my boyfriend that he was also eager to visit this country. Then, thanks to Wow Air, flights from Montreal were so ridiculously low that it seemed like one of the cheapest travel options (despite the relatively high cost of living in Iceland).

But Iceland in winter, is it not a crazy idea? The country is located just under the Arctic Circle, and we were going to be there at the time of the year when the days are the shortest … But after reading some blog posts about the magic of winter landscapes in Iceland we decided to go for it and spend the week in Reykjavik.

Here are some thoughts after our experience.

Snaefellsnes in Iceland
Snaefellsnes in the fog

The weather may not be what you expected…

The last time I went to Iceland, I had to buy a toque and mittens to withstand the biting cold. And it was August… For our December trip, I made sure to bring with me plenty of warm clothes to cope with winter temperatures.

But in the end, it was not that cold. In fact, there was no snow on the ground at all. While in Canada cold records were broken, in Iceland the thermometer oscillated between 5 and 10 degrees Celsius. An abnormality for the season, the Icelanders told us, worried about the repercussions of climate change.

So we swapped our winter coats for our raincoats. And we quickly learned that the saying that the weather changes every five minutes in Iceland is true.

So no snowy landscapes for us. No northern lights either, the sky being covered most of the time.

The irony with the Icelandic weather is that when we left Iceland, a snowstorm hit the airport, delaying our take-off…

Reykjavik in December
An afternoon in Reykjavik

The days are short… very short

I expected it, but it still shocked me. In December, the sun rises a little after 11am, stay close to the horizon, and goes down before 3pm. I had read before leaving that the particular angle of the sun gives the winter brightness in Iceland a unique and magical appearance. Unfortunately, the sun was hidden most of the time the week we were there.

Short days give less time to explore. When I was in Iceland last year, I spent a whole day visiting the Golden Circle, a tour near Reykjavik. This time, my boyfriend and I had only one afternoon, and again, we had to see the Gullfoss Falls after dark.

Nevertheless, my boyfriend and I told ourselves that we wanted to spend a relaxed week, and the short days were rather conducive to cocooning and spending time in cafes.

Reykjavik in December
Christmas in Reykjavik

Reykjavik is magical during the holiday season

The sun was scarce during our stay in Iceland, but Reykjavik was not dark at all. On the contrary, the city was fully decorated for the holiday season. And Iceland has traditions of its own and is proud to introduce them to visiting tourists. Everywhere, we were told the story of the Yule Lads, the 13 trolls that reward or punish children at Christmas (the Icelandic version of Santa Claus).

December is also the period during which bookstores sell the most books (the Icelandic tradition is to give a book as a gift for Christmas). The bookstores are open later, are crowded and offer an interesting selection of books of all kinds. For me, who loves to stroll and read books, it was like being in heaven!

Many restaurants also offer traditional holiday meals or typical seasonal dishes. It might have been dark outside, but inside, everything was warmth, happiness and cheerfulness.

The black beach of Vik
A black sand beach in Vik

Iceland is beautiful, no matter the season

I already wrote it on this blog, I really fell in love with Iceland the first time I went there. The rain, the lack of sun, the gloomy weather did not diminish the beauty of the landscapes.

We braved gusts of wind of nearly 100 km/h to visit the peninsula of Snaefellsnes (where is the volcano that inspired Jules Verne for its Journey to the Centre of the Earth). We explored the black sand beaches of Vik in the rain. The mountains of Reykjavik Bay were often covered with heavy fog. But whatever. As on my last visit, I felt that every detour on the road made us see a breathtaking landscape.

It may be more convenient to visit Iceland when the days are longer and when the roads are less likely to be snowy or icy. But the only advice I can offer is to go to Iceland, period. No matter the season, no matter the vagaries of the weather, you cannot not fall in love with this Nordic country.

A glacier in Iceland
The land of ice and fire

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