Iceland in the winter months might not be everyone’s choice. But it comes down to what you want to see and do.
We’ve been to Iceland previously but in the summer. If I had to pick, I would say the summer is the better season because it never really gets dark. That means your days are as long as you want them to be, so you can really see the best that Iceland has to offer.
After all tourists flock to Iceland for its natural beauty, which is free to see. There are no restrictions on coming and going unless you’re on a specific tour or experience.
Visiting in the winter is a different matter. You have to be really aware of the day light hours you have, and try to make sure you cover as much ground as possible within those hours.
Plus you have to make sure you have the right clothing otherwise you’ll have a miserable time. Keeping warm and dry is imperative so it’s worth finding good deals for winter clothing from places such as Surfdome because the price can add up! I have a set of winter clothes that I just wear for all winter breaks.
So why did we go to Iceland?
For a long time I’ve wanted to see the Northern Lights. I’ve been to the edge of the arctic circle in Finland, and I’ve still not seen them. So I thought why not just book a two night break in Iceland and see if luck comes our way.
Of course that’s not the only reason I went to Iceland- I’ve learnt not to rely on just waiting for the Northern Lights to appear to make my holiday. I also wanted to experience the south of Iceland. An area we didn’t explore last time we went.
I did a lot of research before landing in Iceland, mainly with regards to transport. The weather in Iceland is unpredictable. And I’d read some horror stories about choosing the right car to hire.
Everyone was mentioning 4×4’s. As part of our flight booking I just tagged on the cheapest small car that was available, thinking it would be fine because we only had hand luggage.
And then I started to panic. Everyone was writing online about making sure to choose the biggest car possible for safety.
I couldn’t change the booking online, so at the airport when picking up the car I spoke to the lady at the desk and told her our route and she assured us that the car would be fine and it also came with snow chains. So with her guidance we kept our booking and jumped into a VW Up!
And she was right. The car was perfectly fine. We were sticking to main roads, not going off-road at all. And the weather forecast was reasonably mild- even if that didn’t guarantee it would stay like that (the weather apps can’t be relied on in Iceland as the weather changes so quickly).
What I will recommend irrelevant of what car you choose, make sure you download the 112 Iceland app. As you drive along you can check in using the app and a text message with your GPS location is sent and stored with the emergency services. If an emergency happens all you need to do is use the app to send out an emergency signal with your GPS location and someone will be there to help you, and if the GPS can’t be located they’ll use the stored texts to try and find you. It’s free to download and to use, although check your network provider plans for cost of using 3G abroad. Mine didn’t work out expensive at all.
Because the Northern Lights were the reason for visiting Iceland I decided to book into Hotel Ranga, based in Hella. It meant if the Northern Lights came out at night-time while we were sleeping we could request they wake us with an alarm so we didn’t miss any showings.
With a toddler in tow, this meant we could relax in the evenings with him and not worry about chasing the lights in the dark outside.
We did actually get to see the lights, albeit briefly on our first night at Hotel Ranga. We’d just sat down for our complimentary drinks when the manager came in to tell us the Northern Lights were out. So everyone headed outside to witness this phenomenon.
Of course we weren’t prepared at all for quite how cold it was going to be, so we lasted about 5 minutes, before we headed back indoors to throw on our warm clothing. But in that time period the luminosity of the lights had died down. So I can legitimately say I’ve seen the Northern Lights- but not enough that I’m satisfied. And that was the only time we saw them on our trip.
Was I disappointed? Not at all. Finally I’ve glimpsed them. And I still have the excuse of visiting different Northern countries over the winter months to one day get that spectacular viewing.
But obviously with two nights to try to see the Northern Lights, it did mean we had one and a half full days to enjoy the rest of the South Iceland region.
Yes, we were limited on day light hours- I think we had in total around 8 daylight hours (early February), but we managed to pack in loads mainly because we had our own car.
Our first stop as soon as daylight came up was to walk to the plane wreck on Solheimasandur beach.
It’s not a morbid plane crash because no one died, but it’s fascinating to see. It was a United States Navy DC plane that used the beach to crash-land after it ran out of fuel.
The plane was left abandoned there and it’s now a place of great interest for tourists. But it is one hell of a walk to get to. Two and a half miles each way. Over very repetitive terrain.
Being pregnant, once I’d started there was no turning back. And actually Little London did really well to walk majority of the way, but we did bring his pram with us because we knew it was unlikely he’d manage there and back without assistance.
I barely managed there and back without assistance!
If you have a toddler or a baby and want to see the plane wreck I recommend a big wheeled pram and not a stroller because the ground is uneven and very rocky. A stroller would just get stuck. We brought our Uppa Baby Vista.
Reaching the wreck was worth it, even though on our way there we managed to experience the changing climate of Iceland, from sunny, to full gale force winds and then heavy rain (in fact you can see the change in colour on the pictures as the weather changed). Honestly you can’t judge it!
Our son who is fascinated by planes loved being able to walk around the wreck. It did mean on the flight home though he was talking very loudly about the plane crashing… not great for anyone sitting near us with a fear of flying. Better than his long loud scream of excitement at take off when leaving London though.
That was an embarrassing moment when the whole cabin was silent.
Once we’d had our fill of the plane and walked the tedious walk back to the car (I’m sorry I can’t jazz up that walk for you at all but it is worth it), we drove on to Vik.
The black beach (Reynisfjara beach) with its basalt columns was certainly on my radar.
It seemed to be on everyone else’s radar too because it was packed (you’ll have to trust me because we avoided pictures with people in them)!
But we managed to enjoy our time there and kept our distance from the ferocious waves.
It’s quite shocking to see how many tourists get close to the water’s edge even with all the warnings of sneaker waves and fatalities.
Little London loved watching the waves, they were huge and powerful and certainly something to witness at a good distance and messing around on the black sand was great fun.
After the black beach we headed back towards Hella stopping off on route to see the waterfalls. Skogafoss was the first one.
And Seljalandsfoss was the second one.
Mr London Mum and Little London actually walked behind Seljalandsfoss and got drenched, but loved the experience.
I would have walked it but I’d taken my waterproof layer off and left it in the car, and was feeling too round to waddle back to retrieve it! But if dressed appropriately do it!
With an evening flight on our final day we had some time for one last adventure. Gamla Laugin otherwise known as The Secret Lagoon is where we decided to go.
It’s typical to go to the Blue Lagoon while in Iceland, but we wanted to go somewhere a bit more authentic and somewhere not as expensive or crowded as the Blue Lagoon. Especially as we’ve already been there.
Being pregnant will always be a concern when it comes to using geo thermal pools in Iceland. In the UK they recommend you don’t use them. In Iceland and Finland, and all those other countries pregnant women do use them in pregnancy. I went with the latter.
The water temperature is that of a lovely bath. In some areas it does get hotter, but I kept to the cooler sections, and if I got too warm I’d just standup out of the water to cool down.
And of course water is freely available to drink, so I drank loads of cold water.
In fact the cold water all over Iceland is perfectly safe to drink for pregnant ladies, so just bring a bottle with you and fill up as you go around and lap up the great tasting water!
Gamla Laugin was the perfect end to our trip. It’s the oldest swimming pool in Iceland and from the pool you can see a small geyser erupt as you swim around. My tip would be to make sure you’re done and dusted by around 2pm when the tour buses start arriving.
I can’t say I’m done with Iceland yet though. There’s still so much more to see and do. But given it’s size and the lack of hours this time around coupled with being pregnant, I didn’t manage to complete my bucket list of things to do in Iceland.
My next visit I have to make sure I get to Jokulsarlon, in the south east. I want to witness diamond beach for myself and stand at the edge of a glacial lagoon. And being able to walk inside a glacier- perhaps when my children are older would be such an experience!