An Iceland winter trip: cold, white, hostile but oooh it’s beautiful!
I admit, March isn’t exactly winter, but in Iceland things are a bit different….
An Iceland winter trip
The plan was to visit most of the South, including all the classics. Visit the Golden Circle, the famous waterfalls, black beaches and drive as far East as time permitted. As I had been here before in summer I was very curious to see how the landscape changes in winter conditions.
The Golden Circle
I think the winter conditions make a visit to Gullfoss, Geysir and Þingvellir less worthwhile than in summer. There’s much fewer colors, less water, less everything really. If you HAVE visited in summer, I do recommend it as it gives a totally new perspective on things.
Looking for a nice place to stay near Þingvellir? We can really recommend Hrísholt Private House
The Northern Lights
The first night of our Iceland winter trip we’re having dinner in a local restaurant as everyone starts rushing outside. We ask the waitress what’s going on as she tells us there’s Northern Lights. Could we really be this lucky? We rush outside and indeed, there they are. It’s not the full spectrum of colors but we feel delighted we’re able to experience this. Later in the trip we got lucky a couple more times, the highlight being a 3 hour show while driving back from Djúpivogur. Oh, I know, the pictures suck, but they’re proof right?
The plane wreck
Somewhere on a beach lays an old military plane wreck. It’s a well-known tourist attraction and worth a visit. The day after we visited the location got closed. Not that we had anything to do with it but the plane is on private property and the landowner got tired of people driving wildly, not following the “road”. Nowadays the plane can be visited again, however requiring a 3 Km hike.
Of course we payed a visit to the many famous waterfalls along our route. In summer, these environments are lush with green, white and blue colors. Now only white remains. White water, white snow, white ice. Even the people tend to become whiter here but that might be because of the cold. It’s beautiful in its own kind of way. Walking behind Seljalandsfoss wasn’t possible as it was closed for winter but that didn’t spoil the fun.
Looking for a place to stay near Vík? We can really recommend Guesthouse Carina
Jökulsarlon and the jökulls
The ever beautiful Jökulsarlon lake. With its chunks of ice floating around, waiting to melt or float to sea. In summer that is. I don’t know if it’s always like this in winter but when we visited there were barely any icebergs floating. It doesn’t really matter. For me the road to Jökulsarlon is almost as spectacular as the lake itself. Driving along the edge of majestic glaciers, enormous washes, remains of rivers that swell to 50x their size in summer… just perfect. One of these features along the way are the glacier tongues or Jökulls. Even in winter you can drive close to them and touch, walk on or stand between the glacier ice.
The black beaches, rocks and cliffs
As weather conditions this far South and near the coast are very different, most of the snow had already melted. Luckily for us as this exposes the sheer beauty of Iceland’s black beaches. We also payed a visit to the basalt column caves. One tip I can (and really should) give you is to be careful here. You will not be the first tourist that gets swept away by a surprise killer wave. Visit, enjoy but always be vigilant. Stay away from the water!
Looking for a place to stay near Kirkjubæjarklaustur? We can really recommend Fosshotel Nupar
Raufarhólshellir is a lava tube in the South of Iceland. It’s about 1.6 Km long featuring beautiful colors and ice caves. It was free at the time but now is exploited at an entrance fee of €50,- We did 2 attempts at a visit as the first time we were too scared to enter.
As I had been here before in summer I tought it would be easy to find. The drive up there was ok, road conditions acceptable. The sign at the parking lot was still visible and that was about it. Everything in the wide area was covered in snow and the meters-wide entrance nowhere to be found. After looking around for a while (following some footsteps in the snow) we found a hole in the ground. Barely wide enough for someone to slip through and going steeply down for 5-10 meters. Wisely we decided not to take the risk, so disappointed we left the place for what it was.
At the end of our trip we tried to find an organization to do a guided tour of the tube but all were fully booked. We decided to just drive up there and give it a second try. Several cars were parked at the entrance, some people entering the cave with ropes and crampons. After a quick chat with a local guide we learned it was safe to enter. What laid inside was just too beautiful to describe. The tube’s colors: red, green, yellow, white, black, … were unchanged. The whole floor, as far as our eyes could, see was covered in big (+1m) ice stalactites and stalagmites.
Iceland winter trip: conclusion
We had a wonderful time. Seeing this extreme landscape in its wintercoat was a whole new experience.
If you’ve never been to Iceland before I’d recommend to go in summer. Everything is more beautiful, easily accessible and most of all: not white. In winter I really do recommend a 4×4. We got struck by a snowstorm more than once, in which we would not have been able to get back to the hotel in a normal car. Whenever you go, you’ll have the trip of a lifetime…