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Would it be worthwhile to visit Iceland in the winter?

There are some great sales on airfare to Iceland for November thru March. I know that is the beginning of winter weather there. We are thinking of going in early November for 8-10 days or so. Would we be able to see enough of the natural wonders or would they be covered too deeply with snow? We will be using Rick Steves' guidebook for our itinerary and staying in AirBNB's. We are hoping to get suggestions and advice from people who have been there during winter months. In 2015 we went on the fantastic 2 week RS Tour of Italy and we are saving up for the RS Germany tour in a couple of years. But this airfare to Iceland sounds great to a brand new retiree and Iceland seems a manageable place to do on our own.

Posted by
4975 posts

I've never been but constantly here that the expense of being a tourist there may undermine the low cost of the airfare

Posted by
785 posts

I was in Reykjavik for four nights last December, and loved it.
It wasn't too cold, but occasionally very windy; and of course is only light from 10:00 until 16:00.
I packed a lot in: Golden Circle tour, Northern Lights tour, walked miles around town, went to Museums, did a walking tour, etc.
Bundle up, and get good boots that are slip-proof, and warm to minus 15 or so, and you're good.

Posted by
31 posts

Thank you all for your replies. We have booked a trip for November 1-9, 2018. We are doing several 1- day tours and and following lot of the advice that RS offers in his Iceland book. Now I need to find the right boots for safety and so our feet don't freeze! I still value any feedback that anyone has to offer.

Posted by
6 posts

The southern Ring Road area of the island will be much more livable than the colder/winder northern section that time of year. Not much happens after dark, so be up and ready to run while the sun is up! Enjoy! We just returned - it's SO beautiful!

Posted by
1695 posts

In November the entirety of the ring road will likely not be passable, the Highlands area (for which 4x4 is needed in summer, will definitely not be passable) but the West fjord area will be and all of the Southern Coast will be which is where most tourists stay anyway at all times of year.
There are some famous waterfalls on the northern part of the ring road, but otherwise all of the tourists sites are in the area that should on most days be fine.
I would opt for a heavy, decent size car even more so than a 4x4 ; all cars should come with studded tires so your biggest concern is wind. Those tall camper vans and 4x4 Jimmy's can flip over in a strong enough gust.
Obviously watch the weather daily for any storms and the current wind conditions.
If going this time of year definitely start watching for the Aurora forecasts, that hopefully will be a highlight of the trip for you. Decide if you want to take a tour group for that or do it yourself. If doing a group tour I would wait for a clear night forecast and not book one now. For the most part I would hold off on most all tours to see the weather a day or so prior ; they are not going to sell out. The exception being...
the Ice Cave Glacier tours are quite popular. A little dangerous... access is limited to guided tours only and these can sell out in advance so something you should plan in beforehand.

From what I hear when snow does come or ice ; the biggest issue is not driving itself assuming you are cautious with speed but pulling over as there will be no side of the road and turnoff/parking lots may be unmanaged and therefore a place you could get stuck.

You likely will get a couple of days where you should stay at your base and not venture out and then other days where driving around and seeing the sites will be perfectly fine.
Venturing out each day without checking the forecast and wind forecasts would be very dangerous and should not be taken lightly.
You should be able to easily find lodging and rental cars even last minute.
If you like to eat out restaurants outside of the capital could be hard to find so would plan on groceries and cooking some of my own meals if I were going in November.

Posted by
31 posts

Thank you to all of you who answered my question. We have been back from Iceland for a few days. It was a great place to visit; Iceland does not disappoint! We have been to Europe four times, but the jet lag to Iceland shocked us by wiping us out for about 3 days! I am so glad I did my research here on the Forum and also on Pinterest. Anyone who goes to Iceland without being adequately prepared for the weather is a fool! Our Icebreaker wool base layer, flannel lined pants, water/wind proof gloves and REI water proof pants were life savers! At the last moment, just days before we left I even bought one of those hats that cover your ears and hook under the chin from Duluth Trading Company and it was the best purchase of all. (My husband called it an Elmer Fudd hat!) That wind is amazing; we really did have sustained winds of 22mph with gusts of 80 mph while out on a day trip. As they say in Iceland, there is no bad weather, just bad clothing choices!
Reykjavik is a cute town with a lot of things to see. The fish and chips are melt-in-your-mouth delicious. The Perlan Museum (not free anymore to view from observation deck) is interesting and the Harpa Opera House is beautiful. The bus system is easy to figure out and use; be sure to get the transfer slips when you need them. We stayed in the Icelandair Hotel Natura on a land/air package which did not include breakfast, but there was a kettle in the room to boil water. I was glad that I took hot chocolate and apple cider packets to make since it was $5.00 to buy a cup. We also made instant oatmeal for breakfast and saved on the $25.00 breakfasts in town. We got to see frozen waterfalls and get up close to a glacier. The Aurora Borealis was a little weak the night we saw it, but beautiful nonetheless. It only snowed one night and rained very little, but the wind..... WOW! Yes, it was indeed worth it to see Iceland int he winter.

Posted by
785 posts

So glad you had a great time, Sharon!
I took one of those flap hats with me too, and I agree it was very necessary!
Even the salesgirl in the shop when I bought it just shook her head and said it looked ridiculous!
Oh well, gotta keep warm.

Posted by
9 posts

I was there in late October (in fact just a few weeks ago; got back on October 31st). I drove around the entire ring road, but parts of it were pretty rough. And the entire country from Westfjords and north were covered in snow, and very windy. I still enjoyed my trip for sure, but I think going in the summer would've been better to see the landscape in the north.

The south was was completely fine, no snow at all and temperature was milder than the north. While most of the sights are in the south, I think the general landscape in the north is far better because it's so vast and remote.

On the other hand, the benefit of going in the winter is much cheaper cost of everything, and slightly higher chance to see the northern lights