5 Bucket List Things to Do in Iceland in the Winter

5 Bucket List Things to Do in Iceland in the Winter
5 Bucket List Things to Do in Iceland in the Winter

Iceland has become a popular destination for summer travel, but many are still weary of traveling to Iceland in the winter for fear of harsh weather conditions. This is an understandable concern, but there are also many benefits to traveling in the off-season. There are plenty of activities to do in Iceland in the winter, and some activities can only be done in the winter, such as seeing the Northern Lights. After traveling to Iceland twice in the winter (first in late-November 2015 and subsequently in early-March 2017), I have compiled a list of my top five bucket list things to do in Iceland in the winter.

1. Snorkel Silfra

My most unique and unforgettable memory from Iceland is snorkeling Silfra, a fissure in between the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates. Silfra is one of the clearest freshwater bodies in the world, with the bluest waters. It is located in Thingvellir National Park, the location of the first government in Iceland, the Allthing. There are several companies that offer snorkel and scuba tours of Silfra, but I would recommend booking with Scuba Iceland. My guide, Neil, did an excellent job explaining everything to the group, getting us geared up quickly and efficiently, and keeping us relaxed as we prepared to slide into ice cold water. The temperature of the water remains around 3 to 4 degrees Celsius year round, so it is just as easy (or hard) to jump into the water in the winter as it is in the summer.

2. Food Tour of Reykjavik

One of the best ways to explore Reykjavik and get a taste of the local cuisine is to take a food tour of Reykjavik with Wake Up Reykjavik. Our guide, Daniel, was knowledgeable not only about Icelandic food but also about the history of Iceland, and he readily shared his knowledge with us. I had the opportunity to try foods I’d never had or heard of before, such as rye bread ice cream and horsemeat. Over the course of four hours, we tried local dishes from six restaurants and saw Reykjavik’s most popular sites, such as Harpa and Hallgrimskjirka. The quantity of food I had on this tour covered both lunch and dinner for me that day, which is very helpful in such an expensive city.

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3. Secret Lagoon

Anyone who’s looked into traveling to Iceland has heard of the Blue Lagoon. Its blue, steamy waters lures in people of all ages and backgrounds, and the amenities it provides, such as drink wristbands, keeps travelers there for hours at a time. However, at 5400 ISK (approximately $48.50 USD) per person, the Blue Lagoon is more expensive than many can afford. It is also crowded and has become over-commercialized, such that it feels more like a vacation resort than a naturally occurring hot spring.

5 Bucket List Things to Do in Iceland in the Winter

If you are looking for a quieter, more authentic, and more affordable way to warm up and relax, head over to the Secret Lagoon. Located along the Golden Circle path, the Secret Lagoon was the first swimming pool to exist in Iceland. Historically, Icelanders traveled from all over the country to come to the Secret Lagoon to swim. Today, it is no longer used for swimming laps but is rather a place for travelers to relax in and enjoy. At 2800 ISK (approximately $25.15 USD) per person, it is much more affordable than the Blue Lagoon. While the Secret Lagoon does not come with certain luxuries like free towels, it offers free lockers and beers for purchase. If you are looking for the fanciest, most luxurious experience, head to the Blue Lagoon. But if you’re not concerned with the frills and are just looking to relax in a hot spring, add the Secret Lagoon to your itinerary.

4. Glacier hike

5 Bucket List Things to Do in Iceland in the Winter

Photo: Arctic Adventures

Similar to snorkeling Silfra, there are a number of companies in Iceland that offer glacier hiking tours. These tours range from easy to advanced and are appropriate for all ages. Many of the more advanced tours include the option to climb up an ice wall once you reach the glacier. Glacier hiking tours typically take the whole day, so plan ahead and make sure you give yourself enough time in Iceland to fit in this activity.

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5. Northern lights

Perhaps the most popular reason tourists flock to Iceland in the winter is to see the northern lights. The best months to see the northern lights are from September to March, and you will need to go a bit outside Reykjavik to see the lights. While there is no guarantee you will see the northern lights on a given night, your chances are increased with clear skies and high aurora activity. From Reykjavik, there are boat and car tours that will take you far enough outside the city for you to see the lights. These tours tend to be expensive, but most will allow you to go back the next day for free if you are unable to see the lights that night. Alternatively, if you’ve rented a car already, you can drive outside of Reykjavik city centre on your own and try to track down the lights with the Aurora Forecast iPhone app.


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5 Bucket List Things to Do in Iceland in the Winter

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40 Comments

  • SamH Travels

    Iceland is on my list this year, so I read this with great interested. The snorkelling looks awesome and I will definitely check out Secret Lagoon. Pinned for future use, thanks for sharing 🙂

  • Albert

    Iceland looks amazing! What’s crazy is how close most people along the east coast are. I’ll bookmark this for when I plan my trip to Iceland!

  • jenn | By Land and Sea

    This looks so great – one day we will make it to Iceland! I love that there is so much to do there, even though it’s a cold weather destination!

  • Paul and Carole

    All 5 look great! Would love to visit Iceland. #feetdotravel

  • Shona @ paraphernalia.co

    The snorkelling looks amazing, so clear! Of course, the food tour looks fantastic to me, I’m always up for a new foodie experience. Iceland really looks wonderful. I’m looking forward to getting there one day.

  • Nicole Anderson

    Now here is a destination I would really love to get to. Ticking off everything on this list would just be a fabulous way to really experience so much this wonderful place has to offer. Not too mention the stunning photo opportunities! So much natural beauty abounds from everything I have heard about Iceland.

  • Jenn and Ed Coleman

    We loved your Silfra article so it was great to see you make a wrap up for Iceland. The glacier treks seem like a lot of fun and you almost certainly have to go to a hot springs while you are there. All that being said, the Northern Lights would be the highlight of our trip.

  • Paulina on the road

    Iceland seems to be THE new destination. Everybody is talking about it. ANd when I see your pics I see why 😉 I really want to travel there 🙂

  • Reebex | Recovering Hippie

    I’ve been reading so much about Iceland recently, it’s almost like the universe is telling me to visit!

    The food in Reykjavik looks amazing, and the Northern lights have been on my bucket list for years, however I have recently discovered that I’m nit the city girl I once though I was so the Ice Hike would be top for me!

    Great post!

  • Tracy

    Iceland is definitely in my bucket list. I wish to go there next year! Hope it can be done and by then I will surely need this information! 🙂

  • Christie

    Snorkel in winter?! I would’ve never in a million years thought to do that. Sounds like I need to do it though if I visit based on your feedback! Good info

  • Global Girl Travels

    The opportunity to see the Northern Lights is definitely the highlight of a winter trip to Iceland. But the other choices you’ve listed are just as interesting. Snorkeling Silfra definitely caught my attention – such an interesting natural feature. And the food in Reykjavik is amazing. It’s definitely a haven for foodies!

  • Wangui

    I have heard alot about the Northern lights…..actually watched a clip just recently. Its super amazing. I

  • Vicki Louise

    These are 5 great things to do in Iceland. Snorkeling Silfra is at the top of my list – which has now been joined by the food tour. I’ve heard eating out can be expensive so a food tour would be a great way to sample a few local specialties without breaking the bank!

  • Katie

    Ooo I love the sound of the Secret Lagoon, sounds beautiful! and the glacier hike definitely looks like an adventure – though not sure if I quite ready for that!! Snorkel Silfra looks amazing too, would love to try it!

  • Travel Lexx

    Wow, great list and so many cool things to do! The food tour looks amazing and the hiking is something I would really enjoy doing! Looks like you guys had an amazing time – thanks for sharing!

  • Lindz @ I've Been Bit!

    Iceland has so much to offer at any time of year! I haven’t visited in the winter yet, but after reading your post I’m dying to get there! 🙂

  • Tracy

    I cannot wait to visit Iceland it looks so amazing!! Saving this for future consultation!! #feetdotravel

  • Jamie

    Pinning this – Iceland is a serious bucket list destination. My husband and I were going mainly for photography, but I like the ideas of snorkeling and the food tour!

  • Delilah

    Great list of things to do in Iceland! Some of these are definitely on my to-do list (when I can manage to visit). I’d like to snorkel Silfra, but I am worried about those water temps! haha

  • Felicia Broccolo

    I just went in winter and didn’t do any of these things!! haha the food tour looks amazing though!! And I wish we saw the northern lights! Thanks for the recommendations 🙂

  • Lieselot De Brauwer

    Never been to Iceland, but I’m hoping to get there soon. I was surprised about the snorkeling! I had no idea that was even an option regarding the cold weather. Thanks for all the tips!

  • Alice Chen

    Is that red thing on the food tour chocolate?? Looks delicious!!

  • you.theworld.wandering

    I have always wanted to travel Iceland. I transited through in 2014 and really wish I’d stopped for a few days!! Snorkelling in Iceland in 3 or 4 degree Celsius! Woah!! Buck list right there!
    Kristie- you.theworld.wandering

  • Melai

    Snorkeling in Silfra is something I really wanted to do in Iceland. We were there for 10 days but didn’t manage to include this in. Will take note for our next trip back. 🙂

  • Dawn

    You have convinced me that Iceland in Winter is a good idea! Not so sure about the snorkeling in the winter, but these are all great suggestions. With Iceland being a fairly short hop from Toronto, there really is no reason we haven’t been. I am already thinking about a March trip next year:)

  • Ozzy

    No I havent been in Iceland yet. God it seems so freezing!! I think I prefer to go in summer :))

  • Cherene Saradar

    I also went to Iceland this past winter! Sadly Silfra wasn’t a go because of bad weather. Food tour sounds like a great idea. I really enjoyed the food in Iceland! I gotta check out Secret Lagoon next time.

  • wayfaringsarah

    Oh wow! Didn’t know about the secret lagoon – I definitely wish we’d gone there. Although, the Blue Lagoon was still awesome, so I guess it’s not so bad 😀

  • Lauren

    I am off to Iceland very soon. Not winter unfortunately but I think I may need to head back that way. Great post 🙂

    • Diana Chen

      Thanks, Lauren! Have fun – you will love it!

  • Alex

    I really want to visit Iceland, especially during the winter. I never thought snorkelling would be a wintertime activity but maybe I’ll give that a try when I visit one day!

    • Diana Chen

      I never would’ve associated snorkeling with Iceland either, especially not in the winter, but it was one of the coolest things I’ve done. Surprisingly it was not as cold as I imagined. Would highly recommend it 🙂

  • Karen

    I went to Iceland in winter and loved it. We did most of these although I preferred Myvatn to the others as it was far less crowded and I didn’t want to fight a crowd. I’d also add glacier climbing to this!

    • Diana Chen

      Yes! Glacier climbing is one thing we did not get to try on either trip and is at the top of our list for our next trip to Iceland. What an incredible country Iceland is! 🙂

  • Vrithi Pushkar

    Iceland looks and sounds amazing! It is on our bucketlist and I cannot wait to go. Great post and amazing pictures. The Food sounds great!

    Vrithi Pushkar

    • Diana Chen

      Iceland is one of the most incredible countries I’ve been to! It is just endless miles of beautiful scenery. The food tour was so much fun, and we were full for the rest of the day. Say hi to the guys at Wake Up Reykjavik for us if you go! They are awesome 🙂

  • Kim | thosewhowandr.com

    What a crazy snorkeling experience! Iceland is still on my list, but I hope to check it off soon. Thanks for the guide!

  • Joey

    Hey Diana and Hope,

    One of MVMT blogs biggest fans (me) needs some expert advice. My Fiance and I want to go to Iceland for our honeymoon, likely at the end of August. We’ll have about a week, and looking at going on this trip!

    https://iceland.nordicvisitor.com/travel-deals/self-drive-tours/exotic-hideaways/142/

    It’s a self driving trip, but the company plans a bunch of activities and organizes the car, where to stay, and other useful things like having someone on call if their are any issues. Do you think this is a good way to go, especially if we don’t feel like planning the trip ourselves!

    Keep up the good work!

    • Diana Chen

      Hey Joey!

      Thanks for being one of our biggest fans! 🙂

      I took a look at the link, and it looks like a good itinerary overall. I typically advise people if they have 7 days to drive the entire Ring Road (all around Iceland), whereas this trip focuses just on the west side of Iceland, but you’ll get to see a lot of cool spots on this trip.

      Also, it’s definitely not the cheapest way to visit Iceland, but if you’re willing to splurge a little on your honeymoon and really don’t feel like planning anything yourselves, this is a good option.

      I would just recommend adding one thing to Day 4 – to snorkel Silfra at Thingvellir National Park. You’ll get to see the clearest, bluest waters AND touch the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates at the same time! After our two trips to Iceland, snorkeling Silfra was hands down our favorite memory.

      Let us know if you have any other questions!

      -Diana

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