When I started to tell people that I was visiting Iceland, everyone asked when I was going. I enthusiastically told people that my journey was scheduled for February and, to my surprise, they would all react the same way.
“Why would you visit Iceland in the winter? It’s cold in the winter. Everyone goes in summer. There’s not much to do in winter.”
I got the same response from pretty much every person I told about my journey, and it made me a bit nervous before my departure. After actually experiencing Iceland in the winter, like so few do, I am so glad I chose this season to travel. Here are my top five reasons (even though there are more) to visit Iceland in the winter instead of summer.
To me, this is the number one reason to go to Iceland in the winter. Our goal was to photograph an epic Northern Lights show, and Iceland did not disappoint. Our best showing was in Myvatn, where green and purple lights danced over our heads for hours.
The Aurora Borealis are more visible when it’s dark outside, so winter is the more ideal time to go, given that there is 24-hour daylight in the summer. We experienced around 6 hours of daylight each day, and plenty of darkness to see epic Northern Lights. Even with the naked eye, these lights were some of the best I’ve ever witnessed.
Iceland’s tourism industry has grown immensely in the past few years. The country has hotels popping up left and right, and there are tons of people migrating from other countries to work there. This is a result of a number of things, including the government subsidizing WOW airlines to get people to and from Iceland cheaply. What does all of this tourism mean? It means a ridiculous number of tourists.
“The total number of foreign overnight visitors to Iceland was around 1.8 million in 2016, a 40.1% increase from 2015, when foreign visitors numbered around 1.3 million,” according to the Icelandic Tourist Board.
Although there were still plenty of tourists in the wintertime, I am told this was nothing compared to summer. When we trekked through ice caves, my group was the only one there. When we went to the natural thermal baths, our group was one of 3 groups present. We were even able to visit a few waterfalls with hardly anyone else around. In my opinion, it’s much more fun to visit a country when you can interact with the locals instead of the tourists.
We had a unique opportunity in Iceland to trek an ice cave hours before the rain came in, and it was destroyed. Each ice cave forms differently, making it a really special experience. In this particular ice cave, there were no other tourists around, and we had the luxury of taking long ice cave photographs. My personal favorite photo of the entire trip (including Greenland) was the one looking out of the ice cave with the dark blue and purple colors reflecting the sunset. This shot would not be possible in the summer, because there are no natural ice caves to visit in the summertime, according to Iceland Unlimited. Making this another plus for winter visits!
When I envision Iceland, I picture a landscape covered in ice. Going to a country right outside the Arctic circle, I wanted to feel captured by that winter wonderland feeling. For photography, the winter background provides a quiet, yet moving scene. Some of my favorite photos from Iceland wouldn’t be the same without the snow on the ground, including this one of an Icelandic horse.
Cold temperatures can be the main reason people do not want to visit Iceland in the winter season. Yes, the winter in Iceland can be a little on the colder side, but it really was never that bad. As long as you layer up and dress appropriately, it really doesn’t seem much colder than Colorado (in my opinion). While the weather varies, the average temperature in the winter is approximately 30-40 degrees F., so not terribly cold. You shouldn’t let this fear keep you from enjoying everything that Iceland winter has to offer!